After The Little Mermaid
It starts with a song. You are beachcombing at night, the sand opalescent, waves the color of ink. And there she is, perched on a flat rock crusted with bird shit and barnacles, humming something by The Cure, fin abrupt as a loose tooth. Hair more violet than sunrise. She turns when she hears the shh of your footfall. Not startled, as you’d expected. She twirls a Marlboro through fingers that shine just faintly with slime, nails painted sparkle-dark but badly chipped from brine. Got a light, she asks, and you sit down beside her, denim butt wetted with incessant sea spray. You flick, flick, flick the lighter; she leans in close and your heart skips. The paper catches, orange eclipse. Smoke curves upward toward Orion. Pipers skitter by. After this, you start bringing her things—mixed cassette tapes, scented markers, a leather jacket for her birthday. She exchanges gifts with you—conches, urchins, friendship anklets woven from red kelp. Once, you kiss her cheek as she ties a sand dollar pendant around your neck. She smiles and averts her gaze, laugh all salt and ash. There is so much more I want to show you, you later urge, clutching her damp hands. Cars, and concerts, and—, you stammer, glancing at her fin. A line appears between her eyebrows. There is much I want to show you, too—reefs and sunken graveyards. But—she says, and pats your human knee, thrift-store turquoise jangling. There’s a witch, she suggests and looks you squarely in the pupil. Then she laughs, blots out the singeing filter, lowers to the surf. Your throat seizes.