We come from all round to see the mermaid. We have always watched the mermaid since she was young. We called her an exquisite beauty. We called her a great talent.
A natural, we said.
We knew this: When the mermaid was a child, her mother left her in the bath with the water running. She always remembered the way it felt, water slipping over her face, the stinging when she inhaled. The mermaid knew then that she was a poor excuse for a mermaid: a mermaid who hated water. We didn’t mind that she hated water. We would hate it too, if she asked us. We would stand, shuddering, under our showerheads and think of the mermaid.
The mermaid signed autographs when we asked for them. The mermaid posed for photos. The mermaid did take after take, till the directors were satisfied. The mermaid hid on the back lot, knees tucked to her chin, and waited to be found. We wanted to be the ones to find her. We wanted to save her from all of it: the directors, the photos, the water, ourselves.
The mermaid waved from the back seats of cars. The mermaid flirted with grey-haired reporters. The mermaid said: I love my fans. I love all of them.
She said: They’re like family to me.
We wanted to be the ones. We never were. The mermaid married. The mermaid became a mother. The mermaid quit the movies.
She said: I never liked them anyway.
We wept. We wept for love for the mermaid, who had suffered for so long.
We said: We hope you will be happy now.
When the mermaid is found after going off the side of a boat, we are already there. We make way for the police in their cars. We watch as her husband is taken away by friends, sobbing. We wait beside the water as she is dredged from the lake, bruised and blue-lipped. We take her photo, one last time.
We say: We have always, always loved her.
Cathy Ulrich reads a lot of biographies about dead movie stars. Her work has been featured in Spry Literary Magazine, The Citron Review, and Cease, Cows, among others.