I’m a mermaid.
This proclamation echoes across the hashtags of every instagram filter, burnishes from its shimmering sweatshirt etchings, reflects back quizzically from the mercat brooches and seashells pins decorating totes covered by the same mantra. Should your heart desire it, you can even buy a mermaid tail blanket on amazon (two of my friends have one.)
The myth of the mermaid is far more ancient than its 1989 Disney adaptation (though I would venture the idea that, for my generation, that film marked most of our inductions to the concept) and I imagine that there have always been pockets of people that felt this kinship with the symbolism of the mermaid. My version of this was a dragon.
Yet of late an altogether different phenomenon is taking place. Mermaids have wriggled their way back to the forefront of popular culture. We no longer worship or fear them, we don’t even want to be them, we are them. This reclaimation ‘I am a mermaid’ has become an act of rebellion, of escape, of self-identity amongst many female identifying people of my generation. What is it about being a young woman these days that makes us connect so strongly to the image of the mermaid?
The icon of the mermaid is not carved in stone, rather her representation and mythology are as fluid and changing as the waters she is said to occupy.
What are mermaids? Are they sisters to the sirens of Greek mythology, the aquatic equivalent to those half bird femme fatales that lured men to their deaths? Are they forces of destruction, summoners of tempests, warlords of the water? Are they something altogether more mammal, misidentified manatees from weary sailors imbued with the sort of magical sight that only comes from exhaustion and the frontiers of the great unknown. Or are they true magic, a society, a world paralleling our own in the great undiscovered country of the sea floor? To date we’ve only explored a measly five percent of the ocean, five percent of a world that covers more than seventy percent of the Earth’s surface. With numbers like that, a society of hybrid piscatorial humanoids doesn’t seem that far fetched.
If one is to go to Denmark, as one such as I has, one must write about fairytales. My first stop in Denmark is the capital city of Copenhagen, a city famous for its canals, its architecture, and for being home to the father of modern day mermaids everywhere, the author Hans Christian Andersen. Copenhagen is not the first city I have ever been to that has a particular proclivity for mermaids, months before I’d traveled to Warsaw, Poland a city that bears the mermaid as its emblem. But Denmark and mermaids have a special relationship because of Mr. Andersen (or Mr. Anderson if you’re a Matrix fan.)
The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen was published in 1837. His original work is a far cry from the Disney film many of us know and love. If you thought the Disney adaption was a little bit twisted, brace yourself for the original. The skeletal fragments of the story are the same: a young mermaid (with a lot of sisters) rescues a prince; he has no idea who saved him; in order to win his heart the young (mer)woman gives up her voice in exchange for her legs; she and the prince flirt a lot. And that’s about where the stories cease to share any common ground. In the Disney film, the Little Mermaid is named Ariel, she has a trio of companions (Flounder the fish, Sebastian the crab, Scuttle the seagull), she at least seems to be vaguely age appropriate in relation to the Prince, she sings a lot, she makes a deal with Ursula the (villainous) sea witch, who she later battles after Ursula tries to bewitch Prince Eric. It ends, as most Disney films are want to do, with Ariel marrying her prince.
The original tale does not have quite the same tonality. In H.C. Andersen’s version of the story, the Little Mermaid still rescues the Prince and he still fails to see her. But instead of a maniacal sea witch she goes to her grandmother. Her grandmother explains that humans and merfolk are essentially incompatible because humans have much shorter lifespans than the mermaids three hundred years but humans do have eternal souls that live on in heaven whereas when mermaids die they turn to sea foam, ceasing to exist. Grandma Mermaid was not about filtering. The Little Mermaid then seeks out her sea witch but in this version of the tale she strikes a far more painful bargain. She still gives up her voice in exchange for a pair of human legs (and the ability to dance) but this time there is an added caveat: each step she takes will feel as if she is walking on sharp knives. And she will never be able to return to the sea. Additionally, in order to gain an eternal soul, the Prince must fall in love with and marry the Little Mermaid, allowing his soul to flow into hers. She takes the deal.
