Sheila Heti

Mermaid in a Jar

I have a mermaid in a jar that Quilty bought me at a garage sale for twenty-five cents. The mermaid’s all, “I hate you I hate you I hate you,” but she’s in a jar, and unless I loosen the top she’s not coming out to kill me.

I keep the little jar on my windowsill, right behind my bed, right near my head so if I look up in the middle of the night, up and back, I can see her swimming in the murky little pool of her own shit and vomit, and I can smile.

“Hello, mermaid! How are you this fine evening?” I can say, and sometimes do. “How very sad it is that you’re so beautiful, and you’re so young, and you’re so fucking trapped you’ll never get out of that bottle, ha ha!”

Once I went on a class trip and brought my mermaid along, just for the hell of it. We were going to Niagara Falls and I was thinking, “Right, well, maybe I’ll hold her over the rail, give her a little scare, put her in her place,” or thinking about letting her loose down the falls and out of my life. But once we got there I forgot her in my little brown lunchbag with my hot cheese sandwich, under my seat in the yellow school bus. But she got jolted on the ride there and jolted on the ride back and that was enough for me.

Once I had a party and invited all my friends, seven little girls, to play and sleep over, and having called every number flashing in our heads, and having already called the pizzas twice and seanced out of our minds, I just thought, “Oh, why don’t I bring my mermaid out to show? They could make their faces at it, they could have their fun, and we’d be able to toss it back and forth like a real little football.” But then Emma fell asleep, and then so did Wendy and Carla and the rest, and the mermaid just stayed locked in the closet where I’d put her that afternoon.

Once when I thought she needed a bit of discipline I rolled her measly bottle down Killer Hill in the ravine. Another time I threw her deep into my best friend’s pool.

Now she’s getting old it seems. I even saw a grey hair on Friday, and wrinkles are spreading all across her skin, and as much as I liked her before, I like her even less now. I was thinking sort of what to do with her, but I think I’ll just keep her there a little while longer. At least until I’m happy again.