Short Story: Sharing a Cigarette with a Mermaid by KaLyn Stewart

mermaid-scales

I sleep with a mermaid on the beach three days after my I hear my girlfriend having an orgasm in our bedroom. It’s early in the morning and cold, but there she is: half-fish, half-woman, half-naked. But I think I feel more exposed than she does, despite the thick material of my dress:  barefoot, hungover, legs hairy, hair a mess from sleeping on the couch. “Mushroom head,” that’s what cruel kids called me in grade school when class bored them. My hair has gray in it now. They’d probably call me “Thundercloud” if they could see me now. The mermaid’s nipples are small and an ugly shade of pink; they remind me of a rash. I think about Ariel and her seashell bra, how that color would look like a bruise on this mermaid. She looks up when she sees me coming, and she’s got these eyes the same harsh white of wave foam. She looks at me and smiles, slick and dirty.

She extends her hand to me, “Want to have sex with me?” Her voice echoes like she’s hollow inside, her voice bouncing around the wet, dark cavern of her throat.

I’ve got a cigarette tucked behind my ear, and it seems a shame to waste it. I light it with my Zippo that sputters and chokes, the gasoline smell strong with the scent of burning paper and tobacco. “Why would I do that?”

The mermaid tips her head. She’s got black hair, pin-straight. She looks almost like Kayako from The Grudge; except she’s bullet-shaped, shiny from the sea and gray like old ashes. The gills on her cheekbones flutter like sleepy eyelids. She shows me her teeth–unevenly spaced and sharp.

“You’re lonely,” the mermaid tells me. “I’m here so you don’t have to be lonely anymore.”

“I’m not lonely,” I say.

“Yes, you are. That’s why I’m here.”

“I thought you lured people to their deaths.”

The mermaid shrugs, pushes her hair back over the hills of her shoulders. My girlfriend used to do that after a shower, and it sends something warm shooting down my spine while making my skin feel too tight at the same time. “We do that. We eat them, too.”

“Then why waste your time on me?”

“Because one can only take so much jolly-sailor-bold.”

“So you want to eat me instead?”

“No, I’m full and now I want to lay with someone.”

Something bitter surges up from deep down in my gut. I chase it away with a pull from my cigarette. “So this is a pity thing?”

The mermaid fixes her colorless eyes on me. “You’re lonely, and I’m lonely. When you’re with someone, you’re not lonely anymore, right? Come on, be with me.”

I sit down next to her. The dress I’m wearing? It belongs to my girlfriend—ex-girlfriend: flannel patterned, thick as a bathrobe with a high neck that makes me itch. It still smells like her perfume, some lily-of-the-valley or cherry blossom concoction that pushes up through the smell of fish and salt. I didn’t bother putting on underwear, and the wet sand grabs at me. The water sweeps in and grabs at my toes, and the mermaid’s fin twitches in the surf.

“Why are you lonely?” I ask her.

The mermaid sighs, and it’s a beautiful sound, like the opening notes to a favorite song. “There’s not a lot of us out there. Most of us are dead. We have long lives, but dying is horrible for us. Live long, die long.”

“How long do you guys live?”

“Those creatures you humans love so much—vampires, I think—you say they remember every waking moment of their endless lives. It’s all a big lie. You just remember moments.”

“What’s a moment you remember?”

The mermaid laughs, warm and rolling. “You sure do ask a lot of questions.”

“Then why don’t you ask me some?”

“All right, why are you lonely?”

I think back to my girlfriend, those punched-out gasps, those high-pitched sounds, the squeals of “yes, yes, yes”. Something slams into my stomach, a hot and heavy ball as big as my fist. I feel my face scrunching up, and I want to growl.

“My girlfriend was with someone else,” I say with the filter pinched between my teeth so I can keep the sound inside my lungs.

The mermaid makes this noise, draws her tail up to bend as if it were a pair of legs. She wraps her arms around it, and I can see scars, white as marbled fat, exploding across her shoulders and slicing across her bicep. “Are you two no longer with one another?”

