My little sister wrestles with killing her beloved prince, and that could be her undoing. Her other sisters and I bargained away our hair for one last chance to save her and brought her the sea witch's knife. We told her she could live if only she killed this one man. One man who does not love her as she deserves. We begged her to save herself.
She has legs to walk. She can do it easily. We have but flippers and fins and scaly tails beneath our bellies. But we shall try to finish it for her if (Adelaide says when) she fails.
There she is now. See how her knife hand trembles. It's just as her tail would waver against a tide pool back when she had sense enough still to have a tail.
She's thinking about it as she pulls back the curtain of the tent where he betrays her with another. Thinking as she hesitates of the nights they might have spent tangled up in laughter and caresses; of the mutant offspring she might have borne with him.
She puts the thoughts, lovely as they're sure to be, out of her naive little mind. Her hand grows steady as the waveless night. She holds the dagger up close to the sleeping prince's heart.
She is poised to break the sea witch's spell! Yet I dare not hope any harder; it is not in her to commit murder. Always a dreamer, she.
Throwing the knife overboard makes your point quite nicely, dear sister, but did you have to heave it so far and make it harder for us to protect you from yourself?!
I told the others we should have included Father; he swims far faster than we. Like lightning.
Even as a merling little sister preferred plankton to shrimp, any tide of the week. While the rest of us were busy breaking crab shells open with our teeth to suck the sweet meat out, she'd follow the whale families and catch their filthy spillovers.
The same barb schools that darted out of view from me (and rightfully so) would dance around her as if she was their teacher. I swear, a mermaid like her is worth far more to the world than any human prince.
I catch a cluster of red seaweed. It scratches my palm and seeps its burning salt into my hand as I hold the squiggly mass above my head to drip dry.
I drape it over my bald scalp and tie the longest tendrils around my waist as little sister does with her hair. My face looks much like hers though she was blessed with a better endowment than I. Still, the sea witch can't trifle over who does the dirty work, just so it gets done. Can she?
My little sister is so pure. Too pure.
I find the dagger first in the blood red water. We sisters agreed whomever found it would finish the story for our little mermaid the right way. The only way Father and the rest of us can endure.
I dive into the air and spin so my tail breaks my landing on the boat. It hurts but I've no time to entertain the throbbing now. I draw back the same curtain my sister parted. Though the dawn is rising, it is too dark inside to see.
"Prince," I lull, "If you're awake, I have a present for you, my dear. If you're asleep, all the better to deliver it."
"Dumb foundling? You can speak!"
It's working! He thinks I am she!
The ocean splash is sudden. Its foamy droplets extinguish the last fading embers of hope from my heart.
"No!" I jump in after her. The shock of my body against the water is but a distant shadow of the horror that has flooded my soul. The sense that I am trapped inside a nightmare from which I shall never wake drowns every drop of pain I should be feeling.
I am too late. The sharp knife falls to the ocean floor. Dear little sister would have worried it might hurt some poor unsuspecting creature. But I am far more concerned with the ill fate that has befallen her. Let it slash a shark or an angelfish or giant squid. Nothing matters now.
I look up through the water and the morning sun shimmers solemnly. My surviving sisters' tears appear silver in the golden light. I know what they're thinking, because I am thinking it too. Why couldn't the sea witch have accepted our offer to take us instead of the sweetest mermaid who ever delighted to situate shell-less hermit crabs?
A tear of my own trickles down my cheek and settles between my lips. I am too forlorn to care but the torturous tickle makes me lick and, licking, taste. Salty.
Salty like the sea foam; all that remains of the dearest, littlest mermaid I have ever loved.
Image by John William Waterhouse.