Some Things You Didn’t Say Because You Thought You Had More Time

A week or so before you disappeared into that unreachable realm, I asked you, the way I often did, to tell me how to live a better life.

Clean your windows once a month, you said, and I said, No, seriously.

I suppose, you said, you could read Wittgenstein and ask him, and I said, No thanks, that’s not a path I wish to follow.

Or you could read Heidegger, you said, and in my mind I tasted the water someone once brought me back from Heidegger’s mountain cabin spring.

Or you could read Plato, you said, and I said, Enough, it’s you I’m asking. Tell me what you think. For once in your life, teach me something in a straightforward way.

Find someone, you said, speaking from experience, who will teach you to be better. Find someone who will see the mess of your outline and say “I care about everything you are.”

That’s not an option, I said. I’m too afraid of pain.

Then, you said, find an animal who evokes tenderness, so you can learn to give without fear.

My landlord’s a shrew, I said, I’m not sure he’ll allow any other rodents on the premises.

Then, you said, all I can say is, remember to love carefully everything you hold, no matter how briefly; to be open and giving even to that which runs away; to see each colour for what it is, and for the way it impacts the one next to it. Remember that cutting your own hair is an act of kindness, in a way. Remember that the room you live in is just a shell, the way you are just a crab. Remember that whatever you are is not your fault, nor does it last forever. Remember that loving cannot help but feel like stepping on an urchin, and that no matter how carefully you remove the spines, the sensation stays inside your flesh until you find another urchin to step on the same way, to fill the same deep and narrow holes. Remember that the flesh you have is always changing, but that its need to be held, to be part of the world it’s made from, will never disappear.

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The Minotaur

To love—is to see a person as God intended him and his parents failed to make him. To not love—is to see a person as his parents made him. To fall out of love: is to see, instead of him, a table, a chair.

Marina Tsvetaeva – from Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917–1922

What a thing to say: You exist because the man who is not your father refused to kill the animal who is.

What a thing to say, also: You exist because someone made your mother fall in love with a creature that could not love her back.

What a thing to say: The only way to keep you alive is to keep you locked in an architectural puzzle you will never successfully escape because you are a child.

Marina Tsvetaeva says it is worse to fall out of love than to not love in the first place.

To not love is to simply see someone as devoid of potential.

To fall out of love is to reduce a person to an object, no longer worthy of attention or love.

The Minotaur knows himself; he knows he is the embodiment of being fallen out of love with, this most passive, most hopeless of states. To have come from the entwined urges of love and desire, and to have failed to become an improved sum of their illustrious parts, how can he make up for such a crime? Yes, he thinks, this maze is the environment most suited for me.

The Minotaur knows he was loved for a while, at least the intention was there. He was cradled and fed. But his development was unpredictable, and he grew into his bull parts. Disappointment flogged the air.

The Minotaur senses his own body as a wound. When a sword or arrow pierces him, he feels as though a part of him were doubled up, and healing, finally.

The Minotaur is as God intended him, but here is where the trouble begins, because this God intended him as a punishment, punishment of a man who refused to kill.

The Minotaur is not as his parents intended him, because his parents intended very little besides their own urges being met.

The Minotaur remembers playing with Ariadne, who sat high atop his prison walls, and sent down a ball of twine whose end she was holding. The Minotaur fell on his back and played with the ball like a cat, while Ariadne looked out over the sea and told him each time she saw a man or a bird fall from the sky.

The Minotaur does not resent Ariadne; he understands that love is dumb, that love’s object can only ever disappoint.

The Minotaur isn’t hungry, but he eats because what he is given arrives in front of him infused with the intent of being eaten, resigned to its death.

The Minotaur does not know what others mean when they run from his strength. If he were strong, he thinks, the endless halls he wanders would not hold him so hopelessly.

The Minotaur spends most of his time waiting, and pacing, and thinking. Sometimes he thinks about the colour green, like the mould that grows on his walls. He thinks that in all the years he can remember, he has never eaten a single flower; he eats only flesh.

It was Ariadne who told him, ‘You’re not a bull. A real bulls eat flowers.’

The Minotaur waits and watches the clouds pass by in the sky high above. He knows that all knowledge of the future is hope. He knows that, sometime soon, Ariadne will save him.

The Centaur

“I’m annoyed, yes,” says the Centaur, “thanks for asking. I’m annoyed because the only questions non-centaurs ask me are about sex.”

