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Still Holding On by Andie Crawford

The Myth

By Hannah Rouse

Mermaids, much like humans, have fingers so they can thread through seaweed. The only differences are their shimmery, scaly tails and magical lungs or gills or whatever they use to breathe underwater. Maybe their skin is seafoam green, and their fins like stained glass with the texture of damp leaves.

In my head, they look just like in the stories and the movies. They’re out there somewhere, singing ships to sleep. Perfect and perched on jagged rocks. Dancing in waves that collapse into nothing. They fall in love with sailors and revel in the wreckage of storms. They’re not afraid of sharks or the vast, aqua emptiness that is their home.


I always wanted to be a mermaid.

Even when I wouldn’t swim in the pool unless my parents checked it for spiders and frogs. I wore Disney Princess floaties on my arms, a small inflatable tube on my stomach, and green and blue goggles to protect my eyes from the sting of salt water. I wouldn’t put my head underwater until I was five or six years old, when an older girl asked to play mermaids with me.

After that, I finally managed to dip my skull beneath the ripples. My long, brown hair, pulled lovingly into a braid by my mother, once dry, dripped with dreams of my legs merging together and growing gold or green scales.


I used to reenact the giant rock scene from The Little Mermaid at the mini-golf course. I sang “Part of Your World” softly to myself. The rough surfaces scratched at my skin but all I could think about was swimming with Flounder, about having a dinglehopper.

At seven years old, I still wanted a Snarfblatt more than anything in the world. My new room at my grandparents' beach house was decorated entirely by myths: dolls, ornaments, signs, and miniature statues. With my toes in the sand, I observed the whitecaps breaking in the distance, wondering when I’d see her for real.


There is a painting hanging on my wall: a mermaid sits on a rock, arm outstretched toward a white unicorn—beach waves in her hair, a pale gray seashell bra, and a glittery green tail. The sky behind them swirls, pink and purple around a flaming sun. But their reflections show them as they are. A girl and a horse under a boring blue sky, fantasizing about a life where they could be something magical.


“I pretended that my swimsuit was made from scallop shells.”  

Until I was thirteen, I wore a full-length pink mermaid tail in the pool. Exhilarated by the sensations of gliding, slicing through the thick water. I took my hair down and let it float behind me in the chlorine, a cloud of thin brown strands with a mind of their own. I pretended that my swimsuit was made from scallop shells. Imagined that I was fearless enough to swim, not in the confinement of a pool, but engulfed in the ocean’s cerulean darkness.


“I’ll give you a dollar to stand by that shark,” Mimi said, pointing to Tommy, the giant fifty-foot statue of my worst fear, whose gaping mouth was the entrance to Jaws Resortwear. I didn’t look at him, but knew all too well what the store and Tommy looked like. Beady, black eyes. His sharp teeth pointed at any poor soul who wanted to enter. All the windows next to him were covered in towels with the terrifying creatures printed on the front. Other sharks, Tommy’s friends, I presumed, were posed to look like they rose through the concrete, their faces full of hunger.

I shook my head. Just the thought of standing anywhere near the store made me sick.

“Five dollars,” she smiled. I did not. “Ten dollars?”

I wouldn’t have stood by the door of Jaws Resortwear for anything. She upped the offer to twenty, thirty, then finally, forty. I always refused.

For the rest of the week-long vacation, Mimi tried to make that same deal each time we passed Tommy, the ominous entrance to the store. Not once did I budge. Not once did I even think about actually letting her take the picture of me standing in Tommy’s mouth.

On the surface, this is why I cannot live in the ocean.


For him, my bra was not made of seashells, but rather of wires and lace and polyester. I did not have a tail. My hair draped across the armrest as if again just released from its braid, free to float. I reveled in the way he looked at me.

Perhaps he was just a shark, like Tommy, and I just never noticed his bloodthirsty mouth. Or maybe he was the ocean. Seaweed limbs wrapping around me. Hands all over, the stinging tentacles of a jellyfish searching for something shiny in a shipwreck. But he found nothing worth loving in the rotting planks of wood.

Drowning in the stained leather of the couch, I began to see myself as the reflection in the painting. The reality. No magical lungs or gills or whatever the mermaids would use to breathe in the chaos of the ocean if they were real. Nothing more than a girl trying to touch something that looks mythic, magic, but is just as raw, as real as she is.


Now, I don’t dare go in the ocean. Not a single painted toenail touches the seafoam. Even pools scare me when I can’t feel the floor below me. The concrete scraped holes in the thin fabric of the pretend mermaid tail I outgrew.

But I still think if I stare at the ocean for long enough, I’ll see the sparkle of a mermaid's fin somewhere in the distance. So, I watch the waves closely, waiting for my girlhood to return.


About the Writer...

Hannah Rouse is a junior Literary Arts major at Appomattox Regional Governor’s School. She has been published in Asgard, Fledge, Under The Madness, Appelley, Free Spirit, and You Might Need to Hear This. She won runner-up in Georgia Southern University’s High School Writing Contest, as well as five Gold Keys, a Silver Key, and five Honorable Mentions from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She received first prize nationally for the Sarah Mook Poetry Contest in 2023. Hannah is also a competitive dancer and enjoys spending time with her two cats.

About the Artist...

Andie Crawford is a 12th grade visual artist at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. Her best mediums are drawing and painting.

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