This Story has NO ENDING…
I have been working on this one on and off for ages (Like literally years.) I was just waiting for the mood to finish it too strike, and was trying to not rush it (I rushed “We’ll Always Have Paris” and ended up unhappy about it. I’ve been thinking about a rewrite.) But now the giant mouse corporation is ACTUALLY going to be doing a live action version of “The Little Mermaid,” so I thought I’d put this out before that happens and muddles things up.
I decided that this time rather than force an ending, we could treat it a bit like a choose your own adventure. So, you get to create your own ending. You decide what happens next.
If you want, share your version.
The Mermaid’s Sisters
There is no place I prefer being than in the ocean. Sure, I love a good swim in a pool. And if a lake is the only place to swim, I’ll still go for a swim. I really will take any opportunity to swim. But the ocean is where I truly feel like I’m in my element.
I know some hate the saltiness, but I love that. I love the taste of it on my lips, almost like caviar. I seem to be one of those lucky people whose complexion is improved by it. So that doesn’t bother me.
Unfortunately, I’ve spent a lot more time swimming in pools than in the ocean. For one thing, I love the ocean, but I’m not crazy about freezing my ass off, and I live in the north east. So, depending on the year, you can maybe swim for 3 months. I know I could get a wetsuit, but that kills the free feeling I love when I’m swimming, so it’s just not worth it to me. Also, the YMCA is a five minute drive from home, but the shore is over an hour, if the traffic’s not bad. Then there were my college years on the synchronized swim team. What can I say, Ester Williams was my first hero. I’d definitely clocked many more hours in pools than in the ocean. I love to swim way too much to be fussy when pools are available. Pools are OK, especially indoor ones that I can use no matter the weather.
Oh, and adding to time spent in pools is that I work at the Y as an instructor and lifeguard, and moonlight as a professional mermaid on weekends. My friend Lisa was the one who got me started as a mermaid. For her it’s a passion, for me it’s a fun way to make some extra money. So basically, I spend half my life in pools. At least, for now.
One of my main goals is to change that pool to ocean ratio. I really want to live within walking distance of a beach. Not up here in the north east, down south where it’s warmer, and I can swim most of the year. Ideally I’d love to live in the Keys.
It’s my desire to live by the ocean, that has me constantly on the look out for extra ways to make money, so when Lisa mentioned that there was a film that was auditioning mermaids, I jumped at it. It was a chance to make a good amount of money.
We had just finished working a birthday party together. She told me about it while we were in the shower washing the chlorine out of our hair. One of the ironic things about being a professional mermaid is that everyone expects you to have beautiful long mermaid hair that swirls around in the water, but chlorinated pools are hell on long hair. Hence the unreasonable amount of time spent washing out chlorine and doing deep conditioning treatments and what have you.
“It’s an open casting call, you should come along.” Lisa said.
“It’s for a movie?”
“It’s a live action version of ‘The Little Mermaid.’ Not the happy ending version, though.” She went on. “It’s going to follow the Hans Christian Anderson story faithfully.”
“Have you read the story?” I asked Lisa. “They’re going to have her die and turn to foam?”
I haven’t heard the story since I was a kid, but that part made a huge impression on me.
“I read the story last night, she escapes the sea foam fate in the end.” She answered. “I haven’t seen the movie script or anything though, so all I know is what I heard through the grapevine.”
“So, what do you know?”
“It’s an open casting call. They are looking for actors who can swim really well and professional mermaids to use as extras and for some of the supporting roles.” She paused as she was rinsing. “One of the best parts of it is they are filming all the underwater sequences down in the Caribbean, so it would be a free trip.”
“Getting paid to swim in the Caribbean, you can count me in.” I chuckled. “I haven’t been there in years.”
“Ok, I’ll pick you up at 7 bright and early tomorrow, and we can go together.”
We arrived at the hotel where they were holding the auditions, with plenty of time. We ran into some other professional merpeople we know. Many of the people who have shown up are actors though, not merpeople.
One of the first things on the day’s schedule is proving that we are good enough swimmers to not drown on set. It was really easy for Lisa and me, but I ended up pulling the actress swimming next to me out of the pool after she inhaled a mouthful of water.
The producers hired a guy to act as water safety to help with the whole making sure nobody drowns thing. After he helped me get the actress out of the pool and made sure she was ok, he thanked me for keeping him from having to get wet.
Later when we were all just waiting around, I got to sit with the guy for a bit. I found out his name is Jason, he’s a diver, and he had been out of the navy for a couple of years. I joked he must have started growing his hair out the minute he got out. He had very long black hair held back with many elastics so it almost looked like it was braided. The ends and a few stray bits curled. He was generally very handsome. He had a very strong jaw line that was only slightly hidden under his short beard.
