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Four months had passed since Shafe caught me. I must have turned six at some point in there (I don’t know my exact birth date). The weather warmed as the days grew longer. Summer was a good time for fishermen; they could stay at sea longer each day, and the weather was calm. This made for more fish caught, and thus more money.
I had acclimated to the rules of humans. At least, to the rules of Shafe and Lotti Mackenzie. I learned to say “please” and “thank you.” I learned to say grace before every meal. I had a nap time that was more or less unenforceable, but Lotti wouldn’t come play with me until I at least tried to sleep.
I was learning to be a human child. I liked it for the most part, but not just now.
My scales ached. Each one complained bitterly with its own voice. Together, the thousands of them that comprised my tail cried out angrily for water. And that was nothing compared to my lungs. They felt so dry I half-expected to cough up dust.
“I wanna’ go back in the water!” I whined.
“Not just yet, Bonnie,” Lotti said. “See how much longer ya can go.”
I lay a mere twenty feet from the water I wanted so badly. Lotti had brought some wooden blocks to teach me the basics of spelling. We passed the time with them while I continued to die of dehydration.
I positioned a “W,” block. Then an “A.” After a little more time, I located and placed a “T.” I reached for an “R”…
“Bonnie,” Lotti said as she saw what I was trying to spell. “Try to take yer mind off it, gel. Yer just makin’ it worse on yerself. And besides, ya forgot the ‘E’.”
“Which one’s tha’?” I asked.
“The red one, there.”
I looked at the cube she pointed at. “That’s yellow,” I protested.
“No, it’s Red. This one’s yellow,” she said, pointing to one that was the exact same color.
“They’re the same!” I said.
Lotti looked at me quizzically. “They are? Wha’ do ya see when ya look at ‘em?”
“They’re the same,” I repeated. “Red and yellow. And black and orange, too. All the same. Ya keep talkin’ about ‘em like there different, but they’re all the same!”
She pointed to a blue block. “What about that one there?” She asked.
“Oh that one’s blue.”
“And this one?” She pointed to another.
She nodded. “Well, gel. Looks like yer a bit colorblind. It’s nothin’ ta worry about. Lots o’ people are. Mebbe yer kind are all like that. Who knows?”
I shrugged. I wasn’t particularly worried. If she wanted to give unique names to various identical shades of black, that was her business.
I choked out a few dry coughs and looked longingly at the waves. “Water’s right there, Lotti,” I said, pointing to the ocean. “Can’t I just have a bit of it?”
“Once again, Bonnie,” Lotti said, her patience thinning, “We need to find out how long ya can stay out o’ water.”
“Why?” I demanded.
“Ye can’t hide offshore yer whole life. If we’re goin’ to get ya on land, we’ve got to know how long ya can go without a soak. Yer doin’ real good. It’s been over three hours.”
I pouted. “I can’t go on land anyway. I can’t walk.”
“We can get ya around,” Lotti said, vaguely.
“People’ll laugh and point and
“We can take care o’ that, too,” Lotti said. “One thing at a time though, gel. We got to see how long ya can go.”
“Hmph,” I said. Then I flopped toward the water.
“Bonnie,” Lotti warned in that low voice women reserve for disciplining their children.
I glared at her and flopped once again.
She stood up. “Bonnie Mackenzie, you’ll be in big trouble if you disobey me.”
We stared each other down.
I narrowed my eyes. She narrowed hers.
I made a “run” for it.
Flopping wildly, I clumsily made my way toward the water.
Laughing, Lotti chased after me, pretending she couldn’t keep up. “Ooo ya get back here ya feisty little fish!”
I giggled as I flopped faster toward the sea. Lotti “almost caught up” with me and tickled my flukes as I continued to escape. Finally, I splashed in to the water and exalted as its cool, refreshing waves washed over me.
My aching scales ceased their complaints. I sated my fiery thirst with a big drink of the delicious brine, and dunked my head for several lungfuls of magnificent bliss. Even my skin, which had weathered the dry spell much better than my scales, felt refreshed and renewed within seconds.
Lotti stood on the shore with a wry crooked smile. “I guess we’ll call it three hours. But I’m sure ya could do more if ya worked at it.”
I stuck my tongue out at her.
“Pretty brave when yer in the water,” she noted. Then, spying something on the horizon, she pointed. “Bonnie, look.”
I followed her gaze and saw the silhouette of a ship against the horizon. Shafe was returning from his day’s work.
I turned back to Lotti excitedly, “Can I!? Can I!?” I pleaded.
“Go on, then. Welcome him home.”
