As the ship sank, I could only recall the sailors’ warnings of the mermaids who patrolled these waters.

“Do not make eye contact, for you will find only an eyeliner-traced Charybdis, ready to take you down. Their lips are glossy like wet succulent plums that promise you nothing but sleepless nights. Their pale slender fingers are adept at snatching heart-shaped fish hiding behind rib-shaped coral. Do not offer to buy them a drink; water is their element and they will never be thirsty for anything you can afford. And, when it comes to mermaids, if you have any sense at all, you should not look upon their MySpace page. Their top 12 were filled by bulky GQ mermen ages ago and this is only the beginning of your despair.”

Flotsam floated around me, the ruin of some ill-conceived plan to sail as fast as the sun so it would always be today and never the day she said “so long.” I swim towards the island, pursued by seven storms, each with a woman’s name.

I push into the tavern, a gritty sheen of sand covering my face with a five-o’clock shadow. The journey’s just a dream by now: desert, ocean, beach, an eruption of green and Texas accents, heat like lonely nightsweats. The chairs here are solid and storm resistant, but I can’t trust them yet. The mermaids circle in schools, smoking cigarettes pulled out of purses crafted from the tanned hides of former lovers. Their tails are disguised beneath boots and I can already imagine their heelprints in my back.

Suddenly you’re standing there, poise of a queen with a kingdom on her mind and a neck strong enough to make it look easy. You start speaking to me and I wonder if there’s been some mistake because can’t you see my name spelled out across the beach in broken masts and tattered sails? You flash a smile and I want to take it home with me to look at on rainy days. You’re talking to me like you’ve actually put some thought into it and you’re not just killing time. I thought I knew cruelty until I saw the stretch of your jeans over the curve of your hip. I don’t know the color of your eyes yet because I still believe the sailors.

Now we are moving through the crowd. You cut through the room like the prow of a ship, chin angled up, never slowing down, like you’ve got shit to do and it can’t wait, even if you just need a cigarette. I’m a short distance behind, walls of water closing in. “Excuse me,” I say to the crush of bodies. “Please excuse me. I still smell of shipwreck.” But no one is listening.

Outside, mermen beg to light your cigarette and their Zippos wane in the glow of your hair, a sudden sunrise on the water at 10 o’clock at night. Our talk turns to mangos, which grow in plenty on this island. I want to pick them all for you and put them at your feet. Something swirls in your eyes and I hear sailor’s cries but I’m already sinking.

And somehow, the saltwater tastes sweet.

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