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Hunting for mermaids
When me and my sister were younger we used to hunt for mermaids.
The summer sun would warm our backs as we made our way down to the beach, the waves lapping lazily onto barnacle covered rocks. In one hand I would carry a bag full of the necessary equipment: towels, sunscreen, a case of sardines, and a spyglass that we had smuggled from my grandfather’s study. In my other I held a book (in case we got bored) and a plastic bag full of ham sandwiches. My sister would always lag behind, flip flops falling off small feet as she hauled the old Styrofoam surfboard down the dirt path.
When we were finished settling into our new home on the rocks we would strip down to our bathing suits and plunge into the always frigid Canadian pacific, splashing in the waves until we could no longer feel our toes or fingers.
Whenever we were at a more crowded beach we always laughed at the way other people got in, how their faces scrunched up and how they made those odd yelping sounds as they sank in below their shoulders. Why did they look so much in pain? It was never a problem for us and so we thought them slightly insane.
After our little swim came the hard part. I would open the sardines as Claire looked out across the straight, the salty wind ruffling her hair and making her look like a young seafarer’s daughter. I would open the tin of sardines and scrunch my nose up at the stale sent. I didn’t mind the fresh fish smell that you found weaving its way around the boats on the docks but this was different. I had never been religious but looking down at their dead little faces I always wondered why they had deserved to go to such an evil fishy hell.
Those were some of the more sane ideas that I sat thinking about while slowly throwing the sardines into the waves. Claire always hogged the spyglass and could sit for hours watching the ocean, and once she got bored, the other island faraway across the straight. That left me pretty much by myself and I relished the sparse trips out of reality and into my own world that mermaid hunting granted me, for Claire was usually too talkative.
But that all changed the year I was fifteen and Claire twelve. It was the start of summer vacations and one of our first trips down to the beach in almost a year. I was as excited as ever year, already being able to feel the seaweed sink beneath my feet; almost able to taste the sea salt on my lips, but Claire seemed slightly subdued.
We packed everything up and saying good morning to our grandparents and parents left for our second home. I held the same bag in one hand, a book and ham sandwiches in the other while Claire took up her traditional position of dragging the surfboard behind me. It was when we got there that things changed.
Instead of jumping as fast as she could into the water Claire took off her sundress in favour of her new bikini, laid down on her towel, slathered on the sunscreen, and closed her eyes. I just stood flabbergasted at such normal teenage behaviour. Claire and I had grown up in the welcoming arms of imagination, searching for mermaids, pretending we were fairies and going on adventures with gnomes and elves. Even if we did get older and the pretending part slowly drifted from our heads those creatures were still in the back of my mind as something that was half real.
It made me realise for the first time that I may be an oddity.
Usually Children get over those thoughts when they were eight or nine, something that I never thought about when Claire, a waiting book and the mysteries of the world were all around me.
Rummaging in the bag I found the old spyglass, the silver metal rusting into patches of copper. Holding it out to Claire I asked tauntingly, “What about the spyglass. You know you want it.”
All she did was flip her sunglasses up, squint in the sun glowing behind me, and say “don’t you think were a little old for that?”
“Don’t you think you’re a little too young for this,” I retaliated, throwing my hand in a vague gesture around her odd set up.
All she did was sigh and shake her head like I was a small child and not her elder and to be respected sister. I was the one she had idolised for years, nagging me to forget my latest book and to come play with her instead, the one who I could make her laugh until juice squirted out of her nose.
I sat down dejectedly and stuck my feet into the swirling tide, a purple starfish secretly watching them from beneath a rock. It made me wonder, if starfish could watch this whole scene, could mermaids be watching us too? Giggling at our foolishness and idiotically realistic ways? Would they be on my side of the argument or Claire’s?
And just like that all doubt in my mind was gone.
Standing up I gave an overly dramatic bow too all the known and unknown creatures who may be lurking; ignoring Claire’s raised eyebrows as I stripped off my shorts and tank-top for my much more favoured bathing suit.
Glancing over my shoulder I gave her a wink before jumping off the rocks and into the loving embrace of the sea, laughing at the foolishness of it all.
Opening my eyes under the surface I faced an unknown world where anything was possible, every glittering scale, a possible sea monster, every forest of seaweed a possible living quarters for myths and legends.
Because really, we put too many boundaries on reality.