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Peacock

Her daughter, Janey, had the flu, so Tess had to take care of her and watch the film about the mermaid, but she wanted to go to the man, who waited in his apartment on the other side of town. She kept asking Janey if she was maybe feeling a little better and the girl shivered under her electric blanket, managing to look both dull and panicked at the same time.

"Let's take your temperature again." Janey's medicine made her smell like peaches. Tess had gone to the expense of having her legs waxed and now she sat on the sofa wearing a sweater and boxers, running her hand up and down the cool smoothness, imagining her hand was the man's hand. She went into the other room to phone him, but got his message. His voice made her a little horny.

When she came back, the mermaid had legs and was dancing with a prince. She'd seen this movie before, but couldn't remember how the mermaid got her legs. The man Tess was dating looked a little like this prince if the prince were older and bald. When the phone had beeped, all Tess could think to say to him was please.

Janey's fever spiked and now she was sitting up, teeth chattering. "There's a peacock in the kitchen," she whispered.

"No, no, there is no peacock in the kichen, darling." Tess thought she might carry Janey upstairs, lower her into a tub of cool water. When Janey was nine months old her temperature had spiked once when she was strapped in her car seat. Tess heard a terrible animal noise and turned around to see Janey's eyes roll back, her arms and legs jerking. She didn't look like a baby anymore, but something mechanical.

The kitchen curtains had a paisley pattern, bright blue. Tess pointed. "There's your peacock, Peanut." Janey lay back down, pulled the blanket to her chin.

Tess went to Janey and held her hand. She wanted to pull the blanket away, it felt too warm, but Janey wouldn't let go. The phone began to ring.

Sometimes the man drove over to the nearby town and played pool in the bars there. He liked the people there better. He said it felt like a getaway.

Tess closed her eyes and a negative image of Janey's face swam behind her eyelids. She thought it might be good to sleep awhile. Maybe curl up under the blanket with Janey. The phone stopped ringing and the mermaid was singing. Before she sprouted legs, and because her longing was so terrible, the mermaid collected objects from the dry and mysterious world, treasuring them and keeping them secret.

Award-winning flash fiction writer with stories in Ploughshares, Copper Nickel. Creator of Fast Flash© workshops and The Art of Flash Fiction newsletter.