Written by Nurit Zarchi, Illustrated by Rutu Modan
Published by Am Oved, Tel Aviv, 2001
Translated from the Hebrew by Lisa Katz
1. One day Mr. Whatsay found a mermaid in his favorite chair. He ran out of the house and wandered the streets until late afternoon.
2. When he came back, he saw that she was still sitting there, in the armchair that now floated in the middle of the living room. He looked at her and said: “Half of you is very nice indeed, but I’ll never, ever marry a fish. What will people say?”
3. “You just think that because you have legs,” said the mermaid, whose name was Sandy. “But, if you don’t want me, I’m leaving…” “Not just yet,” said Mr. Whatsay, “What will people say? You may stay in my bathtub until dark.” And he left his house to take a walk.
4. When he returned, water was dripping from the doorknob. It dripped from the floor, the sheets and the pillows. Mr.Whatsay tried to turn on the lights but they didn’t work. “I wanted to leave,” said Sandy, “but I couldn’t pack my things in the dark.” “You may stay until tomorrow, if you leave early in the morning,” he said. Now the chairs, the dining table and the flower vases were sailing too. “How do you do it?” Mr. Whatsay asked. “I just go with the flow,” Sandy said, “I can’t pretend otherwise.” “The water will leak into the neighbors’ apartments,” he said. “It’s even better if everyone knows,” said Sandy.
5. And all that night she sang of boats and lost treasures, from her bed in the bathtub.
6. The next day, Mr. Whatsay woke to the sound of the mermaid singing. “It’s funny,” he said, “to hear a fish sing.” “Anyone can sing,” said Sandy, “but this time it’s my swan song. If nobody wants me, and nobody wants to be my friend, I’m leaving.” “Don’t be insulted,” Mr. Whatsay said, looking at the blue curl in the middle of her forehead. “I just hate the way everything is so slippery. It’s dangerous, you could fall down.” “You have to learn how to manage,” the mermaid said, “but if you don’t want to try, I’m leaving.” “Not now,” he said, “you’re not going anywhere in that get-up! What will people say?” But Mr. Whatsay didn’t have any proper clothes for the mermaid. He went out, and Sandy stayed at home.
7. When Mr. Whatsay came back he was coughing and sneezing. He took two aspirin and went to sleep. That night the mermaid sang to him about pirates and ghost ships:
“Chests and chests of Spanish gold,
a ton of plate in the middle hold,
and the cabin’s riot of loot untold…”
“A sudden plunge in a sullen swell,
with a ‘Yo-Heave-Ho’ and a “fare-thee-well’,
is she a wench or some other belle?”
“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum”
8. When Mr. Whatsay woke up the next day, Sandy was missing. There was just a big seashell in the place where the bathtub had been. He was sad about losing his bathtub, but happy that the house was finally dry. He invited the neighbors for a visit and went to the movies with his friends.
9. “Who will sing to me now about pirates and buried treasure, and ghost ships?” Mr. Whatsay asked himself before he went to sleep. “Who will flood my house now?” he asked, because he had gotten used to being wet. “Who will believe that desks and tables can swim?” “And, besides, who will bring my bathtub back? What will people say when they see that I’ve only got a tap and no tub!”
10. When it started to rain, Mr. Whatsay said, “Anyway everything is all wet,” and he went out with his umbrella to look for Sandy. “Have you seen a girl with a blue curl?” he asked the passersby. “You never can tell what colors a girl may come in these days,” people said. “Have you seen a girl go by with a bathtub?” he asked at the waterfront cafe. “There are all kinds of strange yachts these days,” people in the cafe said, and they gave Mr. Whatsay a strange look.
11. “Have you seen a girl with a fish tail?” Mr. Whatsay asked the fishermen repairing their nets on the shore.
13. “You can only see those kinds of things at night,” the fishermen told him, “when the big fish come out.” And they went back to their mending.
14. Mr. Whatsay waited on the shore for three nights, and on the fourth, the moon rose as round and golden as a pancake. Mr. Whatsay stood on the bow of a fishing boat and sang: “Sandy! Sandy! Come back, out of the night, blue curl, you are so right.” The sea glittered like silver, and the voices of the waves, the whales, the dolphins and the sea gulls, sang in unison: “Sandy! Sandy! Come back tonight, you are so right.”
15. And then, the milky foam parted, and up out of the waves rose Mr. Whatsay’s bathtub, with the mermaid inside.
16. “Sandy!” Mr. Whatsay cried out, and he jumped from the boat into the bathtub.
17. “Congratulations” shouted the sea gulls skipping over the waves. “Congratulations,” called the fishermen. “What do you have to say about that?” asked Mr. Whatsay.
18. But the fishermen were already busy again and even the dolphins continued on their way.
19. The little fish returned to the deep, and there wasn’t anyone around to say anything.
20. Except Sandy, who said, “I saved the plug for you, my dear.”
Born in Jerusalem in 1941 and raised on Kibbutz Geva in the north of Israel, Nurit Zarchi is a prolific writer in several genres, with seven volumes of short stories, 15 books of poetry, and approximately one hundred children’s books to her credit. The inaugural Writer-in-Residence of the Creative Writing program at Hebrew University, Zarchi has taught at every university and nearly every college in Israel, and other respected venues, such as the Tel Aviv City Library (Beit Ariella). She has been awarded the Bialik Prize, the Ze’ev Prize (four times), IBBY Honor Citations (also four), the Israeli Prime Minister’s Literature Prize (twice), the Education Minister`s Prize for Lifetime Achievement, the Amichai Prize for Poetry, and the Hebrew University Dolitsky Prize. Zarchi is a frequent guest at European poetry festivals, and has served as a visiting writer at Cambridge University.
Lisa Katz: Born in NY, in Israel since 1983. Author of a chapbook, Are You With Me (Finishing Line Press, 2016) and the poetry book Shikhzur (Reconstruction, tr. into Hebrew, Am Oved, 2008). Editor of the Israeli pages of the Rotterdam-based Poetry International Web. Translator of Late Beauty (Tuvia Ruebner/Zephyr Press/w. S Bram, 2016), Approaching You in English (Admiel Kosman/Zephyr Press/w. S. Naim-Naor, 2011) and Look There (Agi Mishol/Graywolf Press, 2006). An occasional book reviewer for the English edition of Haaretz, she is translator of Hannan Hever’s recently published study of Hebrew poetry, Suddenly the Sight of War (Stanford). Katz served as a lecturer in literary translation at Hebrew University, where she received her doctorate on the poetry of Sylvia Plath, and is teaching translation at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Spring 2017.