Specifically, questions about the mechanics of centaur sex. People only ever want to know what it’s like to process with what appears to be a human brain, stuck inside a human skull, the expression of sexual urges manifesting in the lower parts of a horse? 

“In other words,” the Centaur says, “they want to know what happens to the human need for tenderness when my horse genitals only seem to want to fuck.”

“Is it wrong for people to be curious?” his unnamed companion asks.

“No, but it makes me think about things I shouldn’t have to spend so much of my time thinking about. My body is my territory, and I try my best to be comfortable in its material reality. But when people keep raising these questions I become worried, because I start thinking, well, what if there is something wrong with the limits my body imposes on me?”

His worry is an anatomical one. Due to the way the lower horse body is built, the most straightforward way for the Centaur to have sex is to mount his mate from behind, equine forelegs digging into the flanks, hind legs trembling on the ground. This in itself is not an issue; the problem lies in the expectation, brought into the Centaur’s mind through external sources, of combining sex with tenderness, closeness, and intimacy.

Here is the human torso, awkwardly perched on top of all this equine shuddering. During sex, the human heads of the Centaur and his mate are so far apart from each other they barely seem involved in the same activity. They feel it all occur in their horse parts, their minds detached, disappointed in their human need for intimacy. Their human arms cannot reach each other; in fact, none of the human parts touch while the hippic features get each other off.

“One time I bent across her horse spine to kiss the part where her human back begins. She turned around and stared at me, and she looked genuinely disturbed by what I had just done. The human parts simply aren’t meant to touch. People don’t understand that, but it’s true.”

Still, what the Centaur has a hard time admitting is that he sometimes yearns for an intimate embrace. Such an embrace can only take place outside of a sexual context. Centaurs can be tender with each other, but only when their human torsos face each other and their equine genitalia are as far apart as possible. Otherwise, the tenderness fades and a carnally driven disconnection begins.

The Centaur, who now doubts everything about his sex life, feels trapped in the irreconcilability between his sexual urges and his desire for intimacy. He doesn’t know how to admit this to people, and it makes him feel inadequate.

“Sometimes I think we’re just badly built,” the Centaur says, munching a carrot to a pulp. “We have no book of instructions on how to properly use our anatomies, or how to be happy.”

“I don’t think anyone else does, either,” his companion says, yawning. “I guess the trick is to just make it up as you go.”

A month ago, the Centaur fell in love with a nymph, who is delicate and tender, whose skin smells like tree bark, and whose heart and hands are at peace. He is afraid of hurting her small body with his, afraid that she will show impatience with his conflicting drives, or, even worse, that she will be too forgiving of them, leading him to become complacent about his shortcomings. His human face wants her kisses, but when he kisses her, his carnal urges take place so far from their heads that they might as well not exist.

The other question he gets is about his heart. By all accounts, his heart is human, stuck as it is inside a human chest.

“Isn’t it true,” those non-centaurs ask, “that a human heart couldn’t possibly live up to the arterial demands of the equine body, especially when aroused or absorbed in gallop? Aren’t you always a breath away from cardiac arrest?”

“Reassuring, as you can imagine,” he tells his companion, before realising she has gone to sleep.

The Centaur folds his arms behind his head and stares up at the stars, wishing people asked him about other things, such as his interest in environmentalism, his moral aspirations, or whether he prefers grass or hay. The answer is neither. The Centaur eats dung beetles. He devours them whole, delighting in the way their gleaming shells crunch under his teeth, making his ears prickle.

The Werewolf

Contrary to what fairytales have to say, the Werewolf gains no additional powers from the largeness of her features. Her hearing is fine, perhaps even too good depending on the context, but her eyes have gone dull from trying to maintain their focus on two conflicting lives at once, her human life, out there on the surface, and her life as a wolf, abstract and hidden.

In many ways, this double life of keeping herself as a pet isn’t that hard; hers is a society in which canine paraphernalia abound. The Werewolf’s day-to-day life has become easy, routinised, domesticated. On regular days, the animal spirit inhabiting her gentle and well-behaved vegetarian body is no more disruptive than a little dog. But the monthly full-moon transformations are a challenge, she dreads the loss of control when her human mind disconnects and the wolf takes over for the night.

Despite the human mind’s unconsciousness, somewhere inside the Werewolf it still throbs with anxiety, the way a worried parent stays up fretting over a teenage daughter out by herself at night.  The Werewolf is increasingly worried about her wolf’s safety and well-being. She worries about the state of its teeth, and whether it is likely to get into fights with the neighbourhood dogs. What she really wants is to protect it from anything bad happening to it, despite knowing that the real danger in all this emanates from the wolf itself.