Lisa and all of the other merpeople we know get hired as extras. I and a couple of others are asked to come back tomorrow to read for speaking parts.
The next day is full of hurry-up-and-wait chaos. We have to do underwater screen tests, as well as separate voice recording.
“If I get this part I’ll have to cut my hair won’t I?” Asks one of the others reading for the part of one of the sisters about halfway through the day.
We are all suddenly very silent, looking at the casting director with anticipation. I was kind of shocked. I had forgotten that part of the original story.
“Yes, we will be sticking very closely to the original story and the sisters trade their hair for the dagger.” He says. “It will happen on camera.”
Two of the women just get up, gather their stuff, and leave.
Later, I overheard a couple of other mermaids, Ashley and Lori, who were also auditioning for parts as sisters talking about the haircuts.
“It’s not that I’m attached to my hair, I kept it short back when I raced. I even shaved it off a couple of times before really important swim meets.” Ashley was saying. “I need to really think about if it will pay off though. Short haired mermaids don’t get as much work. It took about two years to go from short to really long.”
“I see what you mean, but I think it will pay off.” Lori countered. “We’ll lose a little business while the hair grows back out, but being able to say ‘I played sister #1 or whatever in this big movie’ will probably bring in at least enough to offset the loss, and it will go on long after our hair grows back.”
“Good point.” Ashley agreed. “Plus the money we will make on the film.”
Lori turned to me. “What do you think Jess?”
That’s a good question. I hadn’t been thinking about it in economic terms. I actually am very very attached to my long hair. I resist cutting it as much as possible. I’d endured the pain of serious swimming with long hair stoically. I had not really been tempted to cut it even on the numerous occasions it tangled painfully in my goggles strap, or a swim cap pulled some out. When I got to college and switched from racing to synchronized swimming, long hair was much more the norm, and I hadn’t looked back. I put up with a few long layers these days to enhance my mermaid image, and had gotten used to getting regular trims. The most I’d ever cut was about four inches, because the hairdresser insisted it was completely fried from the chlorine. After that painful experience I was much more careful about always washing and conditioning. It wasn’t just a question of would it pay off at all for me, it was a question of would it pay off enough to be worth it for me.
The beach house came to mind though. If it really was going to get me closer to the down payment on a beach house, it was really worth it.
“Jess?…JESSICA?” It’s Lori, obviously I’d been lost in my thoughts a bit too deeply and a bit too long.
“I do care about my hair. I’ve never had short hair.” I said nervously pulling my damp locks over my shoulder. “I think it will be worth it anyway, though.”
I got the part as one of the sisters. It isn’t a huge part, just a few lines. I take leave from my job at the Y, and find a cat sitter.
As soon as we get down to the Caribbean, I head to the beach. I’m surprised to run into Jason at the beach.
I challenge him to catch me. He can swim as fast as me, but has to surface for air twice as often as I do. Eventually I decide to let him catch me and sit in the sand with the waves just lapping over my legs. Soon we’re in the shallows kissing.
Over the next few weeks we spend almost all our free time with each other.
The day to film the sisters trading their hair for the dagger comes. I am incredibly nervous.
As I sat in the boat waiting, a scuba diver with shaggy black hair surfaces. When he took off his mask and regulator, I realized it was Jason. It was a shock seeing him without his long ponytail.
He pulled his wetsuit down so the top hung loose around his toned waist. Then he sat down next to me.
“Hi” I said. “What happened to you? Your ponytail seems to be missing.”
“They needed people to rehearse on.” He smiled at me, as though it was no big deal. “They only have one shot at doing it right on you, after all.”
Now I wished I hadn’t asked, I had been trying not to dwell on it and now I am staring my own fate right in the face. Though it is a bit hard to tell how short it would look on me since my hair isn’t anywhere near as curly as Jason’s, even with the Caribbean humidity.
I couldn’t help but think about it after seeing Jason’s hair gone. I reached up and pull on one of Jason’s wet curls. It doesn’t reach his shoulder. I let it go, and it springs back slightly.
“How bad was it?” I finally asked.
“What do you mean by how bad? For me it wasn’t bad at all. I got to have air. You’re going to have to hold your breath.”
“Holding my breath isn’t the part that worries me.” I leaned my head down onto Jason’s shoulder.
“The tugging wasn’t too bad, they used a very sharp blade.” He smiled at me, and stroked my head. “Don’t worry, you’ll still be gorgeous with short hair.”
We just sat together till it’s time for me to go down. Jason checked his watch, then grabbed a couple of full air tanks.
“You ready? Calm enough?” Jason asked.
