On a hot and sunny Saturday morning in early August, families wearing shorts and baseball caps basked in lawn chairs on the grassy knolls above the rocky beach flanking Salty’s restaurant on Alki and wielded binoculars to better glimpse the formations of the Blue Angels soaring across the Puget Sound. Clusters of fledgling divers stumbled across the pebbles, clunky in their thick, black suits and encumbered by their shiny tanks, and dipped forwards and backwards in the rolling water like ducks. Schools of yellow kayaks and white paddle-boats slowly glided by in the near distance.
Taige Kussman chain-smoked with one hand and teased her ratty, tangled hair extensions with the other. The hair, already braided with shells, has become more and more mermaid-like after multiple days of filming in Anacortes. After retiring from the set each day, she was supposed to untangle and hang up the hair to dry. More often than not, exhausted, she forget them in the plastic shopping bag tossed into a corner of the bathroom, where they sat and crusted. Saturated with salt water and more smelly and sticky then ever, they lend authenticity.
Somewhat shielded by two friends, Taige undressed her upper half and Evelyn Osborn, cinematographer, applied flesh-colored glue to the delicate skin around Taige’s neck and left breast. Synthetic gills and plastic, fish-tank reef followed. A discussion struck up about whether a mermaid might have her right nipple pierced. Yes, everyone agreed, because it’s like how the mermaid braids debri into her hair. Only, too bad that it’s too risky to use a real fish hook in place of Taige’s metal stud.
Tousled, glued, and tinged with blue from the waist up, Taige stretched and descended down the beach towards the water. She dipped her toes in, not to actually adjust to the frigidness of the Puget Sound so much as to mentally prepare for the imminent, inevitable shock of it. She dragged from a last cigarette and gazed over the water into the distance. Alone, she was neither here nor there. No longer herself, not yet a mermaid.
Elizabeth Schiffler, director, pulled the shiny, green fabric out of another old shopping bag and coaxed Taige out of her reverie. Taige untied a red shawl from around her lower half and quickly pulled up the familiar, stretchy scales, as salt-saturated as her extensions. No one envied her as she then carefully shimmied to the water’s edge, dipped and lay in the shallows, grimaced, and braced herself as Elizabeth attached the fin.
Fully transformed, Taige shivered violently but flopped her tail playfully. She dragged herself deeper into the shallows and took deep, purposeful breaths while the underwater crew adjusted the settings of their camera and tanks and submerged.
Evelyn called for action and, remarkably, the frozen grimace immediately slipped from Taige’s face. She swam fully into the water and ran blindly through a few underwater takes. With every resurfacing for air, Taige was all the more aquatic. She flopped her tail, twisted and kicked, and playfully draped seaweed over her hair and face. She drifted on her back to better absorb the sun, not for the warmth, but because it was there.
Only when the final shots were wrapped was it again apparent that becoming the mermaid had taken its toll. Removed from the water, Taige started shivering violently again, her teeth clattering, her limbs spasming. Her arms were bruised and scraped from the rocks and barnacles carpeting the shallows. Elizabeth and Evelyn hurried to remove her tail and wrap her in dry towels. Despite their collective stress and palpable fatigue, they embraced and grinned ear to ear with elation.
Becoming Mermaid was on its way to editing.
Becoming Mermaid is a short film by Elizabeth Schiffler, Evelyn Osborn, and Taige Kussman. Taige plays a mermaid who finds herself beached on the shore with an unexpected companion and is forced to reconcile that she belongs to neither land nor sea. The film’s first screening and Q&A with the cast and crew will take place at Arundel Books (209 Occidental Ave S) from 6-8pm on Tuesday, September 1st. For more information about the film, visit the website. For more information about the screening, visit the Facebook event page.
Originally published in the West Seattle Herald on 08/31/2015.