The Mermaid That Came Between Themby Carol Ann Sima
As a young boy visiting the seaside, Jacob met his first love: a mermaid named Claritha. Three decades later, he’s a divorced father of a college-age son and a writer of maritime adventure stories, Jacob renews his fantastical relationship with Claritha only to discover that his son too has fallen in love with the same bedazzling creature from the
As a young boy visiting the seaside, Jacob met his first love: a mermaid named Claritha. Three decades later, he’s a divorced father of a college-age son and a writer of maritime adventure stories, Jacob renews his fantastical relationship with Claritha only to discover that his son too has fallen in love with the same bedazzling creature from the sea.
Despite her supernatural sexuality, Claritha, like any ordinary landlocked female, is experiencing menopause, and is pursuing a man to fertilize her one remaining egg. In response to this womanly rite of passage, and to help make sense of his intergeneration love triangle, Jacob pens a self-help book about men and menopause and unwittingly becomes a sought-after media sensation, though women’s groups question his credibility.
Like the fantastic fabulism mastered by Alice Hoffman and Tom Robbins, Carol Ann Sima’s forcefully imaginative and ebullient novel walks readers through a sprightly urban fairy tale where anything—even a mermaid ménage a trios—can happen. With witty word games and playful twists, The Mermaid That Came Between Them turns "what if" into a sigh of "if only."
International author tour includes: East Coast, West Coast, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Denver and London, UK National print advertising Co-op available Posters and postcards
A native New Yorker, Carol Ann Sima wrote the entirety of The Mermaid That Came Between Them longhand at coffee shops throughout New York City. Sima works as an elementary school language arts educator for the New York school system. Her first novel, Jane’s Bad Hare Day, was published by Dalkey Archive in 1995.
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The MermaidTHAT CAME BETWEEN THEM
By Carol Ann Sima
COFFEE HOUSE PRESSCopyright © 2001 Carol Ann Sima
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn which Jacob discusses his divorce with his ex, attends an art opening, offends his son's girlfriend, and meets Kate Vestor, Conflict Counselor.
The keys were a hurdle. The lawyers handling the divorce gave the Kolemans rave reviews, lavishing the kind of unqualified praise that Jacob's novels, well-received as they were, could only aspire to. Phrase like, "best in decades," "if only they were all like this" and-Jacob was especially partial to this one-"restores our faith in the benevolence of mankind." But usage of keys was, of course, restricted. He may not barge in uninvited. He may not let himself in, even when invited. They were strictly for emergency purpose only.
Cheryl called, mother of his child, executive in charge of keys (not by word of mouth, in the divorce decree, printed large enough so you didn't have to squint). He nodded into the phone. Yes, be right over, Mac's room? last lingering looks before we ship him off to college? Cheryl asked for verbal confirmation. He forgot she couldn't see him nod, wasn't there in the room, didn't physically share the same space. "On my way," he said.
The keys in his pocket felt like paperweights. But standing outside the door to her brownstone, hewas honorbound.
It was August. Sweltering, unbearable ... naked in New York City, and you'd still be overdressed. His earlobes were growing slacker by the minute, practically grazing his shoulders. Prior to the inexorable wait to be buzzed in, they were nowhere near swinging, cheesy pendulums. Killer humidity, gravity using him for target practice-if not now, when?
"When I key in on why Cheryl divorced me, that's when," he thought. "Saying she doesn't know the reason is not the same as saying she doesn't have one. Once I have the passkey to that, there's no door in the world that can keep us apart."
The brownstone's owner had never installed a security camera. No one would be the wiser. After all, puddles were forming at his feet. "She dumped me without any probable cause whatsoever. Thirty-three years, our voices were never raised." Under his watchband, things were getting squishy.
He held out, dug in, kept his itchy trigger finger off the keychain, observed protocol, did it by the handbook, like his laudable driving record-only one traffic violation, period. Marital record exemplary. Lusting after no other nonamphibians except his wife ... and Marilyn Monroe. (His feelings for Marilyn weren't chaste-whose were?-but at no time had he ever maxed out on masturbation.) The marriage exemplified fidelity, not sainthood. (His pursuit of mermaids didn't mean he loved Cheryl any less. Or them more. Rowing and swimming in the Atlantic is the lowest of low-rung surveillance. Exercise is cardiovascular. Can't a man have a pastime? Be nostalgic? Stretch his legs? Study footprints in the sand to see if any are tailprints?)