He knew that I needed to be calm to hold my breath long enough to film the scene, but that the impending haircut is making me anything but calm. I did my best to put it out of my mind.
We went down together. I was just letting Jason keep track of our descent, while I was concentrating on staying calm.
We got to the reef we were filming against. I got into place. The director gave me a few last minute reminders and I nodded that I was ready to begin. We’ve done many rehearsals, both on dry land with the director talking the whole time, and under water. I know exactly how it’s going to go, but in those rehearsals, the knife was a fake stand in. I know the one being used today is actually razor sharp. I take my last breath, and take the regulator out. Jason takes the regulator and swims out of the scene.
As soon as Jason was clear, the haircut scene started. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the green hand of the actress playing Ursula gather up a handful of my hair that is floating about me. She holds the handful of hair straight out from my head, that’s when the knife comes into view. The one we used in rehearsal was just red plastic, this one has a gold blade and jeweled handle.
She starts sawing against the hair just like in rehearsal. Just like in rehearsal, there is a very slight tugging against my scalp. The sharp blade glides silently through my hair. This time, unlike in rehearsal, that isn’t the end of it. This time the hair in her hand is separated from the hair on my head. This time, short hair comes free to float next to my face. This time my long brown hair stays in her tight fist.
I close my eyes tightly, not wanting to watch the short hairs swaying back and forth out of the corner of my eye. The director had said to go ahead and let the emotion show, so I don’t force myself to hide it. Though I do need to not give into it too much so I don’t accidently release my breath.
I feel another handful of hair being gathered behind me, I feel the pressure of the knife sawing through my hair once again. The pressure gradually releases as the hair is cut free. Soon the third bundle of hair is gathered up and sliced through.
My eyes are still closed as I feel a hand on my shoulder. A moment later I feel the regulator being forced into my mouth. I open my eyes and breath.
When they have taken all the close up shots they need and are done with me, Jason takes me to the surface. I don’t swim next to him, I hold tight to him and let him do the swimming for both of us. On the boat, I just sat wrapped up in my towel waiting.
Back at the hotel, Jason walked me up to my room. I went into the bathroom, and that’s where I fell apart. Staring back at myself from the mirror was not me. I sat down on the floor, buried my face in my hands and started to sob.
“Jess, are you OK?” I heard Jason call softly through the door. “Jess… Do you want me to come in?… Jess…. I’m coming in, OK?”
I heard the door open, then felt Jason’s warm arm around my shoulder. He sat there with me holding me, just waiting.
“I look like my mom did when I was little.” I finally said.
“Then you had a really pretty mom.”
“I don’t want to look like a mom from the ‘90s.”
“Shh.. It’ll be OK. When all the filming is over, you can do something more up to date with it.”
I turned and buried my face against Jason’s strong shoulders, and he wrapped his other arm around me too, holding me in a tight hug. We just sat together on the bathroom floor till I was all cried out.
The next day, they send me and the 4 other sisters to the movie’s hair stylist to have the rough cut touched up, so I will look good in the scenes where we give the magical dagger to the actress playing the little mermaid.
Filming went on for just a couple of more weeks. It was in the last few days that Jason and I were sitting on the beach chatting.
“Where are you going when filming is finished?” I asked Jason, as I stroke the shaggy curls off his face.
“I don’t have anything else lined up, so I’ll head back to my parents house in Virginia till something comes along.”
“Would it be really crazy to suggest you could come stay at my house?” I asked nervously, then stammered. “Well, technically it’s not MY house. It belongs to my parents, but they have an RV now and only come home for a few holidays, Rosh-hashanah, Yom-Kippur, Thanksgiving, Pesach, etcetera. Most of the time though, it’s just me and the cat.”
“Yes, it’s crazy or yes you will?”
“Both.” Jason answered with a smile then kissed me.
We’d been back home for about a week, when a couple of big boxes of Jason’s stuff arrived from his mom. It’s an eclectic assortment of stuff, ranging from the mundane to the sentimental. As we unpack I get distracted by Jason’s highschool yearbook for several minutes. When I put it down I reach into the bottom of the box we have open and pull out a smaller box that says “Wahl.” I look it over for a moment.
“Is your mom dropping a hint?” I asked, holding up the box.
“Oh, perfect!” He said instead of answering my question.
He took the box from me, gave me a quick kiss on the forehead and went into the bathroom. Unpacking had clearly been forgotten. He left the door open, so I followed him in.
Jason was folding up the bath mat and putting it up when I got there. The box was sitting on the counter. Once the floor was cleared off, he started stripping off his t-shirt and blue jeans as I leaned in the doorway.
“What’cha doin’?” I asked.
