The Plight and Perils of a Modern Day Mermaid
Am I real? people wonder. I exist off the coast of Sierra Leone,
singing my stupid songs. The first sailor was the worst; I felt guilty,
but is it really my fault he was lured to shipwreck? He should’ve
known better than to steer his ship in the direction of my song.
Unlike Prospero, I did not create a tempest, yet all sorts of disasters
are attributed to me and no matter how ardently and often I plead my innocence
they smear the blame. Floods, storms, shipwrecks, drownings – all
my fault. How I hate my cursed tail! If it wasn’t for that
I could walk on dry land, like normal women do. I would sacrifice
the power of speech for legs. And the size of me! Enormous,
super-sized, like a MacDonald’s range. I console myself. At
least I am free, free in the sea, not captured and displayed behind glass
like that unfortunate fellow at the Horniman museum. Though he’s
fake, of course, not the real thing. I can never grow old; eternally
twenty-two; the age at which I died. I am the ghost of a suicide.
I was jilted at the altar. My fiancée simply failed to show
up. A no-show. O the humiliation! I could’ve died and
I did. How melodramatic. Still clad in my meringue cake of
a wedding dress I caught a cab to the sea, went wading in, up to my waist,
my shoulders and then way in over my head. I carried a rock to weigh
me down. I passed through the panic stage, pushed on and entered
a deadly calm. Everything was quiet and still. Peaceful.
The weeds gathered round me, tangling in my hair. Little fish swam
by. There’s a whole gang of us down here, an underwater posse
– a secret society of sorts. Barter does for currency. Five
of your fish in exchange for six of my precious scales. Time operates
differently in our alternate world. There are no clocks. It’s
nice down here, free from the rat-race, the capitalist struggle that I
know goes on in the World Up Above – what you humans would call the real
world, as if our world doesn’t exist. I have my little group down
here, my gaggle of girls. Cynthia, Belinda and I are always together,
as if joined at the scaly hip. Cynthia’s fairly laid back.
Belinda’s more uptight, always getting her knickers in a twist about this,
that or the other.
You wonder why I lure men to their demise. Isn’t the answer obvious?
To pay back that prick that ditched me at the most demeaning moment possible.
There have been scores of them. They are not wise. They hear
the lilting tones of my voice and they just can’t help themselves.
They steer their ships in my direction, wrecking themselves on the rocks.
I’m safe enough. Just sitting there, combing my hair and exercising
my vocal chords. Some of them survive the wreck, and some of them
don’t. I feel bad for the ones that didn’t make it, but hey, what
can you do? I feed the ones that survive, bring them fresh fish that
I caught in my teeth while diving. They turn primitive; rub sticks
together and make a fire, cooking the catch of the day. Some of them
ask to be taken into the underwater world, adopted, but I always have to
say no. They’d never survive down there. They’re humans – how
could they possibly breathe underwater? One of them asked me to slice
gills into his chest, but I declined. He wouldn’t live through that
and besides, I do not have a knife with a blade sharp enough to do the
cutting. Sometimes they’re rescued. A ship will pull up to
the rocks – the other girls will warn me about it so that I don’t go up
above sea level and get seen by angry shipmates. Yes, nautical colleagues
are often furious.
How could you be so stupid as to fall for that old trick? they will
lambast their shipmate.
They say that I have no soul. All the myths about me are true.
I think I would like a sky burial –
No photographs allowed as the vultures take me skywards.
I’d have to live in Tibet, get friendly with the locals –
Earn somebody’s respect.
Those gigantic birds would circle overhead,
Waiting patiently, then swoop,
My body parts would be swept up in talon and beak –
The easiest way to take to the sky.
More practical than cremation
When the ground’s too hard and rocky to dig a grave –
This would be my exit strategy.
Instructions can be found in the Tibetan book of the dead
For this ceremony intended to help my spirit move on from
The uncertain plane between life and death into the next life.
Who’d want to be hanging around on planet Earth
When you could be digested by greats of the sky,
Something with a decent wingspan
And spend your after death, pre-digestion hours,
Hovering high in midair,
Waiting to be born again.
© Laura Solomon 2014