Otto Burnwell

Little Mer-man

Your girlfriend convinced you to go in with three other couples for a vacation at a Mexican beach resort.  The kind of place that’s so upscale it gives you a nosebleed.  The kind of place that has three tropical poolside bars.  The kind of place that provides mermaids to swim around, getting you your drinks.

The butler—because this is the kind of place that provides each suite with its own personal butler—this butler, was still unpacking and putting away your stuff when your girlfriend disappeared to meet up with her crew to “drink up the sights.”

Which was cool. She hadn’t seen her friends since they all graduated.  You could let her have her fun while you got to know the other guys, none of whom ever met each other before coming down here.  So—you ate, tried the tequila, and swam.

Then, that evening when you were all supposed to meet up for dinner, you went looking for your girlfriend.  You found the other girls in the lounge, drinking and cackling, but no girlfriend.

They waved you in closer.  They’re taking bets, they said, on whether your girlfriend walks in naked through the back of the resort, or—or—the girl telling the story nearly gagged on her drink, laughing so hard—or through the main lobby, because that’s the crazy kind of bitch she is, I’m sorry to tell you, she finished, looking at you like you were the proud owner of a rabid dog.

Naked?  From where?

What they told you, in that syncopated, disjointed, half-choking-on-laughter kind of storytelling way, is that she got so drunk so fast the rest of them connived with one of the mermaids to borrow her tail and top, stuffed your girlfriend in it, and left her rolling in the surf, way out by the quay, to sober up.  There’s no way she can walk back here in that thing, and they didn’t leave her anything else to wear.

Before you could run out looking for her, she turned up, dressed in a pair of ill-fitting shorts and baggy club tee-shirt.  The overnight beach patrol spotted her walking bare-assed back to the resort and loaned her the shorts and tee-shirt.

She lost the tail and the bra somewhere in the surf, which meant the mermaid who loaned it to them would be super pissed, so they hit you up for the two hundred eighty bucks American needed to replace it, because she is, after all, your girlfriend.

Paying the money wasn’t so bad, if that’s all it had been, but she started going off about the guy she met on the beach, or more like in the surf, who fucked her through a rip in the suit she made while trying to get out of it.

Drunk as she was, she didn’t realize it had a zipper, and she thought the guy was going to help her out of it, but he didn’t, instead he dragged her deeper into the water, wrapped his arms around her legs and somehow folded her in half, and fucked her.

You were ready to go looking for this shit weasel, but, she added, it was the most fantastic sexual experience she ever had, like doing it in space, or floating on a cloud.  The girlfriends, their jaws dangling open, looked up at you.  Which left you with no idea what you were supposed to do.

But, she went on, she was still angry, because it was the principle of the thing.  Because she couldn’t see who it was with the fluke of that fucking mermaid suit blocking his face.  Because a guy should have the decency to let her see his face.  Then, like that, she said, snapping her fingers, he was done and gone.  The surf pushed her back up on the beach, and she had to fight her way out of the suit, because she couldn’t find how it opened.

So she’s walking back, she said, naked, when the beach patrol picked her up and loaned her the shorts and tee-shirt.  They weren’t surprised.  It seems this kind of thing happens all the time.  Not losing a mermaid suit, but people turning up naked on the beach after dark.

Instead of calling the police and reporting it, which is what the other girls were saying, she wanted you to go find the fucker, probably one of those beach bums, and pound his ass.

As angry as you are, you’re now thinking you may not be qualified to do that.  You’ve seen some of those guys down at the beach.  Most of them are twice your size from working out and shit.  Probably other guys with him, who also work out, especially if he’s from around here.  Not a good situation to be walking into.  You floated the police idea again.

This is when she reminds you of all the times you’ve said she’s the one true love of your life and how you’d do anything for her, not just after sex, but every other time, too.  She says this is one of those times, and goes off to change, leaving you to make good on all those sweaty, breathless promises.

You order a couple of straight tequila doubles and consider what you’ve gotten yourself into.

The second double does the trick.  You slip off the stool, taking the bottle with you—they’ll put it on your room tab—and head out to find the quay where she said it happened.  You don’t bother changing out of the suit and tie you had to put on for the dinner because it makes you look more mature, and hides your lack of muscle mass.

