Mermaids – Amarie Fox

Mermaids swimming through the abandoned halls of poor, drowned Atlantis.

As Nancy was being dragged to the end of the hall – chipped pink painted door with the sunflower decal looming dreadfully in the distance – she remembered her mersisters, wondered if they could possibly hear the rough scraping sound of her skin against the floorboards. Did it travel underwater, so far away?

Fa, please! I didn’t mean it. I was only. Not her room. Please.

And then the slam of Clare’s pink door. Punishment, locked in, left to stare at the scarlet bracelets around her wrists from where her father’s fingers had been. In the far corner, there was a nightlight, casting a blue halo up the walls and onto the ceiling. Nancy touched the bulb and it dampened her fingers. Dew drops dribbling down onto her toes. This is my sad Atlantis, she thought.

*

When she turned around, squinted into the darkness, Nancy saw the softened edges and hulking masses of the furniture. Antique vanity table, bedstead without a mattress, cherry wood wardrobe – all covered with white sheets, like flesh over bones. One day, the linens would dry rot, fall apart, and the wood would remain. Her sweet sisters in the ground, Clare and Emily – had their flesh fallen, been flushed clean from their skeletons?

Oh, Fa! Please! Let me out of this terrible room. I didn’t mean to be so bad.

That was a lie, though.

She’d known Fa had come home angry. Mother had been there to greet Nancy at the door, like every other afternoon; there to take her fur lined coat and matching gloves like some sort of maid or governess, there to kiss her cheek, there to stir the fire. ‘Now Nan,’ mother whispered, ‘Your father is in a real bad mood, so it’s best to become invisible like a ghost.’ Yes, like my sisters, Nancy thought to herself.

And so what had seized her, what evil, at the dining room table, then? To dare ask about his day? Perhaps the need for communication, because she couldn’t even recall the last time they’d uttered a single passing word – a hello, how are you, nice day isn’t it – to one another. It had been weeks, months.

*

You are you losing your marbles, I think, Fa.

This is what was said, this is what caused the salad fork to be thrown across the dinner table, prongs grazing her cheek like claws. Vinegar dressing intermingling with blood. Temperamental old man, how she loved him and hated him, so! In a mad dash, he threw back his chair and rushed toward her, vein in his forehead throbbing as he shouted at her to get back to her room, where she could go hungry, think long and hard about her nasty attitude. Nancy fell to the floor, forcing her father to drag her away, corpse-like.

You are losing your marbles, I think. A thought in her head, somehow spoken aloud. The mermaids wove it into a song. Once it had been underwater in her mind, anchored like a seahorse to coral, swaying in the current. Little seahorse, how did you escape? Did the mermaids use their fangs to bite you free?

*

Fa, please I didn’t meant it, really, I was only trying to be funny. Thinking of myself. Always, I am thinking of me. Me, me, me.

But, no matter how much she beat on the door, jiggled the doorknob, no one answered. Behind her, the sheets breathed. Dust settled on her skin. I will not turn around, Nancy said, if I do Clare will be standing there pale as a china doll, water running down her face like sweat, beads of it pooling on the floor, pitter-pattering on the floorboards. Perhaps she will be cradling baby Emily. Perhaps since they both died in bathtubs, so young and innocent, they will spend the rest of eternity together, wet and cold.

Nancy began to weep, set on filling the room with tears to drown herself before Clare could ever touch her. Never one to cry on command, she focused on the devastating injuries that happened to tiny creatures – how she’d witnessed her bulldog get run over by a car; how a broken-winged mockingbird flapped around in the front hedges tried to beat its brains out for hours that past weekend; how the mice that didn’t die in the traps shrieked when her father beat them into silence with a shovel. There was never any help she could bring to the innocent, and suffering.

At Clare’s funeral, she’d thought of spiders washed down the drain the entire time. All those creature deaths were a million times more heartbreaking than anything else.

*

The nightlight popped, burnt out, and the room became a coffin. Behind Nancy, the sheets were pulled by some invisible hand from the furniture and landed softly on the floor.

Oh, please, Clare! I didn’t mean to. I thought we could be mermaids together swimming through the abandoned halls of Atlantis. I know we promised to take a deep underwater breath, become ghost mermaids together, but I was only joking. It was all a silly game. Even as I held you under, rolled on top of you, didn’t you notice how hard I was crying and choking? Not out of sadness or instant regret, but because it was all so familiar, a flashback scene to when we left Emily alone in the tub. Don’t you remember how we laughed as we rushed downstairs to hide in the closet? How we held our hands over one another’s mouths to keep quiet in the dark? How the only sound was of our muffled laughter? Don’t you recall how funny we found it? Don’t you, Clare?

Amarie Fox is a witch and lives by the sea. Her work has appeared in NANO Fiction, Metazen, Paper Darts and Sundog. More information at http://cargocollective.com/amariefox.

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