On my trip to Mexico I took two books of short stories, Three Messages and a Warning, a collection of fantasy Mexican tales, and The Middle Stories, a grouping of equally surreal pieces of fiction by Canadian Sheila Heti. Curriously enough, both contain stories about mermaids—tragic, melancholy mermaids. In fact I've been seeing mermaids everywhere: wood carvings in restaurants, souvenirs in artisan shops, painted on walls. Is it me or does that piece of coral look just like a fish tail?
REBELLION / Queta Navagomez (translated by Rebecca Huerta)
People, the beach, the sea, and the sun kept them apart. They found solace only at twilight among the rocky crags where they could dream of a future together. The man grew tired of this dream, however, ignoring his heart and its longings. Now his indifference keeps them apart.
She observes him resting his head of the tanned breast of a woman with short hair and perfect thighs, a frolicsome woman, fond of walking barefoot on the beach.
Rebelling against an arcane, obscure destiny, ass eternal as the sea, she climbs upon a jagged rock with difficulty to gaze at the night sky, the tears in her eyes blurring her perception of the stars.
When the sun's radiant orb rises, it finds her still weeping. It ascends unhurriedly while her skin begins to dry up and her sight grows dim. Glocks of seagulls swoop down, picking at her limbs, but she does not so much as flail her arms.
As the sun reaches its zenith, crowds begin to gather, staring in astonishment at the exposed body of a mermaid languishing on a rocky crag.
MERMAID IN A JAR / Sheila Heti
I have a mermaid in a jar that Quilty bought me at a garage sale for twenty-five cents. The mermaid's all, "I hate you I hate you I hate you," but she's in a jar, and unless I loosen the top she's not coming out to kill me.
I keep the little jar on my windowsill, right behind my bed, right near my head so if I look up in the middle of the night, up and back, I can see her swimming in the murky little pool of her own shit and vomit, and I can smile.
"Hello, mermaid! How are you this fine evening?" I can say, and sometimes do. "How very sad it is that you're so beautiful, and you're so young, and you're so fucking trapped you'll never get out of that bottle, ha ha!"
Once I went on a class trip and brought my mermaid along, just for the hell of it. We were going to Niagara Falls and I was thinking, "Right, well, maybe I'll hold her over the rail, give her a little scare, put her in her place," or a bout letting her loose down the falls and out of my life. But once we got there I forgot her in my little brown lunchbag with my hot cheese sandwich, under my seat in the yellow school bus. But she got jolted on the ride there and jolted on the ride back and that was enough for me.
Once I had a party and invited all my friends, seven little girls, to play and sleep over, and having called every number flashing in our heads, and having already called the pizzas twice and seanced out of our minds, I just thought, "Oh, why don't I bring my mermaid out to show? They could make their faces at it, they could have their fun, and we'd be able to toss it back and forth like a real little football." But then Emma fell asleep, and then so did Wendy and Carla and the rest, and the mermaid just stayed locked in the closet where I'd put her that afternoon.
Once when I thought she needed a bit of discipline I rolled her measly bottle down Killer Hill in the ravine. Another time I threw her deep into my best friend's pool.
Now she's getting old it seems. I even saw a grey hair on Friday and wrinkles are spreading all across her skin, and as much as I liked her before, I like her even less now. I was thinking sort of what to do with her, but I think I'll just keep her there a little while longer. At least until I'm happy again.