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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
“Mermaid Seeks Capture”
The bus was nothing like she remembered. The man in front of her smelled of day-old liquor and from her view, face pressed sideways, lying down, he seemed to be peeing. She watched it run down toward the back of the bus, then reverse itself and run forward with the inertia of the moving vehicle. Watching the pee roll forward and back, Olive Oyl thought, this is what I get for playing games. What I get for posting the simple message in the back of the Open Door singles section, “Mermaid Seeks Capture.”
Along came her perfect respondent, a beautiful sailor with firm forearms and a love of leafy greens— Oyl always did love a man in uniform. Then that brute, Bluto. Sure, it had been fun for awhile— what gal doesn’t enjoy a love triangle? Two boys fighting for her fickle affections. Things started to get out of hand, began to soil and turn sour—that whole episode with the giant octopus. That’s what put Oyl over the edge. She knew after that moment she needed to put some thousand miles between her and any body of water. For her next posting she altered the ad, “Heiress Seeks Capture.” Turns out, capture just wasn’t her thing.
Oyl faced him as he fried the bacon. His slight shoulders rounded as he pushed at the clicking meat. He needed a haircut. It hung down well beyond shoulder length. She wondered if she grabbed a chunk and pulled hard enough if she could lift him off the ground.
Things just hadn’t been right since she’d left the docks, since she’d left Popeye. The years of fighting had left things muddy in the sack of her brain. She never really wanted to live here with Hamgravy. A farm with Billy goats, their front teeth huge, gnawing at the fencing. The back land with its call to lie in the grasses and pick at the dirt, searching for Indian artifacts or wasps nests. That place had been hell. Hell in a prairie home container. It happened the day he said he was leaving to visit his dying grandfather. He writhed on the ground like a snail pulled from its shell, screaming, “You are the most selfish person!” He wanted to leave her out here alone. Here, with its night owls and bats and miles of dark wooded land circling the single whitewashed home. “It is not up for debate when I visit my family.” He wanted to get in his van and drive off, leaving her chained to the floor.
“I do not belong here! I miss the sea!” The Ball jar of ginger water shook with the pounding of her fist upon the long table. The heavy chain around her ankle cracked in time against the floor.
Hamgravy only ever let her eat with soft things. A paper cup for dipping in chilled soup. Her fingers for tearing meat and for dipping bread in jam. He had over-looked one important thing.
“How am I going to do anything without you?!” That had been the point. Rewire her past, alter her mind into a pliable thing under his control. Gain confidence. Love. Co-dependence. Then start breaking down the barriers of self-esteem. Break it all down to the base level in order to start again.
The Ball jar was clear and felt solid when she gripped it. Sand into fire then into glass. Pulling it close, she held it to her lips, drained it and in a swift motion brought it down on the crown of his head as he bent to place the cooked pig in front of her. Brought it down on the spot where they say babies’ souls enter their bodies, the soft one.
The solid mass of the jar worked just as well on the chain. A few rounds of smacks, and cracks became gashes.
He had done his job well. The one he was to be paid for. It was not her fault that he would fall in love and that she would not. It was not her fault that the night she was pulled off the street into a dark blue van that her sailor would worry. Would call out a manhunt and eventually be sent a message handwritten by her, “I have been captured by another.” It was not Oyl’s fault that her father, Cole Oyl, would squander the family fortune in breeding bum racing horses. A fortune made off turning the remnants of whale blubber into oil that health companies called “a revelation” and started putting it in all types of vitamin products. It was not her fault that her inheritance was gone and that Hamgravy never planned on coming back to the cabin in the woods to retrieve her. How could she have know a long-haired man called Hamgravy was clever enough to pay attention to the Open Book section. That he had in fact been tracking her for two years. That he knew her patterns. Her favorite food. Her whiskey. Her wine. Her haunts around the shore. That he had been planning this all along and when she served herself up like a rare tuna steak, “Heiress Seeks Capture,” Harold Hamgravy was hungry. He had figured bringing her to an isolated location and playing mind games on her for long enough would eventually result in her falling in love, and him getting rich. It did not.
She always wondered what it was like, pee. Warm? Salty? Did it taste like fish or chicken? Hamgravy had made her drink pee once but this was figurative pee. He wouldn’t really make her do that. Now that would be crazy.
“A reward was coming,” he had said if she closed her eyes and opened her mouth.
Jennifer Sky is a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, and a believer in magical things. She is a former model and actress. Her work has recently appeared online in The Daily Beast, Guernica, Interview Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol.1 Brooklyn and others. She is a Contributing Editor for One Teen Story and lives in Brooklyn.
You can find her online at JenniferSky.com and on twitter at @jennifer_sky