Fiction — From the December 2009 issue
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The mermaid washed up on our public beach in the early morning of June 19, at approximately 4:30 a.m., according to the most reliable estimates. At 5:06 a.m. the body was discovered by George Caldwell, a forty-year-old postal worker who lived two blocks from the water and was fond of his early-morning swim. Caldwell found her lying just below the tide line; he thought she was a teenager who had drowned. The body lay on its side among strings of seaweed and scattered mussel shells. Caldwell stepped back. He did not want trouble. He immediately called 911 on his cell and stood waiting in the near-dark some ten feet from the drowned girl until two police cars and an ambulance pulled up in the beach parking lot. The sun had not yet come up, but a band of sky over the water was turning pearly gray. “I thought she was a high school girl,” Caldwell later told a reporter; we read it in the Listener. “It was still dark out there. I thought she was wearing some sort of a dress with the top torn off. I could tell she didn’t look right. I didn’t want to get too close.” The body was taken to the Vanderhorn Funeral Home on Broadbridge Avenue and examined by the coroner and three local doctors. The initial report stated that the body “had the appearance of a mermaid” but that further tests would have to be conducted before a definitive statement could be issued. Two marine biologists from a nearby university arrived a few hours later and confirmed the accuracy of the initial examination, stating in their confidential report that there could be no doubt the mermaid was authentic.
Steven Millhauser ’s latest collection of stories, Dangerous Laughter, is now available in paperback from Vintage.
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