Professional Mermaid


Gutzon Borglum was the sculptor of Mount Rushmore. Gutzon Borglum’s name sounds like a double-sneeze. Some people sneeze twice every time. It’s possible that Borglum, while chiseling away inside the vast nasal passages of Thomas Jefferson, may have sneezed. And it’s also possible that given his hiding spot a witness within earshot may have heard and believed that Thomas Jefferson’s stony face was actually the one responsible.

All of that was written on a notepad beside the computer. Teague had settled into researching while you, his wife, were away. He liked to write term papers as if he were in school but actually for no reason whatsoever. This was his pornography. I had actually found a completed paper on top of the toilet in MLA format with a Works Cited page at the end. This is this same guy who barely finished high school.

This was also the same guy who picked you up at the airport after a long trip a few years ago and thought it was a good idea to make a sign for your arrival.

It read:


At the time, you had been married for 23 years. And no, you were never a mail-order bride, in case you were wondering.

The idea behind me writing this was to provide you with a quick reference for your life when it would no longer be within the bounds of your hippocampus to do it for you. I decided to use Teague rather than Dad since I’m pretty sure you don’t call him that when I’m not in the room. The truth is that I’ve made quite a jumble of events here and hopefully you’ll forgive me for it.

Teague met you back when you were a professional mermaid. He still refers to you as one though you stopped before I was born.

As a husband and father, Teague’s mistakes were nearly insurmountable. But then he would add events to the shared family calendar and we would get these email notifications from Google after RSVPing like:

“You have accepted:
My lack of consideration”

Or “You have accepted:
My insufficient apology”

Or “You have accepted:
My pretend facts”

And I guess that was our mild way of forgiving him. But at the same time, we’d already
seen what we’d seen.

And I’d overheard what I’d already overheard. I’d quiet down on the upstairs landing so I could hear better but also so you couldn’t figure out just how easily the sound traveled by one of my footsteps or sniffles.

Most of the time, you were aware he was projecting.

When we first found out, you started running your fingers along the walls in the hallway, kneading every pillow and cushion, smoothing your hands over the floorboards of our home and all the other buildings that mattered to you. Fortunately, you already had a close friendship with the librarian. Whether this was your attempt to remember places or to mark your territory I wasn’t sure.

The situation was still more than excruciating so instead my mind just vacuum sealed it away and materials would eek out every now and then, mostly in the worst places.

Sitting in Spanish class, I used incorrect grammar often and on purpose. At one point, Mrs. Foster caught on. Here was society attempting to eliminate gender altogether and this woman kept shrieking in my ear about the femininity of a stapler.



Now is also the time to admit that there was a previous draft of this message that is underneath spaghetti leftovers and moldy jam jars in a landfill somewhere. It was all wrong but I took it to the unit anyway. We had moved you in a few weeks earlier and I was visiting.

I ended up giving you a magnet instead.

It read:

Texas. Been There, Done That.

If nothing else, if you looked up with newborn cognizance and that unsettling feeling of total unfamiliarity, I wanted you to see that magnet on your mini fridge and know with absolute certainty that yes, you had done Texas. And you had probably done it right.

The lounge area of the unit was almost convincing. That particular time you plopped down in an easy chair then noticed multiple Doritos Locos taco wrappers piled beneath it. You were concerned that the aide would think you were the culprit, then you became worried you actually were the culprit, and your eyes rolled around in such a manner that these thoughts were all very clear to me.

“That isn’t mine,” you muttered experimentally, looking at the aide though she was in the far corner smiling at another resident.


Teague just moved me in, too, and I also have a mini fridge. My dorm room window faces a four-way intersection with a two-way stop so I’ve grown accustomed to accidents.

The futon works great, by the way.

Maybe I will ask the guy across the hall if he is interested in companionship. I’m sure that’s how it works here.

I’ve noticed lately that every time I think of a memory it gets diluted until it becomes a memory of a memory. Like a clone with the same genetic materials but still its own entity altogether, mutating the original until I am nostalgic for a life of ghost selves. If this keeps happening, maybe we won’t be so different.

As I write this, clouds are starting to cover the top of the moon so it looks like a Cheshire Cat grin and I think: The night is playing tricks on us again. This will have to do for an ending, at least for now.


Claire Hopple is the author of TOO MUCH OF THE WRONG THING (Truth Serum Press, 2017). Her fiction has appeared in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Jellyfish Review, Timber, Heavy Feather Review, and others. More at