Mermaids were apron-pocket stowaways, mint and jade bodies brought
to light on her palm while her tongue swam through tales of customers
(vulgar) and shift managers (incurably uptight).
In the kitchen, her translucent girls cast lettuce-colored diamonds
on our walls. We watched and listened, watched and swallowed oyster
crackers whole, anxious to own an army of finned women for ourselves.
It helped move things along if we joined her exorcisms, picked
up the proffered tridents and attacked the drowning men. So we watched
and listened, watched and swallowed oyster crackers whole, watched
and hated with her.
We hated the men who called her baby and dollface, the bastard
who accused her of eating half his steak. Hated the ringed hands
that grabbed her ass and we wanted, we really wanted to kill them
all. The men who barked at her to make it snappy, we murdered them
nightly, all of them, in our dreams. We ignored their wild, convenient
apologies. We held their salty faces undersea, waiting for limbs
to loosen like spilled ribbons. We watched and waited, watched and
hated, watched and swallowed oyster crackers whole.
That day at the beach, her bikini was the color of ketchup. And
with her last dive, we thought she'd finally let go. We thought
she'd forsworn the trailer, its roaches and fans, its oyster cracker
crumbs and shifting patterns of diamonds on kitchen walls. She'd
grown a sheathe, we thought we'd seen a sheathe, the way her sun-jarred
legs dissolved, merging fast with salt and froth. We stood on the
shore and waited for her to resurface. We waited and wondered and
swallowed whole oceans of air.
Days later, she swam back, with ribbons of kelp in her hair instead
of smoke. She rounded us up for the drive back home and was silent.
There was sand in our suits and our thighs were shining with sun
and the vinyl beneath us was slick with our new sweat. There were
unopened soda cans rolling near our feet, warm and tingling and
waiting to be opened. Waiting like an oyster or a girl waiting to
be opened. We wondered why she was silent and we watched her and
saw her. We saw how her ears were pale and curled like snails, how
serpents, we thought we saw serpents, coiled in the seaweed of her
hair. We swallowed our words and hers and watched and waited.
We picked up where we left off earlier, returning to the ritual
of her apron pocket. The retrieval of her translucent, slender girls.
Her dance of story and show, toy arms that slid over juice glass
rims. Her fingers shook loose the ribbons of her hair and what spun
free was the smell of smoke and men, ketchup and sand and salt.
We waited in that kitchen, waited to be noticed, our miniature bodies
beginning to curve the air. We waited for her hate to change, for
it to change us, to catch us on its prongs and pin us down. We waited
for her eyes to shift and for her to see us, to see our salt-glazed
thighs and sun-fucked skin, starfish dripping from our hair, the
shredded men we wore like smoky ribbons. We watched and waited and
watched her watch and hate us. We watched her hate and swallow oyster