Read by the magnificent Gloria Sanders
The Strange and Epic Saga of Mermaid Strippers, Disaster, Salvation, Gold, Capsizing, Fire, Hiccups, Mutiny, Shipwreck, A Cult, Prison, Escape, and Mermaid Strippers again
Chapter the First: Mermaid Strippers
Always when you enter a strip club, there is this drunk guy at the bar, talking to you. I say talking, but really only shouting in your dirección. Maybe he is shouting “Tits!” or maybe he shouts “Arse!”, but actually he is only lonely, and wants to talk about what a screw-up he and his life is.
Because here I am in Shih-t’i-p’ing, Taiwan, in the first bar I saw after four months not speaking to no-one. Four months, alone on an ice floe in the Chinese Sea, and all this time, not a single word to nobody.
So I have earnt this right: to tell my story.
The bar’s name is Nautycal. The strippers on stage are mermaids. All waiters are Indonesian lobsters. Their work permits declare that they will be boiled alive if they insult any customers.
My captured drunkard is a sailor. He speaks only Japanese, and a Malay pirate language. I don’t speak neither, so I gesture to a passing lobster.
This lobster prepares a seaweed-coloured cocktail, juggling with claws. The topless bargirl also is a mermaid. She throws a triangular circuit board into the flagon. It smokes like a drowning dragon. It hisses like radio static. Briefly the BBC World Service plays from the flagon, then K-Pop.
I down this drink – ¡BAM!
A jodido kick that I know will hit thrice as hard tomorrow morning. I spit out the umbrella.
The drink has worked: I start my story in fluent Japanese.
"In Montevideo it began," I say. The drunkard listens. The bargirl leans in, curious.
Chapter the Second: DISASTER!
In Montevideo, Uruguay, I studied Plantology. My thesis was Venus Elephanttraps. Always I studied only the theory, but it terrified all the same my mamá. She feared whenever I left the house for any reason.
“Be careful,” she would say to me. “Have you got a jacket in case of rain? And your parasol to prevent sunstroke? Mobile phone if you get lost? Kidnap insurance certificate? Spare shoelaces?”
“¡Ay, mamá! I am twenty and go only to the shops!”
“But Penelopita, you are my only little girl, and the world is so very dangerous! You should be so sensible as your older brother!”
My older brother was a vago. An idler. A bum. He spent all of every day eating peanut-butter ice-cream on mamá’s best settee, watching Samba Wrestling and growing fat.
Samba Wrestling is like cage fighting, but with more rhythm. It is our national sport; we go crazy for it, as did my vago brother, it emerged.
““¡Ay, mamá! You mean that my lazy, fat, no-good, vago, ice-cream eating slob of a brother has squandered every last peso of the family fortune gambling online on Samba wrestling? ¡Dios mío!”
“Oh, Penelopita, don’t you be so very selfish. Your poor brother is distraught. We had to sell our wedding rings, papa and I, to buy him enough peanut-butter ice-cream to cheer him up.”
“ Peanut-butter ice-cream? What about my TUITION FEES, ¡caramba!”
“Penelopita, be less selfish. We will just marry you to a rich man… Where are you going?”
“TO MY ROOM!”
“Sssssh, your brother sleeps. And don’t slam doors, you could get a splint-”
Chapter the Third: SALVATION!
My only ally was Great-Grandpapa.
By now the family had sold everything. Everything except for the ship of Great-Grandpapa.
La Mentirosa. Wooden and leaky, nobody wanted her, not even our creditors.
Mamá sobbed and prayed, terrified. We fixed many fears of mamá by buying travel insurance. But it was not enough, this. Still she feared seafaring’s dark, wicked path, that I would return debauched and wild, innocent no longer. No longer her little Penelopita.
Great-Grandpapa negotiated a compromise. Mamá would let me go – if I took appropriate, sensible precautions of her choosing.
Chapter the Fourth: GOLD!
After the family goldsmith completed welding my chastity belt, Great-Grandpapa commissioned him to gild the Mentirosa figurehead withour ultimate, secret reserves of gold.
We painted brown over it.
