by Tracy Pitocchelli | Writing |

Mermaid - by Tracy Pitocchelli

Under my nightgown strap it’s crimson, defiant. I say it’s a mosquito bite, not a boy bite. My father doesn’t believe me, he says, “yeah, right,” and “you’re disgusting”.
He takes my little sister to the beach, and I wander up and down drugstore aisles with sweat dripping out from under my scarf, buy a beige-crayon cover stick and Marlboro Lights.

When they get home, she scolds him. “Where were you? You didn’t see my castle!”

“I did,” he promises. “I was there the entire time.”

It isn’t like before, when they‘d pick me up at school in wet swimsuits with their sandy feet resting on towels on the car floor. My knees itched under heavy sandpaper plaid, and I thought I'd never stop being mad at them. “Come on,” he said. “At her age it doesn’t matter if she skips a day.” She was five or seven, ages I’ve never been. I don’t mind, anymore, missing out on broken plastic shovels, drive-through lunch, the sun behind the clouds that makes everything look like a movie.

He doesn’t say her name when he says he saw her, just, your friend, there. I picture her green bikini like a cool, shiny tail, salt in her honey-web, glistening rays into her eyes.

She got it last summer, in the shop with the foam beer cans in the window. The first day she wore it we were walking on the sand and when we reached our blanket she shrieked a little, "oh my God!"

He asked her what the matter was, and she said she'd been looking at him, 'til she realized who it was.

He laughed. “What, now it’s not worth finishing?”

Her mother’s crazier than mine, so most nights we stay in my room, watching slasher movies with the lights off. He comes home from the night shift and I ask him to get us 24-hour convenience-store subs. When he snaps at me I tell him that it isn’t about me, maybe he just needs to feed us, and he looks above my head at her, because I’m way too short, and they laugh like I’m theirs.

My mother works in an office all day. She hates the beach, the long ride, the feeling of sticky skin under goopy sunscreen. He’s gone by the time she gets home. She puts her bathrobe on and by the first commercial she’s curled up making buzzing noises and in her head she’s far, far away.

Flicking ashes onto flat silver the next day, the mermaid says, I have to tell you something. Last winter when it was me, and the boy I met in detention, she said she couldn't listen, she wanted to cry, I wasn’t taking it seriously and he wasn’t good enough anyway, in his leather jacket with the zippers on the sleeves and the rusty car that he bought with his pizza-shop paychecks. This time she tells me it was the blond lifeguard and I pretend that I believe her.