You trudge through the sand, and when you reach the quay, the moon is large and unclouded, so it’s easy to see the beach, the water, and what looks like some guy bobbing up out there in the waves.

There’s no way of knowing if that’s the guy or not, since she couldn’t tell you what he looked like, not ever seeing his face.  But, there’s no one else out here, so it’s probably him, and from where you’re standing, he doesn’t seem all that big, so you shout at him something like, “Hey, fucker—you the fucker who fucks helpless women on the beach?” which you realize sounds lame, and you should have practiced something with a lot more meat to it on the walk down here, because as it plays back in your head, it makes you sound like a stupid wiener standing on a beach dressed in a suit and tie.

The guy doesn’t respond, so it may be that English isn’t his first language, because you are in a foreign country, but you can’t figure out any other language to curse at him, so you bark out “Hey!  Fucker!” going with brevity this time, and he starts swimming in closer, and your ass tightens because you’re now on the hook to make good on what sounds like a challenge, whatever language he speaks.

When he gets in closer, you can tell by the moonlight how he’s swimming normal-like with his arms, but, shit, he’s wearing a tail like the mermaids at the club.

This makes you wonder if the guy, wearing a tail, maybe thought he was scoring with one of those waitresses, and that it’s all been an honest mistake, and maybe you won’t have to try pounding his ass.  This brings up another problem—how to ask a guy if he accidentally fucked the wrong girl.

You step closer to the water’s edge, the surf surging over your shoes, the sand sucking away from under the soles of your feet, making you shift to keep your balance, and all that tequila does not improve your balance.  You shout again, “are you the guy fucked that mermaid,” adding, “by accident?”

As he swims in closer, you step sideways to meet him, and go on, “because if you are, you made a huge mistake, guy.  She’s threatening to call the police, so you should probably get the fuck out of here, you know what’s good for you.”  Now, you’re on record as standing up for your girlfriend.

But he doesn’t say shit back to you.  Instead, he gives a bit of a whistle-click, which, the way it sounds rising at the end, it’s like a question.

You get a little closer as he swims up further onto the sand, and you tell him again he needs to get lost.  He whistle-clicks at you again, something longer, and a little more belligerent, with a head weave that makes you think he’s inviting you into the water.  You’re not a bad swimmer, but you’re not about to get in the water to fight.  With a guy that can swim in the ocean wearing a mermaid suit?  No fucking way.

You don’t remember there being any guys playing mermaids at the club. Maybe he’s wearing the tail for a training thing, like he’s some kind of ironman triathlete.

You repeat the bit about him fucking one of the guests instead of the club mermaids, like it may have been an honest mistake.  You take out your phone and pull up a snap of your girlfriend, holding it out for him to see.

He works himself out of the surf, perching on one hip and plucks the fucking phone right from your hand.

Hey, you shout, but he isn’t listening to you, he’s staring at the picture.

That look is so obvious.  He knows exactly who he was fucking.  His face falls and he stares up at you with the saddest eyes you’ve ever seen on a guy. Which makes you realize—this asshole is in love with her.  In love with your girlfriend.  Fucks her one time, at night, on a beach in the middle of nowhere—okay, not nowhere—but it’s so—so random, and he’s acting like he’s in love.

Hey, you say again, give me my phone back.

He whistle-clicks at the phone, then looks up at you.  You can’t tell if he’s angry or disappointed or what, but he seems to be taking your measure and you begin to think you may have to fight him anyway.

Instead, he hands back the phone and rolls over to sit on his ass, his knees drawn up—you guess it’s his knees if he wasn’t in the tail—and his arms hugging them.  Brooding.  At least it looks like brooding.


Guy’s obviously in love with your girlfriend.  It’s not like he’s making any move to fight you for her, which would be Neanderthal of you both, but you’d have to put in like you meant it, which makes you wonder if you really would.  That makes you wonder what it means for your relationship with her.

Now you’re wondering if he thought she was a new girl working at the club, getting his hopes up, and he’s finding out she’s not just your girlfriend, but a guest at the resort, which puts her—what—out of his league?

