At the Park One Day, My Six-Year-Old Asks Me If Mermaids Are Real

Allison Adair

Can you blame me for saying yes? This week

a middle-aged man walked through the glass

doors of her elementary school and proceeded

to the boys’ bathroom. Outside, a girl gripped

the chains of the hard-spun tire swing in a move

the kids call flying grandma. Barrettes slid down

her hair, each long ribbon tied off into a tiny

morningstar. Boys in a dirtcloud dug at the planet.

A secretary heard the man’s obscenities grow

louder, walked toward the stalls. Have you ever

tried to balance on a dome of black elastic web?

I don’t know how they do it, untroubled engines

in cotton-candy tutus and superhero T-shirts, even

mermaid tails. The world is an ocean, that much

is true, and after, the custodian brought a bucket

of saltwater to clean away what the man had done.

She asks me if mermaids are real, squinting her

whole face as if she’s swallowed the sun, and I’m

so relieved I laugh of course, aren’t we overjoyed

that all he did this time was shit, all over the floor,

lonely, but alone. If you close your eyes, I say,

you can imagine it, right? For now, we’ll hide

in the abstract. The park sprinklers spin, shoot

a fizzy mist, opal droplets glinting like fish scales.

Kids running, swimming, holding their breath.


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