In Ambika Thompson’s “Mermaids,” a mother-daughter vacation to Mexico turns fantastical when the mother takes an unexpected lover and the daughter befriends a mermaid who may or may not tear her heart out. The women’s lives intersect with the mermaids of mythology and popular culture to explore sexual mores, sexuality, gender, and choice…or the lack thereof. An excerpt of the story’s beginning is included below. Read the full piece in SAND 24.
Lisa knew, or thought she knew, the moment the guy made the sound like a squirrel having its organs ripped out by an owl, that she was knocked up. She didn’t have an orgasm, she wasn’t quaking with ecstasy, she was mostly trying not to throw up on him, but in hindsight wished that she had.
Too much tequila, some girl on the beach with them kept saying, Again.
But that girl didn’t end up on the beach with her knickers around her left ankle and sand filling up her delicate folds. That girl stayed with the group just where the darkness swallowed them. Lisa could hear her laughing with the waves. It was the laugh of someone who was happy, confident.
What was his name? Bert, Bart, Britt, Brett. He smelled like intoxication. From the Midwest and shaped like a rectangle. In a blurry moment, sex on the beach seemed like a good idea. Now Lisa wasn’t too sure. She was sure she felt his sperm swimming around her insides, infesting all her invisible nooks and crannies. A condom seemed like something she forgot existed, was never invented. She wanted him to like her, but why? They would never see each other again. He was leaving in the morning back to whatever Midwestern state he hailed from: Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana. Back to crawl under whatever rock he came from, maybe it was Arkansas. He wasn’t even particularly nice to her, just kept trying to get her away from the group, telling her he didn’t really like her hair.
Come, look at the waves, he’d said. He asked her over and over again, like water torture, an unspun spinning wheel, a needle skipping on a record, like sunsets and sunrises, like life and death.
Lisa avoided it, laughed to herself every time he asked until she didn’t care anymore, until the liquid had dulled her resolve, dulled the sights and sounds of existence, dulled common sense. She moved out of her body and into a grain of sand. She’s young, she’s supposed to want get fucked on the beach. She’s sure that’s what her mother would say, but then disapprove if she knew that that is indeed what Lisa had actually gone and done.
Haven’t we all fucked someone we wished we hadn’t?
They’re in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Playa for short to the locals, in the state of Quintana Roo, which reminds Lisa’s mother, Annie, of Polkaroo. Lisa doesn’t know who that is.
My first boyfriend, Annie told her. Annie was a bit sozzled when she said that, the edges of life were a bit fuzzy.
At dinner the night Lisa had sex on the beach, Annie mentioned again how her father, Lisa’s grandfather, had told her he lost his virginity to a sex worker in Tijuana.
He not only told me once, baby doll, her mother said, But three times. I might have a sibling here in Mexico. I never asked him if he bagged that bitch of a dick of his.
Lisa’s grandfather is dead now, a heart attack sometime around Lisa’s ninth birthday. She liked her grandfather, what she remembered, but he smelled like the boy on the beach, maybe that’s why she did it. That’s what Freud would probably say.
Lisa’s mother, Annie, had fallen asleep that night to a rom-com about a boy and a girl who hated each other upon meeting but soon discovered that of course they had to spend the rest of their lives together or their faces would explode.
Word of advice, darling, Annie said shortly before passing out, If you hate a guy when you meet him you will always hate him. Trust your instincts.
Lisa watched her mother’s breaths lengthen as the romance unfolded in all its pixelated glory. Then Lisa stood over her mother waving her hand in front of her face, and imagined putting a pillow over her head, wondering how long it would take to snuff her mother out. But Lisa didn’t do that, she left the room, out to the beach, and out to adventure. Lisa wanted to be sucked into the sea by a mermaid and be entangled in her voice.
After Bert, or Bart, or Britt, or Brett got off of Lisa, he kissed her forehead roughly, the sand on his lips scraped her skin. He thanked her as if she had held a door open for him or picked up an object he’d dropped. Then he pulled up his shorts and joined the group. The mermaid crawled up onto the beach and told Lisa she could have done better.
Ambika Thompson is the author of the SAND classic “Ninety-Nine Pink Vaginas” and is now one of SAND’s Fiction Editors. Ambika’s favourite colour is rainbow and they have a black cat that is a witch. They have been published in several international publications including Electric Literature, Riddle Fence, Crab Fat Magazine, Fanzine, Joyland, and The Fiddlehead. Ambika is the recipient of a Research and Creation grant from the Canada Council for the Arts (2021) and has an MFA in creative writing from Guelph University (Canada) where they studied with Dionne Brand and Heather O’Neill. Ambika runs creative writing workshops online and in Berlin and can be found at Ambikathompson.com. Read the full piece in SAND 24.