She stops when the water is waist deep and takes a dive. She can swim, too. I sink below the surface and peek around the rock, spying on her as she swims like a mermaid. I am the epitome of a sea hag in this moment, I realize, being the old woman jealous of a younger woman’s vitality. A school of colourful fish dart around her lithe form as she glides through the water. Then she comes up for air. I make a splash as I resurface. Hearing me, she stops. She turns to look in my direction, but I am already back behind the rock. My heart thunders against my rib cage. That was close.
She walks back to the shore.
I am patient. She’s adventurous for a woman, I’ll give her that. Each day she swims a little further out, tempting fate. At last, she swims out to the closest cluster of rocks to the shore – where I normally watch her. She pulls herself up onto one of them and rolls on to her stomach to sun. She looks like a siren, but I’ll show her what a real one looks like in a few breaths. My head emerges from the water. I stare at her and wait. She shifts uncomfortably, again sensing that something isn’t quite right. I cover my mouth, nearly laughing again. She stretches and sits up at last, stiffening when she notices me in her peripheral vision. At first, she doesn’t do anything, probably wondering who is there and unsure of how to react.
Swallowing hard, she turns her head and looks at me. I meet a pair of striking hazel eyes. Of course, she has nice eyes, too. I expected more of a reaction from her, but she just stares down at me.
“Hello,” she says at last, breaking the silence.
“Hello,” I say back.
“Are you a … sea hag?”
I know I must look ancient to her. No one ever calls me a mermaid. I’m too ugly for that, naturally. I lower my chin below the water. The insult wounds me even though I know this is what I am. I almost consider pushing her off the rock and drowning her right then.
“Are you a … girl?” I ask, echoing her unnaturally high voice.
She clears her throat and stares down at the water.
“I’ve never seen a sea h- … a mermaid before.”
My jaw drops. She didn’t. No, she did. The beautiful blonde girl called me a mermaid.
“My, my aren’t we polite,” I say with a smirk.
She raises her chin, looking down her nose at me. The arrogant little snot.
“Well, that’s what you are, aren’t you? A mermaid.”
I lean back and my green, scaly tail comes out of the water, flashing her. Her eyes widen as she studies it. It’s the first time I’ve let anyone look at my tail so long. Normally, I would have killed my victim by now. I might look pudgy, like a roly-poly manatee, but I’ve got strong muscles beneath the layers of fat. Like any wild creature, I can take down a slim young woman without much effort.
“Have you always lived around here?” she asks.
She looks at me in genuine fascination. I expected her to be more repulsed by me, to hurl insults. I look at her in wonder. There is something different about this one.
“I move around. I happened to find myself here by the sound of your voice several days ago. I was curious to see who was singing. Then I found you.”
“Oh?” she asks raising an eyebrow.
I let it sink in that I’ve been watching her for a while. I can sense her cringing inwardly.
“Yes. Your voice was quite lovely. I was once a stage siren, claiming the audience as my own. Songs are my lifeblood, you could say.”
She seems to relax at this. I didn’t expect that either. What is wrong with her?
“Perhaps I could hear you sing one day.”
“You wouldn’t want to hear me sing,” I say, laughing this time.
I’m having too much fun. This unique interaction is rather entertaining.
“Why not?” she presses, leaning forward, looking me in the eyes.
“Because my song would hypnotize you. Then I would kill you. Your body would wash up on the shore that you enjoy frolicking on so much.”
“You want to kill me?” she asks, quickly standing.
Her shadow blocks the sun out of my eyes. I appreciate it.
“If I wanted to kill you, wouldn’t I have done so by now?” I ask, raising my chin, mimicking her gesture.
She shrugs. “I wouldn’t know.”
She is nervous, but pretending not to be. She is aware of the stories about sea hags, no doubt.
“Why shouldn’t I kill you?” I ask her, inching closer to the rock she’s standing on.
“Because I am a story writer.”
“Oh, what a lovely pastime to keep you busy until you’re married off. You must be engaged, I assume.”
“Yes,” she says simply.
A writer. How interesting.
“You’re not like the other girls, are you?” I ask.
She shrugs again. “Will you let me go home?”
I laugh, feeling warm on the inside. I could turn the blue waters red if I wanted, but it isn’t the time yet.
“That depends,” I say. “Do you swear on your life to return to this rock? As you can imagine, it can be boring being a lone sea hag in the dark depths of the sea. I want to have conversations with you, another woman. Would you be interested?”
She hesitates. I know she never wants to see me again. The little witch.
“I’ll return here tomorrow,” she says.
I can sense her pulse racing.
“Go on then. See you tomorrow.”
“See you then,” she says.
She jumps into the cool waters and swims to the shore. I let her go.
The next day, she does not return to the rocks. I do not see her at the shore. Her singing does not fill the air. She is gone.