I dove excitedly to a good cruise depth and bee-lined toward Shafe’s boat. As you probably already guessed, I swim extremely fast. Not just compared to a human’s floundering attempts at “swimming,” but even when compared to other sea creatures. Most species of shark and dolphin can’t catch me on their best day, and they’re among the fastest marine life in the world. So, even as a child, I could slice through the water with great ease and at amazing speed. I reached Shafe’s boat in under a minute.
Popping my head above water, I said “Ahoy!”
“Ahoy,” Shafe said, matter-of-factly. Taking a puff from his pipe, he added “Mind you don’t get too close to the hull. Ya could crack yer head.”
“Aye, sir,” I said, lazily keeping up with the boat. “Did ya have a good haul today?”
“Aye, I did. Caught over 200 pounds o’ cod. Fetched a good price fer it, too.”
“Did ya get any lobster?” I asked.
“I fished Prommel Point. Lobsterin’ ain’t allowed there this time o’ year.”
“So how much ya get?”
“Over 50 pounds! There’s always more when it ain’t allowed.”
I swam alongside the slowly moving vessel, wishing it would hurry up. The faster it brought Shafe to shore, the faster we were all together. I liked it when we were all together.
“I got a little somthin’ extra in town today,” Shafe said, vaguely.
“What?” I asked.
“Ya could call it a present. A present fer ya.”
“A present!?” I squealed. “What is it!? When can I have it!? Can I have it now!?”
“You’ll see it soon enough. I have ta put it together first.”
I spent the next ten minutes harassing Shafe for information about my present. He remained quiet on the topic, as he did on most topics. Not many men can withstand the interrogations of a cute little girl, but Shafe Mackenzie could.
After he maneuvered the boat to our dock, Lotti caught the mooring lines as he threw them.
“Lotti! Lotti! Shafe brought me a present!” I gushed.
“Did he now?” She said. “I’ve got a notion what it might be.”
“What is it!? What is it!?”
Lotti ignored me. “So it came?” She asked Shafe.
“Aye, finally,” Shafe answered. “I’ll need yer help gettin’ it to the house. My back’s not what it used ta be.”
“Aye, let’s have it then,” she said.
Together, they hefted a large wooden crate off the boat and on to the dock. Bits of straw stuck out from between the boards, and the side featured stenciled words that were too advanced for me to read.
“We’ll be back in a bit, Bonnie,” Lotti said.
“A bit more ‘n a bit,” Shafe corrected. “It’ll take some time ta put together.”
Each taking an end, they carried it up to the house.
Two hours later (nine hundred years in “kid waiting for a present” time) they returned empty-handed. Perhaps they forgot? I decided to subtly remind them.
“Where’s my present!?” I subtly reminded.
“Easy, gel,” Lotti said. “It’s up at the house. Have ya had a good soak? Ready ta spend some time out o’ water?”
“Yes,” I said. I would have agreed to donate a kidney at that point.
Shafe emptied his pipe and put it in his pocket. “Come on then, come ta me.” He held his arms out in my direction.
I beached myself near him. He bent down and picked me up, holding my back with one arm, and my tail with the other.
Lotti often hugged me when we met or parted company. Shafe was nowhere near as tactile, usually greeting me with a nod and parting without fanfare. I’d been wanting a hug from him for some time, so I stole one. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I rested my head on his chest. His coat reeked of smoke. Even now, approaching two centuries later, the smell of pipe smoke instantly transports me back to those days.
My sudden affection caught him off guard. Stammering a bit he mumbled “gettin’ my neck wet…” but his heart wasn’t in it. He was “daddy” now and there was no going back.
He carried me up to the house with Lotti in tow.
The Mackenzie residence was compact, but functional. The front door opened to a neatly maintained living area featuring a fireplace in the corner with two comfortable chairs nearby. Through an archway I saw the small kitchen area and pantry that occupied large portions of Lotti’s day. Two bedrooms adjoined the living area. Shafe and Lotti slept in the larger one. The other, built for children that never came, served as storage.
Like a cat in a new environment, I darted my wide-eyed gaze from one spot to the next, curious about everything. Shafe carried me to a specific spot in the room, and I finally took a good look at it.
They had bought me a wheelchair. I had no idea what it was, of course. But I figured out it was for me when Shafe sat me down in it.
Wheelchairs were a bit different back then. Instead of the starkly functional steel and plastic you see today, they had a bit of style. My chair was made mostly out of wicker and featured comfortable back and seat cushions. The large wheels on the left and right were pretty much the same as a modern chair, but were made of wood. One additional wheel graced the front, just under the footrest. With wheels being the most expensive part of a chair, people saw no reason to splurge on four of them when three would do.
“It’s a bit big for ya, we know,” Lotti said, “but we can’t afford ta buy you a new one every few years. You’ll just have ta grow in ta it.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a wheelchair,” Lotti explained. “You can get around on land with it. Give the wheels a spin and see fer yerself.”
