The Banshee and the Mermaid.
I know a banshee, Her name is Sybil. She maintains an elaborate residence within my body.
She has lived there since I was a child, constantly cluttering up my insides with her morbid sense of décor. She twines herself through the threads of my soul and feeds on my essence. On bad days, I can hear her wailing as she rocks back and forth, twisting lengths of her gossamer hair with which to strangle me from within.
Some days she is content to lounge in the crook of my ear, lazily dangling a leg over the side, her ancient voice rasping spittly pain as she thumps my eardrum with her relentless tattoo. After, she’ll slouch her way back into my head to rearrange my mind. She thrashes about, a punch-drunk ghoul, bogging my intentions in her gloomy muck as I struggle to breathe.
Sybil unpacks boxes I’ve tucked away in my darkest corners, and scatters the memories she’s laced with shards of sadness and shame across the length of me. She opens doors long-slammed shut, and steals the key to swallow with the cheap wine I drank the night before. My timid consciousness is left ajar, exposed to the elements again.
She sniggers to herself while she lopes about, tearing down my hard-wrought walls, leaving gaps for the interlopers to flood back through: narcissists, sycophants, lost souls seeking easy sustenance. I scour about for a place to hide. I eventually slump, baffled and numb, to the cover of familiar haunts.
I slip over into the deeply worn grooves of my mind, and pace paths trod by ancestors near-crushed by the same heaviness, hunger, and exhaustion.
The banshee likes to swim through me, scratching at my soft places with her dirty claws, leaking nightmares into my blood, turning it into tar that pools in my limbs and bows my head. I try to ignore her, but she’ll sit boldly on my shoulders, bumping off angels and devils alike with her creaking decrepit hips.
She grabs them by the scruff of the neck and knocks their heads together, grinding them between her wizened hands into an ineffectual, grey pulp. I am left with no direction but paralysis.
When she gets bored, she lies back in my bowels and kicks at my stomach, stirring fear and panic. If she’s feeling particularly bold, she’ll sit astride my brain, her head thrown back in a sordid cackle. Vulgar and uncouth, with her knees wide and her gnarled old toes stretched toward the sky, she hoots her sickening triumph while I fade under her bony rump.
I can be fooled into thinking she’s left, but Sybil the banshee can be stealthy. She hides among my thoughts and plans, waiting to crush them under her lumpy old feet into a smothering gruel. I close my eyes to hide the hollow, dingy mess she makes of me.
She loves to toy with my eyes. She swallows them with her own, filtering out light through her filthy screen, sifting away colors to fuel her own mad capers. She spins my eyes like an abandoned slot machine while I sleep, then grabs my lids from the inside and yanks my parched and dusty eyeballs open for another spell of maniacally-rendered hell.
I long for peace and quiet, a sheltered haze to hide the state of me, but she pins open my brain’s eyelids and leaves me bare and ashamed to struggle through the harsh daylight.
She clenches my heart in her withered fist, squeezing out her own ancient beat. My hands clasp at my chest in a beggar’s pose. I shuffle about numbly, my occasional flailing attempts to save myself thwarted as she throws open my sash and moons the world with my nakedness. Her hairy old arse is me for the world to see, this weak dirty wreckage of a thing.
My head thudding against the floor, she chokes out the last of me, my thoughts blowing about like tumbleweeds in a barren mindscape. She burrows a tunnel through what is left and spreads the final roots of despair. She swills my fading essence, drains my bones, and eats away at my soul. Am I finally lost?
As I drag in a ragged breath, I hear the thud of the plump flesh of my soul. It is trying to wake me. I feel myself flicker, and wonder vaguely at this plumpness I sense. It even seems a bit… jolly. It comes from a shelter deep within, a nurturing place the banshee could not find.
Why would I be such a feast for the odious creature if there was really nothing to me but this sorry shuffling mass? I am not an abandoned building for this squatting menace. This is my house. My soul’s palace. I get up and put on my best clothes, relishing their warmth and pretending there are no holes.
As this is mostly an inside job, I decide to call in a mermaid I met long ago in my dreams. She has a nest of red hair and colorful splotches on her scales. She even wears a ruby slipper on her tail. She is a spry one, though slightly discombobulated. No cackling from her, just belly laughs and tickly little bubbles of giddy air.
She is as ancient as the banshee, but possesses a different wisdom, pearls of which she wears upon her slender neck. She reminds me of a person I might have known before the banshee moved in. I call her Ginger.
Ginger uses my belly as a trampoline. She bounces up and down ecstatically, swirling hope and inspiration around her as she soars, pulling up with her all that is down. She throws love out in all directions like a whirligig of gorgeous silk ribbons. The feelings are familiar, as if they were there all along, behind the curtain.
After we’ve bounced out some of her blinding cobwebs, we chance to turn me inside out and try to gently tap-tapping the banshee out. She is wise to us and clings like a cat in an overturned basket. We hatch another plan. We drink from pretty glasses. We laugh and we sing. We take on outside recruits. We try to writhe and pound her out with lovers, wriggle her out with shaking hips, dance her out with hopping glee.
The whispers of encouragement from friends begin to thrum, swirling her out of my bends and burrows, flushing out the hidden pockets of gloom.
Ginger, slightly disheveled, does not give up, and keeps bouncing up and down on her one impractical but fabulous slipper, scattering her healing aura everywhere. She begins to jump so high she pops out of my mouth, singing her siren song. She lays a coaxing string of lilting words behind her to lure the banshee out.
The banshee is intrigued and creeps along, gathering the words like a demented magpie, her evil head cocked to one side, blank eyes popping. But the banshee is rather elastic for one so ancient. One misstep and she might spring right back and coil once and for all into my depths, never to be evicted.
But if I duck at just the right time, she might fly right over my head and Splat onto the wall, slide down to the floor, and scatter into shadowy stardust, her wail unheard as the foul trappings are swept out of me in the wee hours of the night and blown away on the wind.
Or she might land Plunk into the dregs of a long-flat pint and drown, screeching “What a world, what a world!” and dissolve into a mist of maudlin country songs, the weight of her slithery antics dispersed for the night among teary truck drivers and besotted barflies.
Or she may, being her tricksy old boomerang self, snatch up a poor unsuspecting Eeyore on her way back who will forever try to pin his tail on my donkey. But I’d say he shouldn’t be too much bother. After all that, the mermaid and I can give him the slip.
Ginger and I will be free to scour off the banshee’s slimy funk, drive out all her foul echoes, and transform my body back into its former palace. We will leave her mermaid’s hair loose and wild, a flowing puzzle of corridors ending in happy passions. We’ll keep the windows open, and wear our keys around our hearts. We’ll chant There’s no place like home and our garden will be our heaven on earth.
It’s not always easy being one with a mermaid when you cannot swim. I’ve become an excellent floater though, silking along, enjoying the soothing lick of life against my underside. I no longer panic when the waves crash over me. I know there is breath waiting when we bob back up, scales glistening in the sun, our majestic tail an umbrella in the rain.
One day I’ll sing Hail to the mermaid, the wicked banshee’s dead. Hail to me and my own wonderful messy head.
Jennifer Kimmel is a writer, and mother of three wonderful children. She currently resides in a tiny magical town on the top northwest tip of Ireland, and hopes to stay there for the remainder of her days. She enjoys pairing mismatched socks, pretending sheep are mocking her hairstyle, and experimenting with her new waffle-maker.