Above everything else, the fisherman was kind. We didn’t know why he gave us names like Angelfish, Surfperch, Bluespine, Wobbegong, Salmon, Stingray, and Orca. We assumed it was because he had found us washed ashore with our namesakes. We assumed it was because he lived on the beach. We assumed he was a fisherman of old, even though he was younger than the fathers we had been carried away from when the big one shook us silly, broke the land we stood on, and the waves came and washed us away. We saw his hooks, how he polished them. He fed us. We didn’t know what was in the bottles he shook into our meals. If we asked, the fisherman told us they were vitamins. He bathed us in saltwater warmed in a large pot over his fire and poured into a tub he dug with his own hands. The fisherman scrubbed us with sea stars and braided kelp into our hair. “Seasoning” he called it, for the coastal life was a harsh one. When Tang grew a tail, we thought maybe it was an anomaly. Then it started happening to more of us Lionfish, Wrasse, Grouper. And the rest. Every single one of us, dragging ourselves across the sand by our hands. We assumed he was building a mermaid menagerie of us. We were fine with it to be honest, living so close to the sea. Most of us had inhaled so much water out there. What was a little bit more salt in our mouths? Most of us couldn’t remember our names from before anyway. Most of us liked the idea of seashell bras and not having to worry about drowning if the earth bucked us back into the deep. Most of us didn’t give a shit about high heels anymore. Or makeup. Or loud music, and baked goods, and books. What good had those things ever done for us? They never made us less willful, wild, irresponsible. We were just being turned in to what we had already essentially become. Mermaids were beautiful. Majestic. Mythical. Clearly the fisherman would take one of us for his wife. That’s what we assumed. The scales that had tailed our legs together, spread up our bellies, finned our arms, parted just slightly to gill our necks. Our lips had fattened. Our ears disappeared. Our eyes went silent. We could no longer pull ourselves along the sand. We could no longer breathe where we had breathed effortlessly before. As we flopped, panicking for life, the fisherman smiled. The fisherman told us we were beautiful. All the while untangling his rods. All the while building a new boat. The fisherman said our tragedies had not ruined us. The fisherman was the one who saved us. The fisherman was the one who pulled us from the sand, brought us back our lives, took good care of us. The fisherman could have left us there where we washed up in the first place. The fisherman was the one who picked us up when we could no longer walk. The fisherman was the one who gave us our true forms. We were so grateful to the fisherman. The fisherman was the one who loved us when everything else had gone wrong. The fisherman was the one who took care of us when we wouldn’t even take care of ourselves. The fisherman was the one who wanted us when the rest of the world threw us away. The fisherman was the one who would never give up on us no matter how far we tried to swim.
Caroljean Gavin’s work has appeared in places such as Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Cabinet of Heed, Bending Genres, Barrelhouse, and is forthcoming from The Conium Review. Currently she lives in North Carolina where she’s busy raising two rambunctious sons, writing one willful novel, and searching for a home for her restless story collection.