What I’ve been seeing; what I’ve been hearing.
She had trouble sleeping and typically didn’t drop off till after midnight but at least when she had fallen asleep, she stayed asleep. This made it all the more infuriating when she was woken by her husband as he tossed and turned because it was warm or a dog was barking, or whatever.
One morning she awoke before dawn to a light, fluttering sensation on her left foot.
When she looked down, she discovered her husband leaning over, tickling her toe with the tip of his index finger.
Later that morning, over brunch with their friends, she said that if she was in a bad mood it was because of the antics of her husband only a few hours prior, and she explained the tickling.
A friend said it could have been worse, he could have bitten her foot, to which everyone laughed heartily.
Another friend said, if a man bites your foot then I think you’re headed for divorce, shooting a look at her own husband who turned bright red and suddenly took a keen interest in the tablecloth.
The laughter, which had been so easy, died away as everyone stared curiously at the husband who continued tracing the pattern on the tablecloth, while his wife picked up a knife, and slowly began buttering her scone.
Do you have a pet fish? the leggy lady asked the mermaid.
Yes, I have a smelt whose name is Salty, and a pufferfish called Yoyo.
Like yoyo dieting—one moment he’s skinny, the next he’s fat.
Mermaids use that word too?
O, yes. We gain weight very easily, especially when trading with sailors in the summer months. During winter, when we receive few visitors, we are restricted to fish.
Eating fish… isn’t that like eating your pets? Or even your own kind?
No, fish come to us when they are old and offer themselves as sacrifice.
Like you’re gods!
In a way.
I would love to have a pet pufferfish.
The mermaid shrugged. Seals are better, she said.
They are like your dogs. Dutch sailors have a good name for them: zeehond—literally, seadog. But they are much harder to acquire.
Because they choose you.
You’re so lucky, the lady said as she looked down at her thin, scarred legs.
The mermaid suddenly tossed her hair. I must go, she said. I have to find Grumpy.
Wait—I have one more question.
What about your children?
What about them?
How—I mean—are babies easy to bare?
We don’t have babies—think of our figures! There’s a reason you don’t see pregnant mermaids. We lay eggs, only we call them bubbles, like any sensible fish.
Thousands, though only a finful reach adulthood.
How many children do you have?
The lady lowered her eyes. None, she said.
Pity, said the mermaid, easing back into the water.
Will you visit again?
Maybe, depends on my tides.
My mood, said the mermaid. And with a flick of her fins she vanished beneath the waves.
The lady watched the sea until the sun sunk below the horizon. Then she slowly traced the track back over the dunes.
Moments later, my own feet followed, crushing the prints she had made with her small toes.
I watched as she entered a weatherboard house, gently closing the door behind her. After a minute, steam billowed from an open skylight and I could hear the sound of running bathwater.
She finds couches offensive. The notion that she is to park her ass on a piece of furniture, that it will support her and comfort her throughout the day, is ludicrous.
Her husband tells her to just sit, she is blocking the television.
She erupts, he has no idea what it is like, he cannot imagine the stress she endures at home with the couch, let alone when visiting other people’s houses where they expect to her to sit on their couches like it is not extraordinary.
He yells that perhaps she should not visit other people’s houses, that she should sit at home and bake and sew, like a good wife.
She screams that they are not living in bloody caveman times.
He says, no they are not living in bloody caveman times, because if they were living in bloody caveman times there would be no couches.
The younger sister turned, offering the open bag of gummy worms.
‘Can’t,’ said the elder sister, ‘I’m gluten-free, remember.’
‘But there’s no gluten in these!’
‘The bag says they contain trace amounts.’
The younger sister pinched a worm between her index finger and thumb, and studied it through narrowed eyes.
‘You are so selfish!’ she cried.
I heard you have a very blue suit, she said.
I wouldn’t exactly say that, he replied.
Is it the colour of the midday sky? she asked.
No, he said.
Is it the colour of a robin’s egg? she asked.
No, he said again.
Is it the colour of the sea? she almost shrieked.
No, he said. It is the colour of a moonlit lake at twilight.
So it is a blue suit? she asked.
It is a tame shade of blue, he said.
But it is still a blue suit.
It is a blue suit after all, he agreed sadly.
‘I buyed it,’ said Little Girl.
‘No you didn’t, he gave it to you,’ said Mother.
‘But I buyed it!’
‘No, sweetie, he gave it to you.’
‘No, Mummy, I’m playing…’
‘Oh I see, it’s a game.’
‘I buyed it.’
‘But do we say buyed it or bought it?’
‘We say I did buy it.’
‘I bought it.’
‘I did bought it.’
‘Well – it’s tricky isn’t it?’
‘Tricky for mums!’
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