Cannibals prefer those who have no spines.
– Stanislaw Lem
Tickets to my execution are going through the roof. You’d probably kill yourself if you knew how much they were getting for them, these damn ticket scalpers. My mother keeps me updated. She still visits me everyday and after she enters my tiny jail cell—which she still calls “my apartment”—and she is smiling and her hair is a starfish engulfed in orange flames and red flowers and she says another famous television actor has just confirmed. She is waiting for me to be impressed. I think I recognize the name of the famous television actor, but I’m not sure. The papers, the news stations, these reporters, they are all going nuts about my execution like it’s the end of the world. They won’t shut up about it. They keep calling the house, my mother says, and one of the local radio stations even held an Apnea Contest and the winner got a single, adult, non-refundable ticket to my execution. I think I liked it more when it was just famous television actors that were going to be there. Hopefully when I’m gone…everything around here can just go back to being normal and everyone can just go back to being regular mermaids living in a regular secret underwater mermaid kingdom.
“They held their breath for nearly 3 minutes and I think they nearly died,” says my mother, not eager to change the subject. “Can you imagine?”
I try to imagine. “Nope.”
My mother—she is still swimming around my jail cell and she’s all excited and she keeps talking about the damn radio contest winner. “And it isn’t even that good of a ticket. It’s in the way back. I mean… You know what I mean. Have I told you about the famous television actor yet?”
Mermaids. We’re probably not nearly as grand as you think we are—you wouldn’t believe how quotidian and unsexy and morning-breathed we can be around here. Most of the time we’re just dying for something exciting to happen. Most of my “roommates”—mermaid thieves, mermaid rapists, mermaid tax embezzlers, and even some mermaid murderers—even do a lot of drugs because it’s more interesting to be on drugs than to not be on drugs. I should know, I do a lot of drugs. After all, you can only spend so much of the day racing pods of dolphins, tying old cans onto the limbs of somnolent squid, and going to the crab fights. But I am not a mermaid thief, or a mermaid rapist, or a mermaid tax embezzler, or even a mermaid tax embezzler. I am none of the above. I am considered far, far, far more dangerous.
“Have you decided what you wanted to wear to your birthday party?” asks my mother.
Oh—another thing. By some crazy cosmic fluke—the Universe being a real gas at times—the court scheduled my execution on the same day as my birthday. I’m thirty-two now. You do the math.
“I still don’t know,” I tell her. “Something really heavy.”
“I think you should wear a nice suit,” says my mother.
“I’m not wearing a nice suit. So you can forget about any nice suits. I refuse, just so you know, I refuse to wear a nice suit for the rest of my life. Over my dead—”
Mermaid prison—in case you don’t already know yet—is a lot like regular prison, except for there’s a lot more water. Aren’t I pretty friggin awesome with definitions? I definitely am! Most mermaids though are pretty good with things like definitions and words and sentences because first of all we read all the time and secondly we’re always in school and thirdly whenever we don’t know what to call something—or just want to eschew vulgarisms in polite company—we just use “mermaid.” Don’t ask me which creative genius came up with that because I don’t know, but it’s pretty catchy, I guess, and clever as hell.
“Maybe that gray suit with the green tie your aunt gave you on your last birthday,” she adds, straightening some stuff on my mermaid desk.
There are some major benefits to being on mermaid lock down though. I bet you weren’t expecting that. Mermaid Row means that you don’t have to do any chores really like the other inmates and most of the mermaid jailors leave you alone. I like that part. In fact, most of the time—
“Are you doing it again?” someone asks.
It takes me a while to realize that the question is for me. I try to think on my feet. “HuH?”
“Daydreaming!” yells my mother. “Isn’t that what got you into this pickle? Didn’t I tell you… that… if… you didn’t… ”
Hmm, what else? The rest of the mermaid jail is pretty laid back, tons of space, room to breathe. I’m reading this book right now that I got. It might be my all-time favorite book, which is good because I would hate for my last book in the world to be crappy and full of clichés. I don’t have a copy here on me but on the cover of this book there’s a boy with a pair of butterfly wings growing out of his back—like this mermaid is crazy as hell—and he is sitting down in a field, or something, and he is holding a glass jar in front of him, and inside the glass there is another smaller boy who also has a pair of butterfly wings growing from him. The smaller butterfly boy just looks like all he wants to do is get out of that crazy jar he’s in. That’s what it looks like to me anyway. The cover reminds me of how sometimes the profile of a folded butterfly wing almost looks like a snake’s unhinged mouth, patiently waiting for something smaller and weaker to fall into it.
