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Timmy Reed

Bio-Luminescence exists in the waters of almost every region of the globe, the tour guide told us. He stroked the bay and the mangroves around it with his lazer. Then he repeated himself en Espanol. But only in a very few special places are the micro-organisms responsible for this magical phenomenon able to survive in such numbers that one can see them clearly, illuminated bright enough to read a book by. The conditions generally required are: very salty waters, dense thickets of mangrove to act as a filter, a bay or lagoon, and darkness. “These are the conditions that provide the ideal environment for this type of bio-luminescence,” he said. “They are the same conditions that attract mermaids. Although we realize there are many mosquitos biting you, please refrain from using insect repellent as it is not good for the plankton.” This too was repeated in Spanish.
Sometimes people, who always want proof of magic, take rum-soaked tours to visit the bio-luminescence and swim in it. I was on one such tour once. I was with a great many people on a pontoon boat. The sky was black and we had been drinking. Pina coladas or rum punch, depending on personal preference. Drinks were included in the price of the tour.
Everyone around me giggled while the tour guide pointed out the entrance to the bay and the planet Jupiter and Orion the Hunter. We were about to see something magic. And swim in it.
I brushed against a young girl’s arm and he jumped. She was that excited!
Usually I am not that excited to be led around by tour guides, but I could tell this glowing stuff was really going to be something special and I didn’t want to miss it. Besides, they served drinks. I leaned over the railing of the boat and watched the wake glow a greenish-blue color as we approached an area of the bay that was thick with the plankton. The pontoon boat slowed and the anchor was dropped. We waited anxiously in line while we were given yellow flotation belts and led down a small ladder into the bay. I was at the back of the line. I could hear laughter and manic squeals each time someone entered the bay. I could see the glow of the tiny bubbles emanating from their extremities as they treaded water. “Holy shit!” someone screamed as she got to the bottom of the ladder and pushed off. “Watch me float in Magic Bay!”
Our giddy group of swimmers turned into children among the illuminated plankton, dancing and spinning and diving as deep as their belts would allow. They lifted their arms from the water and watched the green specks dribble off their wet skin like drops of Mercury. They spit water from their mouths. They splashed each other. They smiled. One young couple was making out in a wreath of non-thermal light. 
Because of the festive nature of the scene, the air and the water and the rum and the glowing, anything was possible. People hollered at the sky like madmen. When the old woman yelled, “Oye! Dios mio!” I was not all that alarmed.
The mermaid floated in from the entrance of the bay on a pad of bio-luminescence. The little glowing animals glistened in her long wet hair and on her skin. They dripped in squiggles  off her belly. She was coughing and vomiting on herself.
Our party crowded around her, treading water. I was off to the side, hovering on the edge of the circle. From my perspective it appeared as if she were glowing herself, but a cool white glow, different than the plankton around her. Someone reached out and touched her shoulder. She flinched and spewed a stream of oyster and seaweed onto her chest. Bright green snot bubbled out her nose.
The guide and his apprentice grabbed a hold of her with a hook and dragged her toward the boat. The bio-luminescence trailed behind her like pilot fish and dripped off her scales as they lifted her from the water. They lay her on a torn vinyl bench. The rest of us bobbed in silence at the edge of the boat, not sure whether the tour had ended. They held her hair back as the mermaid choked and spit saltwater into a bucket. She shivered and her teeth chattered so they wrapped her in a towel, which didn’t seem to help much. When we finally got back on board, I snuck a peek in the bucket. The water inside was glowing.
I would be inclined to describe this particular mermaid as very beautiful, but you could also tell that she was very ill. Her face was pale and white like a pearl but she was turning blue around the gills, which the tour guide’s apprentice kept rinsing with seawater. The guide tried his best to communicate, to figure out what was wrong, but the mermaid didn’t have good English or Spanish. The conversation went nowhere. One man tried German, but that didn’t work either. I hoped that maybe Latin might work and I could show off in front of everybody like Doctor Doolittle, but I hadn’t really spoken it since high school (except in prayer) and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the mermaid or the other members of the party.
The mermaid looked as if her guts were being scraped clean from the inside, but none of us knew how to treat her. “Is there a doctor on the boat?” one man hollered. “Or a veterinarian?”
Our guide and his apprentice were marine biologists of sorts. They spoke in loud whispers, hissing at us to be quiet, to give the mermaid peace, we were scaring her. I made sure to follow their directions; she did look scared. Every flashlight or lantern on the vessel was pointed right at her, leaving the rest of us to mumble and stare in the darkness. I couldn’t tell if she was crying or just wet. I know she had the hiccups. And her eyes were glazed over.
The mosquitoes were vicious out there on the Bahia Bioluminescente. We sat on wet benches, quietly dripping, and one girl tried to feed her crackers. She said that was what her mother did to her when she came home drunk from a party. Maybe the mermaid was drunk, she said. That seemed plausible to several of us, but not to everyone. Maybe she is sick, a woman’s voice said, with something contagious and we should put her back in the water. Maybe she has old age, a little boy squeaked. There were too many maybes, and too many voices. The tour guide asked everyone to be quiet as he looked for a waterproof pen. When he had found it, his apprentice began to take down notes for a vote.
The following is a list of ideas that came out of our discussion:

