The mermaid enchantress is my last hope. If she can’t help me, I doubt anyone can.
Finally, the workday is over and it’s time to clock out. As I pass the receptionist in the front lobby I wave and smile like an idiot, but as usual I don’t dare open my mouth. All day long it’s been one gaffe after another, and I’m afraid to make a peep.
At 9:15, during our morning meeting, I sounded sycophantic. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a brilliant idea.” But everyone applauded my misstatement.
A few minutes later, I desperately wanted to challenge the boss’s proposal. “You always come up with the most well-thought-out solutions.” No. No. I wanted to start over, but then I remembered it was no use.
After the meeting, I really needed to commiserate with a co-worker in the staff lounge. “Things just keep getting better and better, don’t they?”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the afternoon meeting almost reduced me to tears. Reacting to another moronic proposal, this time from the people downstairs, I choked out the words, “My enthusiasm simply can’t be overstated.”
Worst of all, the one I’ll never live down. The one that makes me vomit in my mouth when I think about it. I was trying to correct my blunder, to retract that nonsensical comment about enthusiasm that couldn’t be overstated, but this is how it came out: “We’re on the right track as an organization. You can take that to the bank.”
Ever since that muggy day in June when I stumbled across a curious-looking bouncy castle at the fair—since I paid an incompetent tea leaf reader fifty dollars for a seemingly harmless incantation to turn my luck around—this is how I live. I communicate through emails and text messages, otherwise everything blows up in my face. I can’t stand it anymore.
Fortunately, tonight I have an appointment all the way across town, an appointment with the mermaid enchantress, in hopes of undoing the damage. I hope it goes better than the last one.
“I am blessed,” I told the first seer, a highly respected shaman known for reversing even the stubbornest curses. Of course I handed him a note first, but he didn’t have his reading glasses, so I had no choice but to talk out loud.
Realizing my mistake, I covered my mouth and got ready to try again. I closed my eyes and concentrated as hard as I could. As if I could will myself to say what I really meant, to overcome this affliction through sheer persistence.
But it doesn’t work that way, and the seer wasn’t listening carefully enough to hear past my ill-chosen words.
“Wonderful,” he said. “We all need to acknowledge our blessings far more often. I strive to count mine on a daily basis, Well, then, let’s get down to business, eh? What can I do for you?”
I froze. How could I signal my true intentions without speaking? Or if I had to speak, how could I implore this shaman, the most famous shaman in our district, to dig deeper and pick up the subtext?
“I say exactly what’s on my mind,” I blurted out. “Exactly the right thing, always. It’s a blessing.” He couldn’t see the dismay in my eyes.
“Lovely, my dear. That’s lovely. So why are you here? Why have you come to me for help?”
And then it went up in flames.
“I don’t need your help,” I said. “I have a blessing, and it’s wonderful.”
He still didn’t catch on, and his patience was wearing thin. “Madam,” he said. “I’m a busy man. I’m booked months in advance, but I made time for you because I understood that you were cursed. Are you here for some discernible reason, or do you just want to boast about your gift of gab?”
“Yes, yes,” I stammered, frantically trying to take the words back, but I couldn’t. He ordered me out the door.
Since then I’ve learned to rely exclusively on gestures and notes. Almost. A few of my workmates think my voice box is out of commission, and they’re sympathetic. They bring me a lot of tea.
But when it’s really important, when there’s a planning meeting on a major issue, I forget myself. In those goddamned meeting rooms, faced with that endless stream of bullshit, I lose all self-restraint. I put pen and paper aside, and I rush to assert my opinions even though it’s an exercise in futility.
With the mermaid enchantress, it’s different. In this tiny, cluttered room full of books, papers, and candles, with what looks like a huge fishtank at the center, she invites me to sit on a divan and offers me a cup of herbal tea. I take the crumpled note out of my jacket pocket and hold it out for her, over the water’s surface, but she won’t take it.
“No need,” she says, merrily splashing around in her fishtank, or is it a bathtub? “I know why you’re here.”
She does? She didn’t have an email address, so I couldn’t tell her before the visit.
One by one, she lights the pastel-colored candles arranged along the ledge of her tank. Her greenish scales shimmer in the candlelight, and so does her aqua-blue hair.
“You’re laboring under a diabolical curse,” she says. “But don’t despair. The spirits have heard the inner message, the meaning beyond the words, and that’s why they sent you here. Tonight before you go to bed, you must twirl around three times clockwise and three times counterclockwise.”
With a powerful swish of that magnificent tail, she demonstrates for me. “Like this.”
I get drenched as water splashes out of the tank, but I nod, silently promising to do as she says.
“As you do, think about all the things you wanted to say but couldn’t since this whole ordeal started. Fall asleep meditating on the importance of truth-telling, and in the morning the curse will be lifted. Go boldly, my child.”
The mermaid enchantress was right—dead right. She was the real deal. I did what she said, and the next day the curse was no more. Now, sitting in the unemployment office waiting for my turn, I wonder how she got her fishtail and how she came to be so wise.
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Love the ... punch line! Well done.