Fresh Catch

In the quaint shore town we all know, with its pastel cafes pedaling espresso and ice cream, you must be careful what you whisper into the winds. You can’t be sure who’s listening.

You cruise by now on the last day of your two weeks’ notice, though you haven’t landed the next job. Arm dangling out the driver side window, you wonder aloud, Can’t someone just tell me what to do next?

Goosebumps crop up as the ocean seems to answer in song.

It’s the sound of the only lullaby to soothe a cranky toddler, powerful as the church hymn that brings an atheist to their knees.

Oceans don’t sing, of course. You spot a woman, out walking along a sandbar, it seems.

Is she topless? You think. Hard to see through her thick hair. If she’s wearing bikini bottoms, the sight is obscured by the water. She’s standing up to her waist, comfortable with the waves roiling beneath. She bobs with them like a seal pup, playful and eager.

Wait, how do you know she’s a she? You fled that job because you’re pretty sure you’re not—a she, that is.  After four decades hunching like an imposter, you gave yourself a new name. Your husband has been cool, friends say they always knew, but those coworkers wouldn’t change how they talk to you. It confused them, that you married a man, and any attempt to explain the difference between who you love and how you feel at home in your body was met with so many glazed-over eyes.

The coworkers wouldn’t stop calling you “Missus,” though you never changed your last name. You didn’t mean to tell them you’d had a small civil ceremony, but it slipped. You begged them not to make a fuss, but the coworkers didn’t listen.

The day they stuck a sign to your office door that spelled out “BRIDE!” in glitter, you resigned. The tape stripped the paint from the wooden slab once you peeled it off. That glitter will clog our waterways for the next millennium. Something about BRIDE! chokes you still.

You came to the water to apologize. To seek guidance. To cry and breathe salt off of something bigger than yourself.

“Silence,” the woman in the waves commands when you ask if you’ve got her pronouns right. “Listen to me sing.”

In front of you, this supple, smooth-armed bathing beauty tilts her head back up as if to look at the sky. Her eyes are closed, though, as the words fall like pearls from her lips. The melody reels you in, tangles her thoughts inside your mind.

In a snap you are convinced to drown your phone as if it were an enemy. You hold the device under water, free of its protective casing, while tears of anger drip down your cheeks. No more demands, requests, or hours wasted scrolling with that thing.

Her song again. The pitch is lower, a volcano erupting, as it inspires you to make an offering.

“Do you want this?” you ask as you point to your wedding band, the flexible silicone kind.

“Never,” she hisses. “I cannot take what a man has claimed.”

That’s pretty problemat—She turns away from you before your thought is even formed.

Your biz-cas clothes billow in the surf as you stagger back to the shore.


You don’t have to leave the house when the sun rises the next day—your spouse knows you’re unemployed—but you say you want to spend a day at the beach. “Good for you,” he says.

She’s there again, and you wade out to her. She’s telling you to give up the antidepressant.

Before you can agree to make an appointment, though it’ll be harder now without a phone, she trills like a songbird, painting a picture in lyrics about the way life in the ocean syncs up one being to all beings, by the wisdom of the moon.

“I'll sense it in your water if you keep swallowing those chemicals,” she threatens.

You nod and you weep.

It’s harder to trudge back to land this time. You feel the tides tug underneath your skin hours later, still on land.


On your third visit with the lady in the water, there are no words spoken. All that passes between you is her song and its lush vision: The promise of a tail where your two legs currently hang.

You never felt right walking or standing. I will teach you to glide, smooth like silk.

In your mind a dream of your own body, that old lump of clay you normally can’t stand to look at. But when you flip and preen beneath the water’s surface, you are at peace. No mirror, no photo, has ever captured that sparkle in your eyes.

Her voice dips an octave lower for this tune: You'll know your body with the tides. This is another way we trust in the moon. You and I and everyone in our pod, sharing one cycle of blood.

But oh, you’re sad to leave him. Husband. What was his name again?

You'll see him every month, when the moon is full, she sings to you with a wink. He'll give you so many babies, while he dreams.

Your spiny little fish bones tell you: this is the truth. Beneath you, legs fuse to become one natural extension of your spine. The logical straight line, connecting you tip to tip, steady enough so you shall move the world.

“Babies,” you say, butter melting on your tongue in the sunshine. You haven’t used your singing voice, just yet.

Those born girls will swim, free and wild. The boys, with their sausage arms and puffy feet, evoke a fearsome glimmer in your new pointed teeth.

Only monsters think in binaries, you’d posted to social media a few months ago. This is truer than you’d known. But you won’t have to think anymore, once you dive deep enough into the sea.

Laura Eppinger

Laura Eppinger (she/they) knows that the Jersey Devil is real. Laura's work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize as well as Best of the Net. Learn more:

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