“Visitor…” the mermaid jailor says. Mermaid jailors are always very curt and most of them barely finished mermaid high school.
My girlfriend’s name is Bubbles. You would like her. Everyone does. She has really nice hair. Each week I slip a few sand dollars under the mermaid Warden’s door so that Bubbles, love of my life, reason I swim and breathe, can makes weekly visits and come see me. It’s not cheap, but like I said, she has really nice hair.
“Hey, baby,” Bubbles says now. Last week, she couldn’t come by because of a hair appointment, but I understand. “Hey, is there any way that I can get another ticket?”
“Please, Bubbles, tell me that you didn’t sell your ticket too,” I tell my girlfriend. “Your family has more money than God. Why would you need to sell your ticket to my execution?”
“No, Gill, baby,” she says, with her large innocent mermaid eyes pleading with me. “I still have my ticket, baby. I would never sell it to anyone for all the sand dollars in the world!”
“Thank you, dear.”
She swims over. “It’s just that I’d like to bring a date.”
“Fine,” I say, “I’ll see what I can do. No promises.”
One of the things that I like about my girlfriend is how much she likes sex. It’s really one of her more attractive qualities. She’s like me. She’s good at sex too. We are pretty good at sex together. The best way to be good at sex together is to practice and so we practice sex together as much as we can. It’s almost exhausting, but it almost makes me feel real again. Maybe not as real as the first time someone else spent the night in your bed. Probably not as real as the next morning. But sex—sexy, sex, sex—look up in the sky, count the planets, count them again, name the galaxies, figure out the matter with dark matter, then do the same for dark energy, hold the microscopes close and the telescopes far, far away—real, meaningful sex, embedding yourself in something deeply beautiful—is really the only thing keeping us around here these days.
“You’re the best! The best! Best! Best! Oh baby, I’m really going to miss you when you’re gone.”
“You better,” I tell her
Bubbles has the prettiest, sharpest teeth. “I hope I have a good seat too. Baby, don’t you want me to have a good seat?”
“I hope you have the best seat, my dear.”
“You’re the best, Gill!’
“No, you are.”
“Want to have sex?”
“Okay, I thought you would never ask.”
“Oh—but can you be sure that my seat is good?”
“Bubbles, don’t be silly,” I say, moving closer. “Everyone knows that there are no bad tickets and no bad seats at a Mermaid Execution By Balloons. You’ll be fine.”
They bring me in wearing handcuffs. I’m also wearing a nice gray suit with a nice green tie that my mother says I look rather handsome in. She says it brings out my eyes. Funny, that is the one body part that I don’t really care to believe these days and maybe it has something to do with my mother giving me a big thumbs up as I swim through the doors with bailiffs at my side. I’ve been here before. I basically grew up a block away. The mermaid courtroom is made from the hulk of a sunken battle ship—there’ s a lot of rust and barnacles and framed photos of unsmiling mermen—that has been at the bottom of the ocean for about a million mermaid years. Us waterfolk are OCD recyclers—have you seriously ever seen a mermaid or merman that doesn’t consider ozone levels, climate change, anoxic waters, and overall resource depletion? No, I seriously doubt you have. By the way, before we continue, I don’t really want to get all environmentalism on you, but I really want to congratulate you guys on turning our digs into a toilet recently. The ocean, the place we live in. Do you think we haven’t noticed that? Mermaid, please. Lately, you guys have been on a ROOLLLLL. Every time some skipper goes on a Glenlivet bender and decides to take the whole crew on a sandbar crawl, or an oil rig starts painting our backyards (we call it the black ghost) because the lowest bidder forgot to tighten the lug nuts, we definitely feel it, you know, we really do. Everyone around here really appreciates all your hard work. Thanks.
My lawyer is excited—but he’s one of those annoying mermen who are always excited about everything—when I see him in court. He swims over. He is still excited. I wonder if anyone told Neal that one of his clients will be executed today. “Gill! Gill! Hey, Gill! Great news, I think I can get you off today!”