Just when the squish under his watchband began rolling down his fingers, she buzzed. The door clicked open. Borne by love, his legs sprang to life.
Cheryl, my land Goddess, won't you please take me back?
* * *
The points of her elbows were snub-nosed.
She stood in the doorway, left arm folded vertically. Her hankie, cradled in her palm, was trimmed in lace, like a wedding veil. Blotting is for ink; her tears were dabbed. A documentary he once saw on art restoration showed the same tender ministrations. Not seeing the wedding band on her third finger, only a ghostly band of pale skin, he compared it to the time before. His little ritual: take readings of the fading outline, like you do a barometer. He set a tentative date, sort of a deadline: the day the mark would be no more-early fall was his estimate-by then, she'd change her mind. Hopefully. Because love lives on. Because she treasures him.
Cheryl's air kisses were plentiful, released in threes and fours like doves set free at a peace rally. "Soon as the packing crates came, I started blinking back tears of happiness." Pivoting with grace, she started for Mac's room. After years of ballet classes, she was sea foam.
"Mac's over at the gallery," she explained. "Intellectually, he recognized how meaningful it was for you and I to mark this auspicious occasion. All those touch-and-go years-the crisis over college applications-how can we be matter-of-fact now? Our boy's going away. The stuffed owls are going into storage, even Mr. Gerbil's corpse is going beddy-bye."
En route, they passed the living room, nearly identical to the one he went home to nightly. His re-creation of the original was an homage to enduring love. Carpet, gray with blue overtones, the color of winter ocean. The wooden tips of the chairs and divan seemed squiggly one day, wavy the next.
Arriving first, she graciously waited. Her emerald green sleeveless silk was more muted than neon. Cheryl didn't jar the eye. She was that other kind of eye candy. Quiet elegance. Delicate slithers of gold graced her wrist, bangles one could wear with assurance to the theater. Her poise made him stand up straighter.
"The confined space may have prompted Mac's absence." Her voice precisely the tone of warmth and concern you'd want of someone delivering a eulogy over your casket. "We know exactly where we stand in relation to each other: friends forever, but husband and wife, never again. However, within the narrow confines of his room, the three of us in close quarters-you on one side of him, me on the other, Mac in the middle, enveloped in close family bonds and no hard feelings-seeing it through the eyes of a child, it's a challenging setting. By fleeing to the art gallery, he's telling us he's not emotionally up to the challenge."
Jacob could identify with that. What kind of divorce is it when two people get along so well? Alarm bells went off in his head. In a misguided attempt to reduce Mac's alleged confusion, might Cheryl have deliberately distanced herself? Found another friend to confide in? Worst scenario, she would begin leading the life of a single woman. She'd date, she'd expose Mac to tall, dark, handsome strangers who'd wine and dine her. She and the tallest, darkest, handsomest might ride off into the sunset. Somehow, he would have to find the words to preserve their close-knit happy home.
"We pep-talked him through the choppy waters of high school," he agreed. "We'll continue to toss him lifelines, and he'll catch them. Six years from now, after the bar exam, he can study taxidermy to his heart's content. I'm confident, trust me on this: Seeing us together, regardless of the size of the room, provides the kind of solidarity he can draw strength from."
She smiled appreciatively. He felt as if his tummy had been rubbed. She wouldn't enter the room ahead of him. Her consideration wasn't just window-dressing; she sincerely wanted a simultaneous entrance. He obliged by aligning himself shoulder to shoulder. They crossed the threshold. To his right was a mirror. The short guy with the close-cut, thinning gray hair looked played out. The sack on this kangaroo wasn't empty. Attached to his abdomen was a ten-pound lump of fat. The rest of him was slim. Muscles indecipherable, like the fine print you need a magnifying glass to read. His dockers looked blah.
They sat on Mac's trundle bed.
