Synopsis: At the Fall Fireworks Festival, organizers ignore conservative protests and book the long-running event's first ever band of mermen as dragons light the sky in a fireworks display.
Meanwhile, Becky is on a blind date that isn't going well.
On the way back to my date, his shoes next to him as his toes dipped into the water, a stray cat with a tragic stump tail passed me. In a beached canoe was another, looking closer, a family huddled together; the mother was so thin.
"Think there are so many because..."
Todd looked across the marina where they'd cleared out the fishing boats for the Fall Fireworks Festival. The merman band floated under the docks where they liked the acoustics. Mystic neon shimmered in the water, but when the wind blew, there was a smell.
"Probably hoping for handouts."
"Just a joke!" Then in a quiet voice that revealed it was more than insensitive mischief, he said, "But seriously."
I handed him a Styrofoam clam shell.
"What's this?" His nose rankled as he tentatively sniffed the lumpy chicken covered in a brown sauce alongside rice and naan.
"Tikka masala," I said.
"Indian food's too spicy."
"The dish is for British people. It was the whitest item on the menu."
"Racist," Todd said.
"White as in spice level. White, red, black. Anyway, check out this complementary candy necklace."
He suggested I put on the pastel sugar beads and he'd peck them off.
He ate a red one. "Like stale beeswax and vomit. I'd almost rather have the Indian food.” He picked at the bread.
The gloaming on the waterfront was lit by screeching rainbow fire with roars of fun and fury as shadows crisscrossed. The dragons let their wings cut through the water, spraying the boaters that had drifted beyond the buoys, and the next firework turned the spray to steam and the light through the colloid dazzled the crowd. I clapped.
The display was set to traditional Sea music. It sounded human. Not very good, but that was also human. The crowd watched the band, talking over the tunes, only interested in the spectacle, but when the song switched to Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer," people came alive. The band was nailing it! I even bopped along. People started dancing on the dock above the band, despite ropes and stanchions blocking it off, and when the band missed a few notes, security reluctantly came and the dancers sat. Their feet dangled in the neon water. The singers retreated deeper under the docks.
The song ended quickly, like they'd forgotten a verse, and it was back to traditional music. The dancers left for food.
An announcement from a marina official interrupted. "An airplane will be landing unexpectedly at the local airport. Until the FAA clears us, the fireworks display will be on hold. Feel free to try authentic Sea food in the original Sunken Palace. We promise it's safe for consumption, but check allergen information before ordering. Thank you."
Todd was fine with the musicians breaking. "The jet trail's probably more to my taste than--" He felt a small weight on his sweater, like a cockroach, and he shot up mid-sentence, slapping himself, sending the tikka masala and candy necklace into the sea, before he saw a pixie tumble to the dock. "Maybe say something next time."
"Just wanted a view," the pixie said. It'd been trying to squeeze past.
"Don't you think it's rude splitting a couple like that?"
The pixie looked at me. They were stereotyped as blunt for a reason. "There are others out there, you know. You don't have to stick with this one."
Todd rose up even bigger like he was contemplating stomping the pixie. "Did you hear what she said?"
"I'm a guy."
"Didn't mean to assume," he said with venom. Then he stormed off, a toe bumping the pixie into the water.
Between the planks, a hand reached up. It startled me, a normal reaction. But the glowing yellow eyes caused shivers to linger on my skin.
"Didn't mean to sneak up on you." His red scales had beautiful black markings in the shape of arrows. I always thought they'd be a bit slimy, but he wasn't. "Got a light?" he asked.
He surfaced so the candy necklace floated around him. "Eh, just needed a conversation starter. Sorry about that dickhead date." When he spoke, there were bubbles but not as many as you'd think. He bobbed in the water so only his eyes were visible. The yellow didn't bother me too much now.
"No big loss. Just met the guy tonight," I said. "Can you believe it's 2017 and we're still dealing with that crap? The Civil War, Holocaust, marriage equality—people should be past it. Always something."
The conversation seemed to be drifting to a close, but I wanted more. I said the first thing that came to mind. "Are you with the band?"
The silence told me I had messed up.
"That was dumb of me."
"You know this is our music, right? We actually like it," the merman said.
"Me too. I wasn't thinking when I said that. Long night."
"You're kind of ugly, you know that? All peach and pale."
"No need to be nasty."
"You think the same about us, right? You're always joking. Or curious. You always want to know how we fuck. Or how it'd be to fuck us. Whatever. Honestly, we're curious, too. Like pubic hair—just... why?"
I didn't think I said anything that bad.
"But this is new for our kinds. Less than a decade, of course we're not integrated. What's disgusting about you people is how you wrote us as fantasy nightmares, then you're so quick to draw analogies between accepting us, monsters you thought you conjured up, and others of your own kind."
He ducked under and left the candy necklace floating there. I went looking for Todd. He'd driven me and I was ready to leave.