Alexia Arthurs has published fiction and nonfiction in Small Axe, the Paris Review, and the Paris Review Daily. She is the Paris Review’s 2017 Plimpton Prize winner. Her debut short story collection, How to Love a Jamaican, is forthcoming (Ballantine, 2018).
When this story ended—or when it began, because who on June Plum Road could tell the difference?—the mermaids were floating at the top of Old Henry’s tank. The green hair of one and the pink hair of the other fanned out on the water’s surface, silky straight hair, and the sparkles in their tails caught the afternoon light. Old Henry laughed when he saw the dolls in his tank, a laugh he would later regret. Because when he looked beyond the mermaids, his eyes made out two forms, the little girls, beneath the water’s surface.
And the mother would go mad when she heard, at least for a while, sitting on the steps in front of her house, legs wide, without panties. A shame a man passing by was the one to call out to let her know. Her people would send for her. News would travel back that she’s now cleaning for white people in New York. Many on June Plum Road wouldn’t know what to do with this information but to wonder if she remembers to wear panties.