#147 Borrowing the Land of Men

by JoAnne Voightlander

Salt streaked the mermaid’s arms, a cool white grit. She sat on the wooden pier’s edge. The villagers stared at her back from the shore.

“There is no such thing as ningyo!” shrieked Mosuke in the tail of the crowd.

Little Meiko tugged her sleeves. She could not stop watching the uncountable movements in the ningyo’s slick, long hair. Miniscule sea life swarmed belly-white skin. Scales gleamed like chips of a broken glass rainbow and tiny creatures crept between them.

“Now this.” Meiko’s father whispered. “After a week without fish.”

Mosuke dug through the knots of people.

“This is some kind of trick!”

“She can’t want our fish,” coughed Meiko’s mother.

The child had never been fascinated by a grotesque thing. She set a bare foot on the pier, hypnotized by the creatures living on the damp legend.

Mosuke shoved Meiko aside. Dirt filed the lines of his strained face.

“This is insanity!”

Forced by habit, people scooted away from him. Gossip had it that he never bathed; fleas crawled on his nose.

Mosuke walked onto the pier. He paused at the ningyo’s side.

“You found me,” he said. “All right. Let’s talk.

“But I can’t promise we’ll love each other again.”

The ningyo said nothing. Mosuke looked at the villagers. Vermin dripped from his dusty scalp.

“Your fish will return soon.”

The sea surged. It consumed the pier.

Meiko threw her arms into flying water, filling her hair with it, trying to catch a million pets for her head.

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