To avoid conflict, she has taken to boarding up her windows on full-moon nights, locking away any delicate objects such as pillows, expensive decorations, and most of her clothes. It is difficult to maintain a lifestyle devoted to loveliness when you’re inhabited by this kind of violence, no matter how deep below the surface it usually dwells.

On full moon nights, she prepares the flat, leaving bowls filled with dog food all over the place, including a few fresh cuts from the butcher’s.  She loathes the feel and smell of meat, but will do anything to keep her animal busy while she is asleep inside it.

A few times a week, she feeds herself dog food. The first few times she threw up from the texture, and the taste, but she kept going because she felt a sudden placidity in her ferocious parts. Feeding the approximation of a wolf inside a human body has proven difficult in the past; if she sticks for too long to her preferred diet of variations on chickpeas and cabbage, the wolf body, even though submerged for most of the month, begins to protest and affect her ability to be fully human. Eating dog food at regular intervals seems to placate the wolf until the full moon, when it breaks out of her like a rash, a glove turning itself inside out.

Sometimes she buys cat food instead of dog food because the flavour profiles are more varied, as if people assign cats more subtle palate than dogs.

Although it only appears physically once a month, the wolf fills her thoughts for most of the remaining days, her conscious mind ruffled by the reverberations of its somnolent presence. Sometimes, out of nowhere, she feels a surge of wild heat, a carnal ravenousness to which the boundaries of objects become a blur.

Over the years, the wolf has slowly become the primary part of her identity. She provides for it, shops for it, worries about it, plans ahead for it. Other people struggle to sustain her interest, especially if what they ask for cannot be subsumed under the wolf’s needs. In relationships, she forgets to feed the other person, cooks almost exclusively for the two selves she carries. She has little left to give to people who aren’t part of her anatomy.

It isn’t that she’s an uncaring person, but with every passing month, with each new transformation, her canine part encroaches further on her human self, on who she thinks she is. The physical transformations have begun to leave their marks; some of the coarse hairs no longer withdraw into her human skin, and the lower end of her spine, which extends into a tail, no longer fully retracts, and she now has an extra vertebra poking out of her lower back.

Loneliness isn’t much of a problem. Having so much of yourself to care for takes up a lot of time,  and when she does feel isolated it is because she is burdened with the care of a dependent no-one else can help her with. She wonders what her life will be like when she grows old. Will the wolf age at the same pace as the human? Will the ageing human body be able to sustain the animal force, or will they both break apart in their ability to coexist?

Among her friends, those who haven’t lost patience with her tend to live in other countries, and she calls them once a week to give them her news, and to hear theirs. Those friends aren’t subjected to her transformations, to the way her body smells for hours afterward, to the panic caused by her heightened senses, which only dull again after a few days. They don’t know about her flat with the custom-made window boards, the pantry full of cat and dog food, whose slightly rotten smell has seeped into her walls and which she tries to cover up with aromatherapy diffusers, making her flat smell like a mix of meat and flowers. They don’t know that she spends most of her time transitioning between her life as an unknowable wild animal and a private, vegetarian woman.

Once, she brings home a woman she cares about, and they spend the night together, forgetting the full moon in the sky. When she feels the transformation coming on, the first thing in her mind is despair.

“No,” she thinks, “not now, not with this person who never asked for any of this.”

She leaps onto the balcony and loses consciousness. When she comes to, the woman is gone, including her things, as if she was never there to begin with.

The Werewolf worries for a long time about this woman, who looked at her so tenderly that evening, who stroked her cheek so gently, exuding a kindness the Werewolf had all but forgotten. She worries the woman has witnessed her transformation and run from her, that she will never call again because opening herself to someone like her is too great a risk. Part of her also worries that, during the time when her human mind was knocked down into the bowels of herself to make space for the animal mind to emerge, the wolf body tore the woman to shreds and made her things disappear.

There is no way for her to know. The woman cannot not be reached, has no phone, and the Werewolf has no idea where she lives. 

The Sky falls and breaks its back

The possibility of assumption ended when the sky fell and broke his back. Even after the fact, they felt there ought to have been a crash, a sound, something more than quiet dream distortion to designate the change, but there was nothing. There was only the sky, who had fallen, and in total silence his spine had cracked.

