Future Writers 2021 Winner

Mavis Quinlan had forgotten how many times she wished to be free. Her world was made up of exactly 1,100,000 litres of salt water and she had never known life outside the tank. Three of the walls were a deep ocean blue, with a ceiling to match; one, a clear glass wall for visitors to admire them; and a sandy floor in which kelp grew metres tall.

Mavis was one of two mermaids at Seven Seas Aquarium. Lira sat opposite her, a small gold mirror in one webbed hand, and a shell-covered hairbrush in the other. She brushed her short hair back, and powdered lilac blush onto her grey skin.

Pitch black eyes stared back at Mavis through her own mirror, she saw the thin gills on her neck open and close slowly as she breathed. This focused her wandering thoughts as she got ready for their first show of the day. Tourists from near and far gathered to watch the aquatic rarities, and with her and Lira performing for them three times a day, Mavis’s mind was regularly stressed.

She swam down to the tank floor and picked up a small sponge. Bringing it to her deep grey tail she began to clean the scales, they glistened as she rubbed it over them. Mavis sat herself on an open clam positioned in front the vast window. It looked out into an observation room, the walls and floor all covered in a thin black felt-like material. A long rectangular bench covered all twelve metres of the back wall.

From the right-hand corner, Mavis saw a sliver of light appear. As it grew, she realised that it was the door opening. A small child sized shadow came into view and spun as it shut the door behind it. Panting, a young girl walked up to the window and looked up in amazement. Two curly pigtails swung from the top of her head tied up by green ribbons, a pastel pink and blue dress fluttered around her. She paced the length of the window, swinging the small octopus toy clutched in her hand, admiring the variations of tropical fish and coral that lined the sandy floor.

It took the girl several moments to notice Mavis. Her eyes widened in bewilderment and the eight legged teddy fell to the ground with a thud. She paused, eyes furrowing in confusion, and took a hesitant step forward. A hint of a smile played on Mavis’s face as she watched the youngster walk towards the glass. Swimming closer to the window, Mavis held up her hand in a wave and saw the little girl’s eyes light up and her mouth move in a what looked like a giggle.

Mavis kept her eyes on the child as she made her way closer to the edge of the tank and rested her hands upon the glass. Her breath fogged up the clear walls as she brought her face up to the window. Mavis pressed her own webbed hand against the smaller one. Lifting her tiny head, the girl’s eyes met Mavis’s. Her hand was several times bigger than the one that lay opposite her.

She wondered if the girl on the outside felt the same connection she did when their hands met – a warmth that soothed her soul, made her realise that there was a world that lay just outside of her own. And that she would never get to experience it. Get to make friends not unlike the small girl that had sneaked into see her. A world she would forever dream about. A world outside the window.

By Alex Beattie

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