Mermay 2021 Day 14 - Carnival
You must look closer to find the truth.
Story below the cut.
When Anna heard that the traveling carnival had a mermaid as part of its show, she was beyond excited to see it in person. A real life mermaid, just like in her storybooks! She begged and begged her parents to take her to the carnival all week long, and just when it seemed like all her incessant whining would get her nowhere, they finally agreed that she could go so long as her older sister brought her.
“Liesel!” Anna tugged insistently at her sister’s skirt. “Let’s go see the mermaid now!”
Liesel took a steadying breath to help repress the irritation that had been steadily rising in her all afternoon and forced a pained-looking smile. “When I’m done with this ring-toss game we can go see it, okay?”
Anna pouted dramatically, crossing her arms and holding eye contact for a uncomfortable seconds too long before sighing out, “Fineeeee.”
Less than fifteen minutes later, a gaudy carnival employee was grandly ushering the pair of sisters into a crowded tent that promised it contained the wonderful oddities of the world in its many tanks and enclosures. Anna was quick to zoom off to the nearest tank, only to find a massive snapping turtle whose sign claimed to be 200 years old. Disappointingly, a snapping turtle is not a mermaid. It took her a few more tries, Liesel persistently following her and begging for her to slow down, but at last, Anna found the mermaid.
You see, when Anna pictured a mermaid, she was picturing a happily singing woman with brightly colored scales instead of legs. The mermaid of her imagination was joyful and ever friendly, a vibrant icon of whimsy and delight.
The mermaid before her was none of that. The sullen creature was curled up tightly in the far corner of its tank, its stringy hair floating listlessly around its gaunt face. Its tail was grungy sort of brown-green except for the paler splotches where its scales had fallen off. All in all, it was a pathetic sight.
Anna was naturally upset that her dreams had been crushed in such a devastating way. Before she could open her mouth to screech her complaints though, the mermaid opened its eyes, meeting Anna’s own.
As she saw the fierce spirit still conveyed in those angry eyes, Anna suddenly came to a profound realization that you would not expect of such a young child. All along, she’d been thinking of the mermaid as an it, but it was clear in those yes that the mermaid was no such thing. She was a person, well okay, maybe not a person, but she had a consciousness, an intelligence, a personality.
And with this new information, Anna’s emotions whirled around her yet again, taking another drastic turn.
“It’s not right to keep her in a tank like this!” she screeched out, balling her tiny hands into fists.
The general noise of the other carnival-goers increased in volume as mutters spread, pierced by a man calling back, “And what does a little girl know about such things!”
“More than you do!” she screamed furiously, but before things could escalate further, Liesel has clamped a hand over her mouth and put her in a headlock.
“You better shut your mouth right now,” Liesel threatened in a low voice. “Stop drawing attention to yourself.”
Anna managed to pry her sister’s fingers from her face long enough to declare “But I have to help her!” before they seized on her again.
“Maybe this isn’t right,” Liesel acknowledged quietly, but there’s nothing we can do. Come on, we’re going home now.” And with that, she tossed her younger sister upon her shoulder like a sack of potatoes and strode off towards the tent’s exit.
Looking back, Anna saw the mermaid yet again. She’d uncurled from her corner partially and now was tentatively reaching out towards her with a clawed hand. “I’ll find a way to help you,” Anna vowed to the mermaid in a whisper that the creature could not possibly hear. “I swear it.”