Boy, the shit you could tell him, which is not something you’d want to hear. Still, it makes you feel kind of bad for the guy, despite the fact that he did fuck your girlfriend under false pretenses, or maybe not false pretenses, but there’s a big misunderstanding in there somewhere.

You sit down beside him, both of you just out of reach of the surf.  You pass him the bottle.  Not much in it, but it beats the two of you having to fight each other to prove something to your girlfriend.

At first he looks at the bottle like he doesn’t know what it is, then looks at you, then reaches for the stopper to uncork it.  You can see that he has scaly webbed hands, like he might have a skin condition, which may explain why he wears the tail.  To hide his legs, maybe.  Which makes you wonder how he got his pecker out to use on your girlfriend.  He can’t seem to pinch the top off the bottle, like he doesn’t have the dexterity.  You’re about to reach over and help him, but he breaks the top off—breaks the fucking top of the bottle off, neck and all.  He hands the broken top to you with a kind of a shrugged apology and tips the bottle up.  There wasn’t much left.  He drains it, looks at the bottle again, nods a kind of thank-you in your direction.

Sorry it wasn’t more, you say, which he obviously doesn’t understand.  You tip the bottle upside down and make a sad face, and gesture that you’d give him more if you had it.

His mouth twists up in a half-smile, like he has a brainstorm.  He spins himself and undulates back into the surf, like a seal. And is gone.

You scan the surface looking for him to bob up any minute.  But he doesn’t show.  You search again.  When he still doesn’t show, you start thinking the guy’s drowned himself.  Shit.  You’re the one who put him over the edge with the tequila.

You stand up, trying to see which way the surf is rolling in, like, would it push his body up or down from where he went into the water.

Then, way out, way way way the fuck out, way further out than you could possible swim holding your breath, you see his head—you assume it’s his head.  He waves, holding something in his hand, and then does this dive, like a fucking porpoise, up out of the water, and diving in, and so fucking quick he’s bellying up onto the sand next to you.

He spins and sits, holding up a bottle to you.  A full bottle of something.   You pull out your phone to flash a light on the label.  It’s in, like, some old-timey writing. “Rhum Anglais” it reads, and “1830.”

He nods his head at you to do the honors.  You peel the wax off the top, and twist out the cork, giving it a sniff.  Smells like rum, but with a hint of something tropical, like coconut maybe.  You tip it up and take a small sip, in case it’s battery acid or something.  But the feel in your mouth is like any other strong alcohol.  You swallow.  It takes your breath for a moment, and you feel as much as taste the coconut and limes, or maybe, pomegranates.

The kick isn’t bad. It’s alcohol all right, and you pass it to him.  He drinks, a long pull, like he knows all about this shit.  Then he passes it back to you.  So you take a longer pull, and cough as the fumes attack your airway.

You’re still coughing when your girlfriend shows up.  She’s changed into the slinky red dress she brought for the dinner.  She’s carrying her shoes, and already yelling as she comes up on the both of you.

Why didn’t you pound his ass, she’s cawing.  What kind of pussy are you?  You’re drinking with him?  You’re fucking drinking with him?  Telling stories about me?  What a couple of fucks, she said.  I’m not worth anything to either of you shits?  I’m not worth at least one of you having the balls to beat the shit out of the other?

You look over at the guy and he’s like stunned, but he’s not looking up at her yelling at the two of you.  No, he’s looking at her legs.  He isn’t paying any attention to what she’s saying.

He does that whistle-click thing, sounding like a question, and you say yes, that’s her, and you nod, in case he doesn’t understand what you’re actually saying.

What the fuck, she says, you have your own secret boys’ club language?  Keep out the fucking girls?  Well, both you fucks can drown out here.  She turns and stomps off back into the night, which is hard to do in sand, and she heads for the resort.

Still looking at him, you can tell, whether he understood the words or not, he knows she was ripping him a new one, and it broke him up, looking like he’s lost the family dog or something.

You hand him the bottle again, and he takes another slug off it.

He continues to stare out over the water, like he can’t believe something so wonderful could happen to him and then blow up like that.  Every guy must get that look, no matter where they’re from.

