June 12, 2019KR OnlineFiction

Fake Mermaid

Sometimes she feels like a third gender—preferring primary colors to pastels, the radio to singing. At least she’s all mermaid: never gets tired of swimming, hates the thought of socks.
     —Matthea Harvey, “The Straightforward Mermaid”

They were packing up the car to drive to Madison, where Luna had a mermaid gig, when Noah said, “I think maybe it’s time we started thinking about talking more seriously about possibly having a baby.”

He was laying out Luna’s twenty-five-pound silicone tail on the backseat with a tenderness that testified to his parental potential, folding over the limp points of its wide, ornate monofin, stuffing a pool noodle into the scaled bodice to preserve its form. The tail was custom fit to Luna’s body, covered in iridescent orange and gold scales, and it had cost fifteen hundred dollars—Noah’s dollars. A web developer and designer who worked mostly from home, he could afford what Luna—parttime mermaid and author of two failed novels—could not, helping her chisel away at her mountain of student loan debt, springing for her tail, and, two weeks ago, an engagement ring that she had somehow not seen coming and that she twisted off in her sleep, her first night wearing it, waking up in a panic to find the stone sleep-shoved beneath her pillow.

Luna stuffed her inflatable clam shell into the trunk, then climbed into the passenger seat. She wore swimsuit bottoms underneath a pair of gray yoga pants and a copper, clam-shell bra with a string of fake pearls twisted through one strap. She flipped down the mirror, touched up her waterproof eyeshadow. Brushed mascara onto lashes, combing out clumps. Suggested they go for lobster rolls after the party, changing the subject, evading. She was hungry already, and thirsty, but it was an hour’s drive to their destination—the home of a woman named Vida Heathershorne, who had booked the Mermaid Luna online for her daughter’s fifth birthday party—and her lower half would be sheathed in skintight silicone for another hour and a half once they got there, so she did not drink.

She unfolded the paper copy of Vida Heathershorne’s reservation and read: Daughter named Ava Rose, house with an in-ground pool on Long Island Sound, nine children RSVPed. A typical gig, no special requests, paid in full. Luna would be presented to Ava Rose on the inflatable clam shell, would swim with her and the other children, apply glitter tattoos to their arms and legs, and hand out sparkly mesh pouches in which the children would collect plastic gemstones that Luna scattered on the pool’s tiled stairs and on the floor of its shallow end.

For a while she and Noah drove in chummy silence through a chaos of green foliage. This was what Luna had always loved best about being with Noah: the way they could share silence. They rarely argued; he was thoroughly house-trained, cooked, cleaned. With him there was none of the combat and debate that had defined Luna’s last serious relationship (college, a woman named Shay, a volcanic four years of heat and periodic eruption), just smooth swimming. The ring had seemed to glide onto her finger without effort or ceremony as if deposited there by the tide, and another woman in Luna’s position, a better woman, might certainly have declared herself ready for a family.

Noah tried again. “Seriously, Lu. Let’s make a baby.”

Luna winced. Make a baby—she pictured an infant mashed together from papier-mâché or molded from a heap of sweaty, dead-gray clay, misshapen, grotesque. Or an origami baby, all sharp edges and potential paper cuts, or one sewn, Frankensteinish, and stuffed with down and cotton like a quilt, stray innards escaping white and hairy through holes in fabric. He knew she disliked the expression, that and the word “trying” when applied to sex; she had no interest in effortful intercourse, and she’d told him so. When they met, four years ago, she had unloaded her eccentricities onto him, as he had onto her, and he had accepted them gladly. But he was older, forty to her thirty-one, his biological clock set to another time zone. That the idea of reproductive sex discomfited her so made Luna wonder, not for the first time, if she’d gotten herself wrong—if she did not belong with a man.

