The Reading in New York: Variations on Andersen

a short story, graphic, and explanation by
REBECCA PYLE | Writer + Artist 


The following are the same story told in different ways. The written piece gets to travel in more directions, but the graphic grants theatrical distance from the subject. The explanation explores the significance of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Little Mermaid,” to the story, and to the life of the artist who aspires to immortality.

Photo by Issara Willenskomer

STORY | At the Reading in New York

THE READING WAS OVER. She knew where he must be going now, to his glossy car, surely as dark-water glossy as ocean dreams; or to Grand Central station, where the high gold clock-heads like uncrowned American princes or kings—would see him walk across. He was nearer and nearer—the beautiful old auditorium’s double doors.

It was—him. The boy from high school, whom she had once silently loved as much as Clark Kent, or Superman, or Batman in his dark, sad cape.

Wait, she said. She called this over the heads of the chatty people paying bits of money, pity-offerings from their wallets or billfolds and purses, to buy her book that really should be shredded and burned in a sort of cremation for the death of stupidity—at last. This great bookstore was like church, high hanging burning lamps with a darkness of metal that said 1925—lamps you’d never seen anywhere before. The sad, bright books—the burning lights in night—the beautiful hall intact, velvet-seated, since1925—and him.

She stepped up to him. His hair graying. Hers with none of its original almost black set glossy seal’s color there. Just the striations of white. Darkness underneath in her hair like a shadow, but not much. She could see his hands—buttoning his coat. (His hands—which had never touched her). Continually, she had dreamed in high school that she could be the right front pocket of his jeans, feel his right hand creeping inside her, that pocket, her, for solace. She had been unable to think—actual sexual thoughts about him.

Even now she only wanted to be the buttons of his coat—those buttons—so she could feel the dance of his fingers across them.

But many men, she thought, must have the same buttons.

The reason I didn’t go with you, didn’t say yes, was you didn’t ask me yourself, she said. She had to say this.

A horrible ripple passed over his face, like clouds making sick purplish shadows like pelts of huge animals over mountains, in desert places, like shadows small planes make after taking off over frightened people’s heads. He was here, here to hear her read. He had heard her read, but he was not going to admit that day had happened, those two girls like apparitions of his shyness appearing in the upstairs hallway, of the school, B Hall, to ask if she would go to the dance with him.

His name was the finest name in town and he was even finer than the name. The two girls, she knew, must have envied her, and would have loved going to the dance with him. He must have been told—she turned from them and walked away. Quickly. Strangely. Without a word.

A look came over his face like that look on men’s faces watching sports on television—distant-vision. A man, she knew, had his dreams of glory watching sports, or in a barber’s chair. Arms lightly gripping the sides of the chair as if to stay steady in a boat, or as a king might lightly grip the sides of his throne as a stranger—approached. Perhaps she’d love you if you were king, or leapt for a ball that way, or the way that barber cut your hair made her look at your face. Even a rich man, she knew, must think these things.

People were patting her, the writer, on her shoulder and arms as they went by. She was a writer, the person who made things—right. Like royal attendants—she a royal attendant to them, or they to her?—they were saying What a wonderful reading or That really elevated us. 

His face—across from her, mere feet—how many?—from her in the carpeted entryway to the bookstore, was burning—red as sunrise, or roses. As it had throughout the reading, as hers had been when she first saw him—years before he ever noticed her, or spoke to her, or asked two girls to deliver news to her and ask her—a question.

You should have asked me yourself, she said.

You think I didn’t read fairy tales too, he said. I knew—what you were. You were in love with being the little mermaid, he said. You were more in love with her—with Andersen, that story—than with me, he said. The only uncomfortable part about that is that it sounds like I think I’m The Prince, he said.

She stared at him. Again, she couldn’t think of what to say. Yet how many words were in this book she had just read from? Thirty or forty thousand.