THIS MERMAID CRAZY. “Of course you can.”
“No, I’m serious! Are you listening? You can probably go home tonight.”
“Pirates,” says sly Neal. “Have you seen any good movies lately?”
Despite what your television and movie industries seem to think of us, mermaids and mermen do not simply “sprout” legs when they leave the ocean. Think about it. Do you sprout a tail and grow a set of functioning gills when you jump into the ocean? You don’t? Are you sure? We piss ourselves laughing every time we see your movies about us. (Of course, there are legends of “water walkers,” but my instincts tell me that those are largely a function of faith, not fact.) Instead—please note that all mermaids and mermen drown when we leave the ocean, after a certain amount of time, that is. Us merfolk, original shepherds of the ocean, magical hybrid animals, good singing voices the lot of us, we will eventually drown in air the way you drown in our water. Mermaids will always be most alive in the oceans. This is why a Mermaid Execution by Balloons is kind of one of the more excruciating ways for our kind to go. Between you, me, and Davy Jones’ Locker, I am not exactly looking forward to it. I’d rather be eaten by a mako shark.
“Me and Gail just watched this really interesting documentary on whaling—”
“No,” I say. “What did you mean about pirates?”
“Pirates? Who said anything about the pirates? It was about whales and they—”
“YOU DID, NEAL.”
“I kneeled for what?”
“No, idiot! What were you saying about pirates?”
“Oh! Yeah, use the old pirate defense,” says my sly lawyer, flipping open what almost looks like an attaché case. “You should be fine. Just tell them that you were swimming along and—BAMMM!—a ship full of the meanest, beardiest, foulest dustbodies you ever did see done scooped you out of your… habitat… causing some mental distress, shock, et cetera… and only through luck and a determination to see your loved ones again (juries LOVE that, they can’t help but to get wet over those kinds of fish tales) were you able to wrangle free from…”
“Yeah, boredom. Juries LOVE to be bored! It shows how serious you are.”
I look out one of the windows and see some crazy mermaid kids hiding behind the rocks, playing, probably sensing on some atavistic level that something big was going to happen today, but largely oblivious to the drag and the drab of the details. It’s impossible not to envy the size of their worlds.
“Decadent Realism,” says my excited mermaid lawyer, looking over his notes again. “I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this to you yet, Gill, but they are planning on executing you today for it.”
“I think I read something about it.”
“It’s not too late though. Go with pirates.”
“Go with pirates?” I can tell that Neal is full of mermaid now but I decide to let it go before it becomes a big deal. “Well, what will happen if they believe me?”
“Not much,” says Neal, now feeling much better. “As long as you apologize for your whimsical nature, the inconvenience to the court, promise to settle down, show the court that you’re willing to make a go at being a successful, productive member of mermaid society, they’ll probably give you a slap on the wrist. Probably loads of community service though. You should marry that girlfriend of yours. They’d love to see that.”
“And if I don’t? If I tell the truth?”
My lawyer uses his hands to show what a balloon looks like as it’s filled up with air.
It’s like this.
According to the 410-page pamphlet they give you to read in mermaid jail this is how the Mermaid Execution By Balloon goes:
i. They kind of strap the guilty mermaid (Me) into the gondola, or basket, of what probably looks like a hot air balloon to you,
ii. The execution balloon is pretty much 600 feet below surface of the water, give or take a 100,
iii. And after some ceremonial mermaid mumbo jumbo, and some songs, they give the balloon lines the chop-chop, the ol’ snip-snip, and the execution balloon sends you rocketing through the water faster than you’ve ever gone before. If the mako sharks don’t get you, the bends will. And if the bends doesn’t get you, the clouds will. Once you break the surface of the water you are hurtling towards the clouds gasping and coughing and bleeding from the insides as your brain goes fuzzy and you’re wishing that you had been eaten by a mako shark instead.
“Now… do you want to rethink your version of the story?”
The sun is gone and there are loud fog horns in the distance, coming out of the mist. My skin feels dry and hot and thin, like maybe it had been painted onto my body. It would be nice to just lay here for a while, maybe do some reconciling with oneself, but I finally make the executive decision to get up because someone or something is trying to eat my face off.
