He wants her to dress like a mermaid. “Not Ariel,” he clarifies. No, he wants a siren with a cascading mane and a tail that shines like lacquered Azulejo tiles to lure him to his inevitable death while he comes.

“I used to be on a boat, but now I’m lost at sea,” he tells her amidst twisted jellyfish sheets, tendrils curling against the wreckage of a sunken union. His responsibilities lap away at him, but he won’t wrestle his ankles from the net, self-cast; and she can’t build him a new ship, even with her self-immolation, heart split open like a clamshell.

“I’m lost at sea,” he repeats when she complains about the stinginess of his offerings, the slow burn of his reflexive, predatory stings. She thinks he likes being lost; revels in that final, delirious gulp of air that precedes suffocation. But first, he wants to be aroused by hope, lured to a phantom shore by temptation.

“My ocean flower,” he whispers to her. “You’re gorgeous. I need you.”

He plants a sand-grain compliment in her most vulnerable fold, and she spins it in layers of overcompensation that calcify to a sheen, but never a shine. Drowning herself in his saline neck, she wonders how long it will take for this crumb of validation to appreciate in value.

STACEY BROOK is a writer who spends far too much time thinking about what she will eat for dinner. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, TIME, The Huffington Post, and more. She has lived in New York City for almost fifteen years, but her area code gives away her Long Island roots, so she might as well cop to them now.