Next thing you know she’s washed up on the shore with the Prince hovering over her. He takes her back to his castle. There the Little Mermaid, mute and utterly naïve to the ways of human culture, dances for the Prince night after night, despite the horrendous pain wracking her entire body. He enjoys her company and grows to love her…like a little sister. One day he meets a potential bride, believes that she is the woman who rescued him, falls in love, and decrees that he will marry her, devastating the Little Mermaid. However, she is offered a last minute bargain basement deal. In exchange for their hair (cue the Rapunzel/Fantine cross over) her sister’s procure her a knife from the Sea Witch. If the Little Mermaid kills the prince with said knife, and lets the blood drop over her feet, her trial will be over and she can return to the sea.
However. As the Little Mermaid gazes down at the sleeping prince and his new bride, she cannot bring herself to harm him. She throws herself, and the knife, from the wedding barge and is instantly dissolved into foam.
However (again) instead of dissipating into nothingness she discovers that she has been transformed into a spirit, a ‘daughter of the air.’ In a total deus ex machina move, it turns out that because of her “selflessness” (which is a debatable ascription to give the aforementioned events) she’s been give a chance to obtain her immortal soul. Hooray. All she has to do is perform good deeds for children for the next three hundred years. If the child behaves, a year will be taken off her sentence. Every time they’re bad and cry, a day gets added. Good luck.
So which mermaid do we mean? Who is she? A young woman grappling with her adolescence that ultimately finds true love? A confused teenager who puts far too much stake in the love of a boy? A temptress? A source of guidance and light? Or something in the in between, a creature caught between the border of the mystic and the mundane, an emblem for all us who have felt divided amongst our own aspects. Perhaps she’s the conundrum we all face, the contradiction that seems to be an essential element in humanity’s starter kit.
In 1976 Dorothy Dinnerstein published the seminal feminist text The Mermaid and the Minotaur. In her book, Dinnerstein proposes that our fascinations with these hybrid creatures of myth arise from out attempts at comprehending the incomprehensible elements of our world:
Human nature is internally inconsistent, that our continuities with, and our differences from, the earth’s other animals are mysterious and profound; and in these continuities, and these differences, lie both a sense of strangeness on earth and the possible key to a way of feeling at home here. Emergent understanding of the ancients that human beings were both one with and different from animals.
Mermaids and minotaurs; creatures with which we are the same but different.
To name something is to have power over it. Is this the origin of their conjuration? Sailors with their eyes towards the great wide unknown, trying to understand what lies just beyond the reach of their fingertips, lending a modicum of familiarity to those mysterious fathoms below. Perhaps our obsession with mermaids lies not in their mysticism but in their humanity. They are the unnamable aspects of our self.
The older I get, the more problematic I find Disney’s The Little Mermaid. The story has never sat well with me: a teenage girl who risks her life, forsakes everyone who loves her, to pursue a world and a man who doesn’t even know her name. I doubt I’ll ever really get behind the Ariel/Prince Eric romance (seriously, can she spell? Are the illiteracy rates in the underwater kingdom that astronomical?) But I also understand her far more than I ever did before.
‘Part of your world’ is perhaps the most well known song from the movie musical. While it upholds the Disney requirements of being memorable and catchy, it bears a deeper meaning. The song is a testament to female curiosity and a hunger for knowledge. Ariel wants to explore strange new worlds, to see the surface, to venture.
How different is her desire to travel to the surface world from that of mine to travel the globe?
My father once asked my mother: “Where do you think she gets it from, this insatiable urge to see the world?” Maybe it’s just the mermaid in me.
Why did I go to Denmark? I went to Denmark because I wanted to. Because I was curious. I went to the capital of Copenhagen on a whim and I went to the Northern city of Aarhus because of the New York Times. I went because as I gazed out at the blue and green hues of my (google) maps, I wanted to explore this personally uncharted territory. And yet. Even in the midst of the unfamiliar there are always fragments of home; as if some ghost of future self left behind a trail of breadcrumbs to keep me from my losing my way, lest I fail to make it out of the woods before dark.
During my sojourn in Denmark I make an unexpected pilgrimage to a place that, for me, had only existed in the magic of the theatre. I go to Elsinore. I go to pay my respects to Hamlet.
