The Janitor and the Mermaid


The janitor saw the mermaid on a Tuesday night.

He was scuffing his broom across the ground littered with empty Cola bottles and flaking wads of gum. A tank, encircled by grandstands, sat in the back of the dark room. The janitor flicked a switch and a whining light flickered on.

That was when he saw her pacing through the water. Her body flashed red in the florescent light, but she was missing some scales. The veins of her hands were blue on the white of her skin and her rubbery face was pale.

She put a hand on the glass, and turned her head to the side. He clutched his broom as he watched water move in and out through the gills on her neck. He grazed the glass with his index finger, adding to scores of smudges and handprints.

The janitor inhaled through his stuffy nose, then went on with his work. As he swept the ground clear, patterns played across the floor from the light filtering through her tank. He saw her shadow fluttering, following him, and he knew she was watching.

At home, the janitor ducked into his attic, and dug through dusty boxes. The attic light stayed on through the night. The following night he returned to her room and climbed to the top of her tank. The janitor dropped in his prize: a windup boat.

She immediately snatched it away. She spun it around and swam underneath it. She examined it from every which way. She dragged it to the bottom and then let it go and it bobbed back to the top. Drifting between bubbles, or breaking the surface, it floated and she followed.