By Mckayla Eaton
They say I am the forgotten son of a mermaid.
My father isn’t a real fisherman, just a poor man with a rowboat, and he shouldn’t go out so late. But he loves the cove at night when the black sky and the black sea meet to swallow the horizon. Sometimes he doesn’t even put his line in.
It was a night like this that he heard a woman crying. Only it wasn’t a woman. It was a mermaid, and her long, thin fingers came to hang off the side of the rowboat as she moaned.
Father pulled her into his boat (still thinking she was just a woman until he saw her tail: shiny and white and wet, like stars reflected on the sea at midnight). Then he saw her swollen belly, white, too, like a giant, glimmering pearl. For all Father knew, she’d just broken out of a colossal oyster that sat on the seafloor where it turned mermaids into mothers.
The mermaid spoke in a language the world had forgotten, but Father understood, and he took his knife for cutting lines (always sharp—a man should take pride in his tools) and handed her the hilt.
She cut right across the bottom of the massive pearl—a scream like a gull—and I came spilling out into the boat.
I wasn’t like the mermaid. I was arms, legs, and confusion—but I was screaming too.
Father wrapped me in his coat as the mermaid struggled for breath, gills searching for water. By the time Father got her back into the sea, her eyes were glassy and empty. She sank and never resurfaced. I don’t wait for her.
I wait for something more.
The other boys at the dock have long legs and acne, and they chase giggling girls and never tire.
My legs are too long and weak to be useful. I’m a cripple, stuck in a chair on Father’s porch, spending the days mending nets. I’m always out of breath, and sometimes I feel pains in the legs the doctor tells me I have no feeling in. The flecks on my legs (shiny and white) itch, but unlike the other boys with their acne, it’s not something I want to grow out of.
Father says I’m meant for greatness. He tells me tales of people born by strange means, not knowing who their real parents are; they’re always princes, warriors, or saviors. He’s sure that one day I’ll be called to go on an adventure, or maybe I’ll just wake up and find myself already in one.
I’m tired of waiting for an adventure. Luckily, you don’t need legs to row.
I’ll have to crawl to the docks. I’ll have to roll into Father’s boat. I’ll have to row out of the cove, away from the shallows where rocks wait like a shark’s open maw.
Then I’ll slip into the sea and hope the rest of the scales on my legs grow over, and the spots on my neck that hurt like bee stings will open: gills to let me breath. Hopefully, the waves won’t bash me against the shore or tangle me in one of the very nets I’ve mended.
Tomorrow, I will die or become myself.
Either way, I’ll have my adventure.