The castle formally known as Kronborg, in the city of Helsingør, is the real life inspiration behind the world-renowned Elsinore, the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Visiting the home of Hamlet, fictional or not, is to me what visiting Mother Teresa’s birthplace is for Catholics. You’re visiting the tangible place that gave you something immortal and sainted.
There are certain stories that have a way of cropping up throughout our lives, unintentional motifs that unspool along the way. I first read Hamlet when I was a senior in high school and it’s been with me ever since. I’ve watched, read, or performed a part of the play for most of my adult life. This place, these characters, they’re sacred.
I stand in the courtyard of Elsinore. It’s vast and exposed. I think of Hamlet running desperately over these cobble stones, chasing after the hell tormented, blood thirsting spirit of his father, crumbling as the as the world watches him go mad. I pass by the fountains, the little rivers and lakes around the castle. I think of my dear Ophelia, how many rocks she would have needed to weigh herself down to these shallow bottoms. Perhaps she too was just trying to be a mermaid.
A common element of mermaid mythology is not just their power and allure; it’s the hunting of mermaids, the capturing, entrapment, and even murder of them. Therein lies the darkness of the myth: the image of men netting that which they cannot understand, which is apart from them. Their skins stolen, their tails taken away, some even give up their voices, always made the wife or a lover of a sailor, a fisherman, or a prince. Because there is always a price to be paid for being a woman outside the existing norms of power.
The mermaid has evolved from the first precepts of civilization: from the Babylonian god Oannes to the sirens of Odysseus’s Greece to the selkies of Scotland to Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic fairytale to it’s Disney reinvention to the ever so kitschy Splash to Harry Potter to the current idea of “mermaid glamour.” Even Christopher Columbus thought he saw mermaids during his conquering of the Caribbean. In the diaries of the Pirate Blackbeard, one of the most notorious brigands to ever roam the seas, he instructed his crews to stay away from waters known to be enchanted with these mere folk. Because an independent woman is a fearsome thing to behold.
Shakespeare never saw Kronborg, he never went to Denmark, he very likely never left England. But Shakespeare was a smart man, he borrowed from just about everything: history, current political events, personal experience (probably), mythology, even a fairy tale or two. He and Andersen had that in common. They drew on the world around them, inventing fairytales from the unraveled threads of all the myth and adventures and travels that came before.
Water cities have always been trading cities. Copenhagen is no different. I like to imagine that there was one ship who didn’t sell goods but traded in the legends and odes of lands far off. Traveling here in late summer, in a pleasant kind of heat, it is impossible to be here and not feel as if you are being suspended in the warm amniotic waters of the Earth itself.
I’m shocked by the number of ex-pats I find here. They’ve come for different reasons: love and job opportunities, visits and vacation. Yet almost all their original reasons for leaving it all behind have long ago passed: the job they came here for ended, the return flights of a vacation simply missed, the relationship having lived out its half life, and still they remain. It’s not hard to understand the appeal of Copenhagen: accessible (affordable!) public transportation, great healthcare, support for artists and the unemployed, and a nearby view of the coast if you ever need a playground for your imagination.
It’s so easy to feel at home here. During my week stay in Demark I meet up with some fellow Hungarians, I’m given a tour of the city by a acquaintance of someone from college, I enjoy endless dinner and good conversation with someone who starts as a stranger and ends as a dear friend. I even run into one of my fellow masters students. Whatever reason people come to Demark, they stay for the fairytale.
After Copenhagen, I make my war North to the city of Aarhus. Before this year I’d never heard of Aarhus, at least not until the New York Times mentioned it in their 52 Places to Travel in 2016. Much like my desire to travel to the outskirts of the Polish border to visit the Białowieża Forest based on a historical fiction novel I read, my impulse to go to Aarhus stemmed from a paragraph and a photo. The second largest city in Demark, Aarhus is a university town on the verge on a great of up scaling—-in 2017 it will serve as the European Capital of Culture. Though based on many factors, it’s hard no to believe that that decision doesn’t have something to do with Aarhus’s extraordinary ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, a contemporary art museum, and its circular skywalk. This is no ordinary skywalk but rather a panopticon of variegation: it’s a rainbow. I spend over an hour going round and round this walk. It is pure delight. I get to see Aarhus as we ought to see the world, across a spectrum of hues and colors.