Look, he said, you get to dance away now, too. To everyone who loves—your book. I can even quote your Andersen. His face went confused but still. Then he said, speaking very quickly: 

The sun rose above the waves, and his warm rays fell on the cold foam of the little mermaid, who did not feel as if she were dying. She saw the bright sun, and all around her floated hundreds of transparent beautiful beings; she could see through them the white sails of the ship, and the red clouds in the sky; their speech was melodious, but too ethereal to be heard by mortal ears, as they were also unseen by mortal eyes. The little mermaid perceived that she had a body like theirs, and that she continued to rise higher and higher out of the foam. 

He stopped, his face going blanker: 

The Prince and his beautiful bride sorrowfully gazed at the pearly foam, as if they knew she had thrown herself into the waves. Unseen she kissed the forehead of his bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether.

He looked down at the floor, carpeted in a brown as dark as Brazil nuts’ shells, as if what he had said had been something huge, spilling, wetting it.

It’s true, she said. It’s true. Yes, he was the prince, she thought. He had sealed it with these lines, which he may have even memorized before he came. For her.

Handsomer than Scotland, now. A king now. He understood her writer’s soul—completely. He had done what even an actor speaking lines—would have had difficulty with. With only a hesitation—or two. She hoped her face was red. Red was love. There was a plain golden ring on his left hand, thick but not too thick. It looked like old kingdom gold, a slight dullness, of course, quietly handsome on his hand.

Here’s your book for you, he said. Of course it’s all true. He handed the book she had written—to her. She took it. Her huge book, about all men she’d closely known, how she’d wasted her time with them, her various nefarious accidental charities of men, all of them substitutes or penance—for never having—him.

Yet he was never mentioned.

You speak and speak in this, he said.

No, she said. It’s muteness. I don’t. The book’s sea-foam. The daughters of the air. All that. Lovely buttons, she said, trying to distract herself from thoughts of how the little mermaid had thrown herself into the sea at dawn.

In his buttons she loved the nut-like and animal-tusk striations of brown and marbly-white and cream, with dark traces of a mahogany red. Buttons for a private, shy man—with money. Enough money even to buy this auditorium and its bookstore in New York, and have money left over, and more on the way. His father’s family had begun and owned what was now a national grocery business; it had long been rumored all members of his loyal father’s and loyal uncles’ families received each a monthly check so huge each month none knew—quite what to do with them. It could have given her—the ideal setting for a writing life. But there would have been no sorrow; and sorrow was the stronghold. The beautiful buttons of the overcoat, she thought, buttons not just for a wealthy man but for a loyal, sentimental man, who loved the British isles, the past. Her. Newspapers. Trains. Tea with cream.

He had been her kind of boy, and now, but she had always known he would be—he was her only loyal and wise and forever kind of man. His overcoat! His glorious, stolid-supremely-male-almost-royal buttons. His gold-ringed hand that had just carefully handed her her most recent, heavy, book, a book as heavy and as light—as meaningless—as confessions.

He had not, as everyone else had, asked her to sign it.

She looked down at the book he had just handed to her, in both her hands. Maybe I could have cut a smaller rectangle out of this, have this filled someday with my ashes, she said. Does that cheer you up?

Oh, you already have, he said. I read it. He gave her a wonderfully grim smile, the only grimness in all the hall. Except her own. I guess I’m off to get coffee, he said. On my way to Grand Central. It’s a nice night walk—to Grand Central. Nice cold air. Looking forward to that.

I can’t come with you, she said. (She meant it—as objection to the answer she had already guaranteed: with her wordless running away, with this—book.) She wanted to yell Stop. She was—thinking of the perfectly plain, small styrofoam cup he would be holding in his hands. A white pure as deafness, as blindness, as muteness! As pure as a new dancer! As pure and perfect as they said girls all were once when young. To go, in a styrofoam cup, will keep you warm, she added, desperately, idiotically, brightly. Her last gift to him, to replace the curse—his curse, or her curse?—of the book.

I’ll think of you while I’m holding you, he said. The cup, he said. He smiled almost sweetly, as if she was a child. Yes, I know all about the little mermaid’s sea-foam. And her becoming a ghost. Hey, now, good luck with your book, now, he said. He was, in his gorgeous thick-wool overcoat, turning. The double doors had been opened to let the crowd out, and he was going now too, after those words good luck with your book.

