“Slow Waves,” a short story by Sarah Jean Alexander

Slow Waves
By Sarah Jean Alexander

Illustration by Carabella Sands
(From Black Candies: See Through)

10-14-2013 014807PM

I added a cup of chopped carrots and onions to the pot and stirred the soup. Jack walked over and took the wooden stirrer from my hand. He lifted a spoonful to his mouth, blew on it for a few seconds, and tasted it.

“Okay, add the beans.”

I picked at a bit of dead skin that was peeling off underneath my thumbnail.

“Are you sure it has to have beans?”

“Yes. That’s the only ingredient that is actually necessary.”

I stirred the soup again.

“I know, but these beans were really expensive.”

“We’ll make it back. We’ll make even more. We’ll make a thousand times what you paid for those beans.”

He touched the braid in my hair and followed it down the center of my back. He gently pressed his fingertips into my skin where the braid ended and my lower back began, then walked out of the room. I thought, “I believe what he says about the beans,” and continued to stir, adding pepper and salt and bay leaves and rosemary and thyme.

Jack came back into the kitchen a little while later with my jacket, scarf and knit hat. I dressed while he poured the small pot of bean soup into a black thermos. He took a hand painted ceramic bowl from the cupboard and placed it on the counter next to me. I picked it up and we walked out of the front door, bowl and thermos in tow.

The night was empty and quiet. We walked against the wind, our faces down to keep bits of twigs and leaves from blowing into our eyes. After a while, we reached the sand dunes and climbed over them towards the pier, about a half mile in the distance. The wind had blown plastic bags and soda cans into the sea, and now they dotted the shoreline and bobbed against each wave. I felt angry about trash being so near to the ocean and tried expressing this to Jack but he told me I had to be quiet or none of this would work. I wanted everything to work so I stopped talking. The moon glittered off the aluminum cans, and I watched the trash out of the sides of my eyes and kept walking towards the pier.

Jack came to a stop a few feet before the pier and took the ceramic bowl from me. He pushed it into the sand so that the top was almost level with the rest of the beach. He untwisted the thermos and looked at me.

“Are you scared?”

I shook my head.


Jack poured the bean soup into the bowl and recapped the thermos. He reached for my hand and we jogged to the end of the pier. Jack carefully leaned over the edge and watched small waves lap against the wooden posts. They were decorated with seaweed. The water was black.

I tucked my knees under my chin, hugged my legs, and watched Jack watch the water. He looked back at me and asked again if I was scared. I shook my head a second time. He smiled and squatted in front of me. He put his hands on my shoulder and said, “It’s okay if you are, but you shouldn’t be.”

“I’m not scared.”

Jack kissed my forehead and I felt his hands tighten on my shoulders. “There,” he said, barely audible. “There’s one.”

A head surfaced above the small black waves near the end of the pier. Its dark hair flowed delicately, back and forth and back and forth, as the head moved closer to the shore. A thin neck appeared, almost translucent in the moonlight.

I had never seen a mermaid before. It was not beautiful. It was about half my size, with glowing skin and a black tail. When it reached the sand, it struggled to move outside of the water, its eyes on the bowl of bean soup. Jack began inching back towards the bowl as well, making sure to remain unseen by the mermaid. I turned to face the bowl, still hugging my knees, watching everything quietly converge.

The mermaid rested on its elbows, lowered its head over the side of the bowl, and lapped at the bean soup like a tired puppy. Its hair was twice the length of its body and drying quickly now that it was on land. Everything but its skin was a dark shade of green and gray—the mermaid seemed to be in competition with the night sky and the moon. Watching it made me feel heavy. I wanted to feel my hands on the sand, inching closer to the bowl. I wanted the mermaid to watch me watching it.

Jack stood a few feet behind the mermaid as it ate. The only things I could hear were the slow waves and the mouth movements of bean soup and tongue and teeth. Then came Jack’s quick breath. His foot pushed into the sand and I saw his arm go up and I saw the long knife in his hand and I closed my eyes.

I opened them and looked at my knees. My shoes. The wooden planks under my feet and the cracks between them. I could only hear slow waves.

I looked up and saw Jack walking quickly towards me down the length of the pier, holding the knife in one hand and a long dark thing in the other. It was all of the mermaid’s hair. Jack was smiling but also looked nervous. He asked if I was scared again.

“No, I’m not scared.”

Jack put the knife in his belt and helped me to my feet. The mermaid’s hair moved towards me with a force I didn’t understand.

As we walked down the pier, Jack talked excitedly about how much money we were going to make. “There’s just so much of it. Do you want to feel it? It’s soft, it’s so long, I made such a straight cut on top here, look, almost none of it is damaged.”

I looked back at the mermaid as we climbed over the sand dunes. It looked so bright without its hair. The mermaid and the moon reflected the light from one another, two lonely bodies too far apart, only visible when everything else has become quiet and dark.

Sarah Jean Alexander edits Parlor, an online magazine for exquisite corpse poetry. She is the poetry editor of Shabby Doll House and has work published at Hobart, Spork, Pangur Ban Party, Thought Catalog, Pop Serial, Keep This Bag Away From Children, and HOUSEFIRE. She studied journalism in Baltimore and now she lives in Brooklyn. She tweets @sarahjeanalex