In my mermaid research I discover that the mermaid is not just a modern day totem for women but for the transgender community as well. The mermaid is no longer just an icon of female power but has become a powerful emblem for the magic and might of those cis and trans individuals of either (or neither) gender identity that feel the body they were born to is not the body they were meant for. In a world where cis women and trans people are ridiculed, attacked, and murdered for existing outside of the perceived societal norms, for challenging what is beauty and power and our sense of self, it is impossible not to seek the darker underbelly of this mythology transmute to our current reality.
I, as most do, pilgrimage to Anderson’s mermaid, to the little statue that sits along one of Copenhagen’s many canals. But rather than taking the winding footpath, I come upon her in a passing barge. If one is to see a mermaid, one should see it from the deck of a ship (or from the bench of a tour boat.) The old gal has been copied, stolen, defaced, and decapitated. But there she sits, eyes to the horizon, gazing out to the straits beyond the harbor.
Did I ever want to be a mermaid?
I was never a great swimmer. But I loved it. In the water the body I felt at war with every other waking second of my life finally felt like it was mine. I wasn’t the fastest but I was just as capable as the rest. I didn’t finish first but I finished my laps just like everyone else. My body never failed me in the water; it amazed me. I could sit at the bottom of the pool, holding my breath for what seemed like eons. I could be as light or as heavy as I wanted. There was no greater thrill in the world to me then to hover at the surface of the water, my ears peering over the surface like a studious hippo, and then to suddenly and fully plummet into the bowels of the deep, that sharp drop from the clamor of the world above, to the physical thrum of the water below.
Why do women want to be mermaids? Because they don’t see another way to access the magic that already exists within themselves. Many of the people I met and spent time with in Denmark were themselves transplants from another place. They’d come to Denmark for a job, for school, for a lover affair, and ever after the initial impetus had passed or fallen by the way side, they chose to stay. Why? Because in Demark they got to be mermaids, to be the best version of themselves that they couldn’t be, for whatever reason, somewhere else.
Hans Christian Andersen came to Copenhagen to be a ballet dancer but he was told he was too clumsy and ugly. So he became a writer instead. He became the best version of himself. Maybe he even saw himself in these mermaids, creatures of misunderstanding and mystery belonging both to this world and to a cosmos beyond our grandest imaginings.
The first thing I did after arriving in Copenhagen was to visit his grave. I hadn’t meant to, it was late in the day, the person I was staying with recommended a nearby graveyard as pretty introduction to the city. It always strikes me, how cemeteries differ from country to country: the tidy acres of land in the States, the wild plots of England, the gray uniform graves of Poland covered with an intense prism of flowers. And then there’s Copenhagen. Like much of Europe, the graveyards here serve a dual purpose: a resting place for the living and the dead. The graves here are different—they are personalized in a way I’ve never seen. Each headstone, inscription, and plot size are singular in their representation. No two of these graves are alike. Some have beautiful over hanging trees enshrouding a simple stone bench, a place for family and strangers alike to sit for a while, lending their company as they are leant comfort. On another sits a life size replica of a motorcycle made entirely of wicker wood. Not too far down is a headstone carved in the shape of a trumpeting elephant. Then I come upon Hans’s grave. It seems rather mild compared to the rest. The tombstone is simple and unadorned, there are no motorcycles or benches or elephants here. But there are flowers. Amongst the simplicity of his grave they seem to burn and shimmer, living blooms of fire rooted to the earth. I smile as I come to understand—Danish graves are stories, they’re fairytales.
The human world is a mess. If the only real say we get in this world is to craft our own story, and to do so to the best of our ability, why should we choose, any of us, choose to be the ugly duckling, or the damsel in distress, or even the (bland) prince that comes to the rescue. Why not be something powerful and mythical, a force to be reckoned with, capable of anything? Why not be a mermaid?
