The Mermaid Effect by Steven Wiley

My name is Lucy. I was born with no legs as most mermaids are, but that was about all we had in common. I had no fins or gills. Couldn't hardly swim. Doctors called me “malformed,” which is a doctor way of saying “deformed.” My father explained the matter to me quite simply; he said I had no legs because I was a mermaid and who wouldn't want to be a mermaid? I liked that. 

I was given the gift of legs at seven years old. A local shoe and table maker by the curious name of Simon Simantz manufactured for me two legs out of goatskin leather and birch. I did not take to them. I lurched awkwardly from foot to foot like a circus dog strutting on her hind legs. This of course gave my schoolmates a good laugh. They called me “Lucy leather legs.”

Lucy leather
What's the weather
You shake like barley in the wind

One day in math, I removed a thigh and smote the author of that awful song upon the skull with the force of God. The whole class laughed and I was not disciplined as a testament to the righteousness of my cause. When I returned home, father danced with me all around the parlor as if I were a mermaid princess. I will not forget that dance it was my first and last with him or anyone.       

I kept the legs on just long enough for my mother to drag me to a fancy studio in a fancy dress so that I might take one fancy picture as a whole human being. I wonder if that picture survives me? It would be the only one. I am only smiling in it because the deceitful photographer tricked me into believing a Russian babushka doll prop would be mine should I obey his commands. I regretfully obeyed that trickster!  In return, I was given no more than a slap on the wrist from my mother for the trouble I gave. 

The town we lived in was called Singapore, Michigan. You'll find that town now drowned under the waters of Lake Michigan. After the Great Chicago Fire, the town was completely deforested supplying Chicago with lumber for rebuilding. Without the trees, the winds and sands coming off the Lake devoured the town. Within a few years the place was no more than a poor man's Atlantis. 

The town's demise secretly delighted me.   

Soon after Singapore drowned, I found myself aboard a ferry headed for Chicago. The city when I first saw it was a curious misshapen illusion on the lake like a carnival fun house full of twisted mirrors. This phenomenon, I was told by our ship's captain, was known as a superior mirage, formed by a rare concentration of warm over cold air. The fact saddened me. I had hoped for a moment the city was a malformity, like me.

In the city I worked plucking chicken feathers in a giant stinking poultry factory from sun up to sundown six days a week, as was customary then. The job was thankless and low paying. It was then I turned to the whiskey for relief.  It was drunk by many of the factory workers with regularity throughout the day. Soon I was named mermaid not because I swam in water, but because I swam in whiskey.

Until it became too expensive. Then I started on an opium tincture called laudanum. Laudanum was in fashion with the lower classes at the time, cheaper than a bottle of liquor because it was not taxed as such, being still considered a medication. The problem with laudanum was the frequent fainting spells, or overdoses, it caused.       

Anyone who explains to you what an overdose feels like has not truly overdosed. If you could feel anything during an overdose you would not have overdosed, you would have simply overdone. The real overdose is achieving the state of consciousness between earth and oblivion which occultists seek; all characters of life, both living and dead, are with you and there is no way to distinguish the real from the unreal. The body has no more feeling than that of a tree tilting in the wind. Then you wake up, or die. 

My last overdose took place on the front door of the city, at Buckingham Fountain. I took a hearty swig of an uncommonly powerful (and deadly) mixture of laudanum and gin. My head exploded with blinding fireworks as I tumbled backwards, straight into the fountain. Under the waters I saw other mermaids swimming about and riding on the backs of the great stone seahorse statues like sunken cowboys. One swam right up and kissed me on the lips!  She tasted like rosewater. I held her hand as we swam out into Monroe Harbor, where we watched the moonrise bleach the city skyline. 

The opiate overdose is a magnificent way to die. 

When I was a girl, I visited my grandma in this dreary mausoleum for the living called a “retirement home.” The residents stared at me with wonder in their faded eyes as my father wheeled me down the ghastly halls. Most of the old residents were quiet, sad, and generally boring, at least in the eyes of a girl. I asked father why this was. He explained to me this was because most lively, enjoyable people don't actually grow to be very old. He said the fun ones are much too adventurous to grow old, and so all tend to die young. 

He named this phenomenon the mermaid effect, after me of course. He said I was doomed to a short life, the fun I was. He said there was never a mermaid lived to see a wrinkle in the mirror. 

That is so.    


About the Author, Steven Wiley: I am a writer born, raised, and still residing in Chicagoland. I have been published in an array of strange and serious places, from gtnews to Garden Gnome Publications to The Crannog. I have an undergraduate degree from Illinois State University and a masters degree from DePaul University.