“Jellybean!” someone yells.
I try to say something, but my mouth and my throat are full of salt and nothing comes out. My attacker, however, continues a policy of aggressive slobbering—redoubling its efforts, or so it seems—with its smelly breath and great big spade-shaped tongue.
“Leave that poor man alone!”
I can barely sit up. I don’t know how I got on the beach—and I don’t know how long I’ve been on the beach for—and I don’t know if this has anything to do with my heavy drinking lately.
“Come here, girl!”
I can tell that it’s a dustbodies voice. The troubled pitch and lack of sonority is a clear giveaway and—for me at least—it’s the voice of panic. All mermaids are reasonably afraid of dustbodies because all mermaids have heard all of the superscary bedtime stories that mermaid parents feed their mermaid kids about the terrible dustbodies that live in the terrible dry kingdom above. Dustbodies are never to be trusted. There are only a few rules in our kingdom and that is one of them. Most of the stories are about the fair little mermaid, or handsome little merman, who—after being magically granted a sporty new pair of legs and set of brandspankingnew dustbodies lungs—tragically falls in love with one of the dustbodies, only to be ultimately betrayed and later pressed into the service of a terrible, nightmarish carnival where everyone is dirty and cruel and dry and boring and where sticky-fingered dustbodies offspring are free to play with one’s tail as much as they want to. Dustbodies also love to eat mermaid flesh. All of them. That’s common knowledge. We are their favorite food. They eat us to get immortality. When guys want to impress their dinner dates at expensive restaurants, they don’t order the filet mignon anymore, they order the medium-rare mermaid steaks with fried arugula. (Actually, I haven’t the slightest clue as to what arugula is, but I’ve always imagined that it’s red and pasty.) What I guess I’m trying to say, and what I want to make sure that you understand completely is this: dustbodies are the cruelest and nastiest creatures in the world which is why Davy Jones himself had to kick them out of the ocean millions of years ago…
Finally, the large, ferocious, ill-smelling dustbodies beast known as “Jellybean” has stopped trying to eat my face off. Great big thankful tears began rolling down my cheeks.
“Hey buddy, you’re pretty much…”
The dustbodies standing over me is a female dustbodies—and she has bangs cut straight across her forehead and her mouth is wide, just a hint of toothy enamel. Hair always looks so weird when you see outside of the water, the way it just hangs on the head in vines of dead protein.
“Nice outfit,” she says. “I’ll be right back with some clothes. Don’t go anywhere.”
Twenty minutes later—let the court records please note—the female dustbodies comes back with some dry materials and hands them to me. Meanwhile the stupid beast known as Jellybean has started chasing a seagull down the beach.
“Good look for you,” she says. “You’re a little bit taller than my ex, but at least now you have a shot at getting through the gates over there. What’s your name, anyway?”
I can hear the waves punching the shore with their tiny fists and it occurs to me that I might already be dead, that this is mermaid afterlife, the land of endless whispers and kisses and unbroken promises and purple moons and shiny white beaches, and I am surprised at how unsurprised I am, how effortlessly and fluidly I have come to embrace the emotional absurdity that my finite existence has been bound and bookended and now I am an official and permanent resident of the other side. All my past is a fan of old Polaroids that blows away in the angry waves and the misty dunes and the dust and the fog horns in the distance. You can always count on a mermaid for a fancy prose style.
The mermaid Judge is now wearing an octopus on his head to show great intelligence and great heart—as all octopuses have 3 hearts.
“And did you ever find yourself visiting a place called The Young Liars Club?”
“Yes,” I say.
“You were a member?”
“Yes,” I say.
“And there were other members?”
“Yes,” I say. “Mostly poets and physicists.”
“And were you not considered, in fact, a leader of a pernicious group of dissidents, students mostly, drunk on their own wine of rabblerousing and iconography…”
Because my father went to school with the mermaid Judge (and scored higher on his mermaid LSATs) my mother was allowed to come in earlier today and decorate the mermaid courtroom with a bunch of birthday banners and party streamers and most of the people sitting behind the teams of lawyers are wearing cheap, plastic, conical hats. Sometimes I have to remind myself that things are really happening in my life. It all seems like such a joke.
