And then a brief experience with drugs had the same kind of liberating effect [...] having access to new dimensions and to the certainty that our five senses only show us one version among others of the world. It is through this that I became interested in animal perception, these creatures who also have their view of the world. Their own kind of cinema, if you like.

“I had a job as a kind of watchman in a church in St. John's Episcopal Church [...] And I just sat in the nightly-appointed library and read. So, you know, among the jobs I had when I was quite young, that was certainly my favorite.”



I was at a job interview the other day & 

they asked if I wasn’t doing what I was doing what 

I would like to do & 

I told them be a mermaid &

they looked up at me like, what the—? & 

whose stick is she trying to shake anyway

this is a job interview not 

a joke & 

that’s when I said, Really, I’m not 

kidding. It might not 

show that I have experience with that 

on my résumé, but some things don’t 

fit on the page. Huh, they laughed, 

she says she wants to be 

a sea cow, basically & drink 

from shells. Like she knows what 

she’s saying. 

I didn’t think I’d get the job after this & 

think I didn’t want it to begin with but 

you don’t have to not listen  

when someone tells you stuff, I mean they were the first 

ones I told about this & it makes you think 

maybe you think too much sometimes, & 

that whatever skills it takes to be 

a mermaid, I can learn them. You see, 

I told them, I can swim & dive &

decide later about drowning the sailors, 

sailors are useful & sometimes cute & not 

every mermaid has to do that killer sea singing &

any luring I’d keep to myself. I applied for

your job because there’s nothing tempting 

about it & I’m good at hiding things. Well, 

they said, we don’t need someone who wants to not 

be part of our team, we’re about industry & 

overtime, not sea cows. Don’t call them sea cows, 

I said, Call a name a name. I would not  

tattoo Lorelei rocks on my arm for example, if I get this 

job, I would promise to not 

talk to the fish in the fish tank too much & not 

wear revealing miniskirts, oh, the fins.    

Lady, they said, we’ve got a lot of candidates to 

choose from & we’re just saying, no 

discrimination in the workplace, but, sounds like you

would rather be a sea monster & 

stuff & if you come here, we’d have to deal with complaints &

police reports, because, hiring an aquatic creature these days 

can be tricky. It sounds like you’re talking 

about giving all this up, they said,

to be fusiform. It’s not practical to not

have feet. 

About some things they were right & for 

sure I would spend time at work messaging pirate friends & 

doing my own stuff, because some-

times in life you have to go in the direction you have to go 

& sometimes that’s straight to the sea—

your arms steering waves & onward, to estuaries 

Syrenka, maid of the wave, 

sun on your back, 

this is immense, this is not somewhere else—

hey, I said, 

look out the window & up, repeat 

after me: rise, rise, rise. 

First appeared in The Literary Review, Vol. 56, Issue 3
from the collection
Adult Swim, Carnegie Mellon University Press 2016

Heather Hartley is Paris Editor for Tin House magazine and the author of Adult Swim (2016) and Knock Knock (2010) both from Carnegie Mellon University Press (distributed by University Press of New England). Her short fiction, poems, essays and interviews have appeared in or on PBS Newshour, The Guardian, Tin House, Slice, The Literary Review, Post Road and other venues. She has presented writers at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop, and her column about literary Paris, “Apéritif,” appears on the Tin House website. She has taught creative writing at the American University of Paris and the University of Texas El Paso MFA program.