Mermaid by Melina Papadopoulos
I used to be a mermaid every day.
I didn’t have the flimsy play clothes, the sequined flipper with the emerald scales
designed for swimming in and out of light, but I had at least two dozen bathing suits
some of them with flowers, others with fish. I could never decide which to wear
into my kiddie pool Atlantic so I ran
an autonomy of eeny-meeny-miny-
No, I do not remember
the newness of my body
with a navel that looked
nostalgic without umbilical cord
and long legs, which everybody
on the playground knew were made of lead.
No, they were made of hydrogen peroxide
and bubble baths.
This running is a different kind of slow,
all skinned knees and healing and too afraid to be
anything but it.
Once I dreamed that my breasts first took shape in a draining bathtub. I didn’t know what was happening to me that night and I didn’t know any better in the morning.
I should have remembered to ask a monarch butterfly if metamorphosis lasts longer
than a couple midnights with hours as empty as miscarriage wombs. You don’t start noticing how far you’ve come along until you’re forced to and, by then,
it’s more about surviving than it is about taking pride in your progress.
By the time every growth spurt has finished dragging nails and hammers through your joints, a full almanac of moons will have lactated. You’ll see the milk on the chins of cherry blossoms, sparrows making love midair but it’s all fun and games, a round of tag consisting of nothing but a quarrel about who is supposed to be it. Last summer, it was the girl.
Now there are nests dangling from every tree branch,
cradles built for risk takers. One chick too curious but too shy to ask its mother about wings died on a hiking trail right in front of a group of moaning day-campers. I had been holding a small hand. It trembled and left mine empty. When I looked down, I found little Megan pointing at the ground,
“Is he dead? He’s with God now.”
All I could do was smile and nod in agreement, but now I wish I would have told this girl what a miracle she is. Forget the newborns with eyes like prisms
and first breaths like prophets, forget the babies who look God right in the eye
and then smile like a cherub. We need more children who can ask questions and then answer them on their own, unafraid that they might be wrong and satisfied with their logic. Maybe if they wait patiently, someone will respond to unravel the euphemisms and blow down the stork’s nest. It’s all the truth, and nobody should be afraid of seeing the truth naked. Its thighs cellulitic in both sunlight and shadow. It has the frown lines, the eye bags from worrying so much that someone is going to lie for it once it is old enough to count the veins on its hands.
Don’t lie for it.
Don’t lie for her.
She’s through with growing.
She’s dodged the bullet holes of osteoporosis. Now all she has to worry about is that spine of hers. It’s not that it took long to grow, it’s that it never grew uproot.
Its shoots were as timid and as poor in posture as any other plant new to the world.
If you take her to her grave right now, she’ll ask to see the bag of the soil we’ll put her under. If you take her to the beginning, she’ll remain quiet from the finger-to-lips cue her mother gives from the stove because she’d always ask the most inappropriate
questions in front of company.
Mother was getting sick of cleaning the coffee shock-spray off the place mats.
The rule was no baby dolls at the table.
I used to be a genie every Halloween until I realized that I’m getting too old for this. It’s not cute anymore. You can only go around stuffing training bras with glitter and wrapping paper for so long because nobody wants to see a body like this under construction. It’s taped off and it’s taped together. It’s as old as it is new. God knows that I won’t ever know the difference, but maybe that’s why he bothers.
Maybe that’s why on the seventh day, he said, “fuck it, I’ll come back to it later.”
He came back to it later and he was right on time. I hadn’t broken like dawn yet; I was still the pink you are when you’re new and young and too dumb to know any better but smart enough to form every bit of naivety into a question.
I said to him, “How old am I? How new am I?”
He didn’t answer me. I answered myself years later.
I finally stopped trying to sneak up on my birthday candles.
Melina Papadopoulos is the proud owner of six birds and a goofy dog. She currently lives just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Her work has appeared or will be appearing in The Adroit Journal, Bluestem, The Chocorua Review, among others. She is a college student as of Fall 2012.