The Queerness of Undine by Maria Sledmere

This story is one of the March Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.

Nothing lovely could come of this particular shadow. Settled against the wall, it moved with a steady current as if governed by the pulses of a machine — not the blood and lust of a human. Well, there was a machine. The flying fingers, the quivering shoulders; they moved in rhythm to the clicking of keys. Another late night, conjuring at the typewriter. The soul in the room was hungry.


She rises from the water, unravelling her skin, in time to the ribboning of his text. In the sun her hair dries to russet and her pale lips glow a full coral red. She waits for him at the edge of the rocks, rising in the light with her siren song. The first instance of their meeting was between two shards of a broken mirror, the sunbeam blinking the glass to transparency. She had been staring up at the only sheet of ice she had ever seen in her life. Now her reflection ripples in the pool and the reeds cling about her legs, pulling her inwards. She is the spirit of the sea, the thing that keeps tides in tune with the moon, that saturates the depths with waves and swathes of incorrigible blue.

One glimpse of her haunting beauty lingers forever. She has watched for the man who would come forth with a phial, bearing her soul. She has waited for that soldier or prince who would shirk his uniform for her, who would plunge into the deep and share his heart with hers. She remains ageless, her flesh as pure as an oyster’s milky shell. Sometimes on summer nights, she bursts above the water to howl at the moon, her longing bearing centuries of loneliness, each note of her song drifting on the westerly breeze, turning to ashes.


He is an old man now. His fingers are blistered from so many years of stabbing the keys of his machine. His wife long-dead, his daughter grown into a girl too beautiful to love a man. His talent is withering; all the sailor novels, the adventure epics he’s written, gather dust on the shelves of other men of his age. Dreams shrink in the evening. He watches the moon, up with the night birds, thinking of his beloved mermaid and praying for the dawn not to come. He lies down his last one June afternoon.

The daughter is a good swimmer, better than her father ever was, though once he was a seafaring man. She gets up at each first light to catch the cold waves. After the funeral, she abandons the wake and makes her way down to the shore. She strips off her clothes, sinks into the liquid cobalt, feeling its flecks of freezing grey, as if ash had melted upon the surface. She swims awhile in the shallows before she sees the girl with the long green tail. More lovely than a jewel, than the tropical fish her friend used to keep in a tank of blue glass. They catch each other’s eye, shimmering between two currents.

This is an understanding too deep for words. They have known each other for twenty years, a kinship which grew with the muscles stringing the daughter’s own heart. They embrace in the swirling blue, pale limbs wrapped strange and the hair tangled together, brown and blonde. A girl of the mer, an English maid. Desire, she knows, is meant to be made.


That day, they buried her father with all his books. When dusk fell, the wind came in from the west and scattered the roses from his grave.



Maria Sledmere
Maria Sledmere
Maria Sledmere is from Maybole, Ayrshire, and currently studies MLitt Modernities at the University of Glasgow. Along with a developing interest in ecopoetics forged from a surrealist bout of rural nostalgia, she likes to study technology, hauntology, memory and dailyness in relation to modernist (and sometimes Romantic) literature. Former president of the Glasgow University Creative Writing Society, she is keen on collaborative, multimedia writing projects as well as personal endeavours, having written an assortment of stories, poems and half-baked novels, in addition to editing and compiling several flash fiction anthologies. Maria blogs about everything from Derrida to Lana Del Rey, from poetry to dream-pop and digital aesthetics, over at



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