It was Miranda’s birthday, and she was buying herself a present.
What would she buy? Shoes? A hat? Make-up? No, none of these stereotypically girly presents would do for Miranda, and for a very good reason.
Miranda was a mermaid.
The fact that she lived beneath the sea also ruled out books, clothes and kites. Not that she wanted a kite, mind, it’s just that it wouldn’t have been an option if she did.
She wandered into the local gift shop, Davy Jones’s Locker. Once Davy Jones had gotten over the shock of being (a) dead and (b) not dead he had opened a store which sold what is known across the universe as bric-à-brac, a French phrase meaning “overpriced crap”.
Miranda opened the door, and a tiny bell rang. Davy swam out from the back of the shop.
“I’m looking for a birthday present,” she said.
“I see,” said Davy. “For your young gentleman, perhaps?”
“For myself,” said Miranda. “I don’t have a ‘young gentleman’, as you put it.”
“Seriously?” said Davy. “Are the mermen around here mad? I mean look at you, you’re incredibly beautiful, not to mention the fact that you’re naked from the waist up. I’d have thought you’d have to beat them off with a frond.”
“There’s no such thing as mermen,” said Miranda, “so basically if I want a boyfriend it’d be a choice between Poseidon, who’s like a billion years old, or one of the Aquaphibians from Stingray.”
She wandered around the shop. There were tridents. There were stones, with “ a present from the sea-bed” written on them. There was also a lot of garden furniture. There were little stone bridges. There were tiny castles, with a hole to swim through. There was a rather frightening statue of a deep-sea diver, looking like a spacemen, or perhaps it was a statue of a spaceman looking like a deep-sea diver.
“See anything you like?” asked Davy.
“No,” said Miranda, “because I’m not a goldfish.” She pointed to a big wooden box. “What’s that?” she asked.
“A dead man’s chest,” said Davy. “Which reminds me, I also have a yo-yo and a bottle of rum.”
“It’s all a bit old-fashioned, isn’t it?”
“Well, I did try modernising. I got in a stock of iPods -”
“Really? From where?”
“They fell off the back of a ship. I did used to be a pirate, remember. Anyway, when I turned one on it played whale-song for five seconds and then blew up.”
In the end Miranda, as she did every year, bought herself a nice conch shell. It wasn’t the worst of presents, she told herself as she swam home. If you held it up to your ear you could hear land.
That’s when she saw coming towards her a creature just like herself. But male. He was staring at her in open-mouthed admiration, which was not a good idea, he swallowed a lot of water and she had to pat him vigorously on the back.
“My name’s Miranda,” she said.
“I’m Ythyl,” said the male. “Ythyl Merman.”
“I thought mermen didn’t exist.”
“Whereas mermaids do? Don’t be daft, how would the species keep going?”
That’s actually a very good question, she thought, with many layers to it, but she decided it wasn’t the sort of thing to say on a first date.
For a date is what it became. They went to dinner (she had the fish), they danced, and eventually they kissed demurely.
And, just when she thought the day couldn’t get any better, a necklace with a huge blue stone drifted down toward them. Some people throw the strangest things off boats.
Ythyl placed it gently around her neck. “You look beautiful,” he said.
It was her best birthday present ever.