How Do Mermaids Pee

by Geri Silveira

Melissa turned seven on Saturday. She had a mermaid-themed birthday party in her backyard, which included swimming, mermaid decorations, and a six-layer chocolate cake topped with a "Little Mermaid" figurine up to her gills in blue and white frosting shaped like waves. Melissa's father Jeff, a classically handsome personal injury attorney, and her mother Adrienne, a blonde, blue-eyed trophy wife who ran fundraising events, went the extra mile and surprised Melissa with the appearance of a "real" mermaid. Melissa was delighted when this diva from the depths came popping out of the pool and flopped around on the decking. The other girls laughed and ran around the fishy lady, feeling her tail fins and climbing all over her. Melissa wanted to talk to her. What was her real name? Did she have any brothers and sisters? How did she survive out of the water? But when she finally talked to the maid, the lady would only say: "I'm from the depths below, and I love all little children." Eventually, Melissa gave up. She and the other girls played with her in the pool, but when they went to eat cake, Melissa's mom threw the mermaid a towel, thanked her, and told her to pack up her fins and scales and leave. Later on, when the kids discovered the mermaid was gone, Adrienne explained she had gone back to the ocean. No one asked how, but Melissa wondered. She thought, perhaps, she had come in through the drain (although how she could swim through the tiny holes, she did not know), and had left the same way.

Melissa had seen the Little Mermaid film nine times and had imagined being one. Her fantasy made sense, because besides being pretty, she had waist-length red hair like the mermaid, long arms, and she loved to swim. When she went into the pool, Melissa swam underwater like the mermaid, her long hair swirling about her. She dived down in the deep end, where there was a colorfully painted plaster mermaid embedded in the bottom of the pool. It had a chip out of the tail, which bothered her, but the face was very like the mermaid who had come to her party.

Melissa's room was decorated in a mermaid theme—there were posters, pillows and stuffed mermaids—plus she kept an aquarium with a plastic mermaid sitting upon a rock. At night, she watched the Little Mermaid video—or read the book version—and studied the mermaid. There were many things that bothered her about the mermaid, but she had settled on one thing she must know: How do mermaids pee? The fish part of the maid went up above her waist, and she did not think it possible that the maid could pee in the usual manner.

One evening, she took her "Little Mermaid" book to her mom, who was busy at her desk writing a report about some fundraiser or another, and showed her the pictures.

"Mom," she said, "Look at the mermaid." She's so much like me, but very different, too."

"Yes," her mom said, not looking up, "You've shown me many pictures of her."

Melissa kept staring at the picture, turning the book this way and that way. Her mom turned to look at her. Melissa's concentration was obvious. Her eyebrows were knit and she was wearing her most serious look. Such a strange child, she reflected silently, and so different from her brother.

Her brother Thomas was 12, of average height, with curly hair and bright brown eyes. He considered his younger sister a pest. Melissa did not understand why he didn't want to play with her. But that was okay; she had her mermaids.

"Mom," Melissa continued, "I don't understand." Melissa pointed to the mermaid's lower half. "How does she pee?"

Adrienne threw back her head and laughed. "Well, she said, "Mermaids don't have to pee."

"Then where does the water that they drink go?" asked Melissa.

Adrienne was stumped momentarily. "They don't drink water."

"But they must," insisted Melissa. "Sometimes when I'm swimming I swallow water, so the mermaid must swallow it, too."

Andrienne sighed and hugged her daughter: "Honestly dear," I think you should ask your father."

She immediately went to her father's home office where he was always reading very large stacks of paper. She knew that he did not like to be interrupted, but she also knew that if she waited patiently, he would notice her.

"What is it baby?" he said finally.

"Daddy," she asked, "Mom said you would know—

Jeff waited for the odd question that was sure to come.


Melissa handed him the book with the picture of the mermaid. "How do mermaids pee?"

Jeff's suppressed a laugh. "Well," he said, "That is a serious question, isn't it?" He studied the picture.

"It appears that they can't," he concluded and handed the book back to her.

"That's what mom said, but they must. And they have to poop, too, but perhaps that's out the back like a fish."

Jeff took the hint and said, "That must be how they pee, too," and he turned back to his work.

But Melissa wasn't satisfied. "Do fishes pee?" she asked.

Jeff had reached the limit of his patience and said, "Melissa, ask your teacher." He turned back to his work, and Melissa knew the interview was over.

The next day at school Melissa took her father's advice. She liked her teacher, Mrs. Birchoff, a blonde, slightly plump woman who smiled a lot. At recess, she stood by her teacher's desk with the mermaid book.

"Yes, Melissa," Mrs. Birchoff said, turning away from her work, "What is it?"

"It's this," said Melissa, pointing to the mermaid. "Father said to ask you—

Mrs. Birchoff's eyes narrowed.

"How do mermaids pee?" she inquired, putting the book on Mrs. Birchoff's lap and pointing to the fish part of the mermaid.

"Hmmmm," said Mrs. Birchoff.  A few seconds passed. Melissa waited.

"Well," she said at last. "That is a problem."

"Well," she repeated. "I'm not an expert on mermaids, but I think that they can take the fish tail off."

