Saturday July 4th, 2009 Friday Harbor Herald
Tonight's festivities will be held at Saturday Square across from the Bridgewater Marina. Ferry service will be suspended from 5 p.m. until midnight. Westbound passengers may depart upon the Seath for Sidney, B.C. at that time should any passengers require travel after an evening of fireworks, frankfurters, and firecracker cotton candy. Eastbound passengers, take note that the Chelan will not depart for Anacortez, Wash. until the following morning at 5:30 a.m. July 5th.
The Friday Harbor Festival begins at 1 pm with a parade lead by the Friday Harbor Marching Sailors, followed by the Main Street Craft Fair and our annual blueberry pie eating contest. All entries for the baking contest must be received by 12 noon. If you wish to participate in the triathlon, your application must be received by 10 a.m. No fee is necessary.
Be sure to attend the annual presentation of "Pig War Picnic" presented by volunteers from the local Kiwanis club. The curtain drops at 3:00 PM at the grounds of the San Juan Historical Museum. All are welcome. Donations of food and gently used clothing are encouraged. Proceeds will benefit the local chapter and are greatly appreciated.
Lastly, please don't forget about our sixth annual writing contest, open to all writers, containing an essay about your favorite moment of this year’s celebration. Winnners selected will be categorized by age. All stories, poems, or essays that showcase our town festival and the season are welcome. Contest entries must be 5,000 words or less for fiction or essay and poems amounting to less than 40 lines. All entries must be submitted by July 15th. Please include your name, age, and a short bio separate from the entry. Make certain that your entry shows your patriotism! Any subject related to the Fourth of July, themes related to patrotism, freedom, and stories of American courage are just a small sampling of the themes winners have used in past contests. Please note this contest is closed to Friday Harbor Herald staff members and their families. All rules, judging crieteria, and age categories can be found on the newspaper website. Submit your contest entry today and get the most out of your July 4th Celebration!
It was her voice I heard first, rousing me from my bed that July evening well past midnight and long after the fog chased away the pyromaniacs with their sparklers and firecrackers. Fireworks were illegal on San Juan Island, especially after July 5th, but that never stopped anyone from burning the stock they purchased at the firework stands in Sidney. The customs people hated the practice, though nobody ever seemed to notice the illegal importation of fireworks across the channel from Canada into the United States. But then, nobody who rode the ferry ever went there with the intent to smuggle fireworks into the country. We were all American citizens who called Friday Harbor home.
Friday Harbor was filled with dreamers who ended up here, for one reason or another, and hoped to make the most of their surroundings. Some dreamt of the occult. Some sang to the moon. Whoever this person was, she clearly belonged to the latter group. Her voice was soft, innocent, soprano. Mrs. Erickson would surely love to have her in our twenty member choir at the high school. I was second soprano in those days; this voice outshined mine, and I couldn't just go back to sleep without wondering who owned it.
The air outside was thick with fog, as was often the case after a night of fireworks. This fog was different, almost creating a private space meant just for me. All the waters were so calm, it looked as if the dock was floating above the sky, not the water. While I could normally see the lights of Vancouver to the north at night and the peak of Mount Baker to the east in the daytime, that night I couldn't see past the end of the 140' dock that ran from our property southeast of town into the waters of the Strait of Juan De Fuca.
Leaving on my nighttime attire, consisting of black fleece shorts and a loose tank top, I threw on a pair of sandals and headed outside. I quietly closed the screen door behind me so not to wake Tim or my father. While my first instinct might have been to bring a flashlight, I slowly advanced toward the source of the voice at the end of our dock. I made certain to be gentle.
She sang a song that I had never heard before. There were no lyrics, but the melody was serene and smooth. The waters were flat and the winds were calm. If her voice were somehow setting the scene for my arrival, I could not tell. Everything was peaceful and private. Her song might have spread beyond the fog, but at that moment, only I could hear her.
She sat on the dock, damp from the fog. She was apparently basking in the moist air of the evening. Her brown blouse, possibly salvaged from the Black Pearl or the Queen Anne's Revenge, dripped of seawater and was thick enough to maintain her modesty. Her long hair, held in place with two long shells, was red, brown, or a combination of both. In the darkness I couldn't be sure. What I was sure of, however, were the blue scales that covered her body from the waist down a tapered fishtail to broad, twin flukes. The scales matched her eyes. There was no mistaking her for any of my fellow classmates, for none of them had a fish tail like hers.
