"The Mermaid"

The salty air stung my lungs as I rolled down the window to take in the ocean for the first time. It had been a long journey. Twenty-four hours in the car with the air conditioner only half working.

The smell of my mother’s stale cigarettes, half-eaten cheeseburgers, and all our worldly possessions stuffed around me beginning to make me sick — almost dusk on long winding road, the ocean along either side. A young girl about eight, freckled face and curly, ginger hair is glistening against the beat-up white Oldsmobile.
She stares off in the distance with her chin resting against her hand, absentmindedly rocking alongside the sill, applying resistance to the wind. At least that’s how I picture it. A moment captured from outside myself, so many years ago.
 
It was the most majestic thing I had ever seen. I begged my mother to stop because I wanted to see the ocean; to feel the sand between my toes, and the rush of water on my feet. My mother was distant and distracted, “not this time,” she said. My heart crashed; tears were welling up my eyes. Silently she her hand reached out and touching my leg, her voice softer and closer. “I promise we will come back. I promise.”
 
Each weekend she took me to a different beach, some were just a short commute from L.A., others took hours it felt. I loved watching life on the boardwalk, almost as much as I loved playing in the ocean. One sidewalk, in particular, was my favorite. Halfway down, the pier sat “Captain Hanks Seafood Emporium.” I called it the “fancy fish place.” I wouldn’t say I liked to fish, but swimming inside of Captain Hanks was a real-life mermaid, named Mary. She had freckles like me, and curly raven hair like me. She was beautiful, and I would spend all the time my mother would allow watching Mary in her tank. Every time I would ask my mom to eat there, she would always chuckle, tap my nose with her finger and say, “you hate fish silly.” then would point to the ocean as a way to distract me.
 
 Jelly shoes, bags, and bracelets were all the rage when I was young. I remember having hundreds of neon plastic all looped and crossed up my arms. My Jelly shoes were pink, as was my bag.  The holes inside made it very difficult to collect shells and sand from the beach. For this, 
I am sure my mother was eternally grateful.
 
Each Saturday morning, while my mom was at work, I packed my beach kit. Bag– check, towel-check, sunscreen– check. One such weekend I decided I was going to visit the mermaid and eat at the fancy fish place, and nothing my mom said or did was going to stop me. I threw my piggy bank into my beach bag, I had been saving my allowance for months, and today was the day. I was going to meet Mary. I wore my best orange striped swimsuit, my ginger hair up in pig tales, and armed with my bank. I marched into Captain Hanks with my mother following quickly behind me in a panic. She had never let me go inside, only watch the tank from the circular window out front. I didn’t let her speak. I put my piggy bank on the counter and, in my best grown-up voice, said, “table for two beside Mary, please.”
 
The young, surfer looking guy behind the counter without any words pointed to the tank that Mary usually swam in. I read it slowly. “OUT OF ORDER- CLOSED FOR CLEANING.” Without Mary, the tank looked like a giant bathtub, lifeless and in need of a good scrub. My mom quickly started apologizing, pulling me behind her out the door. Broken-hearted and lugging my life savings, I barely made it outside before completely falling apart on the ground.
 Defeated and dirty, I finally left captain Hanks, dragging my jelly bag, towel, and life savings along behind me. Broken-hearted, I took one look back at the ocean, waving at me was Miss Mary the Mermaid, she glowed and shimmered as she dove underwater, giving her tail a little splash as she swam away.