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Air Is Not So Hard

by Kat Beyer

Sometimes when the wind picks up I miss my hometown. It's the way the windchimes clatter and ring; they sound like the drowned bells of my home. I think then about how I never noticed the taste of salt until it was gone from my mouth.

Air is all right. I manage—there's a way to still your gills with spells. Feet and tails aren't so different; it's easy to change from one to the other. And love, while not a simple matter, is still reason enough to remain. I gave up mermaidhood for her.

Her drunk friends at the palace on the shore dared her to go down to the water and call for a lover. They were all at her engagement party, stealing bottles of wine while their parents celebrated the coming union of Princess Madeline, 16, to Prince Bertram, 21. She'd never met him. He'd sent his portrait, and the original was traveling by slow nuptial progress through the kingdom. He was six carriage-stops away by the time she was two bottles in, stumbling down the rocky path ahead of their shouts.

She took off her shoes halfway down, I remember that. I watched from a rock out from shore, ignoring the songs and shouts bubbling up through the waves.

“Go on, Dauphine,” my friends had said, “Go to the rock and call for a lover. You don't want that old prince anyway—he's probably got a tail like a trout.”

I worried that she would cut her feet on the rocks, before I remembered that she had climbed down this cliff hundreds of times. I had seen her before. Maybe she had seen me. She came to lip of the water and pressed her toes into the foam.

I watched her for a while, while she stared out across the water. When I swam up she didn't look the least afraid.

“I haven't called yet,” she said, as if we already knew each other.

“I know,” I said. “My name is Princess Dauphine.”

I swam along the shore in the breakers; she ran along the shining edge; we went round the point of the bay; we went on and on; after many stories we wound up here, in our shack on the inland road, with wind chimes, a simple life, the occasional argument, plums from the orchard. Air is not so hard.

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