He hands the bottle back, and you take another hit, but only a sip this time, because he looks like he’s really going to need it more than you.

Thinking of what she said, you realize you are not the guy she’s looking for.  Maybe she was looking for him, because he’s small, better muscled than you are, and gave her fantastic sex.

Should you have pounded this guy?  Maybe, but it doesn’t seem like he was trying to score on her.  He was really slammed hard, the way it seemed he felt about her.  You have to admit, you’re not sure you feel like that about her.  Not just because she called you a pussy, but maybe other things.  Which, you’re not going to think about right now.

You hand the bottle back to him. But he shakes his head and whistle-clicks something which you take for she’s not worth it and you have to agree.  You would not want to be drinking and swimming in this surf, tail or no tail.   The wavelets are reaching you both under the ass, but the guy still sits in the water, distracted.

Not sure what to do, there being nothing to say, you take your girlfriend’s picture out of your wallet—certainly won’t need that anymore—and reach over to hand it to the guy.  You tell him it’s laminated, but you can’t think of any charade move that would explain what that means. 

He holds it up to the moonlight to see it better, and realizes who it is.  He gives out with a long, low chirp.  It’s the saddest fucking chirp you’ve ever heard.  He holds the picture to his forehead, like he’s imprinting it on his brain.  Then he spins and dives back into the water, heading out to sea.  In less than a few seconds you see the fluke break the surface way the hell out, and you wish you could swim like that, but you’d rather not wear the tail to do it.

Then you don’t see anything, and you figure he’s gone.  But he left his rum.  You’re pretty sure he’s not likely to drown out there.

A light beam plays along the quay.  The overnight beach patrol.  They call out to you, reminding you the quay isn’t safe after dark.  They ask if you need a ride back to the resort.  You thank them and tell them you’ll walk.  They motor off and you take large strides, against the suck of the sand, keen to get back.

You figure you’ve got another two days to kill before your airline tickets are good for the trip home.  You don’t know what you’ll say to your girlfriend.  You don’t know what she’ll tell the other couples. It’s shitty, but you don’t feel all that bad.  It’s not just the rum.  Fucking rum that’s over two hundred years old.

Then about halfway back to the resort, you hear that whistle-clicking sound, like a seaman hailing from the sea.  You see the guy, and he does that porpoise thing.  He’s back in close, but only as far as waist deep, he won’t come up onto the sand.  He holds out something to you, so you wade in.

It’s a conch shell.  A big one.  He hands it to you.  You thank him.  Something in exchange for the picture, maybe?  You lost a girlfriend but you go home with a honking big conch shell and a bottle of antique rum.

You back out of the water and he twists into a dive back out to sea, giving a quick flap of his fluke, and then he’s gone. 

You watch for a long while, and then, way way out, where the moonlight brightens the horizon, you see the fluke again.  You guess it’s him, and you wave goodbye.  In case he can see.  You don’t see anything else.  You hope there’s a boat or something waiting for him.

You continue on back to the resort.

Sitting in the lounge, alone, drinking straight coffee, you study the conch shell, thinking how cool it will look on your desk.

You hold the conch up to your ear, listening for the sea.

Mermaid’s telephone, said the bartender.  A thought strikes you.  You ask him if he believes in mermaids.

I’d better, he laughed, pointing out at the poolside bar, lit but empty.  Right, right, and you laugh, too.

You thought about telling what you saw, but people would think you’re a moron.  A jealous and vindictive moron.  Besides, why betray another guy’s heartbreak, even if he might be a whole other species.  More especially, why give your girlfriend—your ex-girlfriend—one more thing to talk shit about you?

There’s a dribble of water against your cheek so you turn it sideways to let it pour out.  There’s a ting of coins landing on the bar.  Gold coins. You stare at them for a good long moment, then sweep them up and count them.  Seven.  Seven gold coins.  You hold one up in the pinpoint of microlight piercing the bar’s atmospheric dark.  Spanish gold coins.  Beautiful.  Glittering.

You stack them up and clink them in a pile.

Your ex-girlfriend was wrong.  Her picture alone was worth at least seven Spanish gold doubloons to somebody out there. 

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