by Dawn Vogel
The first Monday of May is the day you realize that the skin on your legs, formerly referred to as “fish-belly white” in mocking tones throughout the halls of your high school, is actually pearlescent.
You prod at your skin all through AP Calculus, while Ms. Davenport drones on about what will be on the final exam, trying to see if you can discern any scales ready to burst through and prove you’ve been a mermaid all along. Mermaids don’t need to finish their junior year and visit colleges and find a part time job. You start rethinking your summer in light of this impending freedom.
But you don’t find the hoped-for scales. Instead, all you find is dry, flaky skin and reddening bumps.
On the bus home, you notice Jessica’s skin looks pearlescent too, in spite of her skin being naturally tan year-round. You ask her what kind of lotion she uses. She ignores you, because cheerleaders don’t care about scrawny red-headed weird girls, and they already know where they’re going to college (State, naturally) and where they’ll be working this summer (the mall, of course).
You wake up on Thursday to a stabbing pain in your right thigh. Your leg is tangled in your sheet, and as you unwind the two, a scale the size of your thumbnail tumbles from the sheet onto your mattress. A hole in your thigh of similar size and shape oozes blood.
Your heart races even as you try to make logical sense of this sudden mutation. You wash the wound, place the scale over it, and wrap your leg with gauze and tape. It’s close enough to your knee that none of your shorts cover it, but it’s too warm to wear pants. You wear a sundress that makes your skin look even more pale.
By the time you get home from school and remove the bandage, the scale has fused over the wound. Three more have appeared around it. You pretend to study for your English test, but you spend more time watching the light play across your scales than you do re-reading Chaucer. Chaucer didn’t have anything to say about mermaids, so why should he matter?
You wake up in the morning with more scales. They only grow above your knees, so you find all the summery dresses you own to see which ones still fit. You hope you’ll be completely changed before too long, or you’ll be wearing the same dresses over and over again until the end of the school year. Mermaids don’t have to worry about laundry or wearing the same thing too many times.
You wake with your thighs fused together on Wednesday. You try to stay in bed.
Your mom calls up the stairs. “Why aren’t you up yet?”
You scramble for a lie. “I twisted my knee wearing platform sandals. I should probably stay home and rest.”
“But it’s almost the end of the school year, young lady.” She brings you the crutches from the garage that smell like dust, motor oil, and your older brother’s underarms.
You wear a pencil skirt that’s always been too tight around your knees. With your fused thighs and crutches, though, it works like a dream. It doesn’t cover all your scales, but they look like a lacy edging on the pencil skirt.
No one notices anyway. The scales or the crutches.
You wake up Sunday thirstier than you’ve ever been, but the three glasses of water you drink straight out of your bathroom tap don’t help. You let the shower fill the tub, and you lay there until the hot water runs out and the water in the tub gets cold enough and your teeth start to chatter.
Your lips and ears and fingers and toes stay blue even after you warm up.
You’ll have to break the news to your mom sooner rather than later, because there’s no way you can keep going to school like this. She’ll have to finally let you quit. There isn’t any other way.
You hobble down the stairs in your nightgown, forgetting you’re supposed to go fishing with your dad today.
Your mom shakes her head. “Already eleven and you aren’t even dressed?”
Your dad looks up from one of your mom’s magazines, which he always pretends to read to avoid talking to your mom when he picks you up. He smiles. “Fishing in your pajamas is fine with me.” He helps you into his truck once your mom closes the front door, still frowning.
He pulls out of the driveway. “Would you rather stay in town with your mom or move to my house near the ocean?”
You stare at him as he continues to drive, his eyes glued to the road. His lips and ears are blueish too, which your mom always says is because of his drinking.
“How long have you known?”
He shrugs. “Since around when I turned seventeen. We can get you a special kind of waterbed, if you want to stay at your mom’s house.”
You don’t know exactly what the option is if you go with him, but you suspect it involves a lot more time in the ocean, and maybe home schooling, or maybe not even finishing high school.
But you have to decide. Another year of being the pale, red-headed weird girl, who probably won’t have a date for prom, or accepting that you are really a mermaid.
What kind of a choice is that?
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