The thing about being the murdered mermaid is you set the plot in motion.
The other mermaids will refuse to work until the tank you were found in is replaced; the other mermaids will sit in the back room of the bar, sew aquamarine sequins onto the tails of their costumes. The oldest mermaid will be bad at sewing, will jab her fingertip, jab her fingertip, jab her fingertip, wince every time. The other mermaids will pretend not to see; the other mermaids will do her the favor of not letting her ask for help.
The back room of the bar will be quiet, except when one of the bartenders opens the door, the sound of Piano Peggy, 87 years old, never missed a night, seeping in. The oldest mermaid will get a little teary-eyed when she hears the Moonlight Sonata, no kind of a song for a bar, say: Oh, I jabbed my finger again, that’s all.
The mermaids will sew quietly in the back room, stare quietly when the door is opened. All the mermaids will have green eyes like you did, all the mermaids will be able to hold their breath for two minutes, three, four, five. They’ll keep in practice in the back room while the tank is being drained, colorful fish they swim with stowed safely in various aquariums throughout the bar. They’ll watch for the nod of the oldest mermaid, now, suck in their breath, hold, hold, hold.
For the mermaids, it will seem like everything has gone underwater since you died. The hush and quiet of the sea. They’ll like to think of their time in the tank as being part of the sea, the tickle of fish fin brushing against their shoulders, winks of the patrons blurred by hazy water.
The mermaids will say it’s good they’re getting this chance to repair their costumes, it never seemed like there was time before, and the door will come open and Piano Peggy will be playing Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, music hanging heavy in the air.
I jabbed my finger again, the oldest mermaid will say, and the other mermaids will dip their heads and nod, think of the honky-tonk Piano Peggy used to play before you were killed, how sometimes you would slip some of your tip money into her jar on slow nights. You always thought Piano Peggy never saw, but she could tell by the damp of dollar bill, a different kind than beer or whiskey, smile, throw in a little Joplin ragtime, and you’d waggle in your mermaid tail, like you were nearly dancing.
Manager Joe will check in on the mermaids from time to time. He’ll be thick and sturdy, and they will think of manatees when they see him, will long for the taste of saltwater when he says to them from the doorway, soon, girls, soon.
Manager Joe won’t say you were his favorite, but everyone will know you were. You were everyone’s favorite, the best, they’ll say, the best mermaid, gaze at the lowering water in the tank, toast you with blue mermaid cocktails, teal umbrellas tipped sadly to the side.
Manager Joe will donate money to your family so they can afford to take you to the sea and scatter your ashes there.
She always wanted to visit the ocean, Manager Joe will say, put a folded-up check in your mother’s hand.
The other mermaids will think Manager Joe wouldn’t pay their parents to take them to the sea, the other mermaids will think they’ll outlive Manager Joe anyway, the way he wheezes sometimes, like a fish twisting on land.
The other mermaids will sew, sew, sew.
When the bar goes dark for the night, the mermaids will come out of the back room, sequins and costumes stowed in bags tucked over their shoulders. The mermaids won’t speak to each other as they leave, except the way they have talked through the tank, whisper of eyelash flutter, twist and curve of hand. The other mermaids will know, when the oldest mermaid stumbles over a gesture, sore fingertip tripping, will blink and curl their fingers, reply without words: yes, yes, we miss her too.
Cathy Ulrich Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana, home to precisely one mermaid bar she has yet to visit. Her work has been published in various journals, including Gigantic Sequins, Passages Northand Black Warrior Review.