Suzume’s eyes are not empty. They are full with sky. Her fingernails have dirt under them, and her palms are pebbled where she’d pressed them into the cliffside. I bring my ear to her chest and listen to the emptiness.
My kind can’t cry, but I want to—more than I wanted to for Ciara. The moon watches me, the same milky white as my eyes. I button Suzume’s polka dot sweater, straighten her socks, and tie her shoes. A strand of dark hair catches in her parted lips and I pull it away. For a moment, she’s alive.
I never told her what we do when someone leaves us.
I liked to grow my legs on sunny days. I sat on the warm sand and after the tide turned, ran my hands over my tail. The scales shucked off with stinging pain, the sand under me turning pink. Wiping the last of the stickiness from my new legs, my jaw and gums ached as my mouth became a puckered human mouth. My teeth fell like rain onto the ground.
I was walking toward my favorite cave when I met Ciara.
She was my first human.
She ran across the sand, laughing, her yellow hair bobbing. Her skin looked too pink, the color of mine if I’m cut.
Ciara caught sight of me and ran faster, sliding to a stop in front of me. She said something and even though she taught me human words later, I can’t remember what it is she said.
She took my hand and led me back along the shore. A woman lay on the sand with Ciara’s same cloud of yellow hair.
I remember Ciara saying, “Mama.” The woman wore a nightgown and a thick green jacket. Sea foam spilled out of her mouth.
After that, it was just Ciara and me. I only went home to get her food at night and when the tide turned, took human form again.
Suzume’s neck is still perfectly smooth, so unlike mine with the rippling of gills. She looks the same as Ciara did, even without a mouth full of water. And I was so careful with Suzume, too. When we swam, I made sure her head was always above the water.
The first night, I shut my eyes and slept beside Ciara. I wondered if our heartbeats matched.
“Mama,” she said again.
I tried to repeat what she said but I couldn’t—my voice came out as a high shriek, thin and weak since we weren’t underwater. Ciara laughed and shifted closer to me, pressing her warm nose against my collarbone.
I had my tail the day I met Suzume. I’d come up to the shore thinking she was a seal, but it was only her foot that bled.
I wasn’t going to keep her.
I was going to urge her to the road, where I’d seen other humans. But then she touched my cheek. And I could only see my Ciara in her eyes, could only feel my Ciara in her small fingers. And I held her, and after a time, she stopped asking for Mama, and called me hers instead.
I never told her what we do when someone leaves us, in case it scared her. But this way, we’ll never be apart.
I close her eyes before I take my first bite.