When I was little, my first and greatest ambition was to grow up to be a mermaid. Maybe it was my deep love of splashing around in the ocean, ending up as wrinkly as everything in my t-shirt drawer. Maybe it was my deeper love of avoiding chores in favour of floating around. Or maybe it was one too many childhood viewings of Splash, with Mum on hand to order us to cover our eyes whenever Daryl Hannah got her bottom out.
… As an aside, I want to do a shout out to my mother’s parenting. She didn’t just plonk us in front of The Little Mermaid, she taped Splash off the TV onto a VHS, then stayed on hand to ‘edit out’ the naughty bits in real time. That woman put the effort in.
Anyway. When I worked out that mermaids probably weren’t real and thus not a viable career choice, I was heartbroken. (Yes, I did say ‘probably’ not real. I am a mermaid-agnostic and you won’t convince me otherwise.) Future career plans flip-flopped between writer, vet, film director, editor of Empire Magazine, stay at home mother, then just “ugh, I’ll just get a job, I guess”.
I still hold on to a little ball of melancholy in my belly about this. Living in the ocean with Tom Hanks, weaving in and out of seaweed forests – that would be LIVING! Clomping around on land, having to use my legs like some sort of chump? Humph.
So maybe this is why I take it so personally that the girls outside Wellington’s strip bar The Mermaid don’t want anything to do with me.
I walk past every day on my way home. There’s always a solitary girl standing outside, legs bare up to her miniskirt, but with a Kathmandu puffer jacket on to keep the cold out. As men walk past she stalks their eye contact, batting her fake eyelashes and smiling coquettishly. In her hand she holds admit-two-free vouchers that she thrusts at the ones that don’t dodge her gaze.
Now, I am a compulsive hello-smiler. When I go to the supermarket I smile at the dog I walk past on the way in, the woman who reaches for the perfect broccoli I had my eye on, the man behind me in the queue buying nothing but condoms and heat-and-eat meals. These people don’t get a toothy grin, mind, but a closed-mouth-nod. I cannot help myself. My nose scrunches, my cheeks go up, and I’ve basically announced that I am not a threat, and please also be my friend?
So, obviously, every day I smile at the girl outside The Mermaid, as she hops from foot to foot in ten-inch heels. Maybe it’s that I’m expressing some misplaced sentimentality about my mermaid dreams. Maybe it’s that I’m a child of divorce and am desperate for affection. Or maybe I’m just saying “Hello, fellow human being. I’m sorry you’re cold. I am in snantyhose. We all have our crosses to bear”. Despite this, every day, I am ignored. I don’t get a closed-mouth-smile back, but the side of her face as she turns her head away from me in indifference.
Sure, I have a wallet full of two-for-ones for Calendar Girls, the newest addition to Wellington’s strip bar family. “Do you want a voucher?!” the greeter girl excitedly exclaims when I give her my hello-smile on the way past. She’s chuffed that I take one and thrilled that I say ‘thank you’. I ride the wave of approval from Miss January, but not for long. The Ariel stand-in outside The Mermaid looks past me, I am unmercilessly dumped on the sand, and Tom Hanks? He seems just that little bit further away.