Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December 8 -- Jane Downs

                        THE VILLAGE OF THE MERMAIDS *  

Small houses line a narrow street ending in a cove. A still sea. Mountains pierce a colorless sky. In front of every door, a mermaid on a straight-backed chair, long hair parted down the middle, hands folded in her lap.

Our car streams through rain to the museum. Everything licked by liquid wind. A girl in high heels crosses the street. A man stares at me through the splattered windshield, rain dripping off the rim of his black umbrella.

High-necked gray dresses flare over tail fins; breasts beautifully rounded beneath the heavy fabric. Such quiet in the painting. Identical faces sculpted like figureheads. Bare eyes. Each gaze stunned.

I race up the steps, through the archway, past the Degas ballerina. Forgotten, my mother follows. My race to the painting all I know or care about.

Chair-bound mermaids. Empty sea. I know the fairy tale by heart. The mermaid’s fatal barter for princely love. Tongue cut out, tail split in two, her silence rippling out around her.

* Oil on panel. Paul Delvaux, 1942
   Chicago Art Institute

First published in The Red Wheelbarrow Literary Magazine

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