“Who sought to overthrow the well-established and distinguished traditions of Social Realism, Modern Realism, Post Modern Realism, Magical Realism, Real Realism…”
For the first time it strikes me as odd that someone who went to school with the defendant’s father is allowed to preside over the case, but the judicial system has always been an enigmatic machine, better left to mermaid minds more talented than mine. A long time ago, when I was still studying for my mermaid LSATS, I read a book about a trial, but it was kind of like reading a book called TITS and then nobody takes their shirt off. Also, this happy coincidence has yet to work out in my benefit so far.
“I asked you, son,” demands the mermaid Judge, a little more staid than before, “and how long did it take you to get through these gates you speak of in your mermaid affidavit?”
“About two months, sir,” I say.
There is laughter in the courtroom as if I have said something really funny, or really ridiculous. My money is on ridiculous. These days my life is pretty ridiculous-friendly so my money is definitely on ridiculous. They keep laughing now and I know that I should probably say something now. They are watching me.
“I object, your honor!” screams Neal. “My client is undoubtedly suffering from hydroshock still. I move that—”
“Can it!” yells the mermaid Judge. Then turning to me, he manages to calm the whole mermaid courtroom down with a well-practiced look. “Son, and why so long?”
I try to think on my feet. “Well, I had to write a Queen’s Query Letter.”
“In the dustbodies kingdom,” I explain, “it is customary to be granted access through the gates only after petitioning the Queen with a QQL. It takes some years, that’s what I’ve heard. But it only took me two months.”
“That long to write a letter?” asks the prosecutor. “What kind of kingdom would do that?”
I think for a second. “One that is dry and full of dust?”
Laughter continues. “And what was the title of your QQL?”
“Umm. I can’t remember.”
“Hostile!” yells the prosecutor, moving in for the kill.
“I think… it might… maybe… it might have been called… To My Coy and Wylie Mistress?”
The mermaid courtroom explodes once more and I see my mother get up and swim towards one of the exits, not looking back. That’s okay, I wouldn’t look back either. There’s a SWOOSH as the door closes behind her and I wonder if she meant to close it that hard and one of the HAPPY BIRTHDAY GILL! signs falls and floats to the floor. My only consolation now is that I’m wearing a nice gray suit with a nice green tie. The prosecutor is smiling though. It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile since the trial started. He’s got the same smile that I’ve seen on the face of an electric eel or a barracuda. It says everything—that he knows his job is done here, the hard part is done, the rest is just details. “And how long was it, this QQL?”
I crack a big smile. “One sentence.”
“And—for the court—what did it say?”
“I don’t remember. I can’t remember.”
“I can’t remember!”
The meaning of life is a letter that says—Dear Universe, I know that you don’t care, but I still want you to know who I am anyway.
Her name is K. I ask K if it is common for other dustbodies to only have one-letter names and she smiles and finishes toweling me off at the beach. We come here every afternoon before she has to go to work. K is working at an aquarium, the gift shop actually, but she wants to do something that helps people, though I don’t exactly know what. I think I amuse her. I must amuse her, that’s the only reasonable explanation for why she has taken such a fancy to me since finding me washed up on the shore with no clothes on like a beached and boozy whale. K says crazy things like that are always happening to her. She doesn’t look like the sort of girl who always has crazy things happening to her but I decide not to push it. I’ll take what I can get. I am vague about my past, even vaguer about the future. She doesn’t understand why I spend so much time in the bathtub. I am always rushing off to the bathtub! One night she brings a DVD home for us to watch on her laptop and the movie has something to do with mermaids and I point out that mermaids probably wouldn’t be all that tan since they spend most of their time under the surface of the water. She floats, K floats. I’ve seen it happen. She isn’t heavy like I am, this female dustbodies with the bangs cut straight across her forehead and her dustbodies beast named Jellybean and her wanting to do something that helps people, though I don’t know exactly what. She just floats. Volcanoes don’t go off and everything is a little bit easier when she’s around. With her I can control the gravity. I like her dimples, her kindness, her curly hair, the way her apartment always smells whenever you first walk into it. She likes my tatts, my ability to locate certain types of smokeable seaweed, my unaffected indifference to social convention, the way my hair curls under a backwards ball cap. But there’s also something of the caged animal about me that worries her. She senses it, that the center will not hold. I sense it too because I am a caged animal. For a few months we live cozily and quietly in the small kingdom by the sea and life is all giggles and tickle fights and smokeable seaweed and tradewinds at night. I never get older with her. I want it to last forever. That’s when everything turns to mermaid.