1. The mermaid needs to be taken to the hospital and then, once healed, given over to the proper Federal authorities. Everyone knows that the government has been trying to get their hands on a mermaid forever, for one reason or another.

2.  She should be taken and put in an aquarium so the general public can be properly entertained by her physical oddities.

3. The mermaid ought to be delivered to the University. There are smart people there who will take the responsibility away from the tour group.

4. Take her back to the casino. She may be good luck.

5. The mermaid needs a change of diet. She needs to eat more fruits and vegetables. She must remove shellfish entirely.

6. The tour group must collectively pray to Saint Adjutor, the patron saint of swimmers.

7. The tour group must try to learn her language. And speak it upon returning to the resort. 

8. The mermaid must be pulled through the bay behind the boat. The wake rushing though her gills will revive her. And watching the bioluminescence freak out all around will improve the tour group’s morale. 

9. The tour group should sing to her. If she is dying, her death should be beautiful and meaningful and special like the bio-luminescence tour is described in the brochure.

10. The world needs to know about this. Everyone should be filming this on their camera phones.

11. Feed her rum punch. 

12. Leave her in her natural environment. She has come to Magic Bay to die and the tour group must not disturb the natural process.

13. Everyone hold hands.

Well, people are usually people. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing. It is just a thing. The same way bio-luminescence is usually bio-luminescence and mermaids are usually mermaids. So being people, we stood around in the darkness for awhile interrupting each other. The mermaid sat wide-eyed, shivering in the spotlight. I had no idea what we should do with her, so I just kept my mouth shut. All I knew was that I wanted to kiss her. She was pretty in a sublime, fishy sort of way. If she were going to die, I wanted to be her last kiss. I got caught up in a fantasy where my kiss would cure her and she would flop off the deck of the boat and swim away, leaping like a dolphin as she passed through the entrance of the bay. But I didn’t kiss her. I was too shy.
I dreamt of kissing her and everyone else argued and multiple votes and recounts were taken and the mermaid threw up again and nothing was decided. Jupiter kept on shining above us and the bio-luminescence circled the boat like a reef. The batteries on peoples’ flashlights started to die one by one. Eventually we were in darkness. Everyone grew quiet. You could hear the mermaid’s teeth chattering. Our bathing suits had long since dried out and we began to fall asleep. While we slept, we were eaten by mosquitos and at one point I woke up and saw her, shivering and covered in vomit. Specks of bio-luminescent dust sparkled in her hair. I watched her in the moonlight, staring at Jupiter and I loved her and was scared of her at the same time. I wanted so much to hold her, touch her hair with my face. Then we made eye contact. I looked away and when I looked back, she was still staring at me. Her eyes were no longer glassy, but penetrating and I felt like she could read my mind, had been reading it all night maybe, watching my dreams as I slept. Then she opened her mouth and silently shaped her lips around one word, “Loser.”
When we woke up in the daylight, the bio-luminescence was invisible and the mermaid was gone. A blue puddle shimmered where she once sat. Everyone was yawning and stretching as the guide flicked on the engines. 
We went back to the island and took a ferry to the larger island and then took a large van to the resort. The tour group was very quiet along the way. Everyone looked at the their phones the whole time. The air felt like the inside of a wet sleeping bag. Someone passed around a bottle of aspirin. I shut my eyes and leaned my face against the window. There would be a rainforest tour that afternoon.  

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