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Submergence
short story

short story, mermaid, mermaids, jen frankel

by
Jen Frankel

I wrote the short story "Submergence" mostly to imagine what it would be like to have a natural gift that was so excessive people couldn't help but set you apart from everyone else. Superheroes with their secret identities never seem to be prey in their private lives to many of the concerns of the average person, whether we're talking family disagreements or, as in this case, domestic violence. I'm also fond of the "Splash" paradigm of the mermaid who isn't on dry land...




I am a mermaid but please don't let that put you off. Most people have an understandably adverse reaction to the suggestion, much less to the proof of it. I have often felt myself slide out of reality because of someone's inability to believe what I have just told you, even after the best and most tangible of proofs.

Maybe I don't resemble the creature of their imagination exactly. Perhaps that's the problem. My legs are just like yours . . . well, perhaps better formed.

I must admit (because mermaids have to be interested in truth if they're not honest, who will have the courage to be honest with them?) that they are very good legs, by any magazine's standards. I have ten sisters, all somewhat more or less attractive than the next, some average in fact, but we share this particular commonality. Our legs are rather good.

Why, if I want you to believe that I'm a mermaid, do I say we have legs at all? Because we only have tails when we submerge ourselves in water. Don't ask me the process. Our privacy has been assured by the contracts we signed as little girls. We don't wish science to tell us the answers. There are more important problems for biologists and chemists to work out universal things important to everyone. Investigating aberrations like ours seldom profit anyone.

Besides, as I understand it, according to quantum physics, anything is possible, so the non-existence of eleven women like us would be more surprising than our reality, wouldn't it?

On the day my eldest sister murdered her husband, I was with her, and here begins the unravelling of my truth.

She was the most beautiful of us, and the first to appreciate the possible rewards of our condition. She signed the first contract and negotiated for the rest of us. Her speciality was lingerie, and she had, after a few years of modelling, designed a wonderful line of her own. She was as talented as she was beautiful, and I adored her.

I think I understood her better than the others, as well. She was never satisfied. I used to pretend that she was indeed a fish, or half-fish, instead of just a woman who could appear to be half-fish, and that somehow the migratory instincts of a deep-sea fish were in her as well.

"You'll never be happy," I would tell her, "until you take to the open sea."

She laughed gaily at what she considered my more fanciful suggestions, and I was delighted she confided in me.

But she remained restless, and I sometimes wonder if she took my ideas more seriously than she ever told me.


The murder scene was so strange the next day so many people milling about, the yellow and black tape, the number of items that would go missing from the store forever in little plastic bags.

I had to pretend to total ignorance about so many things; but what if they tried to trick me? Did I really know how to divide what I should and shouldn't have seen? I have been a servant of the truth. That is my creed. Was my creed.

There were photos, and I saw Tom's feet as they pushed him into the ambulance, face covered by the zipped plastic bag.

I almost lost my resolve in that moment, because I could see, hanging before me, the phantom of my sister, in the large oval floor mirror with the smooth, smooth wood frame.

She was bent back cruelly, her breasts uppermost, and Tom's snarl was not lost on me because of its reflection in the glass. I see why they say that a mirror is a window to another you, because the man I saw there behind my sister, hand digging through her mass of dark hair, was a stranger.

Was it at this moment truth departed? Did the mirror deprive me of it?

The detective in charge approached me, and I was surprised to see, in a corner of that same oval mirror, that I was more calm than I thought possible. He was a stocky, tall thing in an unflattering coat, but his face was reasonable.

I would hesitate before saying it was a good face, but it was nice, browned and firm, large-jowled, liberally stubbled, and rich in expression like a painter's palette.

He chewed an unlit cigarette while we talked. I, of course, had no information which could be any use to him. I had not been at the store last night. I had not watched my sister trying on her own designs for my comments, had not heard him come in, had not watched her kill Tom.

He showed me photos, and I could plead ignorance to the way he was found (I had, after all, fled before the end), to the way the mirror was found (flattened to the soft carpet, a pool of blood collecting on its surface).


We have swum together, all eleven of us, ever since the advent of our prosperity, all thanks to our eldest sister.

We had, where other of the affluent may have had a swimming pool, a virtual indoor lake her first great contribution to our happiness. I think it is the only reason I developed my fish theory in the first place; watching her, the reason I wondered if there was perhaps truth in it. We love to swim.

Our condition was discovered in a bathtub, the same bathtub, through many years. A single condition, a single tub, and eleven girls.

