‘Essence of Mermaid’ read the label on the envelope. ‘Empty crystals into a wet towel and keep damp overnight while they grow into your new Mermaid Friend.’
Josie had saved her allowance for three months before her mother had finally agreed to go to the website and click ‘buy now.’
“You know this probably isn’t real, J-girl,” her mother said. “When I was your age, these ads were in the backs of magazines and comic books and they promised us sea monkeys.”
“Did they eat sea bananas?”
Her mother laughed but it was the kind that meant she was missing her own childhood. “No; they weren’t really monkeys at all, just a kind of shrimp, and they never seemed to work the way the label said.”
“But you bought them anyway?”
“And you’re letting me buy the mermaid.”
“Because sometimes it’s worth it to spend a little money on hope and magic.”
And so, the payment had been made and the envelope had arrived. An envelope within an envelope. Josie had taken one of the old kitchen towels to soak, and poured the blue and green crystals into it, then soaked it.
And then she waited.
She knew she wasn’t supposed to peek, and she tried not to, but it was harder than not shaking the packages under the Christmas tree every year to see which were toys and which were underwear. After four hours, she peeled open just one quarter of the damp towel.
Jelly. All she saw was blue and green jelly.
She rewrapped the towel, brushed her teeth, and went to bed. The next morning, she had to get ready for school, so she put the towel in the tub, where it would be out of the way. Maybe by the time she got home, her mermaid would have grown.
“Mom! Mom! Is she here? Do I have a mermaid?” Josie ran up the porch steps and into her house. “Mom?”
“Hey, kiddo, there’s chocolate cookies on the – Josie! Slow down!”
But she’d already pushed past her apron-clad mother, dropped her backpack on the floor near the stairs, and made her way to the bathroom.
The tub was empty.
“Mom! Mom, come here!”
“Josie, what is it? What’s wrong?”
The little girl pointed at the empty tub. “The towel with the mermaid essence. It’s gone.”
“You started them without me?”
“I wanted it to be ready when I came home from school.”
Josie’s mother pulled her close. “I’m sorry sweetie, I didn’t realize. The towels are in the washer, now.”
“There wasn’t a baby mermaid in the load was there?”
“No, honey. Just a wet towel.” Josie started to cry, but her mother tugged gently on one of her braids. “How ’bout I order another packet of mermaid essence? When it arrives, we can set it up together.”
“I – I guess.”
“Would a cookie help you feel better?”
Josie sniffed. “Maybe.”
“Shall we go find out?”
Mother and daughter left the bathroom and walked down the stairs in tandem. As they passed the laundry room door, they heard a loud thump-a-thump-a-thump sound. “Laundry’s off-balance again. Let me go fix it.”
Josie headed toward the kitchen but after a beat, her mother called her back.
“Something wrong, Mom?”
“I’m not sure ‘wrong’ is the correct term, kiddo. Let’s just say… Essence of Mermaid is nothing like sea monkeys.”
Her mother stepped aside to reveal a mermaid tail – a grown-up sized one – protruding from the open door of the washer.