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Mermaid's Purse

Rebecca Hodgkins is a writer and a nurse living near the high desert city of Denver. She misses the ocean very much. This is her second story to appear in Daily Science Fiction (the first was "The Rocketeer"). She would like it if you read her other stories at rebeccahodgkins.com under the "Free Short stories!" tab.

"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.
"What's inside?"
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."
Her smile widens again. Her lips part, and there is wonder in her eyes. "Yes." Her voice is soft, more air than sound. Her hand goes to her belly again. "Ask something else. Quickly."
Her hand has found mine again. I have to get this right. "What...?" Could? No, not yet. Was. "What was in it?"
"Science or romance?"
I realize I'm holding my breath. "Science."
"The embryo of a skate, like a sting ray. They have wings." Her smile is wide now.
As I ask my last question, she's the one holding her breath.
"What could be in it?" Before she can ask, I add, "Romance."
After she answers, we walk home with our new baby girl.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Author Comments

I used to find mermaid's purses all the time as a kid and never knew what they were or that they even had a name. I'd forgotten all about them until I found an image of one down the internet rabbit hole. As a girl, I would have loved the romantic name. As an adult who has been through a thing or two, I appreciate what they really are. This story came from the idea that sometimes neither wishful thinking nor science alone can get you where you need to go. The magic's in the overlap.

- Rebecca Hodgkins
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