At the Marina

Illustration by Christopher Park

Illustration by Christopher Park

By Will Walton

Hola. I’m Maria. I’m part mermaid. That means I live only on dry land, but I can speak the secret fish language.

Here’s what happens when I meet a fish.

First, it hops up out of the water. It stretches its fins and puts on clothes to greet me. Then we have a chat. Sometimes we chat about hairdos or fashion sense — many fish have wonderful style. Some fish wear slippers on their fins and gowns with long sleeves. Other fish dress more plainly, like Mama and I do.

Mama and I do not dress fancy most of the time, because most of the time, we are chatting with the fish. We get wet up to our knees most days, while we chat. We chat with the fish, and and we chat with each other.

Today we are teaching Javier to speak to fish. Javier is my ten-year-old brother. He eats all the time. This morning Mama cried out to stop him, as he reached for a juicy green apple.

“No eating!” she cried. It is bad luck to eat before a fishing trip.

Javier pretended to put the apple back. But when Mama turned her back, he sunk his teeth into it. “Mmm, mmm, mmm,” he went, munching.

I said, “Javier, you’ll bring us bad luck.” He finished chewing. “I’m a growing boy,” he said.

“And I’m a growing girl, just like Mama is a growing mama, like a fish is a growing fish. What makes you so special?” I ask.

At the marina, Javier stays behind Mama and me. He’s scared of water.

“Oh, Javy, come here,” Mama says.

We watch him get one toe wet.

“I don’t know if I can,” he calls to us. “I don’t know if I want to.”

“Can’t and want are two very different things,” I say to Javier — I heard that saying somewhere before (or was that “can’t and won’t”?).

Mama turns to me. “Shh,” she goes. She puts her ear to the water.

“You hear?” she asks. “This fish has a twinkle in her voice, like the coins at the bottom of your pocketbook.”

My pocketbook is plastic, with a ripe strawberry design. I imagine nickels, pennies, quarters, and dimes swirling around its inside. As I imagine the sound, I can hear the fish. She’s a girl fish. She’s laughing.

“I’m not coming in, no way!” Javier calls.

Mama smiles at me. “One second, mi amor,” she says. I watch her go from knee-deep to ankle-deep.
She talks to Javier on the shore. In the meantime, I tip my face toward the water and whistle. I whistle a while, and when nothing happens, I whisper, “I’m sorry he ate before. Javier is a growing boy.”

That’s when a curved, shining silver face appears beneath me. It pops out of the water and opens its big, round mouth. “What difference does it make if he’s a growing boy?” the fish asks.

I jump back, startled. “Oh!” I yelp. Then I answer calmly, “Yeah, that’s what I was wondering too.”

“We’re all growing,” the fish says. “We’re all growing all the time.”

Sí, exactamente,” I say. “I know what you mean. I am growing, you are growing, Mama is growing, and Javier is growing. We’re all growing.”

Exactamente.” The fish smiles. She slips a shining tuxedo suit over her head — a white shirt, a black vest, and a black coat with sleeves.

“What a lovely suit,” I tell her.

“Why, thank you. I love yours too.”

“Oh this,” I say. I am wearing a bathing suit. “Don’t let it fool you. I’m actually part mermaid.”

“You don’t say!” the tuxedo fish says. “I’ve never met a part mermaid before. Have you ever seen the underside of the marina before?”
I gulp. “You mean, like, under water?”

With that, tuxedo fish pulls a bright glowing stone from inside her coat pocket — a rare stone, a magic stone. I believe it is a breathing stone. I’ve heard of those before.

“Hold the breathing stone in your mouth,” tuxedo fish says, “and you can breathe underwater. Would you like to join me for an underwater tour?”

Finish this story and see what happens next!

Some questions for you to think about:

Do you think Maria will ask for a breathing stone for her brother?

What will under the marina look like?

What adventure can they have under the sea?

Maria says that everyone grows. Did you know that stories work best if your character changes, or grows, in some way by the end? Javy and Maria both have things they can change — what do you think that could be?

How could you show this change in your story?