Sid was an odd man I once thought I loved with smooth black hair and tan skin; on his belly was a panel of ocean. He had no bellybutton, which should have been disturbing, but I was too dumb when I met him to recognize this problem. If I lifted his shirts, which were often tacky neon Hawaii numbers, I could watch his waves crash and break. When placing my hand on his panel, which was rectangular like a TV screen, I could almost touch them. He said he was born this way because his mother was a mermaid, the sort who gave up her tail for true love and who could not laugh, even after she went human, because laughter was forbidden to mermaids and, in her heart, she had never left the ocean. I found her story fascinating.

Sid said after her legs split apart and her tale cracked and fell off, she had moved into the suburbs with his father, who was never a prince among men, more a middle manager, and she now drove a Lexus and did home decorating consultations for money. He said he didn't know what they did, professionally, before they had him, hardly knew what they did after, because he had enjoyed a lot of nannies. He said this with lascivious intent, detailed how he liked how they stroked his hair and kissed his small cheeks, saying again and again what a cute kid he was. But they were always asking him where he may have hidden things like their hairbrushes or backpacks. Sometimes, he explained to me, he had a trick he performed where he turned his back to them and made a gone thing reappear. They liked this. It was his panel, which they liked, said they could watch it for hours and hours. His main problem with nannies was that he wanted to keep them all, so was always sad when they had to go.

He had other unusual talents. One was coring apples. Also, he was a dynamo in the sack and could sense bad seafood in the way of most master-chefs. Many times, he had saved me from food poisoning. “My mother was a mermaid,” he said. “Of course I know bad fish.”

After much lovemaking, Sid told me all about his lovelife before me, with the sort of limited telling most girlfriends moving up into the “significant” realm receive; at first I was flattered. His first lover liked to watch his waves while they fucked. That ruled this out for me. He said he was eleven when they first did it and that it had soothed her, put her into a trance.

I said, "Who was she?" and he promptly dropped the subject.

We were together three full years before he finally told me that she was a mermaid, too, like his mother, that she had been riveted to the ocean on his belly for a reason, and that their first sex involved not his penetration of her, but her penetration of his panel with her tail. When they lingered in the ocean together, she could swim into him, often did, until one day she found something deep inside his biosystem, deep within his inner panel that horrified her so thoroughly she swam out of him at once and said, her blue eyes squinted in speculation, "You are one nasty person, Sid," and she never came back.

He said this broke his heart. He wrote songs for her. He sang them. He didn't know anyone could swim away so quickly. He told his mother all about it. He didn't know what his ex had seen inside him, he told me, but he was glad I didn't see it too. "We're all quite horrifying," he said, "when the real things inside us roll out into the open."

I told him I had no idea what he was talking about.

"I love your yellow hair," he then enthused. "Your big red heart!"

I told him maybe my heart was blue like his panel.

“No it’s not,” he said.

“Yes it is,” I replied. He couldn’t see inside me. Fuck him.

Still, he scoffed. But he introduced me to his mother one day not long after at one family holiday gathering he prepared me for with hours of pre-training and spot testing, and when we got to her house, it was just me, her, his father, and Sid-- and she spoke in some strange tongue with Sid for all of ten minutes at the front door before she would even open it. When she did reluctantly move aside, she mysteriously cried.

I tried not to take it personally, but she hated me. I wore red thigh highs and a red velvet dress with little black shoes. I had a black cross on my neck. I probably looked like a shark bite. We all sat at the table and his dad was really nice, but a kind of leery nice. “You picked a pretty one, Sid," his dad then said and winked at me like he thought I was cute. His dad looked just like him, except older and fatter.

"You have a panel, too, Sid’s dad?" I replied.

"Nope," he said. "I’m Malcolm. You can call me my first name."

"Sid’s hybrid," his mother then explained. "Part sea and part earth. So, did you meet our son at school?" Her subsequent look toward Sid's father was cold, yet practiced.

"No," I said. "At the Frosty Freeze."

Sid said, "Dad, I love Bethany, and I plan to marry her."

It was after this announcement of Sid's that his mother took me into the back room. "I want to show you my tail," she said. "The one I gave up for all of this..."

I agreed to look at it. Sid smiled and I flushed as he goosed my rear when I walked past him to follow her. When we got to her room, she opened the closet, but what I saw was not so much a tail as a dried thing with an end fin, kind of blue and green. "Sid doesn't do well with anyone leaving him. Do you really love my son?" she asked, lifting her perfect brown-green eyebrow and meeting my eyes for once.

