Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

She by Dianca London Potts

OBJECT: Mermaid Figurine

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

The circumstances of separation, the severing of fin from torso, were simple. It began slow and subtle. The rot spread from scale to scale, made the iridescent shine of her tail dull. Summer slipped into fall, the rot continued its advance unnoticed. During winter, the cold slowed the process of decay. But as the waters warmed again, spring then summer, she could no longer ignore the rapid rate at which her body altered. How had it started, this change, this disassembly of parts?

The rot was finite like her seduction of wide-eyed wharf-boys and the weight of the tiny trinkets that she collected. The rot had become a part of her; inseparably organic. It redefined her anatomy. She swam the length of the island and it crept beneath her scales. She warmed her back with the sun, stretched out atop a large smooth boulder beneath the Brooklyn Bridge She combed the gritty floor of Dead Horse Bay, searching for necklaces, lockets, for thin crosses on delicate chains. She unpinned hair clasps of carved ivory from the tresses of women whose bodies swelled with water, who were placed there by jilted lovers or slipped beneath the surface willingly. She relieved them, these women, of their heavy woven bracelets cluttered with charms.  She considered herself a savior, preserving the memory of their passing. This was her sacred work. 

The rot grew heavy.  It became difficult to reach the women. Smooth faced as if they were her sisters, the maiden corpses were left lonesome in their adornment, visited only by fish that nibbled their flesh and once painted fingertips. Like them, she too was being devoured, immobilized.

Anchored to the surface, she sulked away the hours, imagined the women at the floor of the bay as they once were: warm, mobile, intact. The rot marched on.  She gathered the bay’s gifts, adorned her neck with silver rosaries and freshwater pearls. She placed rings on each of her fingers, nestled an ivory comb between the strands of her hair.

Sinking slow with her eyes open, she slipped from the surface of Dead Horse Bay, returning the scavenged goods to the women she once adored. Tailless, she lay there, in pearls, gold and silver, waiting for another like herself to claim the trinkets as their treasure.

Dianca London Potts is a writer, music blogger, and follower of the fictive craft. She is currently earning her MFA in Fiction from the New School. She is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and VONA / Voices alumna. Her work has been featured in New Wave Vomit, APIARY Magazine, Bedfellows, theNewerYork, and the Village Voice. She currently resides in Brooklyn.