• Angélica

Mer made

Short story inspired by Dorothea Tanning, Pour Gustave l’adoré, 1974 currently shown online at Dorothea Tanning: Mermaids and Metaphors - Chapter One of Journeys, a series of in-depth explorations of individual artworks hosted by Alison Jacques Gallery

10th -31st August (online)

Dorothea Tanning, Pour Gustave l'adoré, 1974

I descend into the depths of the ocean inside a bubble. Like a diver in a protective cage looking for a killer shark. Except that I am not looking for a shark. I am looking for Mum.

Hurt? Of course not. She won’t hurt me. She hurts others but she won’t hurt me. Not her daughter. No. She won’t hurt her daughter. No. But it doesn’t matter that she won’t hurt me because I can’t find her.

“Mum. Mum. Muuuum.”

I scream in my little bubble. Hoping the sound will break through the membrane and travel in the water until it finds Mum.

Sound travels faster in water.

I want to find her quick.

I miss her.

Why does she run away like that?

Swim away, I should say.

She doesn’t know what she is doing.

She is too young.

Mum is younger than me, you see.

I can hear you. Yes, you. I can hear you. Doubting me. It is true. People don’t believe when I say it but it is true. How can your mum be younger than you? I hear you ask. Well, I don’t know, okay. I don’t know how I just know that she is. Things don’t make sense deep in the sea. Things don’t make sense in a little air bubble. Things don’t make sense.

There is Mum. There she is.

“What are you doing, Mum? Why are you wearing fish?”

Sometimes I forget what Mum is.

Sometimes I forget that she is fish.

That she is half fish.

That she is half woman.

That she is half me.

That she is confined to the ocean.

That she is free. 

“I am what the sea made me,” she says.

We float in turvy blue water deep in the sea.

“Why are you a mermaid, Mum?”

Mum doesn’t answer. She just swims.

What I really want to ask is: why am I not a mermaid? With a shimmering tail and a thin waist? With golden hair that floats in the water? Why do I not have a wrinkleless face and perked up breasts and gracious hands and manicured nails?

The effects of gravity are evident on me. The toll it takes.

“Stop it, Mum. What are you doing?”

Mum swims and swims. She doesn’t stop.

A seahorse floats by. We watch it as it gives birth to a hundred tiny others. Mum holds one on the tip of her finger.

“Do you want it?” she says.

No, I don’t want it. I don’t want a baby seahorse. But I don’t need to say it. She knows. She knows what I want.

Mum blows a bubble around the seahorsy. It floats inside its bubble like I float inside mine. Except that the baby seahorse will die soon unless Mum pokes it. Unless she bursts the bubble. But she won’t. She won’t burst the bubble. Mum would rather kill it than lose it.

“Poke it, Mum. Poke it!” I say.

Mum shakes her head with a smile. She can be cruel like that. Cruel with a smile. Cruel like a child.

Mum takes the bubble with the seahorse inside. She holds it between her thumb and index finger and sticks it in her hair. Her golden hair. It is golden on the surface, like a veneer, but black underneath. Pitch black. The seahorsy is gone. Lost in the darkness. The darkness of Mum’s hair.

“Stop it, Mum. What are you doing?”

She swims and swims. She swims away.

She is like that, Mum. Sea made. A sea maid.

#touchthepainting #dorotheatanning #alisonjacquesgallery #mermaid #shortstory


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