The Ethel Mermans

Thursday is swimming day, it had a special rhythm, a tone different to other days.
It is a day of display, of testing their new reality, making public in the most dangerous way possible that which is the other them.

Thursdays start early, the mermaids meet at 10, sometimes even 9.30, eyes hidden behind shades, close cut crew cuts buried under baseball caps.
Faces still blurred from the night before,
the slight tremor in a hand, amphetamine shake,
king size cigarette, drag, and blow and smile.
Wordplay never wasted.

Step 1 – the look

In briefs, doing what these briefs need to do, stand in fron of the full length mirror, a sideways glance to convince yourself that you are the best, the most convincing, the realest of the unreal.
Breasts, new, still surprising when you run you hand across your chest and feel this new landscape, but becoming more familiar as each day passes and as promised, the scars are tiny, neatly hidden.
Now checking carefully, mindful of shadow on the skin, a dishonest gesture, a tell.
You strike a pose,
strive to hide the posing,
make it real.

Step 2 – the preparation

Legs waxed two days ago, but still you check for errant hairs, tell-tale roughness.
Nails painted perfectly, cerise, scarlet, day-glo orange…….
And then the hair – each wig removed so carefully from its temporary gym bag home
And then, with one practised sweep, on and shake, fingers carefully probing the sit, the lay.

Step 3 – the costume

The mermaids are not yet brave enough for bikinis, although secretly, in the one roomed flats, the shared houses they inhabit, they have tried them on, sashayed down invisible cat walks, hips before them and then put them away, waiting for another day when transformation is complete.
For now then, one pieces, square legged but in colors that scratch the eye balls, draw attention to the perfect breasts, the endless legs, the neat and gym toned buts.
Birds of paradise, busy, shiny plumage.
Look at me, look at me, these costumes shout.
And of course the swimming hats, their hair too precious, too pricey to risk the water.
These hats, ridiculous confection of plastic flowers, reminders of another age, worn with irony and panache.

Step 4 – the walk

The mermaids/merboys are ready.
Make up thats passes the waterproof test.
Gym bags bursting with towels and scents and body butter and todays’ choosen costume – emerald green, hot lime, passion pink.
Route to include at least one building site, they work the walk, enjoy the shouts, an afirmation of sorts
and then

Step 5 – the pool

Thursday lunchtime – ladies’ swimming, the changing room busy, bodies of all shapes and sizes, sensible black swimmimg suits, women focussed in making the hour work for them, not wasting time.
The mermaids entrance is just that, an entrance, they are somehow so much more than the women around them.
Changing quickly, costumes sensibly already on beneath Chloe or Seven jeans – perfect size 0.
Hair tucked into caps, shoulders back, each one sneaks a look into the full length mirror beside the shower cubicles and then …..
Each one hearing a movie soundtrack in side their head, they enter the pool…..


About cathi rae

50ish teacher & aspiring writer and parent of a stroppy teenager and carer for a confused bedlington terrier and a small selection of horses who fail to shar emy dressage ambitions. Interested in contemporary fiction but find myself returning to PG Wodehouse when the chips are down View all posts by cathi rae

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