There is so little ground on the earth. Whatever ground there is, they fill with their toys and bellies and ideas, a maze of tripping hazards and military traps. But the balance between up, where the expanse of the sky stretches full of possibilities, replete with drops and streams, and below, where things pretend to have a certain density, where they accumulate and squirm, that balance is just about steady.

In falling, the sky dragged down with him the moon and clouds and stars embedded in his fabric. Even the sun came down in shreds. The fall left flying birds dumbfounded, suspended at first, then dropping as if cut loose from their strings. The stars hidden in the violent blue rolled onto the ground like small, sharp gears, and lay there dumb as birds, cumbersome and worthless in a world of reduced floorspace.

For a while, no-one knew how to react, so they continued their upward staring, as they were used to doing, but upwards had now vanished. Their eyes quickly hurt from staring into nothing. 

They felt there had to have been a warning. Until the instant of the fall, the sky had seemed to exist up there firmly, with so much self-evidence. His formidable expanse was the backdrop to a dance of clouds, to the trajectories of birds and flying machinery. He was the backlit tarp on which the changes of the day appeared, and his position up there was beyond question, synonymous with the very concept of upwardness.

They never assumed that the sky might merely have been hanging there, in precarious suspension, himself devoid of the sovereignty he projected. It didn’t occur to them that the sky was perhaps holding on just barely. They could not have conceived such a reality, because what they assumed in their daily lives was that the sky was up there in a fundamental way, that the sky’s very location defined what it meant to be ‘up’, and made ‘looking up’ possible in the first place.

When the sky fell, there was nothing left up there but sudden empty space, and looking up felt like going blind. Below, there was too much. Not only had the clouds and sun and moon all fallen, but below was the only thing in existence; there was no more up as an alternative to below. Below was everything, up had vanished, leaving below crammed full of being. The ground was littered with objects and notions that hadn’t been there before. The weight of things was out of kilter, and there were all these questions all of a sudden, questions they couldn’t answer and needed to ignore.

The state of things was this:

The sky had broken his back, and they had to figure out what to do.

The sky was in pain.

They knew this, but they weren’t sure how, because the sky never said a thing. 

They weren’t old enough to drive, so they called an ambulance. Within fifteen minutes, its blue lights were licking through the cold windows of the second floor and covering the walls of the world with a fake, insufficient blue that wouldn’t fix a thing. A blue that seemed an imposter sky, impossible now that up had vanished. With a howl, the ambulance took the sky to the hospital.

*

The hospital is a Catholic hospital with white insides; it is a place that takes care of your body because bodies are gifts, vessels bestowed by God who creates them from clay, or maybe only the prototype was clay, they’re not sure. All of this is confusing to them because they weren’t raised religious, the sky never mentions God at all, God who some say made bodies so that more bodies could grow from them. The sky barely ever talks about bodies, the sky is all mind, so their understanding of the body’s abilities is a puzzling dearth of detail, a flat mass.

And now the sky lies in a hospital that believes in God, a kind of church with needles and respirators, and constant binging sounds, a place named after some saint, dark wooden crosses nailed above every door.

The sky was always so quiet about God that those living under his expansive tarp began to develop a fascination with what was kept from them, pieced together a vague idea based on snippets of stories, and tried folding their hands and asking for ponies, for rainy days, for specific kinds of desserts. They once entered a church out of curiosity and saw nails driven through skin, they wanted to scream but the echo licking the painted blood stains scared them into silence, and around them all this metal and stone cradling a disappointed parental spirit. They fled back to the world of home, with its clean lines and absence of divinity.

The sky is wheeled into one of many rooms with a dark cross above the door. In hospitals, the body is an innocent machine; in church it is the gift given through sacrifice.

They visit the sky in his white room. From a nurse, they learn later that the sky has left his bed twice since he arrived, in spite of specific orders not to move. The sky drags himself to the door, takes the man on the cross off the wall and put them both in a drawer. Each time, a nurse returns the object to its place.

The sky sits up sulking in his bed in the terrible way only something eternal can.

They wonder why the sky, with all his power, never just takes the man off the cross, separating flesh from wood, and puts him, only human, unadorned, into a hospital bed by his side to allow his wounds to heal. If his wounds could heal, they think, maybe the man could love again; he could go out bowling, enjoy the company of others, and he could give more of himself to the world than by hanging on a cross. They wish the sky could heal the man of his isolation up there on the mountain of his cross, make him into a person again, but something tells them nobody in the world is capable of such a feat.

