January 30, 2012

Little Mermaid's Big Sister, By Jude Tulli

Editor's Note: This is the first winning entry for our January writing contest. The window for February opens at 12 a.m. EST Feb. 1 and closes at 11:59 p.m. EST Feb. 2. The other winning entry for January and guest posts will be appearing soon.

My little sister wrestles with killing her beloved prince, and that could be her undoing. Her other sisters and I bargained away our hair for one last chance to save her and brought her the sea witch's knife. We told her she could live if only she killed this one man. One man who does not love her as she deserves. We begged her to save herself.

She has legs to walk. She can do it easily. We have but flippers and fins and scaly tails beneath our bellies. But we shall try to finish it for her if (Adelaide says when) she fails.

There she is now. See how her knife hand trembles. It's just as her tail would waver against a tide pool back when she had sense enough still to have a tail.

She's thinking about it as she pulls back the curtain of the tent where he betrays her with another. Thinking as she hesitates of the nights they might have spent tangled up in laughter and caresses; of the mutant offspring she might have borne with him.

She puts the thoughts, lovely as they're sure to be, out of her naive little mind. Her hand grows steady as the waveless night. She holds the dagger up close to the sleeping prince's heart.

She is poised to break the sea witch's spell! Yet I dare not hope any harder; it is not in her to commit murder. Always a dreamer, she.

Throwing the knife overboard makes your point quite nicely, dear sister, but did you have to heave it so far and make it harder for us to protect you from yourself?!

I told the others we should have included Father; he swims far faster than we. Like lightning.

Even as a merling little sister preferred plankton to shrimp, any tide of the week. While the rest of us were busy breaking crab shells open with our teeth to suck the sweet meat out, she'd follow the whale families and catch their filthy spillovers.

The same barb schools that darted out of view from me (and rightfully so) would dance around her as if she was their teacher. I swear, a mermaid like her is worth far more to the world than any human prince.

I catch a cluster of red seaweed. It scratches my palm and seeps its burning salt into my hand as I hold the squiggly mass above my head to drip dry.

I drape it over my bald scalp and tie the longest tendrils around my waist as little sister does with her hair. My face looks much like hers though she was blessed with a better endowment than I. Still, the sea witch can't trifle over who does the dirty work, just so it gets done. Can she?

My little sister is so pure. Too pure.

I find the dagger first in the blood red water. We sisters agreed whomever found it would finish the story for our little mermaid the right way. The only way Father and the rest of us can endure.

I dive into the air and spin so my tail breaks my landing on the boat. It hurts but I've no time to entertain the throbbing now. I draw back the same curtain my sister parted. Though the dawn is rising, it is too dark inside to see.

"Prince," I lull, "If you're awake, I have a present for you, my dear. If you're asleep, all the better to deliver it."

"Dumb foundling? You can speak!"

It's working! He thinks I am she!

The ocean splash is sudden. Its foamy droplets extinguish the last fading embers of hope from my heart.

"No!" I jump in after her. The shock of my body against the water is but a distant shadow of the horror that has flooded my soul. The sense that I am trapped inside a nightmare from which I shall never wake drowns every drop of pain I should be feeling.

I am too late. The sharp knife falls to the ocean floor. Dear little sister would have worried it might hurt some poor unsuspecting creature. But I am far more concerned with the ill fate that has befallen her. Let it slash a shark or an angelfish or giant squid. Nothing matters now.

I look up through the water and the morning sun shimmers solemnly. My surviving sisters' tears appear silver in the golden light. I know what they're thinking, because I am thinking it too. Why couldn't the sea witch have accepted our offer to take us instead of the sweetest mermaid who ever delighted to situate shell-less hermit crabs?

A tear of my own trickles down my cheek and settles between my lips. I am too forlorn to care but the torturous tickle makes me lick and, licking, taste. Salty.

Salty like the sea foam; all that remains of the dearest, littlest mermaid I have ever loved.

