by Rebecca Hodgkins
"What's that?" I ask her. We're walking along the beach at the high tide mark and I spot a dark brown rectangle with corners that end in tendrils. I push it with my toe--it's lighter than it looks.
"Do you want science or romance?" she asks, looking up into my eyes. I live and breathe by the crescent moon smile on her face.
"Romance," I say, squeezing her hand.
"It's a mermaid's purse." She reaches down and picks it up. The purse covers the palm of her small hand. As I watch, a tendril twines around her ring finger.
She smiles wider. "Science or romance?"
"Science," I say.
The tendril pulls back, if it ever moved at all. "It's empty." Her smile is gone. She touches her belly, a gesture that's become so normal she doesn't realize she's doing it. I see it every time. And it breaks my heart every time.
I can't take back my answer, so I ask another question. "What is it made of?"
The tide is coming in. A big wave breaks and reaches for our feet as she silently looks up at me again.
"Romance," I say.
"It's woven from a mermaid's hair." She taps the purse with her finger. "Science. It's made of collagen, like our hair and nails."
"So there's an overlap here."