Jessie had grown up in a family where ostentation was frowned upon. The most glamorous piece of clothing she’d ever owned was a red shawl – a Christmas gift from a distant aunt, which Jessie, aged eleven, had insisted on spreading across her bed each night.
Jessie eyed the row of mermaid outfits hanging in a row along the dressing room wall: long, shimmering blue skirts fashioned into fish tails; low cut silver tops.
‘Grotto opens in half an hour,’ Mr Fortune called through the open door. ‘Get those costumes on ladies, there is work to be done!’
Jessie stood in front of the long mirror. The top squeezed her ribs, and it was remarkably hard to walk with a tail, she’d discovered. All the same, it was magical – to be half one thing and half another.
‘Men love a mermaid, you’ll see,’ the girl next to her said with a wink. ‘Always want what they can’t have, don’t they?’
Jessie nodded and smiled, and took her place in the line of fish-tailed waitresses, ready to walk barefoot across the sandy grotto floor and serve platters of seafood to punters with impossible dreams.
Inspired by archive research into Cremorne Gardens, site of London Fieldwork’s Secret Garden Project Commission and Ballooning, Balancing, Balconies and Birds: a story walk on 27th July and 4 new Word Garden texts