“Getting rid of all this annoying hair.” He said as he folded up his clothing and put it aside.
“I thought you were gonna let it grow back.”
“Nah, it’s a pain.” He is opening the box and taking out the clippers. “I grew it long because I was curious. I’d never had long hair before. When I was a kid there were always school dress codes. Then when I left school I went straight into the Navy, so when I got out it was the first time growing it long was ever an option.”
He had the clippers all unpacked and was plugging them in.
“What do you think, ⅜ or ¼?” He paused the story and looked at me, holding up a couple of little plastic things.
I had no idea, so I just shook my head and shrugged. He looked down at them, put the slightly larger one back in the box and attached the smaller one to the clippers.
“So I just started letting it grow for the past couple of years since I got out of the Navy.” He continued explaining. “I like trying new things, getting lots of experiences. It was fun and an interesting experience. But, I kind of feel been there done that about it at this point. Now that it’s shortish again, I don’t feel like growing it out. Short is just easier and more comfortable.”
He was standing there in just his boxers holding the clippers. He looked in the mirror and turned them on. The sound was surprisingly loud. He smiled when I jumped slightly, startled by the noise. As they ran though, they settled into a steady humming.
Without further ado he put them against his forehead and started pushing them into his shaggy black curls. I can’t believe it as I watch about five inches of hair just slide away leaving behind a path of almost nothing on his head. The strip of hair is so short, you can’t even really tell it’s curly anymore. When he reaches the back of his head, he brings the clippers back to the front and starts another path. Jason’s black curls were soon all over the place. His shoulders, the floor, a bit in the sink. He’d cut all the hair in the front, and started awkwardly reaching around to get the back, when he spotted me still standing against the door frame watching him. He smiled at me.
“How about giving me a hand with the back?” He asked.
“I don’t want to mess it up.” I said with a shake of my head.
“Don’t worry it’s pretty impossible to mess up.” He turned off the clippers and held them out towards me. “Just run them up against the grain and go slowly.”
I was incredibly nervous as I took them from him, but thinking about it, what he’d been doing hadn’t looked complicated. I took the little machine from him and was surprised by how heavy it felt in my hand. It had seemed lighter when it was in the box so the weight was distributed.
I look them over, there was a switch on the side. I flipped it up. The clippers started with that same surprisingly loud clunk again. Had I not heard it before when Jason had started them the first time, I would have been convinced I’d done something wrong and broken them. As they came to life, I realized I was holding them way too loosely. They were threatening to jump out of my hand. I tightened my grip. The vibration was making my hand tingle.
Jason leaned against the counter in front of the sink. His arms supporting much of his weight as he lowered himself slightly and bent his head down.
I raise the clippers to the back of Jason’s neck. Very slowly I started pushing them up into his hair. The clippers changed tone as they hit the hair. The clippers were soon buried in the hair. Then the cut off hair started falling over my hand.
I keep pushing them upward, till finally, they come out at the point higher up on the back of Jason’s head where he had stopped.
“I can’t believe I just did that.” I said with a giggle, as I dumped the black curls off my hand.
I turn off the clippers and reach up to feel the path of clipped hair I cut. It feels really prickly under my fingers.
“You’re not going to leave it half done are you.” Jason teased.
“Just need a moment to regain my courage.”
I turned the clippers back on. I started making another pass next to the first one I made. This time, along with the curls tiny little splinters of hair fell. They stuck to me in a way the longer curls didn’t. I could see this was going to be messy. I turned the clippers off again, and put them down on the counter next to Jason.
“Hang on one second.” I said as I started stripping off my own clothing.
I had a tank top on under my sweater, so I left that on. When I pull off my socks I can see it was too late and they already had a ton of Jason’s hair stuck to them. I noticed Jason was watching me and grinning from ear to ear.
Once I’m down to nothing but my tank top and panties, I walked back over to Jason. The hair covering the floor is incredibly soft under my feet, with just the slightest prickliness when the cut ends poke just the right way. I wiggled my toes enjoying the sensation.
This time when I turned on the clippers I was prepared for the clunk as they came back to life. I pushed them up into what’s left of Jason’s curls again. A few more passes and all of the shaggy curls were gone.
“Now go back over it from another angle, to catch any that are a bit longer. I tend to get a lot of that since my hair is curly.” Jason explained.
As I go back over his head a couple of more times, I’m surprised how many little hairs come off and stick to me and Jason. Eventually though, the clippers seemed to not be cutting anything any more. I turned them off and placed them on the counter next to the box.
“Now comes the hard part, do you think you can clean up my neck for me, or do I need to do the two mirror thing?”
(What happens next? Is Jessica inspired by Jason’s try everything once attitude? What is she inspired to try?)