My mind began to wander. How long had mermaids lived off of San Juan Island? No, more basic than that. Mermaids exist? They're not just fairy tales anymore. Like any other young girl with wild dreams, I had grown up wanting to believe. But now, sitting halfway down the dock that extended into the channel, sat a mermaid. A mermaid that was more real than any movie, theme park, or anything else I could ever imagine.
The soprano siren's song drew me closer, even as she blissfully fumbled with a net of some kind that had tangled around her flukes. Was she hurt? Although I knew I might frighten her and cause her to swim away, it was time to act.
"Are you okay?"
She hesitated, but only for a moment. The corners of her mouth began to smile, as if she were expecting me. "I wondered if I'd wake someone."
I had startled her, but she didn't try to flee. Perhaps she couldn't escape so quickly. If anything, she seemed to welcome the assistance. Maybe if I ignored the fact that she was a mermaid, I could help her without gushing like a giddy schoolgirl. I took a deep breath and did my best to pretend she was just another student from my school. "What happened?"
"Caught in a fishing net. I so wish that Mr. Bridgewater would clean up after himself."
"Mr. Bridgewater, the marina manager?" I knew the man, just as everyone in town did. Friday Harbor was a town of around 2,100 depending on what time of year it was. Some folks lived here seasonally, while others, like my family, were full-timers. Mr. Bridgewater was a fisherman, a widower, my boss, and a bit of a drunk, but otherwise harmless.
"You're stuck?" I asked.
She gave a nod and pulled on the strings of the fishing net. "I really did it this time."
"Should I get a scissors?" The tool kit was inside, but I didn’t dare leave.
Her bob of hair shook slightly. "He won't be able to use the net again if you cut it."
"You're stuck, yes? Besides, if he left it lying around, it's not his anymore."
She looked up suddenly, a curious glint in her eye. Even the side of her face was lovely. "Do you think so?"
"Absolutely! He's got hundreds of these. He won't miss one little net."
"It's larger than you think." The mermaid smiled. "And it sure has slowed me down. I can unwrap everything, but all the lines are knotted."
I came to the end of the dock, standing with my back to the house. "If that's all it is, maybe I can help?"
She looked me over at last. "I love your shoes.“
I couldn’t help but laugh. “What would a mermaid know about shoes?”
“They're a lovely shade of red.”
For as long as I could remember, I’d always bought red shoes. There was something about Converse that just stuck with me. “They stand out in the closet, I suppose.”
Her eyes drifted behind me. “You have beautiful blond hair."
I shrugged. "Didn't have time to comb."
"Don't be so modest. Your hair reminds me of waterfalls. Have you ever seen a waterfall?"
"Sure, but there aren't any waterfalls on this island."
"North of here, beyond the big city, there's a creek that curves up to a park," she said as she continued to work the fishing net from her flukes. "I can only reach it when the spring thaw comes, but your hair reminds me of the falling water."
I kneeled at her side. She had a musk like a freshly fallen rain. Her fins were sparkling in the dim light. I almost forgot she was looking at me.
"How good are you with knots?"
"Okay, I guess." I giggled at myself. "Sorry, this must be strange for you."
"For me?" She paused to laugh, turning to gaze toward the shore. "This isn't the first time I've had to untangle myself. You have a lovely house."
"It's okay," I said. "I've always wanted a pool table, but there's no room."
She looked to the stars, a glowing glimmer in her eyes. "I've always wanted to be an acrobat. You know what an acrobat is?"
"Sure," I said. She never hesitated to pose these questions to me, as if she was so amazed that I knew what she was talking about. "They're fearless, flying between the swings like that." I paused to glance at her tailfin. Even though we both seemed to fascinate each other, I soon found myself doing the same thing. Her scales were so foreign to me, they were simply mesmerizing. "Where did you get the idea to be an acrobat?"
"When the large ships come by, sometimes they drop flyers for the various shows on board. One dropped a flyer for an acrobatics show. It's one of my most treasured possessions."
"I wouldn't have guessed a brochure like that could survive underwater."
"Anything can last forever if someone takes care of it." She tugged on the net and winced as the net became taut around itself. There must've been a place that was tightening on her flukes. I wondered if there were blood vessels inside that might be constricting.
"Hang on, you're making it worse." I took hold of the net. "May I?"
She nodded and leaned back, as if granting me access to a secret cove.
"Wouldn't this tailfin of yours make becoming an acrobat difficult?" I began to unravel the net as best I could, loosening the knot before unwrapping the tips of her flukes.
With a dreamy sigh, she gazed off into the channel. "My father always said I should follow my dreams."