But proves he loves me still, she thought: his bitterness—proves it.

As if he’d heard that he smiled a bitter smile again and held his hand up to her a moment, went out into the night: under New York’s trees that would stay a respectful distance above him, beside him.

But not from me, she thought, looking to the dark shadowy space outside, trees lit up by streetlights in the cold. The city’s trees—she felt coldness along her spine as if she was a cold, cold tree—they the trees waiting outside like a swallowing wind-tossed sea would surely now eat her up or trap her in their crazy, unloved arms—as soon as she stepped beneath them.

Mute trees devouring mute aging woman who had had a book milled and made from trees—in her own glory and her own image, her photograph filling the back of the book’s jacket. She had not loved back the boy, her own kind, who in his shyness had sent two girls to find her, to ask her the question, though they had not said it in his words: Would you please dance—with me?

But she had read the envy in the girls’ faces—the terrible turning-greenish almost ocean-cold envy—of she who could be happier, more serenely lucky, than anyone else they would ever know. So she had walked, or run, or swum—away, away from their eyes, eyes which said she couldn’t possibly be good enough—or magic enough—or suffered enough or deserving enough—for him.

 

GRAPHIC | At Last: The Reading in New York

 

EXPLANATION | To Speak or Not to Speak

IN ELAINE’S MIND, or perhaps mine, or perhaps the mermaid’s—true love is borne of suffering, and to too quickly accept simple happiness—would prove a selfishness. In Elaine’s mind you must, like the little mermaid, have suffered exceptionally—to have deservement. Consider the prince; rich, handsome, well-connected, but most of all, if truly a prince, more than lucky: true, stalwart, and most of all, loyal. Consider Hamlet, its greatness of Shakespeare’s as great as The Little Mermaid is to all of fairy tales, not just Andersen’s. His to be or not to be, or death-in-life vs. death, is parallel to the little mermaid’s to speak or not to speak, the verdict becoming to be part or apart from the prince.

Others would give up much, or perhaps at least a few certain and necessary things, to have a prince of such description (or Reed Smith). Elaine, or the little mermaid, would die for him in multiple ways. They know, and the reader is fully allowed to know, these two characters, Elaine and the little mermaid, will never love anyone—more than him. 

And so are set the scales of weight and balance. How deep and heavy the notion of self-sacrificing art? The minus weight and the plus weight of the artist being separate, or apart? Balanced against the—some would argue—the normal human’s or creature’s inalienable right to security, normalcy, love? Where in all this does a person’s or an artist’s life figure into what may be an endless series of rituals of strange, almost religious, artistic deprivation? Are they the recipes for self-torment, and for what reason, and for what price? The answers, like the ocean, go on and on. 

Consider the little mermaid is the best dancer in the above-sea world (but she dances in great pain; her new feet are terribly tender—they are as if she steps on knife blades). She exchanged her beautiful voice for immortality; she gained beautiful feet, but they are shot through with pain, symbolic of her separation from her natural element, the sea, and the loss of that love-surrounded, natural, and ease-filled royal home beneath the waves. There she was herself a princess. 

The little mermaid’s suffering continues; when the prince mistakes someone else for being that girl who found him drowning and swam him to the shore to live, she knows that girl was not the one who saved him. It was she, the little mermaid. But she cannot speak, and most likely, cannot write either, cannot even spell out what was stolen from her. She waits for fate to intervene, or her beauty, or her dancing skills.

Consider the social uncertainty and precariousness of the once-very-young woman writer. In truth, had Elaine gone to the dance with him, it is possible they would have become in love, stayed in love, and the prince-figure whose “name was the finest name in town, and he was finer than the name”—would stay hers? For life? That could happen, but more likely it would fall away. 

With money, and attendant luck, and ease, and only everyone’s envy of her as a burden, would Elaine the novelist in “The Reading in New York” have become a writer? An artist? A dancer like Isadora Duncan, or a singer like Jenny Lind (whom Andersen, the author of “The Little Mermaid,” unsuccessfully courted)? No. And she knows it. 

