4 of 5 stars.
This wistful vignette beautifully conveys the intrigue and longing inherent in allowing oneself to immerse in fantasy. The narrator, a freelance art journalist, has sought out to interview the model who posed for a series of mermaid paintings from an artist now long dead. The wheelchair-bound, now 94 y.o. woman has retreated into her 12th story Manhattan efficiency for a long time. It serves as a capsule for a bygone era. Above the chaise is the previously unknown final painting from the mermaid series: a half-submerged [assumed] mermaid looks longingly back toward the land and a lighthouse.
The elderly woman refuses to speculate on the artist’s choice of her, a life-long paraplegic as the model. But she does relate a 70 y.o. secret in the form of a tale told to her by the artist. Allegedly, a couple years before their collaboration, in the summer of 1937, the artist found the upper torso of a woman washed up on the Atlantic City boardwalk by the high tide . . .
And it occurs to me then that possibly none of what I’m hearing is the truth, that she’s spinning a fanciful yarn so I won’t be disappointed, lying for my benefit, or because her days are so filled with monotony and she is determined this unusual guest will be entertained. I push the thoughts away.
The careful parallelisms between the characters and skirting of fantasy makes this a beautiful piece, wrapped in mystery.
This story appears in the latest anthology edited by Paula Guran, Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep, published by Prime Books. “The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean” first appeared in Sirenia Digest #43, June 2009.
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