Sadie’s birthday is always a weeklong affair. Every year, she looks forward to a whole week devoted to funfetti classroom cupcakes, the glitterized birthday countdown on her bathroom mirror, a yearly $100 check from her great Aunt Linda, and an overall wash of jittery, excited anticipation.
But today is THE birthday. For a girl who treats attention-grabbing like a sport, this is her Superbowl. Sadie picks her mermaid tail first, obviously. She explains to the other girls that her tail isn’t a normal color like theirs; her tail is too unique for a simple human like them to describe. To Sadie, her tail is the color of the emerald-cut diamond on her mom’s wedding ring, or the glitter and studs on the Hannah Montana costume she wore for Halloween, or the sun when you stare at it for too long and it hurts your eyes and you begin seeing every color in the world all at once. Silver, gold, platinum, pearl––all of the world’s rarest, shiniest jewels are reflected in Sadie’s tail.
Sadie swims with confidence, using her arms the guide her in spirals and flips. As she contorts herself, she looks backward to admire her tail, squinting through the chemical-blurred water to see nothing but blinding, pulsating light. Her eyes burn, but she can’t look away. Sadie points her tail-tips towards the shallow end, where the water-winged children stare, awestruck, through cloudy goggle lenses. Are they blinded by her tail? She looks over towards them, pops her hip past the surface of the water, and flicks a splash with her fins. Are her friends jealous? She smirks because she already knows the answer.
Sadie knows that every day, she glows. She is always the absolute center of attention, and her birthday, her spotlight on steroids, is no exception.
Lydia gets to pick her tail second because she’s the fastest girl on the Meadowbrook Country Club Sharks. She picks a purple tail because it reminds her of the purple stripe on the side of her lucky Speedo tech suit––the one that she wears to every single swim meet with a matching purple cap.
At first, Lydia struggles to adjust to life without legs; her usual stroke of choice is a vigorous flutter kick. But her swim skills support her efforts as she transforms into a slick, agile dolphin. Lydia propels herself forward, piercing through the water and sending waves crashing in her wake. Her violet scales light up, sending purple flashes all around the pool. She asks Sadie to race her, just because she knows she would win every time. Sadie is preoccupied looking at her reflection on the surface of the pool.
Today, Lydia is more than just the fastest on the team; today, she’s ultraviolet, too nimble and magical for the human eye to see. Her tail may not be as blinding and bright as Sadie’s, but in motion, Lydia’s violet scales flicker with energy, sending shock waves through the sea. The water bends to make room for her as she glides through the deep end, rarely needing to come up for air. She slithers on the bottom of the pool with skill that even the most experienced mermaids can’t replicate, and her tail flows and ripples as if it’s alive on its own.
As she stretches her arms and flutters her tail, Lydia sees herself as the princess––no, the queen––of the sea, that she is: electric, ethereal, ultraviolet.
Isobel gets to pick her tail third. Sadie likes her better than Lulu (and she makes it known). She explains to the other girls that her tail is green, but not like grass; it has the power to be any shade of green in the entire world! It changes depending on her mood. It can be a light, seafoam green if she’s feeling playful, or a dark, forest green when she’s feeling sad. The other girls laugh as she tells them this, but Isobel tunes them out. They’re jealous, she knows, that they don’t have the superpowers that she has.
As she swims, her tail is the lithe shade of happiness. Bright, bubbly, careless.
After floats in the shallows and ear-ringing dives in the depths, Isobel tires. She decides to take a break and peek her head above the surface of the water. The mermaid rests her chin and her cheek on the sandstone side of the pool and lets the tip of her tail bob in the water behind her. Her flimsy fins sharpen as she spots him… Sadie’s brother, Jack. His neon leg-cast crests his plastic pool chair; he broke it last week doing a daring backflip off the diving board. Isobel doesn’t even know Jack that well––she just has the feeling that he would listen to her, not laugh at her like the girls sometimes do. And his hair. His hair!!!
This one time, when she was in second grade, she saw Jack reading Harry Potter on the ride home from school. Since then, Isobel has been obsessed with Harry Potter. She has read every book at least four times, and the fourth and sixth one five each (she saw Jack reading the fourth one at least twice). After that year Isobel stopped seeing Jack around school. Apparently, he got in trouble and his mom sent him to some private school 15 minutes away.
She misses waving to him on the bus.
But now, Isobel loves having playdates at Sadie’s house. She always sees him eating Sunny Farm fruit snacks at the kitchen island and playing with his hair, making sure it sweeps to the side just the right way so that it rests above his eyebrows.
She is always looking at him from a distance. Isobel catches him looking back at her; she looks back at her tail to avoid eye contact. Isobel notices that her tail has turned bright, leafy green. Green with envy, the envy of Sadie and of the humans who get to share their world with him.
Isobel wants Jack’s neon green cast to expand to cover his other leg and sprout fins. Then, she and Jack could spend forever in the sea, exploring and swimming with their glowing green tails.
Lulu picked her tail last––she always picks last. She never wants anyone to get stuck with something they don’t like. Right before the girls picked their tails, Sadie’s mom gave the girls each a cupcake from Sweet Annie’s Bakery, the gourmet bake shop down the street from their school. Lulu ended up eating a lemon cupcake, even though she thinks lemons are too sour. She still ate the whole thing, and afterward, she said thank you to Sadie’s mom at least three times. Lulu picks a blue tail; no one else wants a blue tail because it doesn’t stand out in the water as much.
But Lulu thinks it’s beautiful.
She tries to explain how it reflects the sky and the water to the other girls, but mid-sentence, Lydia suggests they all race, and the girls jump in the pool.
Lulu jumps with them and joins the race. She comes in second. Lulu is a fast swimmer. The girls disperse when Isobel takes a break to stare at Jack (Isobel thinks they don’t notice, but they all do. Lulu does, at least). Lulu swims to the opposite side of the deep end and floats on her back. The sun heats her skin, and she’s grateful for the few splashes of water that cover her face every time Sadie and Lydia kick.
She closes her eyes and imagines herself just melting into the pool, becoming a part of it. She sees her blue tail, with its scales reflecting amethyst, rose quartz, and silver. Her scales blend into the reflective surface of the pool, and she imagines her SPF 100 pale skin losing its remaining color slowly, eventually taking on a cool blue shade.
As she disintegrates into the pool, her friends are nowhere in sight, Lulu wonders why no one chose the blue tail before her. She had secretly wanted it all along, but she never is one to take anything from someone else if they can get it first. Blue is her eyes, Sadie’s eyes, the color of the prettiest butterflies she can imagine, the walls of her room in her grandparents’ Cape Cod house. Blue is the bright blanket of the sky that peeks out as Lulu watches the clouds slowly crawl and whirl above her, and the cooling, crystal, chlorine sea beneath her.
Why wouldn’t anyone want something so wonderful?
Creative Direction Logan Krohn and Isabelle Roig
Words Ali Meltzer
Photographs Isabelle Roig
Editor Logan Krohn
Stylists Mirai Patel and Maggie Croghan
Featuring Ana Perreira, Hamish McGregor, Ethan Block
Armour Magazine Season 26 — S/S 2021