I looked to my left and right, then tentatively gripped the wheels. I pushed them forward and the chair moved!
I moved! On land! Without flopping like an idiot!
I squealed as I pushed them forward again. I quickly got the hang of rolling forward, turning, and backing up as I cruised around the living room giggling gleefully.
Shafe and Lotti, retiring to their chairs, seemed pleased with my progress. Lotti watched me with a smile, offering encouraging words as I romped around the room, while Shafe lit his pipe with a slight glint of satisfaction in his eye.
“She’ll break everythin’ in the house, ya know,” he commented, unwilling to be too pleased with anything.
“Oh hush, Shafe,” Lotti said. Then, to me, she said “All right, all right. You’ll have plenty of time ta play with the chair later. Come here, gel.”
I rolled over to them. Too anxious to sit still, I bounced in my chair, eagerly awaiting whatever new excitement came next.
“I made this for ya,” Lotti said, pulling out an unusual conglomeration of leather. She had attached two children’s boots to opposite sides of one of Shafe’s old belts. She wrapped the belt around the bottom of my tail and positioned the shoes on the footrests of the chair. “This way ya can pretend ta have feet.”
She walked to the storage room, saying “And this’ll hide yer tail…”
She returned carrying a girl’s dress.
I pointed at the dress the way a beachgoer might point at an incoming tidal wave. “No! I don’t wanna!”
“This is different,” Lotti explained. “This is fer wearin’ on land. So people don’t see yer tail. All they’ll see is the boots comin’ out the bottom.”
“I don’t like dresses!”
“Well yer gonna have to wear this one,” she said, firmly. She looped it over my head and pulled my arms through the sleeves. “Ya don’t have ta wear it in the water. Only on land. So don’t complain.”
I whined as she lifted my bottom to slide the dress down the length of my tail. Smoothing it out, she stepped back and took a look.
“Yes, indeed,” she smiled. “That’ll do nicely, I think.”
I looked at my “legs.” It was pretty impressive. No part of my tail or flukes was visible, and the boots gave a very convincing argument that I had feet.
Shafe looked me up and down. “Ya can see the shape of her tail.”
“Just looks like her legs are together,” Lotti said.
“It ain’t quite the right shape, though,” Shafe said, unconvinced.
“Well it’ll just have ta do,” Lotti said. “People aren’t likely to think ‘I bet she’s a mermaid in disguise,” now are they?”
“I ‘spose not,” Shafe conceded.
“When can I meet other people?” I asked impatiently.
“Soon, I think,” Lotti said. “We’ll have ta train ya a bit in how to act around our kind, so’s ya blend in.”
She turned to Shafe. “Your turn.”
Shafe eyed her with a confused expression. “My turn fer wha?”
Lotti smiled at me. “You may not
know it, Bonnie. But our Shafe is one of the best liars in
Shafe preened a bit at the compliment. “Well, I s’pose I can spin the occasional yarn…”
“Now don’t be shy, Shafe. Be proud of what ya do well.”
He set his mind to thinking. After a minute, he nodded and lit his pipe.
“She’s a distant relation from
“Naturally, a young gel don’t want to talk none about her parents dyin’, so people won’t ask her too many questions. And with her legs crushed and healin’ back crooked, it explains the shape under the dress not bein’ quite normal.”
“Oh Shafe!” Lotti kissed him on the check. “That may be yer best lie yet! Yer a master, I tell ya! A master!”
“Oh you do go on,” he said.
“Wait,” Lotti furrowed her brow, “She can only be out of the water for three hours before it starts hurtin’. How will we explain havin’ ta take her away when she needs a soak?”
Shafe blew a smoke ring. “Well, nat’rally bein in a fire she breathed a lot o’ smoke. She’s been a sickly gel ever since. She can’t have too much activity before needin’ a rest ‘cos o’ her weak constitution.”
Lotti clapped. “Oh Shafe, I haven’t heard lies this good since we were courtin’!”
“Aye,” he smirked, “those were some good lies back then.”
Lotti turned to me. “All right, young lady. Over the next few days, I’m gonna teach ya how to act human.”
“Yay!” I exclaimed.
“Rule number one: Don’t tell anyone yer a mermaid,” she said.
“In fact,” Shafe went on, lost in memories, “I remember one particular set o’ lies got you away from yer chaperones at the harbor dance…”
“That memory’s not fer Bonnie to hear, Shafe,” Lotti admonished.
She needn’t have worried. I wasn’t paying attention anyway.
People! I was going to meet other people! People like Lotti and Shafe, but different. Lots of them, going around doing people things. I could barely contain my excitement.