Merman by Stevie doCarmo

“It just seems weird,” Claire said. “I don’t get to decide?”

He smiled like a cop asked to issue a warning instead of a ticket. “We don’t choose the person,” he said.

“Even if I pay you more?” gesturing with her chin at the envelope over on the kitchen counter.

A full grin now. Embarrassed. “No. Sorry.” He glanced kitchen-ward himself. “All I can tell you is expect someone important to you.”

She sighed. “Someone important to me, he says.”

“Yes. Probably someone with something to talk about.”

He had the professional-grade alacrity of a physician’s assistant. Mismatched, somehow, to the actual job, which you’d think at least mild lunacy. Plus he was too young, a little too good-looking. He’d answered the door and she was sure it was some firefighter or NYPD rookie’s place she’d knocked at. Then the apartment. No incense. No red velvet curtains. No buddha heads. Spartan. Bare white walls, blindless windows. Tired but clean Ikea furniture. Very dude, truth be told. Only things missing were the giant flat-screen and Xbox. Maybe they were in the closet. Beyond the bay window, out across five miles of glassy water, Lower Manhattan’s lights shimmered Oz-like in the dusk. He must have done all right at this. Not even Staten Island was cheap anymore.

“Binx wouldn’t tell me what happened here,” she said.

He set his hands on his blue-jeaned knees. Looked at them. “Ah.”

“You couldn’t give me some idea?”

“No,” he said. “Nay-o.”

“My own sister, of course.”

“I know. But even if I remembered.”

She dropped her chin. “You don’t remember?”

“I almost never remember a thing afterwards,” palms up: a disclaimer. “And if I do, usually it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

She squinted at him. “How can it not make sense to you?”

Again the sheepish grin. A possible smoker’s-teeth situation, she saw.

“I don’t know you people,” he said.

They sat. Listened to a distant siren. Before long his one knee started bouncing. Just a little.

She face-shrugged. “All right,” she said.



Things happened fast now. He pointed at an old-fashioned trimline phone mounted on the wall up above her. Coral pink. “So you know,” he said. “It works.”

“The phone?”

“Things get crazy, you use it.”

She felt her eyes goggle. “Crazy? Call who?”

“9-1-1, if need be.”


But he was already scooching forward in his seat, tugging up the edge of his T-shirt sleeve, twisting a little to bring his bicep closer. “I want you to look at this,” he said.

“Look at—your—?”

“Yes. Please.”

His face had changed. Semi-collapsed. Like he was fighting off a narcoleptic attack.

She leaned forward, eyeing him. Lowered her gaze. A tattoo there below his shoulder. Strangely familiar. A blue and green mermaid. It occurred to her it was just like the one Ondie, her junior-year roommate, let’s call her, had on her own arm. Then she realized, astounded, hands up instantly as if to block a blow, it was Ondie sitting in front of her, showing her the tattoo, Ondie from Omaha, young and beautiful with that raven-black hair, those dozen glinting earrings, and she’d had no idea to expect anything this berserk, this unhinged, figured maybe a Ouija board or tarot cards, something charming, something funny, not an abrupt no-warnings confrontation with her queer past, with the only chick she’d ever gotten it on with, ever been okay maybe a little in love with, with whom things had ended what we may as well call calamitously, campus cops called to a scream-and-smash, and she was going to strangle Binx for this shit, and now, now the implication of the girl’s presence in this should’ve-been-a-fucking-cop-or-firefighter's apartment hit her.

“Ondie,” she gasped, hands still up. “Ondie, what are you doing here?”

So young she looked. Those green eyes. Zero crow’s feet.

“I killed myself,” she answered.

“Oh, fuck.” Claire pressed the heels of her hands to her eyes. Sobbed hard, just once. “Fuck, Ondie! Why would you do that!”

She’d twisted in her seat, Ondie, half-removed motorcycle jacket creaking, to look out the window. “Is that New York?” she breathed. “Holy shit. It was rainy last time.”

Last time?”

“Remember we always said we’d come to New York?”


“It’s beautiful.”

“Ondie. Rainy when?