"Even if they bring you on shore? Most of my friends have only seen mermaids in Disney films, and very few of them would ever admit to meeting one."
"Just because you haven't seen us doesn't mean we're not here," she replied with a confident smirk. "We watch you all the time. Humans are entertaining creatures."
I nodded. "I can see how we might be, though I might be dreaming."
"You're not. I promise."
"Sure, and the promise of a mermaid is worth, what, exactly?"
I looked up suddenly. "Mermaids don't grant wishes. Genies do."
"We don't carry around bottles, and we don't grant wishes with magic, but I want to repay you for helping me. Do you play the piano?"
"Yes, but my mother plays it better than I do." I hesitated a moment. "How do you know it's called a piano?"
She giggled quietly before glancing toward the bench at the end of the dock. "I often sit just below that bench and listen. You haven't played in some time."
"I've been busy." I released another knot and began unwrapping the rest of the net. "What if my wish isn't to become a better piano player?"
"The outcome of a wish should be your choice, of course," she said with a solemn smile. "Would you play the piano again sometime? For me?"
"Is that what I have to do for a wish, or are you changing the subject?”
"No," she smiled with a giggle. "Granting wishes is a complicated process, and we’ll have to work together if that wish is ever to be granted. But I’ll promise you, if I say I‘ll grant a wish, I mean it. Anything is possible.”
"Perhaps.” It was hard not to agree when I knew what I was sitting next to. “Tell you what. I'll play if you'll come to visit again." I carefully removed the rest of the net, which now hung loose beneath her and down into the water. "How does that feel?"
"That feels much better, thank you very much." She inspected her fins, confident that all was well. "What's your name?"
"Jessica. And yours?"
"I know a girl at school named Sharon."
"You're pronouncing it wrong. There's a harder C on the front and a softer N at the end." She held up her hand and drew an imaginary C in the air. "Spelled like that, and then-" she drew a Y in the air next to it. "Do they teach you letters at your school?"
"Of course they do," I replied. "I was an A student in tenth grade English. How long have you lived under my dock?"
"Here?" She smirked. "The water is far too shallow here. But I have a grotto across the channel that's very cozy. I'll tell you a secret, though. The best view of the passing ships is from that bench right there." Cheryn pointed to the end of the dock. "Haven't you ever thought so?"
I would never admit how many hours I had wasted watching the cruise ships sail by, but I nodded, inclined to agree.
"Speaking of my grotto, it's very late and I should head home." Cheryn gazed out beyond the channel towards Shaw Island. "You wouldn't mind if I continued to come here, then?"
"What about being seen? Aren't you afraid of humans? Of us?" Suddenly I began to wonder why she found me so harmless.
"You seem nice enough," Cheryn said with a shrug. "As long as I'm not tangled up in anything, I'm pretty hard to catch. You've never noticed me before."
"What about my neighbors? About Mr. Bridgewater?"
"He's not very observant, and never checks his nets."
"Cheryn-" I trailed off, realizing that I was about to sound like my mother.
"These waters are my home, Jessica. If I'm going to live here, I have to be able to enjoy myself. I'm really more of a night owl, besides, and I'm certainly not going to hang around town with so many people around." She moved closer to the water so that her tail dangled into the water before turning to me. "Speaking of which, what did you think of the fireworks tonight?"
The question struck me as odd. "They're always kinda loud."
"I thought they were beautiful. The view from the other side of the channel is perfect, though there are many lights. Can't they turn off the street lights during the fireworks?"
The suggestion didn't seem unreasonable. "I'll have to ask Mayor Glendale next year."
Cheryn folded the net carefully so that it wouldn't tangle upon itself. "Here, you keep this. Don't give it back to Mr. Bridgewater, okay?"
"But, it's his," I began.
She shook her head. "It's yours. We have a rule back home. If it sinks, it’s ours. Consider this a gift from me to you, okay?"
"Didn't you say something about granting a wish?"
"Oh," Cheryn waved her hand to channel the thought away. "Those take a while to conjure up. Don't worry, we'll make it happen soon. You think about that wish in the meantime, and I'll get back to you again. The next time it gets foggy like this, come look for me."
"When will that be?"
With a little hop, Cheryn quietly slid into the water. "Just watch for me."
I watched her, mesmerized by her subtle movements. She moved out beyond the edge of the dock, moving so gently that she didn't even leave a wake.
She then turned back to me. "It was nice to have met you, Jessica."
"You too, Cheryn."
With a little hop, she vanished beneath the water and disappeared within the fog.