The Mermaids Sing

A girl lives on a sailboat. She is a bit like a prisoner even though the boat is large, and she can go anywhere on it. And yet, she is trapped there, though she doesn’t know why.

On this day, she stands with the wind in her blonde hair, tanned hands clutching the railing as she waits for the group to return. They’d taken a small dinghy and rowed away. She thinks days have passed since she last saw them, but she cannot be sure. In fact, the more she thinks about it, the more she realizes she doesn’t know how many of them there were. Perhaps four, she decides. No, five. 

Mermaids begin singing to her from a cove at a nearby island. The girl has seen them every day since the group left. They are supposed to be invisible, but they show themselves to her. If the island were closer, she would swim out to meet them, but it is too far, and she knows she would not make it. The mermaids sing, sweet and low, and she hears them call her name. They laugh and wave. She waves back.

The group returns as the sun streaks pinks and oranges. She hears the scrape of the dinghy, but by the time she arrives, only the man remains. The rest of the crew must have gone inside to eat dinner. She wishes they’d said hello first, but they are like that — stand-offish. 

The man is lightly tan — no, golden  — with graying hair. He asks her what she’s been doing while he was away. She doesn’t tell him about the mermaids because she is superstitious. Instead, she says that she’s been watching an old movie. There is suddenly a VHS cassette in her hand, and she holds it up as proof. It’s a comedy. The jacket is salt-worn. She explains that she would play the movie, then pause it and recite the next lines of dialogue, before they were spoken. She remembers the film. She has seen it many times before, although she doesn’t know when. The man asks why she’d do something so silly. She feels embarrassed.

“I was bored,” she says.

He looks at her doubtfully. He doesn’t believe her.

“It helps me remember,” she says, starting again. She wants to tell the truth. The man can see this, so he nods approvingly. He seems proud that she remembers something.

She leans towards him. His skin smells like kelp. “But I still don’t have all my memories back.”

He gazes into her eyes, and she thinks for a moment he might kiss her, but instead he only says, “Then you should watch it again.”


Neither here or there, there are places that exist without vocabulary, tucked in the folds of space and time, hanging like prisms on a chandelier, turning in the afternoon sunlight, making rainbows on satin sheen walls.

Rainbows are curious things. They need to be pointed out. “Look! There’s a rainbow!” But then, impossible to ignore, their faces turn to stare.

“Do you see me?” he asks without moving his lips, the yellow dog at his side in the cab of the truck.

You nod and cough. The dust is in your eyes. “Yes, I do. And you?”

“Of course.” She hesitates, studying your reflection in the bathroom mirror, pausing as she brushes her black hair. “Have I met you before?”

“No, I don’t think so.” You look down at your purple satin skirt and white gloved hands. “Are we dreaming?”

“Perhaps. Yes, I believe we are,” says the man in the boat who will not meet your eyes.

“Wake up!” you cry, wanting to shake him.

“You first,” says your mother who sits in a recliner and is long dead.

And then you do wake up, but not before you see the naked girl treading water in a pink ocean, the man inside the little car that zooms through what was once subway tunnel, and the father who wears orange marigolds in his hair as he shows you drawings of a church near his childhood home.

You see these things and so much more. But of course you tell no one, for you cannot make sense of what you’ve glimpsed. These places are alien, and the laws, though familiar, are not tidy like our own.

These worlds, these dreams, these faces, these are the things you lock away.