"It's been such a long haul. His journey from preemie to pre-law placed so many demands on us," she sighed, crossing her legs, barely disturbing the air. "Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn't have been so indulgent. Spending that year volunteering in P.S. 12's gifted and talented program was instrumental in predisposing me to bright kids pursuing eclectic interests."
"I, on the other hand, was the stay-at-home dad, the reins were mine to pull as well. Does stifling a kid's hobbies stifle his creativity? I didn't have it in me then, and I don't have it in me now."
The gold standard of most green-eyed beauties was not in her arsenal. Her eyes didn't spit fire. They could, however, narrow to slits ... tender drops of tears peeking out the corners like pristine petticoats. "These are still his formative years. We are his reality checks," she explained, gesturing toward the walls. "In other words, the worship of a dead icon is not what a woman looks for in a companion. Man-to-man, you've got to tell him to lay off Marilyn."
Posters of Marilyn Monroe peered down on them from the ceiling. Every inch of wall space belonged to her too, even the inside of Mac's closet.
"There's never been a bone of contention between you and me," he offered, buying time, arranging the words in his head.
"He's a late bloomer, eventually he'll get off the ground," he tried to take the heat off Mac.
"No, the spell must be broken. Eighteen dateless years? Marilyn's marginalizing our boy."
Drawing himself up to his full five feet seven, pulling his stomach in, he stood with the dignity of a patriot singing the national anthem. "Marilyn Monroe is an intrinsic part of the American landscape. Generations of boys owe her. She is the male fantasy. Crossreference that with your shrink. Life without fantasy is a harsh reality. To live in the real world, both feet on solid land, earth between your toes, floor beneath your feet, reality must occasionally be checked at the door." Hand over his heart. "When it comes to accepting our lot in life, the path would be rockier without her."
"Mac's a diehard, he's hooked."
"Point well-taken. But not tonight. Not yet. It's the stuff of turning points."
She toured the room, fingers to lips, puckering, kissing, touching the furniture like sacred relics, bestowing canoodles of kisses more substantive than the air-filled ones she greeted him with. It broke his heart. He wanted to put his head on her chest and cry, Take me back, I'll do anything. He embarked on a different tack.
"This mutual admiration society of ours isn't getting us anywhere. Suppose we turn up the static. I'm not advocating slinging mud or tongue-lashing-more along the lines of a heated exchange. People in the heat of the moment stand a better chance of inadvertently saying things they never would otherwise."
Her hands, only seconds earlier fluttering like the wings of angels, dropped to her sides. She came toward him, gliding like a heron making a water landing. She requested a moment to collect her thoughts, ended up taking several. Then her words took flight.
"Much as I told myself this day might come, there's really no preparing. Go ahead and have your outburst. But first hear me out. It's my hope our divorce will be every bit as successful as our marriage. You always brought out the best in me. But I can't tell you what I don't know. One bright spot-it's not as uncommon as you think. Getting divorced under a cloud of mystery surrounding my motivation, though frustrating, doesn't mean I'm mental. In Finkle's experience, rushing to judgment leaves one with more questions than answers. Arriving at an all-conclusive universal takes time. And even then, Finkle's seeing a trend toward flip-flop. Complete switcheroos. The definitive answer (derived under proper supervision) often backslides into hypotheticals. What you have left is ... square one."
His voice was level, like train tracks across Kansas. He couldn't spook an old lady on a dark, dead-end street. The furrow of his brow lacked hump. "I demand an answer, I don't give a damn what that cockamamie radio jock pseudo-shrink says. That's my outburst, and I stand by it."
"You wonderful man, you. There's nothing about you I don't admire. Kind, courteous, patient, loyal, faithful, principled, smart, attentive. Your nurturance-innate to you has no rival. None. My Prince."
Writing of knaves and cutthroats who get away with murder, manipulative, blackhearted pirates of the high seas, was how he earned his living. But the Prince's Code of Conduct was how he lived. During his outburst-brief as it was he felt his entire Princehood at risk.