“Maybe, I’m not too sure.”

The mermaid makes this noise in the back of her throat, almost like a scoff. “You humans are so odd–twisting things and knotting them up. You love complicated.”

“Love is complicated.”

“Humans love love.”

I take a pull off my cigarette because, I mean, it’s true. The mermaid’s looking at my cigarette, a twitch in her spindle-like fingers. I lift it up, and the mermaid’s eyes trace the smoke. “You smoke?”

The mermaid smiles at me, her lips stretching and colored like strawberry taffy. “It’s a vice I’ve become accustomed to. One time, though, I was with this young flapper girl. She was beautiful: short hair, red mouth, white skin, short dress. We smoked her whole pack with her long cigarette holder. It was wonderful.”

“And was she lonely that night, too?”

The mermaid scratches at the pale wedge of her belly. The splattered scales on her back—big as sand dollars—are iridescent. “Her husband was cheating on her.”

The irony is a little funny so I laugh, and the cigarette smoke in my lungs puff up to heat my throat. I cough and the mermaid slaps her hand against my back. She’s got a good amount of strength in her, and I feel it reverberating through my bones.

“You’ve got a taste for the broken-hearted,” I say.

The mermaid’s hand doesn’t leave my back. “Maybe I do. I lost my podmate a lifetime ago.” Podmate has the same weight as “lover” or “wife,” maybe a bit heavier from the way the mermaid’s face collapses in on itself. “I don’t remember much about that day, just the waves and gold sunlight in her hair and blood, so much blood. I think the water was poisoned, maybe. I’m not too sure.”

“What else can you remember?”

The mermaid looks at me again, and her face is as open as a cabinet. Sadness flickers across her face and anger soon follows like the tail of a comet. “Just that I’ve got this black place inside of me she’s supposed to fill, and I haven’t found someone to fill it since.”

I offer her my cigarette, flip it around in my fingers so the filter faces her, dented from my teeth and wet from the tip of my tongue. The mermaid’s tongue slithers out from between her lips, and it’s black, freckled with white, thick as a cow’s, sopping wet. She leans in and secures the cigarette between her lips, pulls deep and hard until the ash is as long as my middle finger. She fills her human lungs with the smoke, and her gills move faster, desperate for any kind of oxygen. She exhales and her shoulders sag: slow, relaxed, easy. It’s like a mountain crumbled to dust on her back.

The sky is colored like raw steaks and fresh bruises. The sun is a yolk-colored eye peeking over the edge of the horizon like a shy child peering around the edge of a wall. The mermaid stares at me through the smoke, and her eyes go to my mouth as mine go to hers. Her lips are thin, and I want to kiss them to see if they taste like the sea and the smoke from my cigarette.

“I want to kiss you,” I tell her.

“Does that mean you’ll stay with me?’ She asks and she scoots closer, drags her hand up my leg, fingers arched so I can feel the ragged tips of her nails.

I feel like being honest, so honest I’ll scare myself with how honest I am. “I don’t want to be alone right now.”

A little smile pulls at the corner of the mermaid’s mouth, a little melon-curve of red on the white of her face. “Too many thoughts in your head?”

“Not really, I just don’t want to be alone.”

“Neither do I.”

“Can I kiss you?”

“Yes. Will you stay with me just until the sun rises?”

“Yes.”

My mouth slots against her, and I can’t hear the creaking bed frames, my girlfriend’s orgasm, the stranger’s moans as she’s taken from behind, gripping our sheets. I just hear the sea in my ears coupled with the taste raw fish and smoke on my lips.

*****

KaLyn Stewart currently finds herself working a part time job that she changes into full time by picking up two days a work. However, she hasn’t stopped writing as her short story “Making it Work” is published by Spectators and Spooks magazine as well as her short story “Bedfellows” being published on ladyboxbooks.com. When she isn’t reading, wasting time on a computer or desperately trying to write something, KaLyn enjoys Hulu,anime and Netflix.

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