Strings in casings drew up the curtains. Bubbles spewed from the bases of the sills on the other side of the glass, creating an effervescence that obscured everything. A boy searched through the bubbles. He heard a tinkling sound, lower an octave, which became a sort of music accompanied by a swishy hiss. The bubbles slowed their pouring. Behind them: a mermaid, hovering in the space between the distant grotto walls of the deep blue spring. She swam toward the audience, her head up, smiling, pushing the water behind her with her fin, and scooping with her arms. Her golden tail flared at the tip. Long hair floated around her face in the raucous slow motion of underwater. She paused and angled her tail to one side. With a few fingers, she touched her mouth and blew a bubbly kiss, scattering the shiny bubbles with a sweep of her arm. They rose quaking, tiny feathers in opposite gravity.
The boy's grandmother thought to nudge him playfully at the sight of that kiss, but when she looked down at him, she saw a spell she couldn't bring herself to break. Eric sat completely still, leaning forward slightly. His feet hung limply and his eyes had grown wide. They glistened with the blue light of underwater. Something in him had shifted, a channel dug and the water diverted.
Shortly after going to the mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs for the first time, five-year-old Eric Ducharme searched under his parents' sink for garbage bags. He found a box, pulled out a handful, and took the bags to his room along with some scissors, masking tape, and a hot-glue gun. He sat on the floor, wrapped the garbage bags around his legs, and glued the bags together. The glue took too long to dry, so he grabbed the silver tape and wound it tightly around his legs. He taped the garbage bags over his feet and shredded the bottoms. The tatters swished as he scooted across the living room floor and the kitchen tile toward the screen door that opened to the pool.
A few weeks later, after two more trips to see the mermaid turn slow, arm-propelled circles while holding an air hose between her teeth, Eric's grandmother discovered him in her closet, tying one of her old, silky nightgowns around his ankles. She took him to Jo-Ann Fabrics.
The next day, yards of straight, satiny, bluish silver material covered the living room floor. Eric sat on it. He traced the shape of his legs onto the fabric. He estimated the space the fins would take, put them on, and sketched around their rubbery edges with chalk. He cut out the tail shape in double and asked his grandmother to sew it up for him. Inverted, it was his first mermaid tail. Nearly a thousand mermaid tails later, his parents and grandmother are proud of the name he has made for himself: Eric Ducharme, the Mertailor.
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