She was at the billiards hall, playing video poker at the bar. I could tell she was a mermaid right away, something about the silvery sheen of her skin or the way her hair tangled like blond seaweed.
You look familiar I said as I sat down. Do we know each other?
She rolled her eyes and avoided my gaze, slammed a bright blue drink and muttered, I’m not from around here.
But as soon as I heard her salty voice, I knew. The summer before I’d been sitting out among the crags of a rocky islet off the coast of France, watching the tidepools, the waves crash blue and white foam against dark brown rocks. The Sirens were clustered just out of reach, their heads bobbing with the moving sea and I became so instantly enamored that I didn’t even think about how quickly my own head would crack open on the rocks if I tried to swim out there. An old crabber yelled at me to stop as I threw myself into the swirling waters, kicking against the current. They were floating with the waves, watching me approach. They lowered their eyelids and puckered their strawberry lips at me, and each time I was within reach of one she would slip away. Finally I managed to seize one and grip her tight. She thrashed like a beautiful trout as I dragged her back to the shore, my senses maddened by her slippery vanilla skin, her sharp scales cutting me as she flailed and writhed against me. She was crying, a piercing wail that would drive dogs mad, and the old crabber had stopped and was watching me in disbelief, and the closer we got to the shore the more limp and heavy she became until she surrendered completely, caught. I drug her up through the pebbly shallows and laid her at the edge of the water where her tail would stay wet. She curled away from me and avoided my gaze, much as she was doing now. Her gills were moving slowly, beautiful and doomed, as the horizon swallowed the sun and the sea became a sound only.
You were the one in France, I finally said.
I’m not a mermaid anymore, in case you’re wondering, she answered, and she ordered another shot and turned her stool away from me.
Front page image by Kyugu Strano.