Mermaid • Hannah Lillith Assadi

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Toward the end, we were all at a bar. Me, the bartender, a stranger. Just like in the old jokes: “a Texan and a dipshit walk into a bar.” But this time, it was a little morbid. We were the last people left alive. We didn’t have much to talk about. The television didn’t work. There were only a few bottles of alcohol left. I think we were drinking schnapps and simple syrup. Disgusting.

The stranger asked me if there was a place I saw over and over again in my dreams. I told her I hardly sleep anymore. But she kept talking. And she went on and on about dreaming of the house she lived in as a child in Cincinnati, the house she lived in when her mother was still alive. But she told me that she never saw her mother, never once in her recurring dreams. Just the curtains, her bedroom, the trees, the shadows, the creaks of that house in Cincinnati. “Why do I keep seeing that house?” she began to cry.

The bartender was out of cigarettes. What I mean is, we were there, the stranger and I, when he smoked the last cigarette in the world. He punched a stool. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll play.” He poured himself triple sec. “I keep having this dream, I can’t fix the door to my own apartment. It keeps popping off its hinges of its own accord. Every time I think I’ve got it back and working, it falls onto me and I’m holding it up and it’s suddenly like I’m off the edge of a spaceship, you know, like an astronaut, and I’m just trying to fix this fucking thing so I can go home, but when I look down, I’m hanging over the void.”

“Your turn,” the stranger said.

I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to be the last person of three left alive in a bar. I grabbed the schnapps for courage. In the streets, the evidence of the end remained. Who was going to clean it? Pilotless helicopters hovered, corpses stained the streets with blood. Drone operated bombs were falling generously as rain. Birds were impaled on phone lines.

It was a long walk but I thought, fuck it, I knew where I was going. I was going to answer the stranger’s question. For as long as I can remember, I dreamed of the ocean rushing up over the sand, thrashing about, translucent and gorgeous, taking me in with it. I was never afraid. I was transfixed by it in all those dreams, as if seeing again for the first time in years the face of the one I love. But I woke, always, before drowning.

It was a little before sunset when I arrived at the beach. The sky was black and steamy like just before a storm, but it wasn’t the weather, it was exhaust.  The ocean was green, oily and thrashing, spectacular, the waves replete with dead fish, beer cans. I knew that if I went deep enough, that if I just swam far enough, I’d wake up in another time, an earlier time, when still we believed in mermaids. There would be others, an underwater bar even, and gathered there, over all the wine, everyone I had ever lost.

So, stranger, I finished the dream, at last. I walked until I could not feel the sand. I swam until the world I knew had passed away and another had taken its place. I could still breathe. Overhead I saw a ship, music streaming from its deck, and its lights searching in streaks over the black ocean like all the old stars dying, finally, at last.


Hannah Lillith Assadi received her MFA in fiction from the Columbia University School of the Arts. She was raised in Arizona and now lives in Brooklyn. Her first novel, Sonora, is forthcoming from Soho Press in March, 2017.

Photo: Ulysse Payet