Originally published in 34th Parallel Magazine
Mermaids don’t wear goggles; they don’t have to worry about the sting of chlorine or salt. And so, I’d swim with naked eyes wide open, legs held fast by tail unseen. It was worth the dry redness, to see the sun filtered through the water, shimmering the floor with blue movement. I’d twist and twirl, my hair loose behind me, smooth and sleek underwater. I was beautiful down there.
Will it last? We take the kids to the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. There is a showcase on mythic creatures. A long-time lover of mythology, starting with the first toe-dip into the ambrosia of Mount Olympus as a child, I am a sucker for a fantastical tale. The info panels pull me under to confront the power of word: written and heard. The origin of these creatures of legend are as mysterious as they are alluring. How can you gather the full story if the authors no longer exist? These silent storytellers breathed beings to life, left us to trace the outlines that remain. We can read the signs, but we’ll never know for certain. They continue to exist in our minds because we continue to give them voice.
We exist in the space between our lips when they don’t touch. Static hums the air; I can almost feel your mouth on mine. Almost taste your need—the way a scent inhaled transforms into a flavor on your palate. In your eyes I see past and future, what could have been, what could be. You are my mythology.
What is it? Mammoth monsters of the sea—an attempt to explain the unexplainable. Surrounded by a force you cannot penetrate, what you see can be deceiving. A hands-on exhibit demonstrates how sailors could survey a pod of dolphins, sleek bodies oscillating opposite the waves, and project something like a kraken or sea serpent. An attempt to put the mind at ease, to take what you are given and make it something you can know. Grabbing hold the mist of murmurs and giving it form.
Our knuckles brush and I feel your hands on me; it roils me, agitates the surface of my composure. You sit before me, but I can see you on me, in and out of me. I remain unfilled.
Your words are a siren song and my pulse syncs with the cadence. I hear what you say, and I hear what you mean. Words can be slippery things. Words like quiet and again. They splash in and out of context, only partially surface and you can’t help but wonder what remains hidden below. The glimpses are fleeting and from a distance each individual signal containable—a reach, an inhalation, a locked gaze—but combined I am upended. Capsized by the metastasis, the creature rising from the depths. I drown in projected memory.
There is more to see: creatures of the earth and sky. My family moves on to examine the unicorn, griffins and dragons, eventually the gift shop. I remain with the creatures of the deep.
Is it real? There were those who were trying to be helpful, to themselves and others. Gathering their information and documenting monster sightings on maps in an attempt to warn off would-be victims. Then there were those who wished to profit from the desire to know the things you want to believe, have chosen to believe, are true.
There is a Feejee mermaid on display. The head and torso of a monkey, the tail of a fish, stitched together—an eerie aberration. The desiccated bodies were sold: hundreds; people came to gawk and gander: thousands. Passed from hand to hand until the ruse unraveled.
You conjure up a me that is a perfect match for you. And we could be more than these patchwork people we role-play. The white knight, the soothsayer, the stronghold, the saint. Possibility haunts the imagination. I piece together what I know with what lies on the periphery of conscience. A silhouette of truth as yet unseen.
MELISSA NUNEZ lives and creates in the caffeinated spaces between awake and dreaming. She makes her home in the Rio Grande Valley region of South Texas, where she enjoys observing, exploring, and photographing the local flora and fauna with her three home-schooled children. She is a column contributor at The Daily Drunk Mag. She is also a staff writer for Alebrijes Review and Yellow Arrow Publishing. You can follow her on Twitter @MelissaKNunez.