Image by John William Waterhouse.


Cat Russell said...

This was beautifully told.

Kate Forsyth said...

what a lovely poignant story. Beautiful.

Ari said...

Lovely flow to the narrative.

(hope this posts--it hasn't let me yet)

Lissa said...

I like the mixed feelings the narrator has for the little mermaid, frustration and admiration combined. Love is so complicated. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Jude, I love this story:) I'm so proud of you:) your wife:)

Anonymous said...

The Little Mermaid’s Big Sister, does coincide nicely with Hans Christen Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, but I do not think it is necessary, and there are some things that don’t make sense. In the original tale, the mermaids cannot speak to the humans, because they are speaking two different languages, so if does not make sense in Jude Tulli’s story when the eldest of the mermaids speaks to the prince and he answers her. We know that the youngest of the mermaids is turned into foam, there is no going back from that point, for a sequel story to be written just doesn’t make sense. I can see how it is from the point of view of the eldest mermaid, but it seems to be just a story that is written to latchkey off of the original. In The Little Mermaid, the youngest of them looks down at her sisters before changing, so how could the eldest be in two places at one time? It seems like a nice idea, but it is not for me.
Serena W.
October 14, 2012

Anonymous said...

Molly G.
I like the twist this version of The Little Mermaid gives. The perspective of the sister gives more insight to how the Little Mermaid's family actually is feeling besides what Hans Christian Anderson has already described. Although I love that the sisters in fairy tale are finally loving and kind to one another I'm surprised at how much these sisters are willing to go in order to save their sister. This sibling relationship is unlike almost any other relationship in typical fairytales. I think it is refreshing, but I believe a little over the top only compared to other fairy tales. The end is quite interesting. I was surprised to find that the Little Mermaid still died after the lengths her sisters went to in order to save her. The sacrifice the Little Mermaid made was also surprising, but over the top. I wish she would have realized what kind of a man the Prince truly was and not have been willing to die in order for him to live.

Anonymous said...

This is a very beautiful but poignant story. It is so sad to read “The Little Mermaid’s” story from her older sister’s perspective, to be able to understand what her family felt because of her choices. I could just feel the older sister’s pain as she watched her sister struggle with the choice of killing her beloved to live or to give her life so he may live. It’s heartbreaking to read the sister’s struggle to save their baby sister, giving up their hair to the witch and even kill the prince themselves so that she wouldn’t have to. I could feel the older sister’s agony as she realizes she failed to kill him and because of that she will lose her beloved sister, to feel her desire to shake some sense into her sister and to change her mind. The sensations of love, dread, and regret are incredible as they course through the story.

Anna W.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed how this story was connected to The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. It was very interesting seeing it from her sister’s point of view. The most interesting part, I found, was the mentioning of the “mutant offspring she might have borne him with.” I would have never thought, nor did the little mermaid, I’m sure, of the type of children that they would have had, seeing that she is not really a human being. I also enjoyed how the sister thought she could twist the words of the sea witch and say that it didn’t matter who killed the prince. Although, when she landed on the ship, the prince didn’t notice that she was not human and had a fin instead of legs. The only thing I thought to be slightly off putting was when the sister cried at the end and tasted the tear on her cheek and then compared it to the taste of foam, which had then become all that was left of her sister.

Taylor B.

Anonymous said...

This was a great story to follow up a possibility of what might have been happening with everyone else as they watched the little mermaid attempt to kill the prince. I liked that the sisters remained loving towards their youngest sister even when they knew she would fail to do as the sea witch proclaimed. They remained there trying to help her and even going as far as attempting to kill the prince for her. In many other fairy tales, siblings are portrayed as nasty, spiteful people that are constantly jealous of the natural beauty and charm the youngest one possesses. I have to admit it made me sad and a little miffed that here the little mermaid had such loving sisters and she seemed not to care for anything other than her own current situation. The sisters’ true love and sadness was well portrayed in this story. - Melinda P.