Tom and his friend Chico share a house on the beach off the Coast Highway. Tom is a lonely man, wanting more than anything else to find the perfect girl to marry. Several times in the past he thought that he had found such a girl. Yet every time he brings a girl home, she always decides not to stay. All of Tom's great expectations have ended in failure. He is considering moving away, and it is during this low point in Tom's life that a young boy from the beach brings him news of a "funny" woman who has been washed up on the shore. Tom and Chico go to view this sight and are amazed to see a beautiful mermaid at the water's edge. Chico immediately recognizes the monetary value in the mermaid. Tom, however, is content to accept this beautiful gift that the water has given him. All he cares about is that he is happier than he has been since he was a child. Tom gazes upon this beautiful creature while the waves roll higher on the shore. Finally, they wash the mermaid back into the sea, yet Tom is still happy. He believes that without the sea, his beautiful mermaid will die. He then realizes a truth about himself, too. He now knows that he can never go away. Instead, he finds meaning in his life through swimming in the sea, the element which has given life to his "lady fair."
Water imagery, a favorite of Bradbury's, again is the major symbol in this story. First, the mermaid, the gift that the sea gives to Tom, is described: Her eyelids are a faint water color, her mouth is a pale sea rose, and her body seems alive only when the sea waves wash over her. It is the sea which gives the mermaid life. Likewise, the sea gives new life to Tom's depressed spirits. It not only becomes the promise of joy for him, but it also provides regeneration for him. Bradbury seems to be saying that we need a deep purpose for living before we can discover lasting joy.