The children watch her fling her bathing suit off. She plunges into the swimming pool. Their eyes follow her naked body trekking from the deep end to the shallow and back, ’til the mother arrives and yanks her out asking, “Why?” Her daughter spreads out her arms and shrills, “Because I’m a mermaid, a dolphin, a fish.” The mother slaps her.
At the end of summer just before entering junior high she shows her wrists to the grandmas and teachers. They look the other way. Many pretend they don’t see. “What is it I’m supposed to be looking at?” When she turns fourteen, she swims to the island everyone knows exists, but no one dares say its name out loud. Swimming, she turns herself into a mermaid, a bow-headed whale, a porpoise, and a stingray. From the sands below she selects shells and weaves them into a necklace. She wears it as a crown on her head. On the islet, between the cervices, she discovers a waterproof mascara and superglue. She glues the shells onto her body. One on her left big toe, two on each of her kneecaps, and three circle her belly button. The mascara wand is rolled from top to bottom, until she resembles a red sea urchin. Nearby is a dead seal. Curling up inside it, she tells herself she is home.
Ships sail by. The sailors aboard catch a glimpse. They shrill low-sung whistles. They use spears and knives. They use pens and film. They use guns. It is all the same tale. Men, boy, girl. Boy meets girl. Men meet girl. Girl, girl, girl. It is so common-some, the whales sing her name. Scientists retrieving their microphones from the oceans listen. They gasp in wonder and ask each other, “Was that a name we just heard?”
Her blood fills the seas and the fish drink her. They breathe life into her and she is resurrected. She is a sea lion and a sea gull, a sea turtle and an eel; a butterfly striving to stand straight in the storm’s eye.
The village women have stopped pretending. They throw roses into the waves. They ask for forgiveness. At night they wake up to see the flames burning bright in the fireplace, on the table is a cold mug of peppermint tea, the floor wet. They know it was her. Their tears fill the room and sweep them out to sea. They float and tumble in the currents, sinking until a being comes to them. It is like a butterfly, a killer whale, a sun fish, a mermaid. They wrap their arms around and hold tight. Together, their fins and beaks, skin and lips, swim past the hammerhead sharks, atolla jellyfishes and the majestic reefs that tear ships apart, until they enter a cave without any doors. In the mornings they wake up back in bed, their nightgowns drenched and seashells clamped over their mouths. The burden is like a giant tidal wave breaking. Their wailing is at first a whisper, then an avalanche. Their husbands touch, soothe and massage; making sweet love to them, ’til the women are quiet and spent, obedient in submission.
Xenia Taiga lives in southern China with a cockatiel, a turtle and an Englishman. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is part of Best Microfiction 2019 Anthology. http://xeniataiga.com/.
Photo on Visualhunt
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