Photos by Erin Popelka
It was subtle at first. When Carpolina was 14, she noticed some scales forming around the base of her neck. Her mother always told her that puberty was a bitch, and to expect strange bodily changes around this age. Sure, the scales were kind of itchy, but in the lighting of the bathroom, they glistened. In high school, where everyone experiments with spoken word poetry and dramatic fashion statements, no one suspected anything when Carpolina showed up wearing turtlenecks.
Since childhood, Carpolina had an affinity for water. Her parents urged her to take up swimming, and she did so with ease. However, the summer she turned 18, she became ravenous after every swim meet. Her scales had creeped up her face by then, and she didn’t blink much anymore. No longer able to hide behind turtlenecks, Carpolina had to embrace what she had. Little delicate gills breathed in the morning chlorine from the community pool.
During a particularly competitive swim meet, her fellow teammates became increasingly jealous of Carpolina’s natural aquatic abilities. Carpolina insisted she was covered in a particular shiny kind of head-eczema, but her teammates were skeptical. She overheard them whispering in the locker room while rinsing off.“It’s not fair,” Brenda said, looking at herself in the mirror, untying her strawberry blonde hair from a tight bun, “She’s OBVS the best swimmer because she’s LEGIT part fish.”
Carpolina turned off the water, slumped her strong shoulders. On the way home she purchased three large baguettes. Why was she always so hungry?At 19, she went on her first real date. She felt nervous, but it wasn’t obvious due to her emotionless and pupilless eyes. They were solid black orbs that became cavernous in the night. Her hair was gone by then, and her head was a perfectly formed head of a fish.
During this time, Carpolina was reading a lot about body positivity, so she tried her best to love herself, in spite of her differences. “Differences are what make us special,” She whispered to herself in the mirror before walking out to meet her date. She wore her favorite dress.Her date, Jeff, didn’t seem to mind.
“So like, what are you, an upside down mermaid?” He asked, crunching on chips and salsa very loudly. Carpolina watched Jeff’s face contort with each chomp.
Wow, she thought, placing a chip on her fish lips, why does Jeff look so delicious?
After an evening of boring conversation and no human chemistry, Jeff tried to go in for a kiss. Even though Carpolina didn’t feel butterflies, she felt something a bit more urgent. Carpolina watched Jeff mutter something intelligible, but she couldn’t stop looking at how fresh and plump his skin was. Like a prize pig being roasted over a spit.
Meanwhile, Jeff was really crushing on Carpolina. He loved her lifeless fish eyes, and her puckering fish lips. Jeff even silently noted how her scales glistened in the moonlight. She’s so beautiful, Jeff thought to himself.
Carpolina’s stomach started growling. Her taco salad did not hold her over. Carpolina couldn’t help but envision Jeff next to a heaping side of beans and rice. As Jeff closed in, confident in his abilities, Carpolina widened her mouth.
It was dark out, so Jeff wasn’t sure what was quite happening. It was far too late before he understood.
Nice, Carpolina is really into this, Jeff thought to himself.
Carpolina didn’t know she could swallow a man whole until that moment, but she could. It was efficient and delicate like a whale shark swooping up the ocean floor. For Carpolina, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. A small burp escaped her lips. His shoes tasted of gravel.
“Oh no,” Carpolina said audibly in the Mexican food parking lot, “Jeff tastes really good.”
On the ride home, Carpolina started drumming her fingers nervously on the steering wheel. She became acutely aware of what she just did. She ran a pros and cons list in her head. Pros: Jeff really was delicious, Cons: this could be considered murder.
Her stomach felt satisfied for the first time in ages. Eating a high-fat and protein balanced diet is important for her swimming scholarship, she reasoned. Also, who can forget that differences are what make us special.
Carpolina decided to go on several hundred more dates in her years in college. Much like swimming, she found it wasn’t difficult for her. She swiped right on everyone. She gurgled at the same jokes, stared unblinkingly at her prey before they go in for a kiss. And at the end of the evening, she ate each one of her dates, in one giant gulp.
She also won the state championships that year. After her final year in college, she ate 235 people, and her coach considered her as good as the olympian swimmers.
