She was flapping her gums up and down like a guppy, her arm flung over Uncle Gary’s shoulder as he carried her through the gate into our front yard. He lay her down on the grass and we all bent over her. Uncle Gary wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his sandy hand.

           ‘Found her down by the beach. She was lying on the rocks like a crab. I thought she was dead, she wasn’t moving at all. When I helped her up she started moaning. I hadn’t even noticed that thing yet.’ He gestured to her legs and we saw what he meant.

           Mum bent down closer and squinted. ‘Is that psoriasis? Bev, go grab the Sorbolene.’

           My sister darted inside, her right thong flipping off onto the porch.

           Uncle Gary shook his head. ‘Nah love, it’s not just the scaly skin. She’s only got one leg. And it’s in a weird way.’

           The woman’s legs seemed to be sewn together, but in a seamless sort of way. I thought she was wearing some sort of tight satin frock, like the one mum wore to Uncle Gary and Aunt Trudie’s wedding, with faded sequins and a ruffled pattern. But we couldn’t see where the frock ended and her stomach began. Mum squinted some more. ‘Lord, she’s a funny looking bird.’

           Bev returned with the Sorbolene and squirted a bit into her hands. ‘Nah Mum, she’s a funny looking fish! Fishy fishy!’

           The woman did look like a fish. Her grey hair was splayed on the ground like translucent fins and her mouth continued to gape, eyes wide with shock. She reminded me of the time Bev’s goldfish jumped straight out of the bowl and onto the carpet, flapping and gulping until Bev scooped it up in her hands and dropped it back in the water. Dad said it must have thought there was a bigger ocean outside the bowl.

           ‘Bloody thing won’t be making that mistake again.’

           Mum stood up straight. ‘You’re right Bev, she does look like a fish. Poor love must have found herself beached on the rocks. Lucky she didn’t end up in a rock pool with a blue-ringed octopus.’ She bent down and squinted at the fish woman again. ‘Or maybe… she doesn’t seem to be breathing right. Gaz, did you call the ambo?’

           ‘Well, she’s not… us. A vet would be better, I reckon.’

           Bev let the Sorbolene drop onto the grass and a little bit oozed out of the nozzle as it fell on to its side. ‘She needs to be in water! Like Goldy!’ Bev only had an outside voice. Normally mum would have yelled at her for yelling, but this time she sighed and looked tired.

           ‘You’re right. Just look at her. We’ll take her out the back and into the pool.’ Mum and Uncle Gary took an arm each while I was on gate duty. I creaked open the rusted gate round the side of the house and took the opportunity to swing off it as it shut behind them.

           We hadn’t swum in the pool for months, and Dad hadn’t cleaned it for even longer. Green sludge lapped at the sides while tadpoles could be seen darting around the muck. Bev had caught some a month earlier and kept them in an ice-cream container with fresh water from the tap. Their bellies swelled like bubbles and eventually burst all over the container, leaving a string of green intestines connecting the heads and the tails. It looked like the vegie pasta we had for dinner.

           Mum and Uncle Gary groaned under the weight of the fish woman, and our neighbour Joan could be seen peering over the fence with interest.

           Mum grinned painfully. ‘Hello, Joan! We’re all well, thank you!’ And then, more quietly, ‘Take a picture, it’ll last longer.’

           Bev whooped with joy. ‘Take a picture! Take a PICTURE!’

           Mum and Uncle Gary heaved the fish woman into the pool. The splash caused water and sludge to run up onto the grass. She was no longer gulping, but she looked sad. She sat at the bottom of the pool with the muck floating around her patchy leg, tadpoles sucking at her hair. Before we could say anything, she began heaving.

           ‘She’s going to explode!’ Bev started jumping with the excitement of it all.

           Mum looked pale. ‘Oh God, is she?’ The woman heaved one last time before a stream of rubbish poured out of her mouth and into the pool. There was an old Twisties bag, a Smith’s chips packet (salt and vinegar flavour), lots of Minties wrappers and loads of other stuff we couldn’t recognise.

           ‘Aw gross, she munted.’ Bev and I wouldn’t be swimming in that pool again any time soon, and I couldn’t imagine Dad being in a hurry to clean it now.

The next day Gary loaded the fish woman into the back of the ute in a white plastic container normally reserved for yabbies. He dropped her off at the beach, flinging her as far as he could into the ocean. It seemed like she lay lifeless for a moment, arms and hair swaying in the waves, before she dove under the water with a flick of her scaled tail.

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