FlukesBy: Nichole Chase
The brisk wind ruffled his hair as he pointed his boat down the coast. Marion sat at the front, large sunglasses concealing most of her face. Even from where he was, he could see the tiny lines along her mouth. They were the only indication of her grief. His heart clenched, and he had to swallow around the lump in his throat. Nothing seemed to help her with the emotional pain, and she had been drifting further and further away. Between the miscarriage and the destruction from the hurricane, things looked really bleak for their small family.
The refuge center they had taken over last year was in terrible debt and, after this storm, there might not be enough left to bother saving. They would be lucky if they were able to pull together enough money to even move out of the center. Shaking his head, he let his eyes travel along the shoreline, noting the debris washed ashore. His keen gaze looked for beached animals and grounded birds. He couldn’t afford to take in any more animals, but there was no way he could let them suffer.
“Ben!” Marion had a hand over her eyes to shade them from the light peeking through the clouds. “Look over there.”
Turning his head in the direction she was pointing, he grimaced. There were several deep-water buoys tangled together in what looked like a fishing net. Something was thrashing about and a pitiful keening noise reached his ears. Without thought he turned the Whaler in the direction of the trouble and sped toward the struggling animal. As they drew near, he cut the throttle and coasted next to the mess.
The loud squeal of a dolphin caught his attention, and he leaned over the edge of the boat to see how badly the animal was hurt. A large, old-style fishing net was wrapped around the buoys and the dolphin stuck inside thrashed when he tried to pull on the line wrapped around its tail. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his multi-tool and flicked out the knife. Slowly and carefully, he began to cut the net away from the dolphin’s tail and dorsal fin.
“Marion, come over here and pull the net closer. We’re drifting.” Something shiny flashed next to the dolphin and he paused to examine it a little closer, worried that there might be something in the net that could hurt the animal even more. Tilting his head, he moved a little closer to try and get a better look. Reaching his fingers into the net, he prodded the shiny material and was shocked when it felt soft under his fingers. “Marion, where are you? There’s something stuck in this net with the dolphin.” She didn’t respond and he tore his gaze away from the net to look over his shoulder. “Marion?”
“Do you hear that, Ben?” She was looking over the opposite side of the boat in confusion.
“Hear what?” Keeping his hand on the net so that the dolphin’s blowhole didn’t dip under the water, he kept his eyes locked on his wife. Something in her expression made his heart skip a beat. It was fear and determination.
“It sounds like a baby.” Her voice was so quiet he almost didn’t hear her over the water splashing against the boat. Shaking her head, she turned around to him and bit her lip for a minute. Taking a deep breath, she moved over next to him and grabbed firmly onto the net.
Not sure what to say, he looked back at the dolphin and pointed to the shiny area underneath. “See that? I’ve never see anything like it before. It almost looks like a scale, but it’s soft.”
Marion leaned over, and he could see the scientific part of her mind take over. “Maybe it’s not an animal. It could be some type of trash that was swept away in the storm. Finish cutting the dolphin free and then we’ll find out.”
He slid the knife back to the net that was wrapped around the animal and carefully began to remove the old ropes. He made soothing sounds as he worked, and was careful to not knick the dolphin, which was hard with the waves rocking the boat. The sound of another dolphin surfacing surprised him and he stabbed his knuckle. Muttering a curse, he looked to his right and smiled. There, floating next to the boat was a small dolphin. If he were to guess, he would say it was only a couple of months old.
“Oh, we’ve got to get the mother loose.” Moving her hands so that she had a better grip on the ropes, Marion smiled softly at the young dolphin. “Hurry, Ben.”
Renewing his efforts, he was able to get the dolphins tail free, but was rewarded with a mighty flick toward his face. Leaning back, he made shushing noises and looked over at his wife. She leaned closer to the dolphin and was whispering words of encouragement. Carefully, she moved her hand so that it could unloop the net wrapped around the dorsal fin before slowly working it over the dolphin’s head. Together they helped free the mother and watched as she turned to nose her baby.
Marion’s eyes stayed on the pair, tears dripping down her face to run along her soft smile. Reaching over to grab her hand, he laced his fingers with hers and pulled her toward him. She leaned into him for a moment and then pulled away gently. A soft mewling sound drifted over the water to his ears, and his wife tensed.
“I’m okay. I’m going to get the first aid kit and see if she will let me look at her back. She had some lacerations that didn’t look so good.” Marion patted his hand before moving toward the back of the boat. He watched her for a moment to make sure that she really was okay and then turned back to the mess next to his boat. He would have to call the Coast Guard to let them know about the buoys, but he might be able to get the net out of the water before anything else was caught. There was also the question of what had been under the dolphin.
Grabbing the net, he hauled it toward him with a grunt. Something in the net shifted and he jumped back in shock. His heartbeat sped up and he looked quickly over his shoulder toward his wife. She was kneeling and speaking softly to the dolphin. Swallowing convulsively, he moved back to the net and peered down at the sad face looking up at him with sightless eyes. Red hair lapped around her face and his eyes drifted down to where her body seemed to taper off. At first his mind wouldn’t grasp what his eyes were seeing. He stared and stared, but it just didn’t make sense. It was as if his brain refused to process what he was seeing. It shouldn’t be possible; it wasn’t possible and yet there was all the proof that his scientific brain could ever want.
“Ben?” Marion moved next to him and gasped. She leaned over the edge of the boat and pulled at the net. “What are you doing? Help her!”
Grabbing her shoulders, he pulled her away from the woman in the water. “Stop, Marion. She’s already dead.”
She covered her mouth and looked away. That strange mewling sound floated over the water again, making his shoulders tense while he held his wife closely. After a moment, Marion looked back at the woman tangled in the net and frowned. Getting back on her knees she reached for the net. He started to stop her but understood what she was being drawn to.
“Careful.” Leaning down next to her, he cut the ropes away from the woman’s face and watched as his wife gently unwrapped some seaweed from the net so that they could see better.
“Is this real? Can this be real?” Marion gently touched the soft, supple scales. Her face was pinched in astonishment and sadness. “A mermaid?”
Not sure how to answer that question, Ben shook his head. He didn’t tear his eyes from the mythical creature in front of him until the injured dolphin swam next to the boat and made a mournful sound. Looking into the sad eye of a generally upbeat animal made his heart clench.
“Marion?” He nodded his head toward the dolphin.
“Oh. I can almost feel how sad she is.” Marion ran a hand over the dolphin’s back. “What do we do? Should we take the… body… back with us?”
Under her words, Ben could hear Marion’s disgust and confusion over what would happen to the poor mermaid they found. Looking from the dead eyes of the woman floating in the water to the soulful eyes of the dolphin helped him make up his mind.
“We cut her adrift. I can only imagine that she would normally be at rest in the sea.” As if there was no other option, he began hacking at the rest of the ropes around the woman’s tail.