Flash Fiction: Float like a Pufferfish, Sing like a Siren

Hello, all! Here is another flash fiction piece for your reading pleasure. Like the last flash I posted, this piece is mostly unedited as far as story content goes. If you have constructive criticism to offer, please feel free to comment!


Float like a Pufferfish, Sing like a Siren

At the first full dress rehearsal for Sea of Songs, I heard somebody say I looked more like a pufferfish than a mermaid. I was sitting on the edge of the huge glass tank that served as a backdrop for the stage, orange rubber prosthetic tail dangling in the chlorine-scented water. Unable to maneuver my legs very well, I twisted at the waist and glared over my shoulder at the stagehands checking lights and pulleys and whatever in the wings behind me.

I was comfortable with my weight, with the body God put me in. But I wanted to set those jerks straight about the damaging effects their comments would have on anyone with body insecurities.

Lucky for the stagehands, none of them made eye contact with me. If they had, the full force of my body positivity speech would have knocked their sorry butts all the way into 2020.

“One minute!” The director’s voice rebounded through the empty theater’s speakers and up into the upper wings where I sat. “Places, please!”

Way ahead of you. I’d been ready for dress rehearsal for weeks now, all my lines and songs memorized, all my beats, breaths, and kicks charted out. The stage crew and tank builders had just finished installing all the complicated set pieces this morning, three days behind schedule—so unprofessional!—and now we were finally ready to run through the whole play.

Opening night was tomorrow. So this had better be good. No, better than good. It had to be absolutely, undeniably excellent. People expected no less of Broadway.

I took a deep breath—not because I was nervous, but because it was time to start my breathing exercise, purging CO2 from my lungs and lowering my heartrate in preparation for my first performance dive fourteen-and-a-half minutes into Act 1. Most of my dives didn’t require me to hold my breath for more than a minute, but swimming in the prosthetic tail was strenuous, so I needed the breathing techniques to help my body be more efficient with its oxygen consumption.

Across the tank, I saw my fellow mermaids begin their breathing exercises, chests inflating slowly underneath the long strands of colorful hair glued in place over their breasts. There wasn’t a single fat roll or double chin among them. Some even had noticeable abs. Good for them. Seriously.

I had been cast as the token fluffy mermaid. I knew that coming in. But that only made me even more excited to be a part of this production. Not only was Sea of Songs pushing the limits on what was possible for set design—I mean, water wasn’t exactly friends with electronics and makeup—but the director was also making a conscious effort to represent more body types.

Opening night would be full of girls and women of every dress size, from zero to infinity. I wanted them all to see me—every cushy inch of me—looking pretty and confident in my mermaid getup, swimming right along with the others, a fabulous painted orca playing with her dolphin friends.

And besides, a relatively unknown actor like me will seize every opportunity she can to appear on Broadway. No questions asked.

The opening strains of the musical’s nautical-sounding theme song floated up from the orchestra pit far below. One by one, sailors danced onto the stage, which was set to look like an old-timey sailing ship. I kept breathing, ignoring their antics as best I could. I wanted to laugh when the captain shoved his annoying first mate into one of the lower tanks, but I managed to control the urge, exhaling just a little faster than usual.

The sailors finished their song and bantered back and forth a bit. Then the lights darkened and the music got more ominous—the beginning of the “storm” that would drive their ship off course, into the Siren Sea.

“Break a tail,” I whispered to the mermaids sitting next to me. They all grinned and one gave me a thumbs up.

Then we slid into the tank. The music disappeared in a watery rush. Then the bubbles cleared and I could hear the bass reverberating through the glass, into the water. Across the wide tank, I could see the colorful smudges of the other mermaids waiting at the top of the tank, just above the level of the stage’s curtain. We waited for the musical cue. Then we all dived, arms extended in front, tails swishing in back.

I concentrated on the maneuvers, dolphin-kicking my legs slowly and steadily, timing my movements with the other mermaids. Thirty seconds passed and we came up for air. Half of the mermaids immediately dived again. But the rest of us hurriedly hauled ourselves out of the water onto a small platform just offstage that lowered us thirty feet down to the tank on the main stage.

We dropped back into the water and swam out on stage. This time, our heads were out of the water. This time, we were singing.

The entrancing melody of our siren song floated up to the movable ship set piece on the other side of the stage. Slowly, the ship drifted toward us as the sailors fell under our spell—under my spell.

Tomorrow, I’d show the audience I was just as much mermaid material as anyone else, long lavender hair flowing around my shoulders, voice as sultry as a siren’s.

You know what? Let the stagehands make their snide comments, hiding up in the darkness of the wings. I’d be down here. Singing and swimming and swirling in the stage lights. A million rainbow bubbles dancing over my curves.

Thanks for visiting the Written Woods!

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