Mermaids,” Petra said. She spit the word out, then chased its taste away with a sip of water. “Aren’t people tired of mermaids yet?”
Leonid smiled condescendingly at her. “That’s the joy of designing toys.” He dabbed his face with a cloth napkin before continuing. “Children find things fresh, even things that staled for adults long ago.”
The restaurant’s bustle and clink was muted, decorous. Upscale, like Leonid’s business suit. She said, “The world doesn’t need another virtual game. Particularly a mermaid one.”
He held up a finger. She hated when he did that.
“There’s the twist, you see. Not virtual. These are real.”
She leaned forward to spear another bite of orange-drenched tofu. How to depict flavors in a piece? If you opted for organic elements, you were surrendering to the idea that your artwork would decay, disappear one day. “Won’t they be terribly expensive?”
“Of course. But I’m aiming at the 1 percent, who can afford fancy, frivolous things. They become status symbols for their children. That’s the niche I’m aiming for.”
Always some new business scheme with Leonid. Luckily he had the brains to back it up. Still, it was that restlessness, that search for something bigger and better that had driven him from one place to another, that had finally forced Petra from the marriage, taking Kerry with her, into stability.
At least, she hoped she was taking Kerry with her. Custody hearings were still to come. They’d barely gotten to the point where they could sit together and talk like this. Leonid had felt so betrayed by Petra’s departure that he hadn’t spoken to her for three months.
Still, he was cordial now. He said, “But I want to give you a set for Kerry. She’ll be the envy of all her friends.”
“She won’t be back from camp for almost a week. You can give them to her then, wouldn’t you like that better?”
He shook his head. “When you start setting things up, you’ll understand. If you get it started for her, you can have a couple of generations of them ready to go.” He pushed a pamphlet across the table toward her. “It’s all in there, you’ll see.”
“You breed them?” she asked, looking down at the mermaid on the cover. She thought it a cartoon at first glance, but closer examination showed three dimensionality. Like a toy, an exaggerated vision of femininity, pink fishtail with sparkly scales, long blonde hair floating in the water, tangled with scalloped white shells.
She said, “Are they intelligent?”
He looked shocked. “No, that would be illegal, of course. They’re not even the same level of intelligence as goldfish or finches.”
She tapped a nail atop the pamphlet. The paper was stiff, heavy, high gloss. Expensive, to sell an expensive trinket. “They look humanoid?”
He smiled. “It does look that way, doesn’t it? But in reality, we’ve bred them into specific forms, designed very carefully. Nothing risqué, of course. Our mermaids are strictly G-rated. Very Disney.”
She didn’t think that would be a point in favor of the mermaids for thirteen-year-old Kerry. Her daughter was interested in more emo, edgier things, skirting a line that Petra both sympathized with and feared. She understood the allure of knife-edged black. But she also knew how it drove you to test boundaries, to rebel against anything handy.
Leonid’s hopeful face shone across the table. All he wanted to do was connect with the daughter who he hadn’t seen in a month. Petra should help in that, for Kerry’s sake, if not for Leonid’s.
“How much fuss is this going to involve?” She pleated her napkin, looking at the texture. High thread count. Good for paper-making. A subtle nobby line was woven into it, a pattern of matte and shine.