"Wouldn't that be difficult in the ocean?" said Melissa, leaning on the desk.

"They only pee when they come on land," said Mrs. Birchoff triumphantly.

Fortunately for Mrs. Birchoff, the recess bell rang. She shooed Melissa away.

Still, Melissa pondered the issue. As much as she admired her teacher, she did not think mermaids could take off their tails. That had never been mentioned in the movie or in the book. She decided to ask her brother, who thought he knew everything.

That afternoon, she found Thomas playing video games in his room. He did not pay any attention to her when she came in, so she tapped on his shoulder.

With a huge sigh of boredom, Thomas stopped playing, and said, "Well, what is it?"

Melissa went right to the point. "How do mermaids pee?"

Thomas scowled. "You ask the stupidest questions! How should I know? Why don"t you ask a mermaid?" With that, he turned back to his computer.

Melissa was not insulted. Actually, she thought this was a very good idea. But where was she to find a mermaid? In the swimming pool, of course!

After dinner, Melissa went to her room and peered out her window that overlooked the pool. The only mermaid she had ever seen was in that very pool, and now she wondered when the mermaid would come back. For the next three days, she took up the vigil every day and as far into the night, staying awake as long as she could.

Finally, Melissa went to her mother. "Mom," she said, "Do you think the mermaid will come back?"

Adrienne, who was about to leave for a meeting, leaned down and hugged her. "I'm sure she will someday." Her mother kissed her goodbye quickly.

Late that night, Melissa put on her swimsuit and went down the long staircase, through the kitchen and around the laundry room to the pool. The pool light was on, and the concrete mermaid shimmered below. Had she gone home through the drain? If Mrs. Birchoff was right, she could have walked in and out, but really, Melissa didn't think so. She slid into the pool, and dived to the bottom. She stroked the plaster mermaid with the chip on her tail. The maid's hair shimmered and flowed behind her like the real one who came to her birthday party.

The next morning, when Melissa did not come down for breakfast, Adrienne went looking for her. When she found her bed empty, she panicked. Jeff had already left for the office, so she woke up Thomas and told him to search. Thomas was unenthusiastic about the task, but inside, he was afraid. He knew he wasn't nice to his sister, and a little regret permeated his usual lack of conscience.

But there was no need to worry. Melissa was lying on a chaise lounge by the side of the pool, asleep. Adrienne awakened her, and held her in her arms.

"What's wrong, Mom?" Melissa said, shivering a little.

"My God, I thought you'd drowned," she said, wiping a tear from her eye. Thomas ran up behind her, relieved, but not wanting to show it. "I knew she was doing something dumb," he said and walked away in disgust.

Melissa broke away from her mom and said, "He told me to ask a mermaid how she pees, so I was looking for the one who came here before." She pointed to the drain. "I thought she must have arrived through the drain. The plaster mermaid is the gatekeeper, but for some reason, she wouldn't let her in."

Adrienne sighed deeply; she knew the time had come to be a mother. She took her daughter's hand, and then looked her in the eyes. "Darling," she said, "There are no mermaids. They are a myth, a fairy tale."

Melissa looked down at her feet and did not answer. "But one was here at my party!" she whined, looking up her mom incredulously.

"She was an actress, dear, in a costume. I paid her to come to your party. She was a real girl, just like you and me. She walked in the front door, put on her costume, performed for you, and left the same way she came."

"Oh," said Melissa. "I see."

Adrienne stroked the child's hair and said, "I'm sorry."

Melissa shrugged. Adrienne took her hand and led her back into the house. Thomas was in the kitchen eating breakfast and snickered at her. "Stupid girl," he said under his breath, but feeling bad that his sister looked so sad.

Melissa ate breakfast in silence. Adrienne was a little worried about her, but when she dropped her off at school, Melissa seemed all right.

That evening after the family dinner, where no one mentioned mermaids, Melissa went to her room. One by one, she took all her mermaid things from the walls and bookcases and tossed them into the middle of the room, ready to be thrown out. Then she looked at herself in her full-length mirror. She shook her head from side to side, tossing her hair like waves in a storm. She walked to her dresser drawer and took out a pair of scissors. She studied them for a while and felt the edge to determine their sharpness. They would do. Then, without delay, she cut her hair and put the trimmings on top of the stack of discarded things.

Melissa changed into her nightgown and got into bed. With just the night-light on, her aquarium shimmered and the plastic mermaid on her rock smiled at her. Melissa had forgotten about that mermaid. She got up and walked over to the aquarium. She reached into it and carefully removed the figurine.

Melissa took the mermaid into the bathroom, bid her goodbye, and dropped her into the toilet. With a determined flush, she sent her cascading into the maelstrom.

BIO: Geri Silveira is an experienced advertising writer and magazine editor currently working in the Communications Department of California State University, Fullerton. She was inspired by reading the short story anthology "A Teller of Tales" as a youth and by the stories of O. Henry in more recent years. Geri writes short stories to satisfy her inner-literary writer and to share ideas with other writers. She lives in San Dimas, California with her husband Frank, a retired psychology professor, and her dog Penny.