Waking in the middle of the night, I stumbled into the bathroom, and was surprised to discover that someone — Maya — was sleeping in the bathtub. The light was off, but she’d lit my candles — one next to the sink and one by her…her tail? I rubbed my eyes but her tail remained, still flopped over the side of the tub, curling gracefully against the floor tiles. In the candlelight, her scales glistened gold and green.
Her lovely face lay sleeping against her arm, which drew a languorous line over the porcelain edge. Several long, dark locks also spilled onto the floor, the golden beads at the end reflecting the candlelight. Fast asleep, she didn’t even flinch as I came in.
I stood there, dumbfounded — surely, I was dreaming?
“It must be some kind of a trick,” I decided. Why would Maya come all this way to see me, but then wait until I was in bed to fake having a tail… Still, it was a trick somehow.
A second shock… I shouldn’t be looking at her. The tail had stunned me into staring. Her nakedness — so familiar — hadn’t registered at first.
Hiding my eyes behind my hand, I pondered the options. If we were still together, I’d tiptoe over, crouch down on the fuzzy mat, and kiss her in her sleep. She’d wake, and I’d try to say something witty, like, “So, why the tail, darling?” I choked down a manic giggle at the thought.
Seriously, though. What did one do in this situation? My best answer was to recreate walking in and wake her up. Continuing to hide my eyes behind one hand, I groped in the semi darkness for the light switch. The sudden brightness assaulted my eyes, despite my shielding them.
“Oh, excuse me,” I said aloud. “I didn’t know you were in here. Sorry.”
I heard water splash, and she mumbled, “Oh, shit.”
Feeling awkward, I asked, “Why do you have a tail?”
“You saw me?”
A long moment passed and neither of us spoke. I couldn’t think of a thing to say, except that I had to pee, which, while urgent, seemed out of place, ironically. So, I said nothing, and waited.
Maya finally answered, “Fern, sweetie, I’m a mermaid.”
She laughed, “It’s true. Come see.”
Rooted to the spot, my hand still half-shielding my eyes, I hesitated. We hadn’t officially broken up, but haven’t spoken in weeks — much had changed in that time. If I got close to her, tonight, in this room, would I ever be able to distance myself again? Would I want to?
“Fern, come here. It’s OK,” she said. “You can look. It’s time...that you knew.”
Dropping my hand, I saw she’d extended her arm out to me, and her warm honey eyes implored… I took a step forward.
“Is that like one of those tails they use in movies?” I asked. I figured she’d laugh, then drop the act, and show me how she got it on. “Where did you get it?“
“I was born with it. Come on, Fern. Come look.”
“You’re not fooling me. And I have to pee, so you’re going to have to take that thing off and get out of my bathroom in a few minutes. Sorry.”
She smiled indulgently, but I saw a flicker of worry in her eyes. Not the worry of someone afraid I’d be mad at a prank — no. This little flash of fear gave my skin a prickling of goosebumps.
Dropping to my knees on the mat, I folded my arms on the edge of the tub, bumping her elbow with mine, and looked into her eyes. Her smile faltered, replaced with a serious, direct gaze, unnerving me. Either she deserved an Oscar, or…
I dragged my eyes down, somehow almost already knowing the truth — that my reality would twist forever in this moment.
In the way that you can immediately tell an arm or a leg is broken, because the angles are all wrong, I could clearly see she had a different bone structure by the way her back curled into the slope of her tail. No one could contort their legs this convincingly, not even some Olympic gymnast. Our skeletons just didn’t do what I saw hers did.
The room seemed to fade in and out, a loud rushing noise filling my ears.
“Fern? Fern, are you OK?” Her voice came from far away. With surprising grace, she shimmied upright and caught me around my shoulders, holding me steady. “Breathe, sweetie,” she urged. I took a gulp of air and watched her eyes. “Good, now let it go.”
For several long breaths, she held me, as my psyche tried desperately to adjust.
The room eventually returned to solid, and the rushing sound subsided, I asked, “How?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I bet.” I whispered, but neither of us moved. We just watched each other’s faces. When that flicker of fear passed over her features again, on impulse, I kissed her.
She melted into me, reminding me in seconds how she could render me into so much putty. I melted back, awakening… to our new beginning. The mermaid spoke, “How about I get out of here, you pee, then we can open up a bottle of wine?”
Erin Dean grew up in Ohio, earning a photography degree from OSU, then transplanted to the San Francisco Bay Area. She lives by the beach in Alameda with her husband, two kids, and two cats. A lighting engineer by day, she squeezes fiction writing into the corners of her day. You can sometimes find her reading live at local story slams.
Her current work in progress, Sea and Sky, explores the themes of family, trust, sexual identity, and green living. Fern, a YouTube star, finds herself entangled with the intrigues of a mermaid family. In a world where no one knows yet that mermaids exist, she must make some tough decisions. You can find more of her original work online at erindeanauthor.com
Sleeping Beauty is a Fiction War Finalist entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @amyjoy__h