The surface of the water moves differently in Denmark, it looks like liquid burn scars or paintings where the brush strokes of color are upturned, textures that seem to claw forth from the canvas. Traveling through the canals, gazing out over the harbor from the (very high up) spiral staircase of The Church of Our Savior, watching the lakes melt past from the steps of the train, I reach a hand out to the water, and if I look closely enough, I can just make out the image of a smile and a hand reaching back.
Denmark is blonde woman and balding men, buses that have seven different ways of telling you what the next stop is going to be, streets named after Tycho Brahe, midnight naked bike riders, playgrounds that eat your heart out, free wifi everywhere, storytelling cemeteries, rainbow museums, and fairytales. Denmark is where you go to finally realize ‘I’m a mermaid too.’
If you’ve read the blog and enjoyed my dissection of modern day mermaid culture, please read the feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid I was inspired to write as a result. Enjoy!
The Little Mermaid: The Feminist Remix
The Little Mermaid lives in the kingdom under the sea with her father (the king), her grandmother, and her five older sisters. On her fifteenth birthday, as is tradition, the Little Mermaid is allowed to swim to the surface of the water for the first time. The Little Mermaid has listened for years as, one by one, her older sisters have swum to the surface and come back with fantastical tales of the human world above. Finally, her turn comes. She swims to the surface where she witnesses a birthday celebration aboard a barge in honor of a human prince. She sees him and falls in love. A terrible storm spews forth from the sky, and tears the boat into pieces. She saves the Prince from downing, delivering him ashore, and returns to the safety of the seas. The Prince never sees the Little Mermaid.
Heartbroken, having inherited the teenage talisman of unrequited love, she returns to the sea and seeks the comfort and the underwater, mer-people equivalent, of tea and cookies (squid ink and coral reef, perhaps?) with her Grammy. She asks her grandmother if humans can live forever. The grandmother explains to her that humans live much shorter life spans than the mermaids three hundred years but when mermaids die they turn to sea foam but when humans die they have an eternal soul that lives on forever.
“Of course,” her grandmother further elucidates, “the construct of a soul is a very ambiguous thing. In terms of the literal, what happens to merfolk and to humans is pretty parallel—we turn to sea form, they either decompose to dirt, or reduce themselves to ash and end up getting chucked in here with us. That’s why I always told you not to play with ocean snow. It’s just little burnt up human bits. Now, they do have a more highly developed concept of this soul ‘construct’ but that’s just because they’ve had this exceedingly long, convoluted development of something called religion.”
“What’s religion, grandma?”
“A codified belief structure that serves as a means of explaining the seemingly (I do mean seemingly) inexplicable while also serving as a means of population control and a source of community. We never developed it. We have whale songs instead.”
The Little Mermaid sighs to herself. That night, as she lay on her bed listening to the underwater equivalent of early 2000’s emo, melancholic rock, with her clam shell headphones, she thinks to herself how wonderful it must be to have a soul. And a boyfriend. What she wouldn’t do for a boyfriend. “If I had a boyfriend,” she thinks to herself, “then maybe I wouldn’t feel so bad all the time. Maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to have all these feelings, raging and swirling inside me if I had someone to share them with. Maybe I’d believe I’m pretty if I just had someone I loved to say it to me. Maybe then I’d feel smart and beautiful and confident and whole. Maybe life and school and friends and the world wouldn’t be so scary if I just had one person to share it with.”
Her sisters hear the tonal tremulations of Love Story by Taylor Sea Rift vibrating from the waters of their sisters’ room. “Oh no,” says the oldest, as she sets down her copy of ‘Ain’t I a Mer Woman’ by Bell Fishhooks. “She must have seen a prince.” All the sisters heave a collective sigh of frustration and worry. They call their sister to them. They tell her to turn off her sad music. They tell her to go read or write or experiment or build, anything but to sit there and wallow like some little guppy stuck in the mud. They tell her to forget about this guy. But, while she knows her sisters love her and mean well, the Little Mermaid can’t bring herself to do it.
So, while the rest of her sisters are tucked into their soft beds of seaweed and sand, the Little Mermaid sneaks out. She goes to the Sea Witch, the great collector of the female experience, the great dame grandmother to all the female identifying sea creatures. And the young mermaid asks to be made human.