The mermaid’s feet are symbol of suffering and desperation. They continually bleed as she walks, or dances, as the sea-witch warned they would; because the little mermaid, like the artist, in so many ways—is really a maimed person, trying to overcome what a normal mortal could not. 

Consider that the dream of becoming immortal is every fine artist’s dream: the dream of rising to the high almost immortal ghostly realm—of lasting fame (as Shakespeare and Andersen achieved).

And so the sea-witch, who takes something precious from the little mermaid to give her a possible something in return—is presenting the diorama of trades, the sea-witch herself the embodiment of other women’s envy of other women—and so, as if in a jealous tirade, these trades inherently warn. They warn it is not enough to be in love; you could give up your beautiful tail, your beautiful voice, take every step in pain the rest of your life—but still by a wide margin not win the ineffably lovely prize, the prince (and the immortal soul the sea-witch tells you only follows that—your winning his love beyond his love of any other). 

You must be lucky, too, and that is rare! You are the strange exception: the only mermaid on land! The desperate mermaid! These realities are surely dawning on the little mermaid, even as the bargain is being made: her giving up to the sea-witch her voice and her beautiful tail and her home, all for the love of the prince, is similar, say, to enormous tuition at the finest school or conservatory still not guaranteeing magic for the enrolled student. 

There’s fate, there’s determined suffering, there’s endless striving for beauty—though the striving may wear one to the bone. Imagine the hours a devoted musician is in practice, to even try to become great; the hours of the ballet dancer, the pain in all the body, not just the feet; the over and over paintings or drawings an artist must execute with weariness before arriving at a determined, communicative plane others might call excellence—and so on and so on. All the little mermaid has is beauty, her striking muteness, her beautiful dancing, her confusion and her homesickness, and her mute and complete devotion to one person on land—the prince.

The writer in this story has arrived at such a point. There he is. Suddenly, as if by magic. There she is, her life and career almost at their end. She has become a novelist, a difficult task involving all the skills of sculpture or dance or music; she has a measure of being known, she is, tonight, and before, popular and admired; tonight she is in an especially beautiful and prestigious hall. There are unusual old burning beautiful lights, or lamps, in the hall, the suggestion here of some small bit of magic immortality won. Beneath these old and exquisite hanging lamps she sees him, and he outshines the hall. He is there. Or, as in the story: It washim.

But will anyone remember her, Elaine, for longer than a short period after she is gone? Consider that “the death of stupidities, at last,” which Elaine is already calling, in her head, this most recent book she has written—very early on in the story. Will she be eternally famous? No, it is not likely, and she knows it: she will be replaced by other foolish and over-hopeful martyrs—martyring themselves as they must—for the sake of art, art as ever-present and inevitable as lapping waves on the shore. 

Yet he is here/there. Still wonderful. Still rich. Still a prince of a man, as he proves: quoting perfectly many complex lines from Andersen; that he is simply here proves he is full of true loyalty and intellect and understanding. His quoting Andersen’s fairy tale proves that he is everything she imagined. But, we find out soon, there is anger too, unresolved until he hands her book, which he has bought, back to her. 

We have no idea whether he is happily or unhappily married; all we know is that he wears a ring, and—such is her loyalty, much like the little mermaid’s, who only sees the new bride of the prince as beautiful asleep beside the prince, in their tent on the deck of the ship after their royal wedding—the novelist, Elaine, even finds his “old kingdom gold” ring “handsome, of course,” on his hand. Though surely it only in all ways signifies his being married to someone whom Elaine can surely only think of as her poorer replacement. Or, in artistic terms, Elaine’s sacrifice. 

True, Reed Smith’s being there does prove—he has not forgotten her, Elaine, now a novelist, and still, to an extent, he might even, very deep down, love her. But the reader might immediately guess there is no danger of his sacrificing his present wife for the novelist. It is true he is proving his loyalty to the novelist here in the auditorium by appearing, yet, without a doubt, he is proving his loyalty to his wife—by quickly leaving, instead of speaking more sympathetically with Elaine and then taking her with him across Grand Central with its “uncrowned” “American clock heads”—and letting her, at the very least, go with him to a place to sit down and have a cup of coffee. Even in the simplest of cups, the brilliant white styrofoam cup, which is suggested.