"Yes," I lied. "I do." Now, I had just been pondering this very question in the car. He had a broad jaw and a nice physique. He was moderately interesting and had asked me to marry him—but I had said yes not due to heart-booming love, but because no one else had asked before and this seemed a good enough opportunity.

"Well, I must tell you," she said. "He's not normal."

"I've seen his panel of sea, mom," I said. “Lots of times.”

"I understand," she said. "But have you seen what's inside?"

I told her I had.

"No, you haven't," she said, smacking me on the back. "Because if you had, you'd be running! You’d be taking my tail and not saying no. Do you want to be a mermaid for a while, just until you're sure about things?"

"No," I said.

"Being a mermaid was great," she enthused. "And to think I gave it all up for this shithole. For Sid's dad. What a waste! I could put the tail back on now, but I don't belong anymore. I’d just be an old sea cow."

When Sid and I left that day, I said, "Your mom is ominous. She warned me about something inside you."

"She did?" he asked, lifting his eyebrow like her. But he didn't say more, so for a few days I stared into his ocean and hoped for a clue. I wondered if I should go back to his mom's and agree to be a mermaid, just for a brief glimpse, and then go back to being a girl. She had told me it was painful, that transition between mermaid and girl, but if I was going to marry Sid, maybe I should know. “Being a woman is all about pain, honey,” she’d told me. “No matter what species. Get used to it.”

It turns out, it didn't really matter how painful that transition would be because I didn’t try. I kept picturing my leg bones melting and breaking as some weird fin thing glommed around them and then how I’d start gasping for water and have to live in the sea—and so I freaked. Then I freaked on him. Although I knew I didn’t love him enough to endure that switch, I still started to demand what was wrong inside him, because I didn’t want to not know: I was wearing his ring, after all.

Sid kept showing me his panel, but he knew I was panicking because he kept saying, too, "I don't know what it is either! I really don't know."

This not knowing and repeat asking went on for a while. But one day, I got a call from his mother. "Ask Sid about Nancy," she said, somewhat nervously. "But come and get my tail first. I've been soaking it. It won’t hurt too bad." And this was all she said before the line went dead.

So when he got home from work, I didn't go to her house, liking just fine the new tan on my human legs, and said to Sid, "Who's Nancy?"

"What?" he asked.

"Nancy. You know, Nancy?"

"She was one of my nannies," he said, wringing his hands. "I really loved her. But I've told you all that."

Well, sometimes there's something weird between two people and it's not validated or anything, it's not even clear what it is, but the distance just starts to feel insurmountable. So Sid wasn't touching me so much after that, and then he didn't touch me at all. When he said he loved me, despite that he couldn’t touch me, I told him I was leaving, said I had had enough of his non-touching loving that felt more like ignoring and that it bugged me that he wouldn't tell me anything about Nancy. I said that he had to know what was in his ocean panel because it was inside him, after all--a space both vast and small because an entire mermaid had swum around in there, yet it was a setting localized enough to fit inside him and be entirely situated within his own body. And what was in there, Sid? I said. Plus, I didn't think I could marry him anymore. I had to know what was what.

It was in this moment that he said, "Stop. Look into the panel!"

And I did. The waves crashed and broke as I watched them, but I felt myself shrink. I was shrinking! And when I got small enough, he picked me up between two fingers, like I was a flea, actually pinching on a bit of my sweater, and then flung me at a diagonal into his waves.

This is when I saw the other women, dead on the shore. .Some were dead a long time with bleached bones. Some had died recently enough to still have flesh clinging in moist clumps. He took his finger, put it inside himself, and edged me further over so I was out of view of his panel. “Stay there,” he said, leaning close to his belly. His voice boomed in like a God's: "Don't be visible in the main panel, and I won't crush you. You should have listened to my mom and been a mermaid. Then, when I got in the water, you could have at least swum out. Now, you can't."

"You need to let me go!" I shouted.

But he just replied, "What?" like he really couldn't hear me. It was an interesting thing to be stuck in the off-view section of his waves and sand. There were no people and no buildings. I would have to learn how to fish, for it was a fully developed eco-system, like any other ocean, but I found a stick and did this, poking them with the sharp end.

I had a lot of alone time there on his shores, looking at the carcasses of his former women. It was funny how their clothes were still around in many of their cases, and these clothes reflected the time when they had passed. Almost all the nannies had on big colorful eighties jewelry and belts or shirts with space age geometrical shapes. The newer girlfriends, the women more fresh, these had on items that more looked like today.