We would smuggle the gold far from home, where creditors couldn’t touch it.
Chapter the Fifth: CAPSIZING!
We set sail for Bombay with a cargo of rum and ice. Mamá alone waved our goodbye. My vago brother was too fat to walk to the docks.
As I ascended the gangplank, mamá pressed cartónes of dragonskin flakes into my hands, advising me to apply them often to tender areas, and to avoid saltwater washing.
Fortunately for the nerves of mamá, we only started capsizing once out of sight.
Chapter the Sixth: FIRE!
The smuggling of Great Grandpapa overbalanced the ship. Whenever crew stepped towards the figurehead, she tipped downwards.
This necessitated us remaining always at the rear of the craft, to balance her.
Half rations of water.
Water, water, everywhere…
Three weeks in, the rum barrels exploded in the heat.
The fire burned off the paint. The figurehead watched us, shimmering mockingly, as eventually we defeated the flames.
Chapter the Seventh: HICCUPS!
Due to smoke inhalation, the first mate developed chronic hiccups.
Within weeks we'd all contracted it from him. Hiccuping every waking, sleeping moment. Couldn't eat. Not even drink.
Keys, headstands, holding one's breath: everything failed in curing us.
Half-dead with dehydration, we slitted open a swordfish belly. Bloody guts around ourselves, ankles tied with rope, we leaped overboard.
As sharks jumped for each victim, we pulled them up, and the shock and terror cured us one by one, except for the navigator.
The navigator’s headless body lay slumped on the deck, still hiccuping. Exhausted, we all collapsed beside it, desperate for rest.
Chapter the Eighth: MUTINY!
Immediately, there began a mutiny.
Crew trapped by the figurehead, the rats invaded the foredeck. Since the fire, the captain of the ships' rats was enamoured with our figurehead.
"I adore her," he declared, scurrying to where I lay, jabbing his sharpened claw to my throat. "You shall navigate this vessel towards the Netherlands, where statutes are liberalistic, and nuptials betwixt rodents and figureheads are doubtlessly licit. Or, if you decline we shall bound en masse to her gilded curls, sending all to the depths alongside my beloved.”
We had not any options. We complied for five days.
On Day Six we spotted a whale, and closed… surreptitiously.
Snaring the beast with the harpoon cannon, we leaped to the rats with war cries, sailor knives glistening, duelling furiosa under the merciless sun. Capitán Rat tries to carry his threat, but cannot against the counterbalancing whale: La Mentirosa stays level.
Battle is fierce. Finally, mano-a-mano with my nemesis, bleeding from uncountable wounds, I back Capitán Rat against the neck of his beloved, raising my knife to deliver the ultimate blow.
At this point, commando rats finish gnawing the harpoon rope, freeing the whale. The ship catapults forwards, flinging half its crew out.
Slowly she sinks, I clasping the figurehead.
Above, Capitán Rat dances on her brow. His few remaining rats lower hastily the ship's one leaky lifeboat. Capitán Rat, torn between competing duties as a rat and as a capitán, decides to sink with La Mentirosa, not abandon her, but flunks this commitment at the ultimate moment. Leaping from the figurehead with a cry of “My love!”, he gives an ultimate, tragic hiccup before the sharks tear him in two.
Closing my own eyes, I leap after.
Chapter the Ninth: SHIPWRECK!
Nothing was eating me. I’d landed on cargo: an ice block.
Every day, the heat shrank it more and every day the circling sharks’ toothy grins got wider.
For shade and sail, I used my clothes, and rescued rum bottles as a mast.
Naked, I lay there, my back freezing, my front scorching, death’s fins all around, and the ice melting.
Chapter the Tenth: CULT!
I arrived at a volcanic archipelago. Here, the water stank with sulphur, and the sharks promptly died.
As all ice melted, I screamed with painful eyes, but found myself floating. Tasting the water, I retched at the bitter contents - but understood that this intense saltiness had killed the sharks.
All around floated stricken fish who‘d strayed into these deadly waters. Rainbow-coloured cormorants swooped down, feasting.