The question which Elaine, who has just read from her novel in the hall, must ask herself is: was it worth it—running away from him without a word at the age of seventeen? In doing so, did she, the novelist, make herself less or more? Did she set a different clock in motion in her life that really was worth setting in motion in another direction, away from him? Had she richly, or even purposefully, hurt him? To increase her power?  He makes clear by the expression she sees on his face, when she mentions running away from the two girls in the hallway at the high school, that this occurred: she sees emotion crossing his face “like the shadow of an airplane flying too close,” like the “purplish color of large animal pelts” and from these knows that this indeed is what she did, to raise herself up, to make herself a special person apart, just as the mermaid had had to do. But instead of gaining him—for gain as an artist, to increase her value, to raise herself, perhaps, to his level, to be on a fairer playing field, to love herself as much as she loves him. To make him love her possibly as much or more—as she loved him. All of these.

The little mermaid we know, in the fairy tale, dancing on her feet that bled as she danced, was mute: she had no voice. She had given it to the sea-witch in exchange for human legs, and a chance to return and be with, even possibly be loved by, the prince who lived up above on land. Immortality would be attendant to her winning the heart of the prince. 

Elaine, on the other hand, only pretended to not have a voice suddenly: when the two girls in high school B Hall ask if she would go to the dance with him, Elaine ran away without speaking. She was play-acting the mermaid’s unspeaking part, perhaps she realizing this was a crucial moment for her: as a future creative person, the setting herself apart, the raising of herself through mysterious rituals of self-clarification, suffering, and distance. 

Yet, we should consider, by sending two other girls to ask her, wasn’t Reed affecting a muteness himself? To Elaine, this strange muteness and withdrawal by him may have even been signaling he knew deep down what was best for her. (To say no, or be similarly mute and not answer).

She might have been hoping he wanted her to become something finer than someone with whom to dance at one dance. Perhaps he had even anticipated or expected the silence of unspoken no to two girls in B Hallway of the high school, or even possibly from her—if he had directly asked her. 

To set herself apart, much as an artist or writer sets herself apart, though, Elaine must prove to herself and others—she has distinctive, self-schooled, even unnatural nobility, an untouchableness, an early immortalness, even. To prove, in effect, she was the little mermaid, as Reed Smith guessed, and all the rest around her—were just ordinary girls or women, who didn’t even care about an immortal soul—as a future artist/novelist must, from an early age, in one way or another. 

In Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” at dawn the morning after the prince’s wedding, the mermaid chooses not to accept the murdering knife the sea-witch and her sisters have sent her—with which to kill the prince, and, thanks to its black magic, become a whole mermaid again and slip back into the sea, all her failures to become immortal, on land, forgiven or erased—but the prince dead. But she instead decides to let the prince be, and to let herself not be, except as sea-foam on the waves. The sea-witch had told her sea-foam she would become: if the prince married another, and her heart broke.

The little mermaid flings the knife overboard; she flings herself into the ocean. She is ready to be sea-foam, forever, the punishment the sea-witch said would be hers.

But I don’t think her goal ever was—at all—immortality. In fact, when the little mermaid becomes a “daughter of the air,” because of her goodness, she is no more than a begging ghost. She wanted desperately to be with him, devote herself to him; so she had to visit the sea-witch, she had to have feet to walk on land. She was told with a snort of disgust she couldn’t win his love unless she won an immortal soul, and the only way to win an immortal soul was through his love. A double trap! When she glimpsed his happy face and his bride’s happy face, however, sleeping next to each other in their wedding tent, the morning after their wedding, when the sun was dawning on the horizon, and the moment she must either end the prince’s life, or hers, was near—according to the sea-witch, the former necessary in order to be able to return to her royal family in the sea—her despair was complete. He belonged to someone else. Not to her. (Note: the little mermaid’s time was certainly not a time in which divorce was an option for people who changed their mind later, about whom they loved). 