But no—she loved Noah. And not just platonically; she desired him; she loved his body, the six determined little hairs that populated his otherwise bare chest, his odd brand of humble vanity, the approving nod he gave each morning after inspecting himself in the bathroom mirror. He was not one to brag and would never confess to the steady, low-volume sense of satisfaction she knew he derived from his appearance except for a few stray, understatedly arrogant observations in dressing rooms: I guess I look really good. She loved his strange, near narcoleptic gift for sleep, how he’d glide out of consciousness in the oddest places—on a rock-strewn shore with his head on a block of granite, on the chair swing ride at the fair. She loved their quiet, companionable rapport, how it extended into the marine world she loved, how he’d go anywhere with her, on land or underwater; she loved that he dove with her, off the New England coast and on trips to tropical waters, spearing lionfish with a pole spear in scuba gear, reaching out with a gloved hand to pass her a perfect sand dollar. Part of her had even come to love the sense of contented boredom she’d developed at home with him in recent months and of which she became conscious one day, sitting at her window watching him mow the lawn, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, the same number of strides each way. Perhaps, she thought, this was happiness, this pleasantish, yellow-winged numbness, and she should catch it and cage it to keep it from flying away. Or perhaps it was death, creeping toward her, stealthy hypnotist—that back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, lulling her to sleep.

“I know, I know,” he said now, “you don’t like the phrase. But what about the idea?”

Luna closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep, though they’d been open when he spoke to her, and she knew he knew. He had sprung these questions on her before; it was his right. She had given back maybes, and he’d dropped the subject. What had made it rise again? What was different now? She knew: the ring.

“You’re quiet today,” he said, and reached over and cupped her left clam shell. She shrugged, crossed her legs, leaned close to the window glass and watched her reflection there, how it seemed to take in everything she passed, the green world blurring, passing through her like water. She opened her mouth and watched it rush in.

In Madison, they crawled along the winding, Soundside Road at twenty miles an hour, passing the Beach Club, families in white tennis shoes walking along the shoulderless road with the handles of rackets poking out of backpacks, couples on tandem bikes pedaling in sync. Past the Beach Club the Sound reached right up to the seawall along the road, the water sun-spotted and crowded with boats. Noah took a left off Middle Beach Road and stopped in front of a massive house hugged by a stately wraparound porch and sided in whitewashed clapboard. Expensive-looking cars crowded the street and lawn, and a single parking spot stood available in a paved parking area behind the house, a hand-painted sign marking it “Reserved for Mermaid!” Beyond the parking area a gate in a literal white picket fence stood open, leading to the pool, the woodwind din of children’s voices. The fence was draped with a colorful banner—“LET’S SHELLEBRATE!”—made of cutout letters dangling from breeze-blown twine, pink-orange scallop shells standing in for the apostrophe and the dot on the exclamation mark.

“Can you believe people live like this?” Noah marveled at the house with a naked admiration that embarrassed Luna. He took off for the pool to meet Vida Heathershorne, plug in the inflatable clam shell, and receive instructions for where Luna should change, and she knew he would praise the house to its owner, earnest, unbegrudgingly deferential.

“It’s two women,” he said when he returned. “The parents.”

He always pointed this out to her, as if she’d want to identify all the other women out there capable of loving other women, so that she might high-five them. Luna might not have been enough of a lesbian for her ex, Shay, but at times she had been too much of one for Noah, who in the early days of their relationship used to ask her obsessively whether she thought that women they encountered on sidewalks, at neighboring tables in restaurants, on beaches, in shopping malls, were attractive. She had replied that she could ask him the same question, but didn’t, and he’d responded, with a shrug, It’s different.

And sometimes in bed he would pull her sexual history into their lovemaking, panting out references to her past acts and partners. Underneath his insecurity, it seemed, was a half-formed fetish that he could acknowledge only within a narrow, five- or ten-minute window before climax, when he was a safe enough distance from his pre- and postcoital standards of decorum to ignore them. She let him have it.

Vida Heathershorne offered them access to a small backyard shed where they went now, Noah carrying Luna’s tail over his shoulder. Inside, he spread a yoga mat and an old towel on the floor, and Luna went to work putting on her tail. She slipped on a pair of neoprene socks, hating the way she knew they’d feel once damp with sweat and water inside her fin, but deeming them necessary to prevent blisters. She lubed her legs with coconut oil, folded down the top of the tail, and sat on the yoga mat, pulling the tight material up to her knees, then her thighs, the silicone sticking and sucking. She lay on her back and pulled and wormed herself into the tail, shimmying its top up to her belly button. Ten minutes later she was finished, sweating, and she lay still for a moment, recovering, before Noah offered his hand and pulled her vertical. She could stand but not walk, feet in fin. He counted to three, she gave a little hop, and he lifted her into his arms and carried her toward the pool.

“Remember to smile,” he said into her ear. He reminded her at every appearance, ever since one of Luna’s clients complained to him that Luna had not smiled often or enthusiastically enough while working at her child’s party.