The Mummy

She used to be someone important, when her body was fresh and unwrapped. Now she can’t remember, the mirror can’t remind her, and her subjects and suitors are dead. Or maybe not dead, exactly; they have vanished into indifference, leading their own lives somewhere in the ether of otherness.

She is more remote from the world than most; her skin is not a sensory separation from the outside, but it is thick like leather, a real exoskeleton at this point, a fortification around flesh and bone, and around this leather lies a further layer, cotton gauze, golden with the passing of time.

When she was younger, she fell for rows of men, and each of them responded in worthy terms to her obsession. Then came the one they expected her to bring to the throne, the one who said, ‘Why worship this one god when there are so many to choose from?’ He ran from her and disappeared into the desert, taking his love with him. 

The first thing her mother the queen said when told the news was this: ‘What did you do to make him despise you? How could you, my daughter, fail to bring us back a king?’ 

This question burrowed deep into the princess’s nose and began, over time, to slice chunks from her brain until the entire skull’s chalice was clean as a bowl.

The question tore into her chest and lifted out her lungs, her stomach and gall, all of her organs, each placed by worried servants into separate jars, leaving the princess with only her heart. A useless, hyperactive pump of a heart.

Doubt stuffed the princess with fragrant linen and buried her in salt until her skin was thick and impermeable. By then, the mother had died, buried alongside her husband, the sun king, their bodies wrapped in worship of Aten.

The servants rubbed the salt from the princess’s skin, which was now tough as bark around her bones, her limbs sucked dry. At that moment, she was beloved by Aten, but she didn’t care: she wanted another’s love, and she, the princess, had been told no. In response to this, she felt the sun had done enough shining in her mind.

Let the organs that receive the sun be numbed and separated, let the skin that tingles from the light be reduced to callous and indifferent leather, let the lungs that breathe his warmth be taken and plunged in cold, dark water.

Let the stomach, who eats the sun’s lush crop, live in a foodless prison, let the kidneys who clean the body’s water like a pair of springs be forever removed from sunlight’s decontaminating touch.

Piece by piece, the princess refused herself to the sun, who had so entranced her parents, saying, ‘If you will not give me his love, then you shan’t have my body, which is worth so much more than a soul.’ The princess knew that only bodies can love, that souls without bodies feel nothing but dispassionate bliss.

After forty days, the servants wrapped her skin and flesh in bandages to keep the rot away. Her priests came, chanting and applying further balms. They stood around her in formation below the supervising jackal head. The princess became impatient. She was a mummy now, and there was much to do.

Without organs or brains to weigh her down, she picked up tremendous speed, and returned to her practice of rattling the sistrum. Exasperated by the slowness of her scribes, she took to making her own inscriptions on grave sites, writing a different version of her life’s story on each tomb.

In one, her body had been mummified from a fall into a glacier, the cold turning her skin to leather.

In another, she was murdered on her father’s throne, and wrapped in salted linen for seventy days.

In a third, she died in the desert while howling at Aten, the sun; she stood with her mouth open and her eyes weeping until not a drop of liquid was left in her.

In a fourth, her body slid into the acid waters of a bog and was recovered only weeks later by her betrothed, who had changed his mind about celestial matters. By that point, so the anointed princess wrote, it was of course too late – the age of Aten was beginning to wane, and all the other gods had begun to grow back inside the soil of the mind – and her skin could no longer let anything in.

In a fifth, she was swallowed whole by a jackal and lived inside his body for the duration of his canine life, and by the time his death came her flesh had merged with his, so she stood up on her hind legs and walked through the desert until she reached the ocean, drinking salt water until her heart turned to stone. 

This is the state she’s chosen for herself: mummification so as to avoid feeling as much as she previously has. Her numbness delights her. For a few months, she buries her new body up to the neck in sand, feeling neither thirst nor itch. The sun pummels her empty skull and she permits it, day and night in the fragrant desert.

She imagines the sharpest pain she can fathom, a hook ripping through the soft belly of a crocodile, the pain of desire unrequited, left to pulse on its own with no-one to radiate out towards, and even this pain has no physical effect. Her body has become unfeeling, and underneath the mask on which her features are painted, she conceives a smile.

In seventy days, she has become untouchable, untouched. Her hollow body is filled with linen, flowers and air. She is a bird in the sand, under the sun, she is resin. The violent rays hit her gauze and no longer burn a thing.

The Mermaid

The Mermaid has spent too much of her life with water in her ears, the pressure of several underwater atmospheres weighing down on her, and sometimes she forgets which element she is currently in. On land, she whispers; underwater, she shouts. It confuses everyone.

