LEGS NOT REQUIRED FOR HUNTING, MATING
The mermaid tosses her head back, exposing her neck to the sun and the wind. Perched uncomfortably atop a rock, she inhales the cool, salty air through her nose, into her not-quite-vestigial lungs. Eyes closed, she feels her heart match its beat to the swoosh, slap, swoosh of the ocean’s skin. She feels heavy up here, too solid, too rigid, all angles and bones, slow, and weak. Yet she relishes such moments, suspended between the sister infinities of sky and sea.
She squirms upright and opens her eyes, searching the horizon, smiling to herself. It is her twenty-seventh spawning season, and she has yet to tire of the rhythm of life making life. She was built for the string of moonlit nights, where the mer gather to feast on squid and seaweed, dance and sing and seduce each other into shedding maybe-might-be-could-be life over the sea floor. She will rid herself of at least 200 eggs this season, each a stranger, a nobody, nothing but the possibility of fertilization.
They are none of her business, really, but she takes pride in the role she plays as supplier of raw genetic materials. She wishes vaguely that she could own her progeny, identify them, utilize them, compel them to realize that she is their source, their why, their how. She likely has an army of offspring now. If they could serve, honor, and hunt for her, she would not worry so much at her fading eyesight, her slowing reflexes, the feeling of mud that sometimes creeps into her bones, weighing her down, marking her as mortal.
But for now she is still alive, alone, and hungry. She slaps her fin lazily against the rock, scratches her side, and begins to hum an immortal sea tune. No sailors to catch these days, but it might draw a gull, or some other snack. No harm in trying. Her song rises and swirls, irresistible, but unheard. After three verses, she begins to lose patience, but continues another minute, until, at last, she spots tell-tale ripples of movement below the surface.
Re-focusing, she sweetens her song as she leans across the edge of the rock, eyes glued to the subtle cues of her prey’s progression. Her siren’s lullaby leaps and twists, calling the fish closer and closer, making it wish it could jump out of the water and into the music itself. She times the melody so that it resolves just as she spears her quarry with her claws.
The angelfish wriggles and bleeds in her grasp, seeking the comfort of her song even as it dies, pinned to her palm. She watches it silently, just for a moment, before popping it into her mouth, letting it slide whole down her open throat and into her belly.
Temporarily satisfied, she takes one last look at the upside before sliding off the rock, back into the water. Even before she is fully immersed, her gills begin to drink in oxygen hungrily. The sky allows, tolerates, her, but the sea supports, embraces, is made for her.
Casually, she runs her tongue over her teeth. She will need to sharpen them before tonight, and collect shells and seagrass to put in her hair. For the moment though, she has nothing to see to but her own amusement. She tries a few flips and twirls, then picks up speed as she swims home to her sea cave.
M. Roanoke is a queer folk artist based in Kansas City, Missouri. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rejection Letters, Misery Tourism, The Bear Creek Gazette, and elsewhere. They are on Twitter @Roanokeoke.