• Vol. 04
  • Chapter 08

The Mermaid’s curse

Fish fly high above the coral reefs and oyster beds full of precious pearls. The sea is calm, rippling as we swim as one around the bay. My sisters won't go near the boat that’s docked for the night. A campfire burns on shore and a circle of men surrounds it. A single shadow moves on deck. It has to be a man. I have to see him.

By the time I reach the ship, the shadow man is sitting on a low launch deck at the back of the vessel. He’s smoking, blowing out big puffs of smoke that roll like waves. He sings a song with verses as steady as storm clouds.

He calls me to him without looking up from the net he’s mending. “Here, my pretty mermaid. Just a little closer. Won’t you sing for me?”

They keep me in a crate at first. A box with no light or water. The shadow man’s hands were rough as he untangled my body from the net he’d cast over me. My scales are damaged from the fight and refuse to shine. My hair came out from the root in one swift fall.

When he brings me ashore, the shadow man speaks in languages I can’t understand. He says the word ‘mermaid’ over and over again as people in the marketplace shake their heads, turn their backs and laugh at him. As the light fades an old man, as worn as driftwood, approaches us.

“My poor mermaid, so far from home. Won’t you sing for me?” he asks.

No sound comes when I open my mouth. The words of the songs I’ve known since childhood die on my lips. I sing them over and over again in my sleep but they disappear in daylight.


The Mermaid’s curse

The people who come to see me want me to sing. The old man tells me I am beautiful, he tells me to try. “Try to sing to them, my love, try.”

He tells me that when I find my voice, when I’m able to sing, he’ll take me home to the sea. I sit under the glass dome and every day, I try to sing. I try. The songs come out as silent curses. I spit out the lines and form my lips around spiteful, hollow sounds all day long.

The old man bows under the weight of my evil words. He tells me he’s not long for this world and that before he dies, the one thing he wants is to hear me sing. Then he says, he still says, he'll take me back to the sea.

We are locked in a game of waiting.