It was her birthday and she had gone for a morning summer sail alone. She dropped the anchor in a cove off her favorite beach at Angel Island, stretched out in the sunshine and fell asleep. She dreamt of pristine white sand beaches and clear, turquoise water, delicate coral waving from rocky reefs teeming with rainbow-hued fish and dolphins playing tag with each other. She swam for hours in her dream, at ease with the sea creatures swirling around her and never needing to come up for air.
When she awoke the sun was high overhead, beaming hot rays onto the deck. She stripped off her shorts revealing her one-piece swimsuit. She often swam in the Bay, enjoying the brisk and salty water. She was a strong swimmer but always wore a life jacket with a tether attached to the boat when she was alone.
Climbing onto the swim platform, she gracefully dove into the water. Stroking upwards, she suddenly felt a sharp tug and the life jacket clasp snapped open and pulled free of her body. She didn’t panic. She broke through the surface, took a breath and got her bearings. The boat wasn’t far away and she began a slow free-style stroke to the life jacket floating nearby.
Just then, a ferryboat roared past the cove, throwing a huge wave her way. She took a quick gulp of air and ducked under to swim through the wake. An underwater current tumbled her about and she felt herself being pulled into the colder, deeper depths. She struggled to find the way back to the surface and the sharp pain in her lungs let her know that she was running out of air.
Her eyes searched for the pale light-greenish hue of the sunshine hitting the water, but all she saw was murky darkness. She didn’t have much air left and calmed herself enough to slowly exhale a small bubble from her lips, watching it float upwards. Now she knew in which direction to swim.
She was close to the surface when the tingly feeling started in her toes. She thought she had become entangled in seaweed and reached down to free herself. Instead of skin, she felt scales. She gasped involuntarily, sucking in water. She tasted the briny saltiness of the Bay in her nose and throat and then relief. Fascinated, she exhaled and inhaled again, breathing underwater. Her body floated with the current as she discovered her legs had become a finned tail.
Afraid to venture too far, she swam near her boat for hours, trying to wrap her mind around her transformation. As the sun began its descent over the Golden Gate Bridge, she reached for her swim ladder, wondering what to do. She couldn’t stay in the water forever, could she? She surely couldn’t sail the boat with a tail, either. Giving a mighty flip of her fin she launched herself onto the swim platform and out of the Bay. Once again she felt a tingle in her toes and looked down to see the green scales sliding off her human legs. She scrambled into the cockpit, in shock and awe of what had just happened.
Shana spent the next week extensively researching what she had always believed to be a myth. She visited the marina every night after sunset, slipping into the water for an hour or two and then returning to land. There was no way she was going to tell anyone; she would be locked up in a psycho ward. Mermaids didn’t exist, plain and simple.
She was sipping her morning cup of tea and contemplating her predicament when her phone rang and she saw the number of her older sister on the screen. “Hi, Hannah! What’s up?”
“Hey, Shana! I just got off the plane and Lyft is picking me up in 10. Meet me at the marina in 30?”
“The marina? You’re here?”
Then she remembered: Hannah had made plans to spend the weekend on the boat with her before a work conference in the City.
“Just kidding! Can’t wait to see you! We’ll need to run by the store to provision before we head out. I’ve been a bit distracted this week.”
“No worries. See you soon … and I brought my suit!” Hannah replied excitedly.
Now what? Shana chewed on her bottom lip as she changed into her sailing shoes, trying desperately to think up an excuse not to go sailing. Her sister lived in Florida and sailed the Keys, but missed the exciting conditions on San Francisco Bay, and the sisters always sailed together every chance they got. She wasn’t getting out of this.
The wind was brisk and before long they were at Shana’s favorite cove and dropped anchor. After laying out a spread of cheese and crackers and pouring a glass of wine for each, Hannah asked Shana what was wrong. They were closer than most sisters and often sensed each other’s moods.
“Nothing much. I just realized that I’m a mermaid,” Shana laughed.
“Really?” Hannah replied thoughtfully. Standing up, she climbed onto the swim platform and held out her hand to Shana.
Without saying a word, Shana joined her.
Into the cool, greenish water they dove together. Shana’s hands cleanly sliced the mirror-like surface of the water and her slender body followed. The now-familiar tingle no longer frightened her as her feet and legs morphed into a single, shimmering finned tail. It was still a strange feeling when the gills emerged behind her ears, and she trepidatiously took that first full breath of water, allowing her lungs to fill with fluid and her immersion with the sea to be complete.
Shana heard Hannah’s soft voice in her head: “Welcome, Sister.”
Bubbles of joy surrounded them as they flicked their tails and headed towards the Golden Gate and the open ocean.
Written March 2018; Read at To Live & Write in Alameda’s “Shorts” (formerly Story Slam), April 2018.