Short story from Sarah Widdup

The Mermaid on Foot

The beach stretched out further than usually sea-bound feet could comfortably wander, all elastic-quicksand and sucking at soles and souls. Water lapped at the mermaid’s toes, and it was all the colder for the toes not being a tail, not glittering with scales as one would expect.

As she walked, she imagined each toe to be a tiny tail, shifting and blurring until wispy fin ends replaced the toenails. When her big toe-tail hit something solid, she thought she’d turned the beach to stone with her dreaming, but as her eyes focused she found a treasure underfoot.

It was a smooth, milky-white piece of sea-glass, and she bent to pick it up, flicking off the wet sand and tracing its edges with her finger. There was one tiny chip where she could see the lost clarity of the glass, and it sparkled as she turned it over and over in her hand. The glass was shaped like a shark’s tooth, jagged and curved, though its sharpness had been lost in the tide.

The mermaid would never have found the glass when it was newly broken, before it’d been blasted opaque by the sea and spat out onto the shore, and her feet seemed useful for a minute, but only a minute. The thought that, perhaps, the cut-glass shark without a tooth might be missing it crossed and dotted her mind, and all of a sudden she was up to her fairly useless ankles in the water.

Then she was up to her neck in it, and the silk of the sea was stroking her skin with things she used to be able to do, with currents she always knew how to dive through, tucking her back into the silvery sheets with blue-green hands. Her eyes went under, and then the crown of her starkly white-haired head, and she blinked and didn’t feel ‘under’ so much as above it all again.

Soon the light of the sky began to ripple, to turn to mosaic, and she was nearing the bottom. The mermaid blinked again, straining her eyes through the murk, searching the bottom-dwellers for a stricken glass shark, perhaps with a bright red bloom weeping from its glassy jaw, spreading to rosy pink and disappearing as it was swallowed by the water. If she were to replace the tooth, she would need to get used to the sting of the salt again. She couldn’t see it anywhere, and she was tired.

The friendly sea and its warm welcome home had crept up her toes and feet, into her legs, and settled at last in her head. Blinks became longer and longer, until there was one long blink into sleep, silt and sand settling into her eyelashes and over her brow. Bubbles rose from her slumber slackened mouth, and the glass shark-tooth floated gently from her fingers, downwards, towards the real bottom of the bottom where only truly real things live.

In the dark of the sea floor there was a clink, if there could have been such a thing in the syrupy depths, and the tooth settled into the sympathetic shoulder of its bottle, the missing piece returned, its job as messenger and message all done for the day.

She was home now.

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