It was a beacon of hope, always shining green through the long, hard winter, a steaming oasis rising through the endless snow to thaw her small town heart out. Before the store moved into the old downtown square, she hardly even knew that their could be anything more than the cracking, empty streets, a broken fossil of a faded industry. The idea of somehow leaving town, or doing anything but following in her family’s frozen footsteps, seemed as foreign to her as the rest of the country did, some thousand miles away. These were things she’d only seen on — television when the reception was good and they could still get channels, anyway.
When it finally appeared — when that sign went up, signaling its coming — it heralded an out. She believed herself to be the mermaid, that rare, majestic beauty, a literal and lonely creature lost upon the shore, surrounded instead by an ocean of snow, vast and cold, which numbed the lives around her. But she never even knew that she had fins, that she could swim away, not until she saw that sign rising in the distancer. She was 13 years old then, the loneliest of ages, and as soon as she saw it, she started to study, teaching herself the differences, the meaning of a macchiato, americano, cold press versus hot, and as soon as she turned 16, she strolled into the store, filled out an application, and submitted it on the spot. She hardly ever touched the money that she made. Instead, she saved it, every cent, building up a base for her escape.
She put in a transfer request when she was 18, and the day she finished high school, she hitched a ride in her cousin’s 18-wheeler and changed her life, a bright young mermaid escaping to the greater sea: Anchorage.
Her cousin dropped her off downtown, but before she even found a place to sleep that night, she slipped inside the first tattoo parlor on the strip. She’d never actually seen a shop like that before, not in real life, anyway. When she stepped inside, she was greeted by a league of fantastical creatures not unlike herself, exotic breeds who’d wandered from their native tribes and made themselves a brand new home. Endangered species, just like her. And so she wanted a symbol, to brand her scar her skin to show her small-town struggle and begin the transformation, taking that which was within and projecting it without. She thought back to that day when she first saw the sign, before she truly understood what it meant, what it would come to mean, and she rolled up her sleeve and offered up the first sacrifice from her savings account and the man with the oversized earlobes pulled out his magic pen, buzzing with the vitriol of a billion angry bees, and painted that green mermaid on her skin and when he finished she could finally feel her fins begin to grow.