Mermaid Cafe by Jilly Dreadful

∴Finds∴ Mermaid Cafe ∗∗∗

Mermaids are good luck, the menu says. The story goes that, when The Captain grew too old and too weathered and too jaded by the sea, he docked his ship and opened Mermaid Café right in the harbor, complete with cargo nets and aquariums filled with neon fish, all too tropical for the likes of Dublin. There’s an oaken mermaid bust, arms outstretched above her head, reaching for a distant shore that once guided The Captain’s ship across the Irish Sea in murky storms.

Customers take pleasure in the name and atmosphere as they enjoy the mermaid paintings from Irish artists done in watercolors from Kilkenny, oils from Thurles, and charcoal from Limerick. There’s full-color mermaid photography where voluptuous models are styled in turquoise fins, magenta clamshells and chartreuse flowing wigs. There are mermaids swimming through reeds, basking on rocks, and barely visible from beneath the surface of the water. But along the back wall, there’s a rounded door, nearly hidden by red velvet drapes and dark wooden paneling. Near this door, arranged in a tidy row, are a series of plainly framed black and white photos: mermaids swimming near gargantuan, water-logged chests of pirate treasure; mermaids floating in water, where the bubbles are nearly the size of their delicate bodies. These mermaids are less human, more fish. The delicate hands are webbed, or perhaps it’s a trick of the flash. If the photos weren’t in black and white, it’s clear that these bodies would be green, and maybe even deep-sea purple. The mouths are wide and the teeth are tiny, lips are simply an afterthought.

In this little sea-docked café that sells both frothy vanilla lattes and Irish coffee, the menu features a delicacy in Gaelic: Leannàn sì. Not even the locals really speak the language anymore; you have to go deep in the Tipperary for that. When asked, the waitresses simply say, “It’s expensive.” At four-hundred-seventy-five euro, the dish is, indeed, extravagantly priced. The Captain only enters the restaurant proper when a particularly curious, and particularly rich, customer orders Leannàn sì after having been seduced by the weight of the thick, padded leather menu in his hands. Then, ripe and old, The Captain, with his grizzled beard and gnarled knuckles, escorts the man behind the velvet drapes and rounded door to his own quarters, whereby the door is padlocked for privacy. Some customers enjoy the theatrics of The Captain. Others should be prepared to be startled by the drama, but then also be prepared to allow themselves to chuckle and apologize for whatever trepidations they felt.

Customers wait for four hours in The Captain’s Quarters, where cameras and film spill across an executive’s desk, coiling in the scant moonlight that filters in through the windblown glass. There are books to read, of course, a library encircles the room, encroaching upon the small space making it even smaller. The Odyssey, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Peter Pan are all bound in Moroccan goatskin bindings and gilded with gold leaf.

When The Captain finally emerges, he holds a serving tray made of pure silver and simply lifts the lid. No flourish. No tomfoolery. No tricks of light or hand. But there, upon a delicate filigreed platter, lays a tiny, splayed mermaid; smaller than customers may imagine.The skin on the middle of her chest is peeled back with entomological pins to reveal her miniscule heart, fluttering so fast as to appear still—save for the pleasurable hum of the aorta and ventricles.

The mermaid tastes of licorice and uni, a not unpleasant combination.

Jilly Dreadful is the founder of The Brainery, an online creative writing workshop focusing exclusively on speculative fiction as artistic practice. She is also Associate Editor of NonBinary Review and Unbound Octavo. Her major work includes the libretto for Light & Power: A Tesla/Edison Story, a chamber opera composed by Isaac Schankler and performed by the Juventas Music Ensemble. She received her Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from USC. You can find more of her feminist science fiction-y work at

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