“One of my friends is throwing a party,” she says one night. “Wanna come?”
“Pleeeaseee… Please come with me.”
I try to think on my feet. “Hm…”
“You’ll love my friends!”
“And this K, the female dustbodies that found you, on the beach, the dustbodies beach…” continues the lead mermaid prosecutor, glancing down at the laminated photocopy of my affidavit, a genuine shape-shifter? These changes, she became a completely different person in one night?”
“To be completely honest,” I tell the courtroom, “it only took a couple of hours.”
“Are morphing capabilities common for all dustbodies?” says the lead prosecutor, making eye contact with a few of the mermaid scientists in presence—presumably brought in as expert witnesses.
“I couldn’t say about the others, but definitely K could.”
“Yes, at first it was curly. Then it was straight.”
“She became taller.”
“Also went up.”
“Quiet in the courtroom!” yells the mermaid Judge, laughing and incredulous himself now.
“And…after you guys broke up…what did she say when you guys broke up, the dustbodies that could change her appearance?”
“I don’t remember.”
“That’s odd. In your affidavit…ah, here it is…that she used the expression…”
“At least it keeps the lights on.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s a dustbodies expression,” I explain to the courtroom. “They say it whenever they are trying to rationalize something to themselves. Sadly, I believe that it is fairly common.”
Lunch is finally called. I feel some relief as everyone begins to swim out of the courtroom together, leaving me alone. Besides, where would I go? I am not hungry and nobody makes me get down from the witness stand so I just stay and look out the windows. The mermaid kids are still hiding behind the rocks. In pairs they look like quotation marks, alone they are little ghosts swimming around. Sitting near the mermaid kids, reading a book during the lunch hour, is the court stenographer. We call her the catfish lady. Sometimes we call her the crazy catfish lady too. She’s about my age, I think, but she dresses a little older, a lot older actually, like a frumpy librarian who probably can’t wait to get through the rest of her day so that she can go back to where she came from. She’s one of the ghosts.
I decide to go outside…
Bubbles catches me in the courtroom hallway. “You think you’re pretty clever, buddy, don’t you?”
“Hi Bubbles! Good to see you too Bubbles! I’m glad that both of us are even alive so that we can even have this conversation. Geez, I hope that never changes.”
“Listen, Gill. From the bottom of my heart: GET OFF THE CROSS. I know that all you have to do is claim pirates and you’ll get a slap on the wrist.”
“Who said that?”
“Pirates, it doesn’t matter who told me. Do it. Take the damn deal! Claim pirates! And stop making little inside jokes (which are pretty obvious inside jokes—which makes it even more infuriating!) about ex-girlfriends, whoops, I mean girlfriends.”
“What does that mean, ex-girlfriend? You’re not planning on sticking it out with me for the next three and half hours? That too long to wait?”
Bubbles looks annoyed. “You’re overthinking this.”
“You’re underthinking this.”
“Umm, anyway, umm we’re talking about inside jokes.”
“What about them?” I ask, already thinking about something else.
After the break up—I realize how much I don’t belong.