The change is remarkable, but I would hesitate to attempt an explanation of the feeling of it. If you have been in the water with flippers and scuba gear, you can perhaps get a sense of it but of course, for me to be in the water with scuba gear is as unlikely as you turning into a mermaid. Our experiences of water would be, in a phrase, mutually exclusive.

There is a heat that runs in our veins that comes, I know, from the incredible motion. In the water, we are the most powerful swimmers imaginable.

I can reach the end of an Olympic-sized swimming pool in seconds. Of course, because of my sister, we never were exploited timed, studied, or forced into repetitive displays.

When we swam publically, it was on our own terms, to endorse my sister's line, and create an enormous income for ourselves. To extraordinary needs come the need for extraordinary income. We met our needs, and more. We have not only the physical comforts of the very specialized; we have bought our solitude as well.

This is why I don't understand. Now we are news. The security of our existence, while not precisely shattered, is no longer stable. We list like a leaky ship.

I can trace my sister's dissatisfaction, can sympathize with her marriage (who wants to life her entire life with only other half-fishes for company?), but surely she must have known what would happen to us?


I often go out I am gregarious much more than the rest and I love parties and people. I am a little clumsy, but even this works to my advantage.

Sometimes, struggling over a coffee machine and cups, I will meet fascinating people who like to give a hand and who are shy but will emerge from their shyness to play the old game of "Try this..."

Because of the ordinariness of my appearance, out of water I can be unknown everywhere. No one pays much attention to facial structure when the easiest thing to notice about someone is their tail.

And perhaps I didn't mention before that I am one of the plainer, as well as younger, of my sisters. And you might assume, as others do, that we all look glamorous out of the water as well in, and would also take me for a perfect stranger.

There is a security in my plainness that was never afforded my sister.

When someone does recognize me, I put my finger to my lips, smiling, and tell them "Ssshhhh..." Then we have a secret.

Maybe I have been making concessions to truth all along.


I am running away. I don't precisely know why. It's not like I can go far before I am recognized.

My sister will manage better, but that's because she understands money, and how to achieve wealth. I was much better at accepting our lot without questioning how we arrived at our privileged position.

The trains in this hollow station seem to go everywhere but where I would like, and I don't even really understand where that would be.

What I wish is that this huge hall could be filled with water, and that water would connect me to the sea, and I could swim from here all the way into a new life.

Maybe truth is a solvent thing, and the mistake I made was at the beginning. Maybe water dissolves more than human legs in someone like me. Maybe that's where the feelings of release come from, when I can feel the scales form.

What if I am sensing, not that I have come into my truth, but that the need for it is washing away?

He was cruel to her. I knew that and assumed that the cruelty of normal humans was something visited on all my sisters by the nature of our condition. I have not been close to others, except for my sisters, no matter how hard I've tried.

Was I jealous? Is that why I urged her on?

Maybe she understood things I don't, the importance of certain sacrifices made for the good of all eleven of us. How many more sacrifices had she made through the years?

Was this the truth? That he beat her, and she let him, and that because of this horrible situation, we were rich and I could go to parties?

If this was the truth, I was no truth-seeker. And I should be no truth-sayer either. How could anyone believe in me when I had been so blind?

I am more than half-fish. It was me I was speaking of when I told my sister she might be more akin to the deep-sea fishes than she would admit. Maybe the fact we are half-fish made it easier for me to suggest this way out of her intolerable situation, because I saw Tom as a different species and therefore easier to justify his murder.

But being half-fish makes me almost half-human as well. I think I will meet more kindred souls on the road to the ocean than I ever did sitting still in my sister's care, feeling restless and paying lip-service to a God I had never sought.

I will miss them, my family. But who is to say that a tail is the tie that binds? Familiarity does not necessarily breed understanding.

Why did my sister marry? Expediency, or because it was the only way?

It doesn't matter now. Everyone loves a celebrity trial, and no matter what the outcome, she is lost to me. Either a vindication by way of a ruling that the homicide was justified, and her profits triple or prison, without hope of transformation into her free form for the duration of her sentence.

I can't bear either thought. My days of privacy in the spotlight are over.

And truth? I think people need to be horses, not fish, and wear what blinders they can devise. If you know what is out in the world, all the limits of bad and good, you can close your eyes to some of it and so get on with the important things in life.

I will make of truth something I can live with, but first I must live without it, just for a little while longer.

It's time to see the ocean.

The End

Read Siren Song, a mythological maritime poem




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