Dame Sea Witch sighs. “It won’t be easy,” she says, “Magic still has to adhere to the laws of physics—I can’t create or destroy something, I can only transform the energy from one form to another. It takes a lot of energy to make a pair of human legs. It won’t just be giving up your tail; it’ll require something else: your voice.”
“My voice?” The Little Mermaid’s hand flies to her throat, holding it protectively.
“I know. It’s not a fair thing to ask. After all without our voice, our ability to defend and articulate ourselves, who are we?”
“But at least I’ll have my looks? My pretty face?”
“Yeah because that’s worth more than the unique, individual, and precious thing that is your voice.” Unfortunately, the Little Mermaid had not entered the phase of being a teenager where she understood and spoke fluent sarcasm.
“And that’s not all. You’ll be a beautiful dancer but every step you take will feel as if you’re stepping on a thousand knives. But to be honest, human women wear these things called stilettos which are basically the same thing so you’ll be in good company.”
“At least, I’ll be good at something.”
“And there’s one more thing…if for any reason (and there are a lot of reasons) this Prince should fall in love with someone else, the morning after their marriage, you’ll be turned into sea foam. You’ll die.”
“That seems kind of extreme?”
“Obscure magical contract law. It’s a bitch.”
Despite all her forebodings, the Little Mermaid agrees to the arrangement. The Sea Witch and the Mermaid sit together, watching the potion brew. “What will you do with your legs? Where will you go?” asks Dame Sea Witch.
“Oy vey. What’s his name?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did you meet?”
“I saved his life.”
“What’s he ever done for yours?”
“You don’t understand, I love him.”
And Dame Sea Witch hesitates. She remembers. She remembers being fifteen. She remembers everyone telling what she was supposed to do, where she could and could not swim, what fish she could and couldn’t talk, and everyone always telling her who she was supposed to be. She remembers feeling as if no one listened, she remembers feeling as if she would never be able to drown out the cacophony of voices trying to tell her all the ‘right ways’ she was supposed to exist and behave. She remembers falling in love, desperate to have something that belonged solely to her, a decision, a choice, a feeling that was hers and hers alone. She hands the steaming cup to the Little Mermaid. “Careful, Doll. It’s hot.”
The Mermaid downs the warm liquid, a precursor to the hot toddies she might have drunk if she’d only decided to wait and go to the university under the sea. Her spine seizes, contracting and contorting her body to the brink of tearing. Suddenly she can’t breathe. She blacks out. When the Little Mermaid wakes up she finds herself on the beach, the Prince standing over her.
“Hey, are you alright? Where are your parents?” The Little Mermaid is so happy she throws her arms around him. The Prince, however, is immediately uncomfortable because the Little Mermaid is clearly barely a teenager, and naked, and the Prince is not an unseemly guy. “Hey, hey there. It’s ok. Here.” He takes his shirt off and gives it to the Little Mermaid. Tears fill her eyes at, what she believes, is a gesture of his reciprocal love and affection. The Prince leads her back to his castle. His guardian/butler figure pulls him aside. “Uh, Sir, not to be presumptuous but do we have something to be worried about with regards to your new…companion?”
“Oh God Jeeves, no! She’s like fifteen. Oh that’s disgusting.”
“You never know sir. With Royalty and all.”
“I found her on the beach. But I don’t know where she came from, she won’t speak but she seems to understand me.”
Time passes. Each day the Prince visits the Little Mermaid. He tries to talk to her, desperate to help her get home. But the Little Mermaid just smiles happily. She never answers his questions, the only thing she responds to is music. Each time she hears any kind of music she immediately begins to dance. And she is one hell of a dancer.
One day the Prince brings a woman to meet the Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid assumes it’s his sister. Hint: It’s not his sister. Each day this strange woman spends time with The Littler Mermaid: she reads to her, dances with her, and sometimes they just sit looking out at the water together. It makes the Little Mermaid miss home. But she likes the woman.
