Short Story Special: A Pearl in the Hand

ACK! It’s been a crazy week, I’ve paid little mind to our usual Friday Fictioneers, and my laundry… If I don’t do something, I may have a homemade housework horror story to tell. So, here’s a little something for you to (hopefully) enjoy while I’m washing the stinky cheese off the table so I can fold clothes that will only need to be washed again in a few days, if they make it that long. I think I’d rather be at the sea…

A Pearl in the Hand

The oyster slips through my fumbling fingers, but I am only half aware of its descent. In the distance, where the ocean floor drops again, a wide-eyed girl smiles at me. Her braids, dozens of them, move with the currents that sway her gracefully undulating body. My gaze rests on the curve of her waist, where dark skin gives way to turquoise scales. I open my mouth to call out to her, and water rushes in.

The sea becomes a blur of blue and gray, white and tan. Strong hands press against my cheeks, then wrap around my ribcage. I rise to the surface, propelled by strength not my own. I would have drowned below without regret, if only I could have spoken to her.

Air fills my lungs as a hand strikes my cheek.

“Zeke!” Mama’s voice is higher than usual, her hazel eyes frantic with worry. She slaps me again. “What were you doing down there, boy? Would you make me grow old in grief?”

I look over her bare shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fish girl. I ache for proof of what my eyes beheld.

“Do you understand me, Ezekiel?” I hear in Mama’s tone fear has given way to anger. “Into the boat. You’re not fit to dive today. Tomorrow or the next day, maybe. Today, you stay on shore.”

She pushes me toward the small boat we use to gather our oysters. Ezra holds out a hand to help me into the vessel. I stop, my hand on the edge of the boat, and look back once more over the vast expanse of the sea.

“Did you see her, Mama? Did you see the fish girl?”

Mama shakes her head and clicks her tongue. “Fish girl? Bah! I’ve raised you better than to believe such nonsense.”

I take my brother’s hand and wriggle my body over the edge of the boat. He rows toward shore, studying me intently.

“You know those are just child’s tales,” he says once Mama has plunged beneath the lolling waves. His muscles bulge as he moves the oars through the water. “The fish girls, they aren’t real, just tricks of the light.”

I have nothing to say that evening and retire early. I awaken in darkness, startled by some undefined noise. I strain my ears, waiting for the sound to repeat itself, but all I hear is the quiet lapping of the waves upon the shore. I sit up on my mat and hug my knees to my chest. I scan the horizon and wonder if the fish girl was, as Ezra suggested, just a trick of the light, after all. But there in the shallows, to the west of a strip of silver moonlight, a figure rises from the sea. As she props herself up on her arms, her tail emerges from the water, only to drop again with a gentle splash, and I know my fish girl is no trick of light.

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