As many memories come back long after they are needed, mine reminded me then of that first night he and I had lain together after sex, how there was a moment I had nearly forgotten about when a woman, tiny, like me now, had walked onto his panel-front and shouted, "Run! Quick! Don't let him love you!" But I couldn't hear her that well, could hardly believe I’d seen her, and his hand had slapped down onto his ocean panel (to quash her I later realized).

"I'm hungry," he'd said then to me, me who admittedly still swooned in the aftermath of our pleasure. "Did you want a bite to eat?"

"Yes," I said then, ignoring the strange vision. But I remembered her now; she’d been so pretty. And now, on this invisible shore where her body lay, I was determined not to be her. Still, there were quite a few women on this invisible beach, so I decided I would do something to warn the new ones due next.

I would throw the early lovers' bones onto the panel proper each time he took a new lover. Maybe, as they’d watch the bones gather, they'd have a clue. While he was sleeping, I decided, I would spell out two messages to them. The first would say, "Be a Mermaid when Mommy asks." The second would say, "Ask about Nancy."

I thought about this a lot. But, this idea struck me as too complicated before I implemented. Also, there was the bones thing. Yuck. I didn't really want to touch the other dead women. It was far simpler to spell out one message on his visible sand: "Kill Him" or "He Killed Me." It bothered me not a bit that I wasn't dead when I would write this! I was speaking with bones for his former women, in their gone voices. I was a saint. A channel!

So I tried this bone spelling in both ways, but Sid's next two girls didn't even notice. It was a good thing he didn't like them much, him the one who broke it off. But this next girl, Brooke, she made his heart stop with how “amazing and gorgeous” she was. He told her everything he'd told me, repurposing compliments that worked. He took her to his mom's. "Dad, I love Brooke and I want to marry her," he said.

Lazy fucker, I thought. I wondered if he was going through a spate of women with names that started with B to make things easier. I wondered if he’d go next to C names, or let the subsequent letter be random. It’s not like there were name cards on the corpses. Now, there were about twelve dead women on the shore where I stood, he really liked Brooke I could tell, and I had begun to grow desperate to warn her.

His mother didn't even show the girl the tail. Maybe she'd been warned. Maybe she needed no more guilt. After all, her intervention had really caused Sid's paranoia and the resultant murderous events in our case, one might say, kind of backfired her intent. But Brooke didn't watch his panel much, couldn't even see the bones, so I experimented with a more drastic step. I actually threw one out.

The one I threw sailed free from his panel and landed right on her chest. It was tiny. "What's this little white thing?" she said.

Sid looked close, smacked his belly, and said he was hungry. A warning smack? I ignored it, threw out a skull next. And then another. When Brooke woke up, there would be eight such skulls I'd tossed, sitting on her breasts, but I left his place while she slept so didn't see her reaction.

When I realized the bones could leave, I tried to jump out a few times and finally succeeded. I landed on her left breast and slid down it's curvature to walk along her soft belly until I could get to the sheet beside her, then to the mattress side, then to the carpeted floor. Of course, I thought: Sid wouldn't tell me I could free myself. Why would he? But, maybe he didn't know this was possible, this dry land escape.

I was still small, but as I walked away from his apartment, after two days of dusty carpet safari to his door, where fleas were a constant terror, when I got under his door and to the other side, I felt myself enlarge. By the time I reached the outer doorway of his building, I was terrier sized, full-sized upon arriving home.

The next time I saw Sid in public, I had already discovered that Brooke had left him. He told all his troubles to the coffee house barista we knew, the same one he chatted up about all of his women, not like this was hard to figure out. He went to the same place every day, she was gay so he couldn’t have her, and she was convenient. Anyway, when I saw him, I punched him right in the stomach and left a bunch of red food coloring in his waves.

“Red ocean. Red ocean. Redrum!” I said to him.

"Shhh," he said. "Shhh." He meant, "Don't tell the police."

I walked away.

He wouldn't bother me again, but at least the waves that broke inside him would tell his story. They'd be crimson. Or maybe his story wouldn't matter any more. Did I mention I put a bit of cyanide there, in his water?

Well, that is a different story. One best saved for later.

It's so nice to be large again. I don't go for panel men now. Especially ones with pretty things in their panels. Not really. Not ever. Now, I like a flat, smooth bit of abdomen, a little hair there. A mole. A freckle. A normal rumble after food. And a visible belly button.

Sometimes a little belly fat.

Yes, that.