I waded through the ultimate stretch. There was, on the beach, a fire. Around danced men with tattooed teeth, and bone-pierced noses.
I approached; completely naked because salt had corroded away the chastity belt. They all fell devoutly before me.
"I am a goddess," I announced, dripping. "I demand: obedience; food; clothes; and a hot bath."
Fortunately, some tribesmen had tourist Spanish. They explained that they prayed because they suffered hard times. Their tremendous casino industry had collapsed because luxury cruise ships now attended Macau instead.
I sketched a stickwoman in the sand.
“This is me,” I said. “Pray for salvation.”
My devotees kneeling, I initiated exploración. Hours later, I found my devotees still kneeling, sweeping, with brooms, the tide away from the stickwoman.
"Oi, you," I said, kicking one to get his attention. "What's this?"
I held out a plant. He explained that it was useless to survival.
"Idiota," I said. "This, O my people, is a rubber plant, and your salvation."
In six months I created their rubber manufacturing industry. Labour was free, which helped. I split profits 90-10 between myself and elders, making sure they put some of theirs into the religious community, i.e. worshipping me. They built me a shrine on an ice floe, coated in rubber against the salt.
Ships queued to take our products. We made all things you can think of that are fabricated out of rubber. Erasers, balls, wellingtons, balloons, tyres, wetsuits and... other products. Every prototype was thoroughly tested by the island men before it was mass-produced. Naturally these testers included my fifty-three young male concubines.
The casinos came back. Bars. Strip clubs. Hotels.
All the money I made I wired mamá and papa. Life was idyllic, but finally I booked a plane home…
Chapter the Eleventh: PRISON!
I visited the faithful in my shrine, only to find no-one there.
“Oi, idiotas? Where are you?”
Then I turned to the shore. Angry men waving spears.
They lit fires.
They beat drums.
Then they started chanting.
“Two, four, six, eight; Goddess, don’t leave us to our fate… You’re not going, you’re not going, you’re not gooooooing home. Two, four, six, eight; Goddess, don’t leave us to our fate…”
Chapter the Penultimate: ESCAPE!
“Damnation,” I thought, looking around the volcanic archipelago. “How shall I ever escape?”
Suddenly, a tremendous eruption. The earth quaked; fireballs rained from the mountain. The rubber-coated chain was burnt through and my shrine on the ice floe drifted off whilst the entire island population was wiped out.
My people, I thought.
My people, all of them dead.
I opened my mouth wide.
“You’re not singing, you’re not singing, you’re not singing any more. You’re not singing any more…”
Chapter the Last: Mermaid Strippers Again
The drink was starting to wear off. Static hissed from the empty flagon as TheLast Post played. Dee-dee-duh, dee-dee-duh, dee-dee-dee-dee.
“Arse!” shouted the Malay pirate.
I’d outstayed my welcome.
“How much?” I asked a lobster
“Five quid? That’s outrageous! That’s almost London prices! Fivequidthat’sthe mostridiculousthingIeverheard!”
The pincer pointed to the bar.
“Argue with her, madam.”
The mermaid bargirl pulled a coat over her naked breasts, whistling for a dragon-taxi.
“Forget it, love,” she said. “It’s free. I’m not bein’ funny, but you, girl, made me re-evaluate me entire life choices. I wanna see the world now. Sod this; I’m off to join the French Foreign Legion.”
And, in a whirl of flame and smoke, she was gone.
“Five quid!” I sniffed as I left. “Absolutely ridiculous.”
(c) Peter Saul, 2015
Last month Peter Saul cycled to Paris, on his own. Whilst there, he visited a sewer. Peter owns a baronetcy; has won a twerking contest; fired an AK47; and performs poetry as ‘Icewolf Ink’. Despite all this, he insists he’s “lovably eccentric”, not weird. But please feel free to disagree.
The work of Gloria Sanders (left) includes audio-book narration for the RNIB and frequent collaborations with Cabinets of Curiosity. She has performed The Clock, her devised one-woman show with Hide and Seek Theatre, at the Brighton Fringe, the Pleasance, Islington, and the Ghent Artscene Festival.