I miss the water, I hate the dirt. The ocean—I miss it so badly and I’m so hungry and everything makes me want to crawl back into the ocean and get lost at the bottom of the sea with no notes. I have no money, no real job prospects, I don’t own anything, all of my gestures seem to be entirely useless to the cosmos. I need a skill set. I can talk pretty well though and one day I apply to this business school and tell them I want to major in Soulcide, but halfway through the admission interview I lose focus and go back to being hungry and alone and rained on in the streets. It’s probably better that way for everyone. Everything—the people, the parties, the castles, the exotic animals, the giant monuments, the great universities, strange spices hanging in plazas, the roars of stadiums under lights—is always several feet away from me at least, like I’m walking around and trying to see the world through a set of dirty shower curtains. I know that I am making some mistakes. I do nothing to change it. I do bad things in the shadows. I indulge. I’m a lost monster. I have conversations with myself and sleep on park benches. I wait underneath awnings and watch people go by, unaware of all the hungry and scary things lurking in the pedestrian shadows around them. I stare in shop windows until the owners come out and chase me around the corner. I see pizza delivery cars and I start panting. I think about hitting the trash can circuit. This is just my human form, my dustbodies self, I tell myself over and over again, missing the water some more. It doesn’t help. I’m not really a monster, I just look and act like one now. I’m just hungry. I really wish that K would just find me again so that I could kiss her elbows and listen to the happy nonsense of her life, to fall and sigh and comfortably slip into the uninterrupted currents of real lived existence. I know that this will never happen. I know that this will never happen and I know that it’s better that it will never happen, but I still want it to happen. It’s probably better for everyone this way. No, it’s for the best. She’s probably already moved on, but I miss her. I still miss her. It’s really for the best. I miss her smile, her smell, her breath, the way her mouth always backed away at the beginning of a kiss and moved forward in the middle. I miss the way she closed her eyes after taking a long sip of white wine. I miss the sex too. God, I really miss the sex. But after a few months of being on the streets, in the streets, I would give up so much just for a kiss. I do not really have anything to give up. I am starving and superfluous—like all the other lost monsters.
“Well, stop doing them,” says Bubbles. I have no idea how long she’s been talking for. Maybe ages. Maybe just one paragraph. “Nobody cares. Gill, that’s why they are inside jokes and not outside jokes,” she says, taking off that brown jacket with the brown fur-lined collar that I always refer to as her “Wu Jacket,” even though she is clearly a mermaid and probably doesn’t wear that many jackets.
“Well, I’m not even making inside jokes.”
“First of all, you’re talking about ME up there,” she said, raising her eyes. “Secondly, I think everyone got exactly what you meant with all that shape-shifting nonsense. PS, really? Anyway, from a legal perspective, it would behoove you to show a little more lucidity and little less I’MAMERMAIDMARTYRANDLIFESUCKSBOOHOOHOO.”
It occurs to me that I don’t really like Bubbles, I’m just addicted to the feeling she gives me. “Explain?”
“It means, listen, I know what you’re about to tell them. I’ve heard you tell it 100 times already, your version of the story.”
“Well, it’s the truth.”
“I’m not having this conversation.”
“I don’t want to tell you what to do with your life, Gill, but—if you tell the people in that courtroom what I think you’re about to tell them, I can ASSURE you that you will executed TODAY. That’s a guarantee. That’s fate, buddy.”
“Who’s giving you this legal advice?” I ask.
“Who are you?”
“Nice to meet you Dave. What’s Dave doing butting into a conversation I’m having with my girlfriend, Dave?”
“Oh, I’m sorry about that. How rude. I should introduce myself,” says Dave. “I’m Dave. Bubbles told me everything. Honestly, you really shouldn’t tell them what you’re about to tell them.”
“THEY WERE EATING… WHAT?”
The courtroom is a mess—all the mermaids and mermen are splashing around now and yelling and everything is all tails and scales and the water becomes momentarily a bit mucky but I can still see my mother over there and she is crying, she hasn’t been sleeping much latterly, the bags under her eyes are full of tears. I can always tell when she is crying because of the way she holds her hands over her eyes. The bailiffs start trying to calm everyone down. It takes longer for the water. “Mermaid.”
“Corpophagia?” asks the lead prosecutor even though he already heard me clearly the first couple of times.
“Mermaid,” I say again. “Big piles of it. Big steaming piles. Most of them had it smeared all over their faces and hands. It was gross.”
The messenger is gone. One moment he’s standing next to some type of bi-pedal two-wheel machine that I never catch the name of. It looks impossible to ride. The next moment he hands me an envelope with a royal seal on it and tells me to wait to read its contents until he’s gone and before I can respond the messenger is gone.
I start to run and I don’t care if anyone can see me.