One morning, the Little Mermaid wakes up to find a beautiful gown in her room. She puts it on and Jeeves leads her down to the beach. She sees the Prince standing under a trellis by the water. She runs towards him but Jeeves grabs her and plops her into a chair. There’s an intake of breath and the Little Mermaid looks over her shoulder. The woman is standing there, also in a beautiful dress. She walks down the aisle towards the Prince. He takes her hand. They put rings on each other’s fingers and exchange non-denominational vows about equality and empowering each other. The Little Mermaid’s heart sinks. She may not know much about human customs but she knows this one. The ceremony ends, as the rest of the guests wander back to the castle, the Little Mermaid heads to the water. She waits. Then she sees them, her sisters’ heads rising above the surface. They come to her but she can’t speak. The eldest proffers her a knife from below the depths.
“You can come home, if you want to, you can take back your life.” The Little Mermaid shakes her head, she doesn’t understand.
“But you can’t have your life without taking something equal, that’s what the Sea Witch said. Something about an energetic equilibrium.” A far off voice is heard; the Prince is looking for the Little Mermaid. Her eldest sister presses the knife into her palm. “We miss you.” Her sisters disappear beneath the waves. The Prince approaches and the Little Mermaid hides the knife under her dress.
Night falls and the Little Mermaids sneaks into the royal bedroom. She sees the two of them curled around each other. She can’t tell what she wants to do more, vomit or cry. She approaches them. She stares, knife in hand. She looks at these two people in love and she feels so alone. She lowers the blade. She’s young and she hurts in a way no one has ever explained but she doesn’t want to hurt anyone else, she just wants to feel fucking better.
The woman wakes up and sees the Little Mermaid, knife hanging limply at her side. The Little Mermaid drops the knife, trembling with anxiety and embarrassment. She’s lost everyone’s love now. But, instead of freaking out, instead of calling her crazy, the woman gets up and wraps the Little Mermaid in a blanket. The Little Mermaid leads the woman to the sea, where her sisters anxiously await her choice of action. Unfazed by the sight of these mystical creatures (she majored in sociology in college and did her thesis paper on the affirmation of minority species in public spaces,) the woman asks the mermaids what’s going on. They explain the whole debacle. The woman looks East and sees that there isn’t much time before the sun rises. She tells them all to wait and races back to the castle. She wakes up her husband and tells him everything.
The Prince is horrified at the toxic masculinity he has participated in. Discovering she can only return to the sea if he gets his blood on her feet he goes down to the shore and summons the Sea Witch.
He apologizes to the Little Mermaid and in no way disregards or de legitimizes her feelings because he recognizes that while, to an adult, they have little basis in a grown up kind of love, the kind of emotional intensity is part of being a teenager and he has no right to minimize or reduce that experience.
“Ok, here’s the best I can do: she can spend six months pain free on land and six months pain free in the ocean. But that won’t come cheap. That requires a lot of energetic output.” The Prince steps into the water and whispers covertly with the Sea Witch, “Sure, it’s a custom where we come from but it’s kind out therefore a human dude.”
“Please, explain something about this situation that isn’t out there?” quips the Prince. The Sea Witch raises an eyebrow in concurrence.
“But what about her voice?” asks her eldest sister.
“That I can’t create. It has to come from some energy that exists somewhere else in this world.”
The woman and the Prince look at each other. Together they lean down and kiss the Little Mermaid. A warm glow emanates from her chest.
“Ariel. My name is Ariel.”
Everyone rejoices. There are tears and bubbles and laughter.
Ariel’s sister asks what the Prince had to give up. He laughs: he’s got to make like a seahorse and be the parent who gives birth. And, news flash, they’re pregnant. (As a result, birthing technology takes a massive leap forward and births no longer kill 830 women in developing nations per day.)
The woman and the Prince hug Ariel goodbye, excited for her to come for her visit in six months. They return to the castle where the woman will begin to assume co leadership responsibilities with the Prince. Ariel’s sisters splash their way back to the sea kingdom, happy to have their younger sister home again.
The Sea Witch and Ariel sit on the shore together, watching the sunrise.
“Does this mean I lost my soul?” asks Ariel. Dame Sea Witch takes her hand in hers.
“Your soul is your self and as long as you hold on to who you are you’ll always have a soul.”
The sun rises.