too many words by laura lemay

500 words or less: comb


Jackson, the fisherman who lived by the shoals where the river meets the
sea, captured a mermaid took her as his wife. The men in the town
congratulated him heartily for finding a wife so beautiful, seemingly
unaware of her green and gold hair, and ignoring the enormous
silent green tears she shed from her deepest greenest eyes.

The women, however, saw her for what she was. They recognized her and
knew from stories their mothers and mothers before them had told them:
in a seaside town the capture of a mermaid was a curse.

The women pleaded with Jackson to return her to the sea, but he spat at
them. The women had laughed at him when he had courted them, he accused
them, had called him stupid and mean. They called him names behind his
back, even now. Now they would deny him his beautiful wife? He had
found her, he bragged. He had caught her in his nets and taken
something from her, a comb made from an abalone shell. He knew the
stories, too; that was what bound her to him. And with that she would
stay with him forever. There was nothing the women could do.

And then that year the salmon did not come up the river as they always
did. They were a fishing town; without the salmon to catch and store
and barter they would starve. Something had to be done.

The women came to Jackson’s home in the night by the shoals where the
river meets the sea, came silently to his home and with hands and
blankets and clothing, held him and strangled him in his bed. The
mermaid watched, silently, in the corner in the darkness, her deepest
greenest eyes shining by the moonlight. Callie, the youngest, found the
abalone comb in one of the dead man’s pockets. The mermaid took it silently, gratefully, smiled, and then vanished as if she had dissolved entirely away.

The salmon returned to the river, more salmon than ever before. The
women told the men later that it must have been a brain fever that
caused Jackson to wander into the water that night. The water was
shallow in the shoals where the river met the sea but still he drowned.
A terrible accident.

Too young to fish, Callie was playing in the shoals where the river met
the sea when she looked up and saw the mermaid, sitting on a rock
and combing out her green and gold hair with the abalone comb. The
mermaid smiled at her with with her deepest greenest eyes and with each
pass of the comb, green and gold salmon fell shimmering from her hair
into the river below.