The castle is a large opulent thing sitting in the middle of the kingdom, there’s a lot of blues and purples and flags with lions on them squiggling high in the air. Everything is first class. It’s hard to believe that I belong here. Above the door is a large wooden plaque that says, At least it keeps the lights on. I am nearly out of breath by the time I pass under it. Inside, an oasis of comfort—there’s an indoor swimming pool, mahogany paneling, specialty wall finishes, fireplaces in every room, limestone floors and other countless luxuries that mix with the perfume of ease and impervious modernity. I pass several beautiful people laughing on the stairs. More laughter seems to be coming from the dining room. That’s where I should go. There’s a long table laid out already and the feast has started and nobody asks what I’m doing here, they just assume I belong, or look at me and let their eyes pass over until they find something they think is more important. Two people walk into the room now and I imagine by their ceremonial garb that they are the big shots in this dry and dusty kingdom. The man is wearing a tight blue seat and his face is very pale and resembles what the dustbodies call a jackal.
“That’s Andrew Marvelous,” someone next to me says.
“Who are you?” I ask.
“I’m U,” she says. She’s wearing reading glasses on her face and looks a she little drunk. “I don’t know how they can eat that stuff. I’ve heard that it takes a while before you’re able to get the first spoonful down.”
“Naturally,” I say, trying to think of something else to say. “Who’s that?”
“The crowned Prince, duh. Don’t you read the trades or publishing blogs? All music aspires to the condition of Andrew Marvelous.”
“Nope, sorry I don’t. Do they have any real food here? I’m starving.”
“I love steaks!”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing,” says U. “All the steaks here have to be at least fifty years old before you’re legally allowed to eat them. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the steak here is REALLY good. They all come from sacred cows. That’s where they get them from. There are some exceptions to this rule, some ways to speed up the process—but you don’t want to know about those.”
“And her?” I ask, eyeballing the sophisticated woman next to the crowned Prince. She’s got the forty-foot stare of the fated wanderer and her hair is all in exotic silks and she looks like the most beautiful gypsy I’ve ever seen in my life, one of those enchanters our mothers warned us about. She’s magnetic, dangerously so. I can tell. I would write her a poem, colonize an entire continent for her. “Who’s she?”
“Wait, really? That’s the Princess, double duh,” says U, pointing to the elegant lady bringing a giant spade into her mouth full of dripping mermaid. “Legend has it that she can turn a man into an overnight success if she wants to.”
“What a weird place.”
U smiles. “You have no idea. Want to leave?”
We get up out of our chairs and nobody notices. “Yeah, I’m pretty starving. I don’t think I belong here anyway.”
“You a writer?” she asks as we walk outside the castle, probably noticing the state of my wardrobe.
“Hunger artist,” I say, patting my stomach. “Let’s go find somewhere else.”
The balloon is ready now. In my dreams I always imagined it much bigger, but they assure me that it will do the trick. They tell me that my dreams have hyperbolic tendencies too. They probably do. Under the giant red balloon the mermaids are tying me to the gondola now—a hand on each side, the ankles together, thank you—so I know that the trial must be over and I am relieved actually. I thought telling the truth would be much harder. It occurs to me that lying is harder than telling the truth sometimes. It also occurs to me that lies might be more truthful than truths. As everyone starts saying their final goodbyes now, part of me is still holding out for the last second escape, the phone call, the reprieve—but part of me is just pretty tired and heavy and curious about the general terrain of mermaid afterlife, the dunes, the sands, the whispering winds, all that. I don’t really think it’s what anyone thinks it’s going to be like. It’s hard not to be curious. It’s easy to be wrong. I imagine that it’s like the longest stretch of mediation that you could ever imagine. As the mermaids continue to swim around and the mermaid songs get louder and start to mix with the birthday songs and the tears and the crying and the yelling and the cursing, the word is given and I am finally…
I look down at the bottom of the gondola and see someone hiding. She still has those reading glasses on.
“I heard about the trial,” says U. “I got a ticket by calling in some dumb radio station and had to hold my breath for as long as I could.”
“I heard you almost died. How long have you been hiding?”
“No problem, buddy,” says U, as the big red balloon speeds through the water and the water is rushing past our ears now and past the Mako sharks and past the pirates and over the dustbodies and over the dry kingdoms and it isn’t until we fall into the alchemy of the clouds that we embrace and I know that U really was there the whole time and I breathe deeply until I float like a god.
Photo Source: Simply Sewing