The Saltwater Wife
by K. C. Norton
Herr Drejlp arrived alone, but with him came more luggage than a traveling circus requires: great
striped boxes packed with jackets and furs, a traincar's worth of dresses in every cut and color,
myriads of hats -- the local haberdasheries combined could not compete for stock -- and 314
pairs of shoes. We had guessed his purpose already, but begged him to tell us the reason for his
"I've come for a wife," he said.
He could have had his pick from the girls of the shoreline, any one of whom would have gone to
him for his wealth and stayed out of common sense, any one of whom would have made a good
wife. But, in the manner of his kind, Herr Drejlp was after the rarest, the finest, the one and only
sort. No freshwater or sky-flying wife would do. He thought to win a wife, not trap one.
Too many gifts, I could have told him, are a kind of cage. This is a thing some husbands will
When Gernot was invited to dinner, I went at his side, knowing that I was the reason Herr Drejlp
had come to town.
He was a tall man with peppercorn hair, conch-bright teeth with unusually sharp canines, and a
particular smell that even my husband, with his blunted human nose, seemed to find captivating.
He wore a purple velvet coat -- deep royal purple, only the least bit gaudy -- which struck me
as a little window into a character at least as eccentric as privileged. I admired him for it. It made
me wonder what would have happened if a man like that had stolen my skin, rather than harsh-faced Gernot whose arm I clung to so dutifully.
"Ah," said Drejlp, when first he saw me. "This is your wife?"
"Annika," said my husband -- the name he had given me. A beautiful name, which neither
suited nor pleased me. Drejlp smiled, revealing those too-sharp teeth, as if perhaps he felt the
same way; his kiss lingered on the back of my hand until Gernot's eyes bulged with jealousy.
We sat around the table sipping gin and letting raw oysters slip down our throats. It was the
fashion, of course, but all the while we ate Herr Drejlp kept his eye on me; I made sure to keep
my smile serene and to let the chilled lumps of meat slide down my throat in unbroken arcs, the
better to expose the murky expanse of my skin. He knew what I was, more or less, and what I
liked. Drejlp watched my face with some interest, while beneath the table Gernot clutched at my
thigh to remind me whose I was.