“I just thought the mermaid was a little . . . morose,” the woman had grumbled when she paid Noah, and he refunded her a small percentage of Luna’s pay. Later Luna and Noah argued about the refund and about his executive decision to issue it, and it was still a sore spot between them—how quickly he had conceded, how readily he’d agreed to the regulation of Luna’s emotional expression, the movements of her facial muscles, the choreography of her performance of piscine glee. For her, mermaiding was about the swimming, about fantasy, about forgetting her body, about transformation. That children should be present to witness her transcendent transfiguration was purely an accident of capitalism. She’d done some adult parties, some mermaid bartending, pouring champagne poolside, but had sworn it off after a few too many uncomfortable encounters and lewd, inebriated inquiries (“Baby, where’s the hole in that tail?”). She enjoyed her status as sexy but sexless, alluring but unfuckable, but she preferred to contemplate it in contented solitude, not to have it up for discussion by strangers who found it maddening. What enjoyment she took from working with kids stemmed largely from the fact that they did not think too much about it.

This party seemed straight out of a parenting magazine, an effervescent onslaught of energy and color, its aquatic theme carried out with an almost pathological diligence. Kids in swimsuits wore sequined party hats in the shape of mermaid tails. On the pool deck, shaded by an enormous tilted umbrella, a table was clothed in neon pink, draped with nylon fishing net and loaded with treats: tiny cookie sandwiches made to look like clam shells, open-mouthed and filled with purple frosting and silvery-white icing pearls; a sand-castle cake with frosting coated in cinnamon sugar and studded with decorative white chocolate seashells; clear bowls full of gummy fish; sticks of pink, purple, and orange rock candy in a jar labeled CORAL. And, for the adults, pasta salad made of shell noodles with wilted spinach and arugula “seaweed.” Luna took all this in as Noah carried her past, swiping a gummy fish from a bowl and sucking it, sweet and pleasantly sun-softened, melting in the heat despite the shade. Tucked out of sight between two hydrangea bushes, a bubble machine pumped furiously, sending a steady stream of soapy orbs into the air around Luna’s constantly inflating shell, its motor humming; children chased the bubbles, crazed, amid their parents’ cries not to run by the pool, popping them and spattering the pavement with oily, rainbowed puddles, then flocking toward Luna as they one by one caught sight of her—a mermaid! A real, live mermaid!

Noah placed Luna in the blown-up clam shell’s hollow center, on a white plastic stool like a giant ice cube, and the children bombarded her with questions she knew she’d have to answer once she was comfortably situated, autographing party favors in purple glitter pen—What does seaweed taste like? Can you do magic? How long can you stay out of water? Then the crowd of children parted and the birthday girl, Ava Rose, suntanned and glittering in a tiny pink bikini top and a ruffled, metallic green bottom bearing a pattern of scales, a sort of mini-mermaid skort, was brought forward, flanked on either side by two women: on the left, a stranger, hair prematurely gray with a silver streak in front in movie-star sunglasses and a wide-brimmed straw hat, body tall and slim in a pinstriped romper; and on the right, hatless in bland khaki shorts, Birkenstocks, and a loose-fitting, navy scoop-neck tank, bra straps showing, arms freckled as if sprayed with windblown grains of sand, squinting in the sun, was Shay. Luna’s first love.

Oh God, oh God—no word for her horror, no fairy tale twisted enough to capture it. Ava Rose held on to her mothers’ hands, Vida Heathershorne fawning over the Mermaid Luna, oblivious—how shiny her hair, how sparkly her tail!—and Noah looked on from a distance, oblivious, and Shay turned red as a steamed lobster, and Luna smiled, the muscles in her face trembling and resisting, head full of echoes, heart racing, resting her hands on her scaled lap so the shaking wouldn’t show, and a child pushed past Ava Rose, slapped a hand down onto Luna’s tail, and demanded, “How do you pee?”

• •

They’d met at Fairfield, where Shay was a sullen, prelaw legacy student, young for a freshman, having skipped a grade in high school, and Luna, a first-generation tabula rasa with no major and no clue. As a student Shay was driven, disciplined to the point of rigidity, and given to a kind of scholarly self-flagellation; she could accept nothing less than perfection from herself or from the rest of the world. As such she was perpetually disappointed in them both, and her resulting rage was general, constant, and red-hot.

Luna had been drawn to that rage, in awe of Shay, who knew where she stood on everything, who ranted about conflicts in the Middle East and the Darfur genocide and systemic racism and patriarchy, and who sometimes wept in her sleep, overcome. Her dreams were littered with visions of failure and tragedy, from forgotten exams and missed first days of class to dropped bombs, and she slept shallowly, thrashing about, clobbering Luna with flailing limbs. Luna had loved pressing placating thumbs into the knots in Shay’s tense shoulders every evening and morning, kneading. Shay was her compass, and Luna felt special, skilled, for having drilled through the igneous shell of her anger and into the magmatic softness beneath.

Their senior year they moved together, along with a few fellow students, into an off-campus house two blocks from Long Island Sound. Luna got a job making lobster rolls at the Lazy Lobster, living off leftover bisque and packets of oyster crackers, Shay began applying to law schools, and they adopted a puppy that Shay later took with her to New Haven, a smash-faced fart factory who slept curled at the foot of their bed, snoring. After three blissful years, their final one together was tempestuous, with things beginning to unravel when Luna confessed an attraction to one of the men in the house, and Shay dug out that old, dull blade of a line—Choose a side—and stabbed Luna with it.

They had both been surprised to discover that Luna could fight back. No more Shay’s starry-eyed understudy, she had watched and learned; she had reshaped herself in Shay’s image. Their fights were long and strenuous, their arguments sophisticated—Shay the student of law, Luna the student of Shay—and the list of charges leveled between sides was lengthy and ever-growing: Luna’s wandering eye and fluid sense of self (which Shay conceived of as noncommittal shallowness), her lack of ambition, her obsession with words and tendency to prioritize language over action, Shay’s domineering streak, her dogmatic purism on matters of sexuality and love (which Luna held was drably conventional, reductive). Their troubles peaked during an argument on a friend’s boat, when Luna, incensed, exhausted, dove from the deck and into the Sound in sundress and shoes.

She had taken a diving class and knew some of what to expect, though without gear or a plan the experience was far from any she’d had before. She had begun to build up her CO₂ tolerance, to train her body not to give in to the panic-inducing accumulation of carbon dioxide in her system. She had learned to manage and manipulate the desperation of long-held breath, to let her body find oxygen elsewhere, accessing myoglobin in muscle, hemoglobin in blood. In her diving class she had submerged her face in a bowl of ice water while wearing a heart monitor to activate her mammalian dive reflex, and felt her heart rate plummet. Without weights or fins, she knew, she would not sink too far, but she had not prepared for her dive properly, lacking equipment and patience, going overboard in a moment of passion. She shed her sandals and kicked until she couldn’t anymore, felt a current carry her, grew afraid. Lightheadedness set in. Her diaphragm contracted in desperate hiccups. She kept her eyes closed, as if by doing so she could trick her body into believing she was still above water, that there was no need to panic.

When she came up, she almost sank from fatigue and fear. She could hear Shay screaming on the boat. Shay took off one shoe, then the other, and threw them into the Sound; they plopped stupidly, one several yards in front of Luna, the other several to the right, and sank. Someone tossed Luna a buoy, and she dog-paddled weakly toward it, grabbed on, and was reeled back to the boat like a caught tuna, shaking, miserable and exhilarated and alive. She rode back to shore in Shay’s arms, her head against Shay’s chest, the boat’s owner apoplectic. At the time she thought her desperate act could save them, and for a few days, they clung to each other in gratitude and fear, afraid to move; but the dive had been a death throe rather than a turning point, and once she recognized this, Luna let go. She was not a social media user, and they had not kept in touch in the nine years since Shay left for Yale Law School and Luna took a copyediting job in Hartford, then moved to Boston for her MFA before returning to Connecticut with Noah. She had heard from a mutual friend several years back that Shay had gotten engaged to someone she met at Yale, but she had not asked for details.

Now here she was, the woman, Vida Heathershorne—the good lesbian, the lawyer, the high-achieving WASP on holiday, moving through children and parents handing out cups of blue Jell-O, Shay pacing in the background, back and forth, back and forth. Luna finished greeting the children, and Noah lifted her and perched her on the edge of the pool.

“What’s wrong?” he whispered. “You’re pale as a ghost.”

But words wouldn’t come, her tongue wouldn’t work, and what could she say if it did? She shook her head—nothing’s wrong—and slid into the water gratefully, as if it were opaque and could conceal her. Children bellyslapped and cannonballed into the pool around her, but for one sweet second she kept her eyes squeezed shut and imagined them away—imagined pool as lagoon, cement walls as atoll, swapped seawater for city water, plankton and brine for chlorine. Then she felt a child grab onto her, and she opened her eyes, put on her smile, felt the chlorine burn. Her vision blurred. She waved to the shapes and streaks of the children underwater, in goggles to protect their eyes from the chlorine that stung her own; she blew bubble rings, she turned underwater spins, she rolled her body in a wave and propelled herself across the pool, the power starting in her core and hips and flowing down her legs, through her tail. She stood on her hands and let her tail flip up out of the water, her ankles throbbing from the weight of the fin. She smiled underwater, and she smiled when she surfaced, at last, having mastered the art of rising from the pool with her head tilted back so that her hair was sleek and sightly and not a tangled mess before her face.

Up for breath, she studied Vida. Could Shay be happy here, with her, living in this fairy tale? Noah was nothing like Shay, but Vida was nothing like Luna, either; it did not seem to Luna any more implausible that she should have fallen for Noah than that Shay should have fallen for this breezy, privileged, party-planning extrovert. But she could remove gender from the equation, consider chemistry only in terms of temperament and personality; Shay couldn’t. Seeing Luna flirt with their male housemate all those years ago, Shay had been enraged, felt betrayed—not just because Luna could want someone else, but because she could want a man. Ever a purist, Shay accused Luna of taking advantage of her, playing at gay in order to be able to see and sell herself as “interesting”—as if Shay and the time they’d spent together had been only some great experiment, cynically conducted, and not the greatest, most transformative love of Luna’s life. At other times Shay went the opposite route, belittling Luna’s attraction to the man, calling it a game, insisting that through it Luna was attempting to quash or deny her homosexuality out of fear of living with its social consequences.

Gay or straight, reality or fantasy, woman or fish: Choose a side. She could see Shay watching her from a shaded chair by the table of clam cookies, fanning herself with a sealed birthday card, and her humiliation was a lead weight. It had not been true that Luna had no ambition, only that it had been private, and that it had not come to fruition. She had imagined Shay picking one of her books off a shelf and stroking its cover with awe and approval. She had imagined critics praising her fresh, bold voice; she had imagined that people would care what she had to say and that she was capable of saying it well, and she had been wrong. She sat on one of the pool’s shallow steps, children hanging from her arms and stroking her tail, and felt herself begin again to work the ring on and off her finger, twisting and pulling and pushing it back on, fighting off a leg cramp from pointing her toes for so long, a feeling like knives in her calves.

Noah handed her the box of fake jewels. Then, to kill time, he approached Shay and struck up a conversation, still oblivious, out of Luna’s earshot. Her heart hiccupped. She propped an elbow on the side of the pool as the kids clustered around her like hungry minnows, and she ordered them to the edge of the pool to wait while she scattered the gemstones through the water, one eye on Noah and Shay. When she was finished, the children dove and shouted all around her, shrieking with demented joy, fighting over pieces of plastic, and she twisted her ring, twisted, pulled, twisted, until it slipped from her fingers and onto the floor of the pool.

When she dove to retrieve it, distracted, distraught, she bonked heads with a towheaded girl who immediately began to wail. She tried to comfort the girl, smiling, eyes darting back and forth between the floor of the pool where her diamond bounced and tumbled and the child’s open-mouthed howls, her gullet like the long, slick body of an eel.

Vida and Shay rushed to placate the crying child. Vida helped her up out of the water, took her hand, and led her away toward the snack table. Luna studied Shay’s legs and thought without trying of licking them, one at a time, bottom to top. A hot ache spread through her body. Shay was close enough to touch; Luna should say something, she knew. But what?

The breathless, goggled figure of Ava Rose bobbed up between them.

“Look what I got!” the girl gasped, panting. “Mommy, look!”

She grabbed the pool’s edge, legs still kicking, hair matted, her pouch full of treasures cinched around her wrist. She held out a hand toward Shay. In her palm, twinkling, was Luna’s engagement ring. Luna could see Noah in the distance, witnessing everything.

Shay bent and took the ring from Ava Rose. She examined it conspicuously, without embarrassment, then closed it in her fist.

“I think that’s Mermaid Luna’s magic ring,” she said. “We better give it back.”

She slipped off her Birkenstocks and sat down, dipped her bare feet in the water. She held out her hand for Luna to collect the ring from her palm, now open like an oyster with the prize inside gleaming.

“Is that him?” she asked, tilting her head toward Noah. “He seems nice.”

Luna managed a half smile. Her throat was dry and sore.

“Second thoughts, huh,” Shay said. “Well, you’ll land on your feet either way.”

Ironic, under the circumstances. Luna propped her elbows poolside, slid the diamond back onto her finger, and looked down at her monofin meaningfully.

Shay smiled and kicked her feet, her lovely legs swinging, water rolling off her smooth skin like mercury. “I always envied you, you know. How you jumped off that boat because you’d had it with me. How you could just . . . swim away.”

Luna stared through the slats in the white picket fence, past the yard and the road to the Sound beyond. A heavy cloud lurched over the sun, repainting the water, azure to iron. And with the change of light she felt herself slip into the memory of another gray day, an afternoon at the shore, their first spring together. The tide had pushed up a wall of shells, and they walked along a narrow strip of beach at low tide intertwined, arms around hips and necks and shoulders like tangles of kelp, crunching shells beneath their feet, every now and then bending together to collect translucent orange jingle shells, the kind nicknamed “mermaid’s toenails.” Senseless with love, mute and insulated, not feeling the cold wind that took their words when they tried to speak, Luna put her shells, paper-thin and sun-hued, in Shay’s coat pockets, and Shay put hers in Luna’s. Shay’s pockets were warm caves at her waist, and Luna let her hands linger there, tingling.

That was the day they found the breast. Luna knelt to retrieve what she thought was a particularly vivid jingle shell, a more opaque orange than others of its kind, and found that it was slippery and spongy and had a strange kind of hump in its middle. A nipple. It was a prosthetic silicone breast form, washed up and buried to the nipple in a mound of shells. They passed it back and forth in cold hands, smooth and rubbery and realistic, its underside wrinkled, and made up stories about how it came to be lost, with Luna offering the explanation that it was a mermaid’s breast.

“A mermaid’s breast!” Shay cried, delighted, then, by Luna’s every utterance. She wiped a clump of wet sand from the surface of the breast. Then she wound up and hurled it back into the Sound, to be swallowed, digested, and pushed out again, later.

“You are a delight,” Shay said, pulling Luna’s hands back into her pockets and wrapping her arms around her. “You are a dream.” When she kissed Luna, their cold noses pressed against each other, Shay pulled up the hood on her oversized jacket to cover both their heads, and the wind howled, the tide rose and licked at their feet, the shells rattled like coins in the banks of their pockets, and Shay kept repeating, looking at Luna like she’d just been born, like they’d both just been born, “Who are you? What are you? How can you be real?”

Oh, to just swim away. How could Shay have it all so wrong? Luna stared at the flat, steely bar of the Sound with a merperson’s longing. How she’d love to kick forever toward that gray horizon, to become the foam on the crest of the waves. But first she would need someone—Noah, Shay—to lift her in their arms, to carry her limp and heavy like a sack of rice to the shore, deposit her on the sand, and then let go. Without legs, she could not get there on her own.

She felt a tap on her shoulder, followed by an impatient tug on her hair. She turned around. It was the birthday girl, upper body flopped over a pool noodle, wiggling a wormy little finger, beckoning Luna closer.

“I have to tell you something,” said Ava Rose.

Luna leaned in, inspecting the girl, searching her face for signs of Shay—shape of lips, color of hair, curve of jaw—and finding none. Had she been in Shay’s body, this child pinching a pool noodle with her armpits, this child cupping her hands around the conch of Luna’s listening ear?

Ava Rose leaned close, her breath hot and sweet. “I know you’re fake,” she whispered, and cackled like a witch and swam away.

Photo of Ashley Wurzbacher
Ashley Wurzbacher holds a PhD from the University of Houston and an MFA from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She teaches creative writing at the University of Montevallo. Her work has appeared in the Colorado Review, Prairie Schooner, Iowa Review, Cincinnati Review, Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere. Her debut short story collection, Happy Like This, is the winner of the 2019 John Simmons Short Fiction Award and is forthcoming this fall from the University of Iowa Press. She is grateful to the I-Park International Artists-in-Residence Program for the time and space to write this story.