Short Fiction by Kym Deyn
The first thing you’ll notice about the boys here is either their words or their barnacles. It’s difficult to tell the difference most days, mind you. They look the same when they’ve been embedded in the skin long enough. Each of them has the slim hands of Proteus, they use them to pick the evening stars out of tide pools. What they do with them afterwards is anyone’s guess. The glittering might make for fish bait or a gift for a fish wife to hang in her window and hope her husband comes home. They might see it for what it is and wait by the gull-pecked coves until high tide brings the mermaids. They’re all quicksilver quiet sirens these girls, they sold their voices to give flesh to sea foam. Mermaids always look after their own. On evenings in June, sometimes boys who are like sea gods bring their voices back to them. When the moon rises on those evenings they will sing shanties until sunrise.
The boys who are ocean grown watch the thin line of the horizon like it’s a noose they could hang from. I wonder if they would be happy anywhere, they roll their eyes like gathering clouds and each word of their tongue is heavy thunder. They skim stones, count sand fleas, stare restlessly. Anything the tide spits out knows no peace, they move with water on the turn. They wear their shoulders like they’re pacing, stuff hands into the pockets of grey coats. Their name was Neptune, their name was Poseidon, they had their heart preserved in brine and left it on the isthmus.
If you meet one of these ocean grown boys, they are shorter in person. Offer them old lobster pots, a pearl oyster, a stick of rock, hope they are generous. If you get close enough, you can press your head to their chest and hear the cry of wheeling gulls. When they sob it is the sound of wave against cliff face, you must not listen to it. Instead, ask them how their mother is, if they have siblings, what they do for a living. They will hand you driftwood for the bonfire you’d forgotten to build and say all is well.
Watch, as they turn from you then, at their shadow on the sand. You must think of them only as the moment you met them: they offered seal pelts to selkies, spoke the swearing language of pissed up seagulls, they stole you a marble as bright as the sea and smiled like they’d sold you a curse.