“I don’t know what you’re doing,” her coach said, pacing around the pool, “But keep it up.” Carpolina’s dark eyes reflected in the chlorine water. Her mouth gulped the air repeatedly. When her coach turned away, she laid an egg.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Carpolina, there was an internet conspiracy happening on her behalf. Reddit started a subgroup cataloging all of the missing people, and how they left without a trace. Some particularly ambitious pursuers of truth saw a correlation between young men disappearing while they were using a dating app. “Upside down mermaids” became the leading porn search in Carpolina’s side of the country. She was becoming a strange, and sexy urban legend without even knowing it.Meanwhile, Carpolina blankly stared at her date with her latest prey, Dale.
Dale was acting suspicious and kept staring at his phone.
By this time, Carpolina was 24. She decided to stop speaking the year before. She noticed that a great many of men didn’t find this as a deterrent but as a benefit to her appealing mystery. Dale was supposed to be on high alert, but instead was absolutely captivated by Carpolina.
“Your eyes,” he muttered, staring at the unblinking glossy orbs. Carpolina gulped the air. She was finding it harder to breathe on the mainland, and prefered swimming in larger bodies of water most of the day. She kept laying eggs in random places too. She figured that was fairly normal, but she never googled it.
Eventually, she had to come out of the water to feed, and to check her emails. She didn’t bother trying anymore, and often had sea anemone attached to her calves, and abandoned kelp draped over her shoulders. This particular restaurant was right next to the sea, and she was able to flop in and out easily, just in time for dinner.By the time the date was over, Dale was convinced he was in love. He fumbled around with his phone, trying to cancel an impending ambush, but he didn’t want to look away from this stunning otherworldly being. He managed to text, “We can’t” to the crew of four men, but they weren’t convinced.
“We can’t what?” Simon texted back. Steve looked through his night vision goggles into the restaurant and nudged Carl.
“I think they’re coming out!”
Dale stood in front of Carpolina and held her hands in his. “This was so great,” Dale said, completely smitten. He started blushing wildly. Carpolina made cooing and gurgling sounds. Her jaw started unhinging.
Out of the bushes the four boys came, with a giant net. “SURPRISE!” Steve yelled, unsure of what to yell in this kind of situation. They pushed Dale out of the way, and threw a net over Carpolina.
Dale started immediately crying.
“No! She’s perfect!” Dale whimpered, as the four boys started wrestling her to the ground. Only about 20 feet from the water, Carpolina started thrashing. Her jaw unhinged and fully expanded, swallowing the net and Simon who was trying to record it on a live stream for his followers on SimonSays, his small time Youtube channel.Carpolina’s body contorted and wiggled. She longed to be in the water, so she started scooting her body towards the moonlit dock. Simon’s orthopedic shoe was clogging Carpolina’s airway and Dale was unsuccessfully fighting off Steve, Carl and Henry, while crying hysterically.
“I love her, you guys!”
Steve tried to catch Dales eye contact. “Dale, she just ate Simon.”
“Who-fucking-cares! Simon fucking sucks!” Dale dramatically falls to the floor and starts shivering.
The three remaining boys run after Carpolina. They each grab a limb and throw her into the water. Their idea was going to plan, with just one casualty. Steve, Carl and Henry push her down, hoping to drown her. They collectively saw a lot of mobster movies, and thought this was the best way to get rid of a body. Carpolina started giggling wildly underwater.
From up above, it looked as if little air bubbles were escaping her body. “It’s working!” They start to let go, and Carpolina’s body laid limply in the water. A single air bubble escaped her mouth. Simon’s shoe slowly rose out of the water. The boys didn’t check to see if there was a foot still in it.
The three boys walk back up the path. They see Simon’s phone on the ground, still recording. “Awesome!” They say in unison, “I know we got some excellent evidence.”
Once they got in the car, they breathed a sigh of relief.
“Women, am I right guys?”
Carl laughs at his own joke. Henry smiles half heartedly.
Henry looked in the rear view mirror. “Where is Dale?”
Carl screeched to a stop. “Did we forget Steve?”
“Also, what’s that egg thing in the back seat?”