"Yet somewhere along the line, I ... the Prince ... fell out of favor. It's Mac, isn't it? While you were knocking yourself out raising private funds for public education, I was the primary caregiver. It was at my breast he first developed an interest in gerbils, hamsters, and whatnot. I introduced him to Marilyn. Me. Me. Before he lost his first tooth, he was watching Marilyn flicks."
"A boy couldn't wish for a better father," she consoled. "Whatever the inexplicable rationale that's compelled me not to grow old with you, the quality of your parenting isn't it. Dr. Finkle and I are constantly dialoguing. Anything even remotely resembling an approximate answer would be a start." Her lower lip trembled. Her voice quivered. "Do you really think I relish feeling like mystery meat?"
Under Marilyn's glare, they resumed sitting on the bed. Achingly close. The scent on her skin was arousing. He didn't have on any after-shave, not that it would do any good. Marilyn was available. They'd done it before. Now and then. Never in Cheryl's presence, that would be a cheat. The divorce didn't kill it for him and Marilyn ... but something had been lost in the transition.
Tomorrow night he'd be at the Ark.
Oh Daughters of the Sea, you got there first ... nobody ever forgets his first time. But I can't help who I really am.
* * *
The title of the show was Dickheads, something he and Cheryl found out when they got there. Jacob read from the flier. "Maya Evans's exploratory range has been called defiantly delicious. Looking at her portraits, the viewer looks in vain for faces. Maya's globes-males turning their backs to the camera-is a back-of-the-head striptease. Not content to just let the lads' posterior heads flaunt the phallic, she delves deep into the erotic. In the tradition of Georgia O'Keeffe's sexed-up flowers, Ms. Evans's cranial photos are imbued with sensuality and vulnerability. In the best sense of the word, the back of these heads are two-faced. Dickheads will be shown through Labor Day, part of our Discovery Showcase, sponsored by EYE PRIDE."
They hadn't spotted Mac yet. The gallery was on two levels. Just inside the entrance was a wet bar.
Glass in hand, Cheryl said, "If this isn't one big divorce backlash, then what is? Three months go by. The crucial three. Each session with Finkle, I report there's nothing to report. Mac doesn't act out, the moods don't swing. Now that his delayed reaction is finally here, it's like nothing I expected."
"The important thing is, we aren't floored individually. We live apart, but we unite to floor together."
"Three months of anticipating God-knows-what. He doesn't give us the finger, no fresh batch of cadavers, no spending spree on replicas of Marilyn. Instead he gives us ... penishead." Clinking her glass forcefully against his. Had his glass been filled to the rim, his sandals wouldn't have walked away unscathed. "Granted, it's artsy-fartsy, but any way his teenage sexuality comes, I'll take it. He's broadcasting loud and clear: Look Ma, I'm a boy."
Over his dead body would divorce get all the credit. "And you attribute this to breaking up?"
"Finkle says all children of divorce backlash."
"For all you know, Mac's first baby steps into teenage sexuality could be connected to Marilyn." Momentarily dropping his eyes to his groin. "Suppose Mac went into overdrive, patting himself while gazing at her. What's he really broadcasting? Look Dad, Marilyn's finally made a man of me?" Eyebrows arched to his hairline. "Understand, I'm not being belligerent, there isn't a belligerent bone in my body. But I strongly caution against snap rulings."
She mulled it over. "My magnificent Prince. Always encouraging me to give all sides a fair hearing. First chance we get, we'll ask Mac directly."
They started through the crowd, four deep in front of the photos, backs of heads obscuring their view of pictures of backs of heads.
Finally, they spotted Mac. Hanging on his arm, another arm. A female, old enough to be his mother, red nails sharp as talons.
* * *
Mac and Cheryl nuzzled. They hugged. They kissed, five consecutive, nonincestuous thirst quenches. A miserly chickenscratch peck for Jacob. Boys will be boys.
"Mom, Dad, I'd like you to meet Maya Evans."
Cheryl gave her proper first name: Cheryl. She gave Jacob's too, first and last: Jacob Koleman. Maya thrust her hand into his, a handshake like a gladiator.
Excerpted from The Mermaid by Carol Ann Sima Copyright © 2001 by Carol Ann Sima
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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