“Have I saved your life or stopped you from hatching?”
Mermaid’s Hook, by Liz Argall.
I discovered this story some time ago in the archives of the glorious Apex, where you can find many incredible short stories by many incredible authors, both new and familiar. This tale in particular can be read here. As it turns out, it’s also available as a podcast on Podcastle, and the link to that audio can be found here, if you’d rather listen than read.
In this piece, mermaids normally leave drowning humans to sink to the bottom of the ocean, more focused on catching other treasures. Unexpectedly to both her and her sisters, however, one nameless mermaid ends up catching a man in chains. Once in her arms, she then feels obligated to keep him alive, and takes him back to the surface–despite the storm raging above the water.
At its heart, I believe this story is really an account of clashing cultures. Neither man nor mermaid know each others’ language, or how the other even breathes. Since mermaids have gills, she doesn’t immediately realize that humans don’t just use their mouths to eat, making it difficult to maintain the man’s survival. I thought it was a great way to explain how mermaids worked in this piece, without giving too much exposition about it. The end result was a curious mermaid who was so naive about humans that she came across as endearing.
I also feel, however, that this one was more exploratory than narrative. It definitely had a story, don’t get me wrong, but I found it to be a rather simple one. As a reader, I’m simply not given enough information to really feel for the man in this scenario. Sure, he was thrown overboard, but maybe he deserved it on some level. In my opinion, simply being a human is not a relatable enough feature for a character. I could see it working for others, though; it’s just not to my personal taste.
Still, the writing is great and there’s enough plot and action to stay interested. But the selling point is definitely the naive mermaid’s musings and attempts to reason with the man. The tone is so lighthearted I couldn’t help but grin constantly as I read along. I also really enjoyed the metaphors used, as a mermaid wouldn’t know how to compare this experience to any experience we land-dwellers might be familiar with. When put in this sort of context, a lot of things humans do seem rather silly. Even the most simple of gestures, like nodding or shaking one’s head, are examined in a new perspective, and I loved it.
This story gets a solid 4 out of 5 from me. I’d be very much interested in reading a version from the man’s perspective, or even just the events leading up to his being thrown overboard. If such a thing exists, I’d be very grateful to whoever lets me know. I feel like there’s potential for a much larger story, though I’m not sure if there’s enough to go on for a novel or novella. All I’m asking for is a little prequel, or spin-off.
If you liked this tale and want to read more from the same author, Liz Argall has a website here, with a bibliography of previous, current, and upcoming work!
And now I’m the one that’s curious: what customs, gestures, or habits do you think we take for granted, as humans?