[A good descriptive passage has three elements: a) specific, well-observed detail, b) revelation of the character’s inner life, and c) motivation, the impulse that drives the character Lorelei goes into a bar to see if her missing cup is there. Related to b) she is uncomfortable in crowds, and related to c) she needs her cup in order to return home ]

The interior of the pub reeked of human sweat, stale beer, and fried food. Lorelei paused in the doorway, almost overcome by the smells. Her nose closed automatically, but she had to remind herself to breathe through her mouth not her gills. Her poor gills all dried out and soar from the toxins in the air. Humans were so very dirty. The bartender looked up, raising his eyebrows in inquiry. She stepped out of the doorway and into the gloom.

“What can I get ya?” the barman asked, closing the book he’d been reading. She looked at the shelves behind him with their shiny bottles displayed like trophies. Not surprising that they didn’t have her favorite clam juice and seaweed beer available.

“I’d like the cup please,” she said.

“Coffee? Anything in it?” She frowned, peering at the man. She supposed he could be considered handsome – for a human – with his expressive brown eyes and wavy hair. He reminded her of a statue of some sort of deity she’d seen in the warm waters of the Aegean ; muscular, well proportioned. He titled his head, waiting.

“No, the cup; The Merrow Cup you advertise on your window. I’d like that.”

“Oh,” he laughed. She noticed his voice had a deep resonance, like the surf hitting the shore. His attractiveness factor rose a slight bit. “You know, that’s an excellent idea. What do you suppose should go in a merrow’s cup?”

“Clam juice and seaweed beer,” she answered with a smile. His eyes lit up in response. “At least, that’s what I like in mine.”

“Seaweed beer; never had that. Sounds salty.”

He offered her some other drink that had salt on the rim. She accepted it but her interest in him had started to fade, like the rest of her mind. Shells! She needed that cup.

“So there’s no actual Merrow cup here?”

 “Oh – yeah, there is.” He pointed to a corner display case, behind the bar, hidden under a large ‘TV’. She’d only recently figured out that the images on the screen were not real. If she squinted, she could almost imagine the figures on the screen as little fish darting about instead of humans playing some sort of game with a ball. She pulled her attention back, and focused on the display case. Inside a familiar intricately carved conch shell rested.

“That’s it!” she rushed over and leaned across the bar, trying to reach the case.

“Whoa lady, not so fast. It’s a look-but-don’t-touch only item.”

“But it’s mine.” She tried to go around the bar, but he blocked her path.

“I can’t have you back here. Insurance ya know?”

“I want my cup.” She thumped his broad chest with her fist. He caught her, holding her at arm’s length.

His laughter this time was forced. “Are ya a mermaid then?”

She snorted at him. Wasn’t it obvious?

“Look, you sit down. Have your cocktail.”

He escorted her back to her seat, his hand on the small of her back giving him leverage to move her. “You are a skinny one,” he said, eyeing her up and down.

“Can I get you some food?”

So close. She sat and accepted a menu from him, glancing over it while trying to come up with a new plan. It wouldn’t do to make a scene – more of a scene. Luckily the pub was empty of customers. It wouldn’t do to be locked up again. No no no.

A waitress came out from the back, tying her apron on while she walked.

“’Sup Jimmy?” She greeted the barman with a wink. He raised his chin slightly and winked back.

Another customer came in and sat next to Lorelei. His smell was almost as loud as his voice.

“Jimmy! Whiskey for the horses – and a beer for their driver.”

Jimmy nodded and turned to pour.

“How you doin’?” the customer asked her with a leer. He reminded her of a beached whale, white and bloated, smelling of rot. She curled her lip at him and sipped her drink. The menu listed fried fish. What’s wrong with these people? Can’t they eat fish the natural way? The waitress giggled, and Lorelei looked up to see her batting her eyelashes at the barman and swinging her hips suggestively. Seriously? She caught herself thinking, Let me show you how it’s done.

The beached whale man beat her too it. “Veronica, are you trying to get our boy James in trouble again?”

The waitress made a face at him, and asked Lorelei for her order.


“Ours is the best,” she said with a false smile. She glared at the beached whale and sashayed back to the kitchen.

“Jim – you’re not thinking about sleeping with her again are you? That’s almost as lame as that fake mermaid cup.” Lorelei snapped her head around to look at the whale. Her stomach cramped and her head started to pound. Fake? Shells – it can’t be a fake. She moaned. She’ll never have fins again.

“You okay?” Jimmy asked, suddenly in front of her.

“My feet hurt. Are you certain I can’t see that cup?”