In the wet slap of the haar, the lassies slit the herring mouth to tail and pack them into briny barrels. I see her head move among the rest, brown curls escaping from her shawl. She has the juice of silver fishes in her veins – it’s in the raised blue of her wrists, her raw fingers, in the taste of oysters when I lick her down below, her skirt canted up and knees apart.
They say despair can be a man’s making, but that’s not how it feels to me. I give her everything I have – primrose plants, stockings, greenhouse fruits – and everything I am, a stiff-collared man behind a counter at the bank. She says my palms smell of money and loves their smoothness on her skin, but then she sees the brown sails coming, the lads home from the draves, swaggering in their thigh-high boots. She rests her elbows on the bar, pink mouth open, as this one tells of breaching humpbacks and that one tells of waves the height of mountains. I loathe their muckled arms and sunburnt faces and wish them at the bottom of the sea.
She knows the only times I venture out are on the calmest days, sometimes to cast a line and once a year to watch the puffins hatch. It’s not an epic life, not one likely to inspire the poets. But when the Reaper goes down with all hands lost, it’s my door she comes to and cleaves herself to me from head to heel. She says, “I need a man who willnae leave me wantin’.” Afterwards, cross-legged on the bed, she hangs a pair of cherries over her ear and, giddy with my unexpected luck, I take them in my mouth, stones and all.
“Siren” first appeared as the First Prize Winner in the Bath Flash Fiction Award, UK, 2018. And subsequently in: Things Left and Found at the Side of the Road: Bath Flash Fiction Volume Three, Ad Hoc Fiction, 2018; Best Microfiction 2019; and The Best Small Fictions, 2019
FEATURED IMAGE: Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann “Mermaid” (1873), oil on canvas, 96 cm x 126 cm; Collection/ Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek,