MERMAID SOUP • by Joy Kennedy-O’Neill

Come on in, honey, it’s almost ready. Cross my palms with silver, as the gypsies used to say. There’s a card reader over on the counter, right by the candles. No, over there… by the dried monkey heads. They bother you? Pretend they’re hairy coconuts with eyes. They ain’t gonna bite.

Now come over here and smell this. What, you thought there’d be a cauldron? Honey, this is a genuine Calphalon hard-aluminum stock pot. Only the best for my clients.

Take a deep breath. Smell that? I know, smells like low tide under a full moon. If you could stick your ear in this pot you’d hear the ocean. Ah, don’t cry. He took you to the beach once? Kissed you on a sand dune? Well that’s sweet. It’ll all happen again, after he takes a sip of this.

Did you know people used to grind up white rhinoceros horns for this recipe? Horn, horney. Don’t take an idiot to see that connection, but now that the white rhinos are grazing with the buffalo and the ranchers are breeding them like rabbits for the low-fat meat, nobody wants the horns anymore. Folks say they don’t work the same. Thank god for the hikers who found those Yeti caves in Nepal. The fur stinks to high heaven but it works in a pinch. Anyway, it’s a shame that nobody wants rhino horn now cause it was so easy to work with. They say that once a Sasquatch finally gets caught up in the Northwest they’ll have a cure for baldness.  I got plenty of clients already lining up for that one.

Now the trick with mermaid is that it’s hard to get fresh, but I got a dealer out in Freeport. Nothing like mermaid for a love potion these days. I heard the National Geographic channel say they got hearts with an extra chamber. Can’t tell me that ain’t symbolic!  And they hold grudges longer than a one-eyed witch. Just ask those PETA demonstrators, may they rest in peace. Guess we all look alike to mermaids. Maybe they ain’t the smartest but aren’t they beautiful? And stronger than a bear on steroids. I’ll be skimming the scales off the top of this soup in a sec. They’ll make fool-proof beauty serums and strength charms. That’s the thing about a pound of mermaid; you don’t waste an ounce.

Now listen carefully. You both need to eat the soup. Light a couple of candles and get some wine. It’s gonna taste a lot like gazpacho with a little tuna and sea salt. Wine? I don’t know, red I guess, but who cares? Once you both finish your bowls… bam! True love again. Hand me that skimmer, will you? Pretty ring, by the way. Emeralds? Oh, three for each kid? See, he was sweet to you once.  Even remembered your anniversary. Shows he has some potential. The soup will go down sweeter and make my job a lot easier.

I hear you. Kids sure do make complications. My sister is about to lose her mind ’cause my sixteen-year-old niece ran off to Romania to be a unicorn hunter. Honestly, these days every girl wants to be either a unicorn hunter or a fairy catcher. Please.  Fairies bite like a bitch and if you ask me, that herd of unicorns the old NASA satellites found is really just full of degenerated half-breeds. They look like cross-eyed goats with bad attitudes but the horn… still magic! Nice to know all the old stories were true.  These are exciting times, eh? Anyway, just yesterday she called me begging for plane fare back because she flunked the training.  Said she wasn’t “stealthy” enough. I said, honey, who are you fooling? You ain’t a virgin! When she comes back I’m going to give her a potion to help that self-delusion of hers.

What are you crying for again? He was your first? Oh, honey, are you sure you don’t want to get out there and try some other fish in the sea? No pun intended. You’re an attractive woman, I bet you got lots of men eying you. You never know what’s been out there right under your nose the whole time. Just a question.

Okay, this is ready. What, you thought I was going to put it a fancy bottle like the love potions? Tupperware is good enough for soup, honey. But listen, when you’re done, don’t wash and keep it. Throw it away. You’ll never be able to clean it. Just one microscopic scale left inside and bam! Leftover mermaid soup will turn you into a hag, that’s for sure. They say that if the scientists ever find the Loch Ness Monster, we’ll have an anti-aging cure but if you ask me, they’re just chasing their tails out there in Scotland. There’s no way that thing exists. Anyway, it’s super hard to cure hag-dom, so be careful. Eat the soup then toss everything — pot, bowls, and spoons. Don’t look back.

Why so scared? If you follow the instructions you’ll be fine. I’m not one of those curenderas who make people sick just so they come back for a fix. I was a young woman once too. I was married. I know what it feels like to lose love, just like sand slipping between your fingers. The loneliness will settle over you like the depths of the deep blue sea — all cold and horrible! That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I help the people I help.

Now stop your sniffling, take the soup, and go home. Light those candles. Put on something sexy. Make him notice you again. Love is rare! It’s magic. There’s nothing like it in the world! We gotta keep it alive, whether by hook or crook. And it’s all up to us, ‘cause nobody appreciates rare things any more.

Joy Kennedy-O’Neill teaches composition at a small college on the Gulf Coast. Her works have appeared in Strange Horizons, Western American Literature, and collections such as Zombies: MORE Recent Dead by Prime Books.

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