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A Ladies' Guide to Collecting Mermaid Love Songs

Aimee Picchi is a journalist and SFF writer who lives in Vermont's biggest city, which is actually very small. Her stories have appeared in publications including Intergalactic Medicine Show, Flash Fiction Online, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. She's a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop. In a previous life, she was a classical musician, and is a graduate of Juilliard Pre-College and the Eastman School of Music.

Imagine standing on a sandy sleeve jutting into the Atlantic. In the hazy distance where the sea meets the horizon, the mermaids sing, their voices dancing like strands of silver and black seaweed in a tide pool. The fluid harmonies draw you to the water's edge.
This is the point when many young ladies transform into mermaid-song enthusiasts. Yet the noble quest to pursue beauty for beauty's sake is no tame pastime such as needlepoint or china painting, especially if one is unprepared for the dangers lurking within the waters. This pamphlet, based on my experiences as a female in the field, will educate novices in these endeavors, and I hope, prevent you from repeating the missteps made by my beloved Miss Mori and myself.
Necessary Equipment
Before you venture onto the water, secure the proper equipage: a boat supplied with ample fresh water and a hearty picnic lunch; a glass-blowing apparatus (a blow-pipe, a foot-bellows, etc.); and last, but not least, the steadfast belief that beauty can be captured.
Illustration: In our maiden voyage, my companion Miss Mori and I neglected to consider our needs. We packed a meager lunch, leaving us peckish and distractible, thereby more susceptible to the lure of mermaid song. A cerulean-scaled mermaid flashed her tail and sang a refrain of Type 1 (see The Taxonomy of the Mermaid Song, below).
The music proved too much for Miss Mori. "Do you hear it, Miss Holst?" she asked. "Isn't it lovely?" Quick as a minnow, she strode toward the gunwale.
I believe if I hadn't acted quickly by tying her in a fishing net, she would have slipped into the water.
Advice on Securing Songs
Miss Mori would say it was like capturing a piece of gossamer spider-silk floating on the wind, or like nurturing a young person's hopes.
A romantic, she was. A more practical answer: hone your glass technique.
Glass is like life itself: fluid and solid, hard and fragile. The transformation attracts curious mermaids, who sing to the glass as it buds open. The sound waves, invisible to the eye, are captured by the blossoming of the molten glass at the end of your pipe.
Once that happens, be quick! With the song confined, clamp off your creation. You will be on your way to a fine collection of mermaid songs.
Illustration: On our second voyage, Miss Mori--who had enjoyed a strengthening lunch--manned the bellows. Our glassworks attracted a mob of mermaids, and soon our baskets brimmed with shimmering orbs.
Be nimble, for mermaids never stay long. As they lost interest and swam away, Miss Mori asked, "Would they return if we tossed them back their songs?"
"Steady, Miss Mori," I replied. "Securing is the wisest course."
What would happen if all that love was let loose? What foolish things would ladies do?
Taxonomy of Mermaid Love Songs
Mermaids have three major themes, as follows.
Type 1, Scales of Romance: A mermaid casts a glance. The beloved swims away, and the mermaid pursues through coral, shipwrecks, shoals, etc. Invariably the mermaid is successful in her pursuit. Once safely encased in glass, these songs sport very pretty colors.
Type 2, Tails Torn Asunder: These tragic love songs typically begin with the phrase, "When the great squid feasts on our loves." Their murky colors enchant no one.
Type 3, The Tumble-in, or Ladies Overboard: The most dynamic songs, with new variations almost hourly. Swirling colors, like warm currents traveling through cold water.
Illustration: On our third voyage, we encountered mermaids singing an unknown melody. With careful listening we classified it as Type 3 as the mermaids sang, "Waves caress, and glass neglects. Care for a water dance?"
After we had captured it, Miss Mori held up the globe and asked, "Do you think they were singing to us--about us?" She placed her hand on my sleeve, and leaned toward me. Her face was luminous in the humid air.
With a catch of my breath, I took the orb. "Our hobby must be scientifically rigorous," I said. Seeing her lower lip wobble, I said in a kinder voice, "Love is understandable only when it is named, pinned, and properly categorized."
Tips on Methods of Display
Some ladies curate their orbs in large bowls; others string them to catch the sunlight. Regardless, it's a wise lady who secures her songs.
Illustration: On what would be our final voyage together, the mermaids gathered thick around our boat. Miss Mori, restless, stepped away from the bellows and toward our basket of orbs, which I had neglected to stow away.
As if cracking an egg, she knocked an orb against the bulwark, and tipped the released song into her throat. She sang with a borrowed voice, a throaty rendition of Type 1, which told of kissing salt-tainted lips and caressing sun-dappled skin.
As I considered how I might salvage the song, Miss Mori kicked off her shoes and unfastened her skirts. With a heavy-eyed glance at me, she slipped into the sea. Her hair flowed loose in the water, and she gave several kicks with her legs, which dappled into silver-scaled abandon.
She beckoned; fearful, I shook my head. As she swam away with the mermaids, her song became her own, a wistful tune of love unheard and lost forever.
I ran to the glass apparatus. In a moment, I had captured the melody.
It is now my most prized possession.
Some nights, I place it to my ear and imagine I can hear Miss Mori's voice through the glass. The orb now accompanies me on every expedition, a reminder of the sacrifices ladies make for beauty. If I ever see Miss Mori again, I wonder if I will remain silent, or if I might have the courage to break the glass and sing to her, with a hope she has a new melody for me.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Author Comments

This story was inspired by a prompt in the Codex writers' group about a character with a hobby that doesn't exist in our world. The concept of mermaid-song hunters came to me as a response to rereading T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" while on a beach vacation ("I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each./I do not think that they will sing to me."). It struck me that the mermaids are often singing to us, but we're too scared to answer their song. The Edwardian ladies with their nautical glassworks flowed from there.

- Aimee Picchi
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