Tuesday, March 17, 2015
The Last Mermaid by Ian Fraser
Release date: March 5, 2015
Subgenre: Alternate history
The Last Mermaid is about the coming of age of a young girl in a small island community off the coast of Maine. It is set in an alternative1940’s. Hitler has conquered Europe, and the US faces an imminent invasion. A German-speaking family struggles to maintain a semblance of normality as the possibility of internment draws near.
I couldn’t imagine living on a continent; that would feel strangely ill-defined. I was born on an island. I grew up learning every part of it, from the barnacle-covered jetty where the ferry lands after making its trip across the Sound, through to the forest covering the island’s upper slopes. Mother said we should thank our lucky stars that we were home-schooled and didn’t have to make the daily ferry trip to the mainland like most of the local children. We already knew the advantages: there was a gang of island kids that were the bane of my brother’s existence, run by someone we called the Brute, a freckle-faced lout who delights in the fear he and his minions inspire in us.
These days it seemed that everyone was frightened, even our parents, who huddled around the radio at night, listening to the news from Europe. They put a brave face on it but it was obvious they’re worried. The news from across the Atlantic wasn’t good: the Reich continued to advance. It seemed unstoppable.
Alice was 12, I was 16, and Vincent 17. As a girl, I was the one charged with keeping an eye on Alice. Alice hadn’t been the same since the death of the baby. She’d created an altar in the cellar, dedicated to our dead sibling. Vincent had seen her dragging a piece of lumber up the hill from the beach and alerted me. We went to investigate. Alice’s altar was makeshift: candles and sea-bleached wood, on which rested a picture of the baby she’d removed from the family album.
We made Alice put the photograph back.
She’s clearly not well, Vincent said when we were alone.
She’s losing weight, I observed. She skips most meals and the few she does eat, I suspect she vomits. Notice how she limps? I think she has stones in her shoes.
We used to be a relatively calm family. As I said, we were home-schooled. A downstairs room was set aside as a classroom, complete with desks and blackboard. It was here in the mornings that we followed the subjects of mathematics, geography, English, and history. Since the death of the baby, lessons had been haphazard at best. Not that any of us had seen fit to complain about the matter.
We’d followed the progress of the Reich’s expansion on the map in the classroom. It was festooned with little flags as each new country fell. England had lasted scant weeks longer than its European cousins. After the Battle of Britain when the last RAF fighters were cut down in the skies over London, it was just a few days before the German warships arrived, disgorging troops. We’d listened to Lord Haw Haw as he described the crowds cheering the arriving soldiers. Even though it was obviously propaganda, the echoing of the goose-stepping rang like an ominous drum.
It was unnerving to think that across the Atlantic, somewhere east of our island, the massive might of Hitler’s navy was gathering.
Ian Fraser is a South African playwright and author, now living in the USA. His memoir, My Own Private Orchestra, published by Penguin Books, was nominated for the CNA Literary Award in 1994. His plays have been professionally produced around the US, including at the Brown/Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theater in Providence, RI and in the United Kingdom.