Out of water, the Mermaid becomes light-headed, and quick to dismiss her strengths, choosing to see only the ways in which she falls short. Her body, she thinks, is too dissonant in its composition to be the object of love. The Mermaid often wishes she were a fish, and although many of her features call to mind those of a fish, her tail contains the reproductive organs of a mammal, and her scales are only a mammalian approximation, based on hasty evolutionary guesswork. A worthy body, she thinks, is one that makes sense, like those of her terrestrial cousins, or else the sleek blubber rhombus of a dolphin or whale; those, she thinks, are harmonious compositions.

She envies humans whose bodies seem carved from a single piece. The Mermaid’s tail is, of course, impossible to ignore, even when she hides it under a long skirt. She doesn’t really have a gait and can only slither. Lithe as she can be underwater, the Mermaid is cumbersome and unwieldy on land, not the sort you take out dancing.

Most of what she does involves lounging, and while her sexual appetite is voracious, she doesn’t take much initiative beyond fanning out her fins and batting her lashes. While she possesses something akin to gills, the Mermaid still needs to come to the surface for air. Her mass of long, diaphanous hair conceals two small blowholes below her neck, one to each side of her spine. When she comes up to breathe, seagulls pick at her gossamer hair, which is heavy out of the water, the way wet sponges are.

The truth is, she is physically ill-equipped for life in either element. No matter where she is, her movements are those of a creature who doesn’t quite belong, an imposter of sorts. Underwater, her skinny forelimbs and simian hands can only helplessly slap the water as her tail propels her through it, and the lack of fatty layers on her upper body means she feels everything too intensely, even there in the thicker element. Unlike her terrestrial cousins, who are endotherms, warm-blooded, the Mermaid thermoregulates like an ectotherm. She spends much of her time basking so as to store heat in her small body for the inevitable cold of the watery depths. Every day she lies on sunny rocks, eyes closed like a lizard’s, batting away the courting of seagulls.

Because her material existence is steeped in the other-worldly, the Mermaid can find heat in something as abstract as love; an intense bout of affection can warm her small body for months.

Humans give much attention to her wide-boned face and soft, enormous eyes, to her mouth which many men want to sink their hooks into, but the Mermaid finds it difficult to accept their interest. She worries about the way being out of water makes her smell. Her fears all amount to loneliness, understandably so, as very few of her own kind remain, scattered across the seas. Many fall in love with humans and leave the waters for good. The Mermaid, too, feels closest to humans, feels drawn to them, yet she knows she can only engage them for a while before encountering their limits. Eventually, humans become disinterested, or too aware of her otherness, of the fact that her skin doesn’t feel or smell as it should, the fact that she doesn’t have two legs that spread.

On land, it takes the Mermaid a long time to process what occurs, and she feels dull compared to the rapidity of her underwater movements. None of what she is underwater can translate onto land.

Humans consider water an object of ingestion and utility, and they consent to its presence in their lives as long as it isn’t dirty or uncomfortable. They like the way it looks in photographs. The Mermaid wonders if humans know the teeth the water has, the way life inside it often feels like being eaten and absorbed by a large, limpid organism.

There is much about the Mermaid that is translucent: her nails, hair and teeth. Even her tail is see-through when held against the light; looking in, one sees her reproductive organs, and then emptiness surrounding a ladder of bones. All this translucence only makes the Mermaid feel more forgettable. She is only half woman, after all, her other half a bad imitation of a fish.

In humans, the eye is the most see-through part of the body, and at the back of their eyes one can see right into their vascular system. Unlike much of her body, the Mermaid’s eyes are dense, covered by a thick membrane that makes it hard for her to see what is visible to humans right away.

They look at her opaque, baffling eyes, and fail to see through to what they might call a soul.

People quickly tire of the Mermaid’s appearance and find there is nothing they want from her after their initial curiosity is satisfied. Who needs their life weighed down by a creature who sleeps in a shallow bath, who carries salty smells into the house, who needs to disappear for stints in the sea, lest her skin dry out? What draws them in initially is the novelty of her shape, her hair clear as glass, the feel of scales under their hands.

They ask her to demonstrate her various breathing skills in a hastily filled kitchen sink. They ask her if she likes raw fish, if she ever just swims around with an open mouth. She abhors this question, and what it implies.

They ask her to sing to them, something they’ve heard about sirens. When they realise her voice is nothing but a fractured scream, they frown, and then forget to call her the next day.