Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet No. 15
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by Gavin J. Grant, Kelly Link
Description: Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet is a twice-yearly zine of eclectic fiction and so on. Issue No. 15 features a lady (Churchill, we presume) riding a tiger, and includes fabulous stories by Karen Russell, Sarah Micklem, Bruce McAllister, John Trey, Benjamin Rosenbaum & Paul Melko, Michael Northrop, Ellen M. Rhudy, Sarah Monette, Geoffrey Goodwin, Richard Parks, Stepan Chapman, Mark Rich, Amy Sisson, and Neal Chandler.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press/Small Beer Press, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: May 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [233 KB]
Reading time: 111-156 min.
"Tiny but celebrated."--The Washington Post
"Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet never fails to hook me."--New Pages
The Mer-girl's dreams are full of salt-diluted longing.
"Quit thrashing around," her husband grumbles, poking her awake. "You woke me up again."
His tongue sea-slugs against hers, an old invertebrate habit. She misses the thrill of those first kisses, back when he filled her lungs with unfamiliar air.
"You taste like purple smoke," she whispers, "and interrupted dreams."
"You taste like toothpaste," he says, rolling over. "Goodnight."
Every night, the Mer-girl brushes the sea-foam taste from her tongue. She buffs her scales with loofah until they flake off in iridescent ribbons. She picks tiny starfish and sea lice out of her long hair. Their dessicated bodies line the edge of the enamel tub.
"Get a haircut," her husband suggests, watching as she braids dead eels through her ponytail. "And get a real job."
* * * *
The Mer-Girl gets a job at Aqua Tots. She teaches babies how to swim. The idea is that the babies will remember the aqueous warmth of the womb, their fetal gill-slits.
"You'll see, Amanda-Stacie," the Director smiles. "You've got to start them while they're young, before they forget how to float on their backs."
The Mer-Girl tries flipping the babies on their backs to test the Director's theory. She can see that the Director has exaggerated these babies' capabilities.
At Aqua Tots, there are black babies and white babies and Hilola, a honey-eyed Hawaiian baby. There are fat, taffeta-bright babies, and jaundiced babies that the Mer-girl cradles like sickle moons. All of the babies possess the same aptitude for swimming, which is to say, none at all. The Mer-girl is appalled.
Recently, Aqua Tots has started offering a service called Drown-Proofing. This involves dunking the babies under the water, again and again, until they learn how to hold their breath. They are slow, sputtering learners.
When their mothers aren't looking, the Mer-Girl tugs at the webbing of their tiny feet.
"Kick," she whispers furiously. "Kick."
* * * *
At night, the Mer-girl scans the Classified ads. She works on her resume. She doesn't have many marketable credentials, although she does have an advanced degree. It's a secret education, one her husband knows nothing about. He likes to brag that he reeled her in on the first cast. The Mer-girl lets him. She doesn't mention her diploma from the Undersea School of Seduction. Anyways, it's not like she was a stellar student. The Mer-girl got placed in the Remedial classes.
"Don't flop right into the boat!" her teachers chided. "Do you want people to think you're some kind of floozy?"
At school, they learned how to smile demurely while flinging their bodies against the splintery hulls of ships. The Mer-girl used to get scolded for her bad attitude. When the sailors finally lowered their nets, she'd yawn with disappointment.
"You're supposed to act surprised," the teachers lectured, "and helpless." They made her study goggle-eyed fish for inspiration.
In the Honors classes, the more accomplished Mer-girls practiced churning their arms in tandem.
"You must create a coy sea-foam," the teachers explained, "to cover all of your scaly horror beneath the water."
All of the students had to memorize the score to the Siren Song. The Mer-girl used to get confused and substitute lyrics from old showtunes. At dusk, they practiced singing it to easy targets: widowed sea kayakers, science teachers on singles cruises. Compositionally, it's not a very impressive piece--although there is one tricky part with a tambourine. But it worked on her husband.
The Mer-Girl has felt contemptuous of him ever since.
Even so, she still dreams about the first time she lay splayed out on his boat. Her withered fins twitch at the memory of it. That invisible line, tugging her out of her element. Then the quick ascent through skeins of orange light, bubbles streaming off her skin. Wild-eyed wanting, the joyful writhing on the hook, and that amphibious moment when she first broke the surface of the water. For a moment she swung perfectly suspended, the sun on her face, her torso cleaved by cold water. Back when her whole body was an indecision.
Throw me back--shallow-gasping in his shadow on the deck--Don't throw me back.
* * * *