Immortality was not her goal: winning his love had been, I believe, her only goal. Though she threw the knife into the waves, it was in essence as if she had killed herself with it, instead of killing the prince. She was now choosing to die, to jump into the waves, because it was all she had that was bearably left. A way to leave the prince who she truly loved (as proven by her actions here, leaving him not only safe but sleeping next to his new wife), and, also, a way to end the most exquisite pain of all, seeing him happy with that someone else, the “fair bride” symbolic of all the mermaid’s failures and suffering, and how, in the end, the sea-witch had won the bargains. (All the sea-sisters had cut off their “beautiful hair” and given it to the sea-witch, to be given the dread magic knife that could regain for the little mermaid her ocean-royal life, and her glistening tail. But the little mermaid is mute to this sacrifice; it is as if she is blind now to her pre-prince life in the ocean, to any emotions she may ever have had about her sisters and her royal family. Clearly going undersea again to her is a death-in-life; the little mermaid would prefer the terrible helpless eternalness of being sea-foam).

Perhaps, in Elaine, the writer’s, mind, each book was one more stone on her own grave, the equivalent of having tossed herself into the waves, or using the knife on herself; her novels would not win her immortality, but if she tried and tried perhaps—the books might win Reed Smith’s love or admiration. Though, as it turns out, she was not ever to become a beautiful ghost or daughter of the air, which a very successful writer might in fact be, enduring through time; she was only becoming someone who had failed, and was doomed to become, or already had become, sea-foam. But she does not know this, as Hamlet did not know it was not his incestuous uncle he had stabbed through a curtain, but in essence, his own self. Through a series of failures, he had failed to end the curse of the royal household, and the curse that his mother and uncle had launched was not dislodged, but was his.

And so, when she saw him suddenly in the auditorium, it was if absolution or forgiveness had come; she knew she must talk to him; she thought he must, in some tiny measure, at least, love her. He had perhaps read all her novels; he was there! It was him! And she had a faint, but brilliant chance: perhaps he was not even married? He truly was alone? Perhaps in a dream world, in this modern post-fairy-tale age—he would even be willing to leave his wife—if he was married? It was a dim hope. He had appeared as if by magic, after more than forty years had gone by. Perhaps he had an unforgettable something to say to her, before he departed? As a gift?

The lines of Andersen spoken by Reed are a gift; but they are a muteness, not Reed Smith truly speaking for himself. And he is quick to go, and her only bitter award is her own book returned to her. He hands it to her. His way, she instantly perceives, of saying she was all along talking only to herself, not to him. Or that what she had written was not enough to make up for her fleeing years ago. She had even perhaps, in his opinion, wasted her life and time; the handing back to her the book is a devastating move, and the end of Elaine at the novelist’s chessboard.

Again, she is mute, and does not correct him. Though she might have. She still—though ironically people over and over refer to a writer’s voice—has no voice. Or Reed Smith, or the prince, cannot be wrong, or corrected. Such is their love and their martyrdom? The little mermaid’s and Elaine’s? As Elaine thinks of a styrofoam cup and he talks of a styrofoam cup—alluding to the sea-foam in “The Little Mermaid,” which she now knows is also her doom (not being a daughter of the air, a higher calling, for the best and most deserving), Elaine thinks almost deliriously of a styrofoam cup’s almost blinding purity and whiteness “like muteness, or deafness.” It symbolizes, also, sexual purity, the gift that she never gave him, and his own sexual purity, which she rejected. And thus, in some ways, she has reversed the historic female humiliation. She has left a groom at the altar. 

She also embarrassed him, and punished him, for wanting her: the story that she had run away without answering in B Hall will always last in the other two girls’ minds, would have been told to him by them, and most likely would be told to others. To Reed Smith, each book she wrote, she is realizing, is that rejection again, publicly choosing someone or something instead of him, in a strange awkward mixture of love for him and an attempt to rise above him.