She turned back around. Moon-pale. A kid. “I told your sister to get you here.”

This was a nightmare. Claire mouth-breathed incredulously, clutched her forehead. “What did you tell Binx?

“Tell her? Asked her.”

Asked her? What?”

“What you’re thinking.”


“You’re marrying him?”

Him?” Claire slumped theatrically. “Him? David? A human being with a name? Yes. Yes. I’m getting married.”

The sneer now Claire fucking hated. “Does he know you’re gay?”

“Jesus… Christ. Ondie. How… many… times? I was never gay.”

“You were sure into girls,” sweeping her hair off her shoulder. “Literally.”

“It was never girls, Ondie. It was you. It was just you.

“And now you’re gonna live like this,” waving an arm before slipping it back into her jacket sleeve. It took Claire a moment to figure out she meant the apartment.

“This is not David’s place!”

“You sure?”

Claire looked around.

“They’re all fucking philistines,” Ondie said.

“Oh? Is that your vocab word for the day?”

“Artless dogs. What a prison. He’ll cheat on you, he figures you out.”

“Bullshit. What are—? How can—?”

“He is already.”

Claire wanted to throw something but there was nothing but furniture. “Idiot! How the fuck would you know? You’re dead!”

“Get him here. I’ll have him naked in minutes. Then you’ll see.”

“That would be hilarious. You’re the dyke.”


“I swear to God,” Claire said.

“Why have you never told him? Or your sister? About me-just-me-not-girls?”

Claire's head was between her knees now, hands locked behind her neck. “Ondie. You know—

“You were always ashamed of me. Your trailer-park friend. Every time your parents visited.”

“You… cunt. That was never the issue! You know what my family is like!”

“Nay-o,” Ondie said. “Never got near them.”



“Because they would’ve looked at us and known! My father had enough shitty ideas about me already!”

“Yeah? Who were you hoping to see?”


“When you came here?”

“What do you care?”

“I’ll tell him myself,” Ondie said.

“My father?”


“Good luck,” Claire said. “He won’t be here anytime soon.”

“I’ll spell it in Cheerios on your kitchen table. I’ll write it in the fog on the bathroom mirror. L-E-S-B-I—”

“I can spell!”

They sat in silence a long moment. Then Ondie twisted to look out the window again.

“We always said we’d come to New York,” she said. “Go to CBGB.”

Claire sat up straight. “Oh, Ondie,” she exhaled. She studied the pretty girl with the rangy limbs, the dancer’s body. The light in the room was dimming. She felt close to crying again. “CBGB is long gone.”

“It is? Fuck. We said we’d come.”

“I don’t remember.”

“You were too busy coming.”

This made Claire laugh.

“I hate that Talbot’s shit you’re wearing,” Ondie said. “I’d give you my jacket but you know I wear a medium. Get it? Get it?”

Claire laughed more.

“Want me to go down on you?” Ondie said.

The truth was she looked too young for that. Had they really both been that young? Here she was, though, slipping to the floor. Crawling—actually crawling—the several feet between them. Unzipping Claire’s jeans where she sat. Tugging them down cheerfully. More alacrity. Then, as she kissed Claire’s bare thighs, dazzlingly beautiful Ondie with the coal-black hair, all that glinting metal in her ears, Claire spotted the rope burns on her neck. Realized her nose and cheeks were cold and damp like raw pottery clay.

She fought to get up, get loose of her, get to the phone on the wall to call 9-1-1. By the time she was standing and turning and reaching for it, though, jeans tugged halfway up, Ondie already had it, was holding it to her own ear, its long spiral cord swinging. “Hello? What?” she was saying. “Yeah—things got crazy. Send cops and firefighters. There’s a totally—uh—disingenuous bitch here who thinks she’s gonna buy off the past.”

Claire heard a car alarm on the street outside. Or maybe a fire alarm out in the hall.

Something inside her kept something else inside her tied to a pipe in some dark basement. When it cried she petted its hair. Told it, “Shhh.”

Stevie doCarmo grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and lives and works in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in modern American literature from Lehigh University, and his fiction has also appeared at BULL and Literally Stories.