THE REVERSED MERMAN
Translation by María Lema
Keep on digging, carajo, it is good to be a kid, but playing all the day long won’t give you the moneys. Don’t look at me that way, I’m your dad, I know better, don’t stop, don’t stop! I gave the your tip to the gravedigger, there is no problem with him, though he warned me that the cops show up sometimes, so hurry up, faster! Put the earth on by the burnt tree, the stones on the grave. Learn this: keeping an order is crucial in a job, so are calculations. You need to think always on: how much you invest, how much you lose, how much you earn. What? What do I do? Well, someone has to supervise and manage, that is something grownups do, because we are big and strong. Don’t complain, there is no point on crying , your mum is not here, she doesn’t like it when you cry either, sniffle, that’s right. Today I feel friendly, I’ll tell you why we do this, but only if you shut it, I don’t like being interrupted. There, I told you to shut up. You asked for it! That’s it, you learn fast, if you don’t do things in silence, you’ll receive. And don’t forget to respect the order, ‘cause that’s how you work more and better; the earth, the stones.
It happened yesterday, or the day before yesterday, or the day before the day before yesterday, I can’t remember. See? You are passing your mess on to me. Keep on digging! Remember the cops. They never joke around! It was that time I went fishing very early, I had made my calculations, the plan had no weaknesses, if I won the others, I would find a shoal of fish, all for me. But there was a problem, on the rush I forgot my compass, and I also tired up the engine. I got to a place where the fog is greenish, I could barely see a thing, still close to the coast. That area was weird, even though it still smelled like oil, as usual, the new stink was sulphur. I kept the good spirits anyway, threw the net and picked some plastic. Suddenly, it started raining fiercely, and the sea became furious. What? Are you telling me that I should have stayed? There you have it again! You don’t wish the grownups to die, your own father, no less. Respect, carajo! I’m your boss, on top of it. Shut up, dig up and listen!
One of the engines was burnt, I took the oars, looking for safety, I rowed and rowed and, bam! One of the rows got stuck against something. A reef? No. I checked with my oar, it was a body, and it was alive. A seal? Maybe, it had an animal shape. A shark? No, my son, it was something that at first made me shiver, horrify, and I even thought of you for a second, with love, of course, ‘cause I’m your dad and I worry about your future. What would you be without me? You would just play, have fun, and I wouldn’t love you if I let that happen; that’s why you need to listen to me, earth here, stones there.
What had I found then? It came to the surface, it was a merman, just reversed, its upper body was a fish, the lower was a human. It jumped and fell on my side, shook a little, and finally laid down and seemed to fall asleep. My heart was pumping fast, my chest feels still pain, I tried to breath softly to feel calm down. I had a look at its skin, it had big smelly scales. I looked further down, he had hairy legs, his penis rose among the seaweed tangled with his balls. Surprising, don’t you think? I know, but don’t stop. Keep on digging, carajo!
I caressed his legs, I slowly untangled the seaweed, he looked me in the eye, opened his gills, I kissed him and we quickly knew each other, enjoying it, it sounded like a flutter, something like tuck… splosh, tuck… splosh, tuck… splosh, until the intense, severe and pleasant tucksplosh! Then a deep breath, laying face up, looking at the sky, it was clear, the sun was warm, so nice. I blinked and saw the merman enjoying too, so relaxed, with brighter and younger scales.
Silence! You won’t make fun of me, I’m no homosexual, I am not! I know this, there is a scientific theory, certified by German researchers: only after seven sexual encounters with a man you become a homo. I have had five and a half, as the merman is a half. See? You always need to calculate, and in the sea anything goes, seals, dolphins, turtles. You’ll understand eventually, or you think you won’t be a fisherman? There you have it again! In case you dare to rebel against your fate. And don’t stop! These cops are dangerous, earth here, stones there, very good.
After sex, my stomach roared, I was extremely hungry and looked among the few things I had in my bag: a kilo of lemons and a knife. I looked at the merman, made my calculation, I had already used his human side, it was time to fill myself with the other half, the succulent tuna one. I proceeded, I knew that fish couldn’t talk, but, apparently, mermen do. He stared at me with his little eyes, they started to water, ad I think he used telepathy, I heard a voice in my head saying: “Why are you doing this? I love you…”. I observed him coldly, spat and said: “Shut up, bitch!”.
Of course his flesh was so soft, I ate as much as I wanted, and was so satisfied that I even took a nap. When I woke up in the afternoon, the seagulls were finishing the rests of tuna. I shooed them away, just the human half of the merman remained, and that’s when I remembered the med students, that university near home, on top of a fast food restaurant. They once asked me if I had a dead man, or even half dead, they buy corpses to study them. I made my calculations, and realised that if I completed the human part of the merman, I would get more money, that’s why we are here, you are digging up a cripple’s tomb, we’ll add the merman legs and sell him. What? Yes, there would be an extra part, the area where the seaweed was tangled. What would I do with that? What do you care, carajo. That’ my private life. You nosy bastard, there you have it! And keep on digging! The earth by the burnt tree, the stones on the grave. Faster! The cops are coming!
That’s it, you’ve reached the coffin, open it carefully, don’t ruin the goods. Shit, what happened? Damn it, either the gravedigger made a mistake or fooled us, this corpse is not a cripple’s, it’s complete. Why are you taking it out? You’ll explain it to me later, Now, run, run! The cops are already here. Look at them, they bring dead bodies, they dig, they bury them there, and they leave…
That’s it, great idea! You do calculate right! If we’ve made the effort to take this dead body out, we should offer it. And if the doctors won’t accept what’s left from the merman, it can always be embalmed and be sold as a mannequin… to a trouser store, why not! But, wait, the seaweed area, can I keep it? Of course I can! We would need thin scissors and other stuff. You’re learning, my son, I can tell you are mine, and don’t forget: you can do anything you want with order and calculation…
Translation of “El Sireno” Copyright Julio Martín Meza Díaz. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2016 by María Lema. All rights reserved.
Julio Martín Meza Díaz (Lima, 1981). He studied Law at PUCP. He has published Tres giros mortales (short stories, 2007), Lugares comunes (poems, 2010) and Matemáticas sentimental (poems, 2010). He received the award Universidad Cayetano Heredia for the latter. He has also published El amor sabe a sábila (short graphic novel, 2010). He writes essays and literary reviews in several media.