When he hands her book back to her, she knows she has failed. He is also showing her he has successfully endured the pain she has caused him. And, in doing so, one-ups her. Her writing novels, a very difficult and even monastic or nun-like task, has not won his admiration or his love. 

Indeed, in his mind, she has only perpetuated pain. Yet she knows all the men in the book are the “substitutes” for him; he only knows he is not mentioned in the book. (The curse of muteness again, the novelist’s; she seems to be under some sort of spell—of never being able to state she loves him, though perhaps telling him if only he had asked her himself—tells her she at least remembers and cares). 

He hands the book back, and his love, and the immortal soul (the highest achievement) is definitely, just as in the fairy tale, not hers; yet to be loved by him at any time was all she wanted, with every breath. Elaine even feels even the trees outside will turn on her—while they guard him. The novelist, Elaine, knows that they will somehow sense how he is now the sufferer; he is noble not to carry her book out the door with him, the book itself made of ground pulp of trees. 

The book made of trees that died for no good reason (remember, “the death of stupidity at last”—will be in her hands, while he, noble without it, and with no need of it, returns to his wife, to whom he has remained loyal, though, Elaine, in the auditorium and the bookstore, fairly clearly could be his). 

Had her novel been truly great, Elaine must surely be thinking, he would be, should be, hers. 

But even the trees, the novelist admits, must not think her books were worth trees’ sacrifice. They will guard him, they will attack her with their “unloved arms” which is suggestive of Reed Smith turning on her in the bookstore, handing her back her book which does not include him. Trees even, in this story about Elaine, seem to be the equivalent of surrounding sea-foam, surrounding Elaine as the sea-foam on the waves could have surrounded the mermaid without release or reprieve: thousands of years to bob up and down endlessly on the ocean sea-caps and consider her over-ambitious mistakes. As all around Elaine—true greats, artists who have achieved lasting fame or immortality (through love, sacrifice, and greater talent) will rise up and prove themselves, but Elaine will be in limbo: half-successful, but a failure. To be forgotten, and eventually, perpetually mute. Not famous forever; not his; instead, muteness forever, as the little mermaid is doomed to, either as sea-foam or even as a daughter of the air.

When Elaine goes to speak to Reed Smith in the auditorium, the great hall, it is as close as she will ever come to expressing love and care for a man she died for again and again and again throughout her life—now all to naught. Now wise but silent trees will love him. Trees and Reed Smith fully loathe her now, author of somehow strangely mute books, full of only her thinking, despairing voice. 

If the little mermaid had become a novelist, who knows what she the little mermaid would have said? Elaine the novelist has misused her chance for redemption and regained footing. And her Reed is now most likely forever lost.

Unless she has one more novel in her; even then it may be, in fact most likely it will be, too late. The trees outside do seem to know the score. 

They are, as said before, like an angry ocean. Reed Smith and Elaine Eleanor could have left her book in the hall and walked out together; the trees are now what fearful Elaine must walk alone beneath, her failed book her guilty verdict, her sea-witch verdict of loss. 


REBECCA PYLE

REBECCA PYLE

Writer + Artist

Daughter and wife of journalists, Rebecca was named for a novel and a film (Rebecca, the novel by Daphne du Maurier; the film, Alfred Hitchcock’s), and she graduated from the university the Wizard of Oz came from and adored, taking three first prizes in writing, the Carruth, the Whitcomb, and the Wolfe–with her. She is still looking for the shoes. Rebecca lives in Utah, in a tall-ceilinged, gray, brick house where a hundred years ago, or so, a telegraph operator for The Salt Lake Tribune, with the last name Douglas, lived with his family.
 
Rebecca Pyle’s poetry, short stories, and oil paintings appear lately in New England Review, Wisconsin Review, Hawai’i Review, Indian Review, Taj Mahal ReviewThe Bangalore Review; Constellations, Stoneboat; on the cover of Raven Chronicles Journal; in Permafrost, Healing Muse, Deluge; and The Helix.  And she is soon to be Underwater New York’s first e-chapbook poet. 
 
Enjoy Rebecca’s paintings and drawings on her website, rebeccapyleartist.com.