The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

The Mermaid's Tail

        I took a long breakfast break, followed by a drive in search of a music store where I could get some CDs for the rest of the trip. I guess nobody in Florida listens to music. I got almost all the way to St. Petersburg without spotting anything — though I did pass three Scotties hardware stores and a couple of Hooters restaurants. Everybody has their own priorities, I guess.
        I spotted a shopping mall, full of Gothic teens, looking fashionably dark, aloof and outcast while buying ice cream. Sure enough, there was a music store that had what I was looking for. I needed an antidote to Katie's blastings and found a 10-CD Classical collection in the bargain bin for about twenty bucks. When we got in the car to go out for dinner that night, the one I had been listening to started playing. Ed liked what he heard. He knew the opus number (but got the composer wrong). Still, I was impressed. Didn't figure him for a longhair. That boy's just full of surprises.
        I decided on the itinerary for the rest of my trip. It wasn't that far to Cape Canaveral (they re-renamed the geographical feature back from 'Kennedy', but kept it for the facility), and something told me I need to go there to get background for my story. I hadn't planned for Sara to visit the cape, but she has a mind of her own (I wonder if it's possible that authors' characters are similar to the 'virtual agents' I concocted for Sara — nearly independent artificial intelligence programs that run mostly in the background. Interesting analogy… Hmm — I see some of you jumping out of your chairs, yelling, "Of course! That's It! Why didn't I think of that?").
        One of Ed's assistants was working that afternoon, a comely young lass — do I need permission to use her name? Some of Ed's associates are a little squeamish about my visit anyway, so maybe I should stick with anonymity. Witches might be excused for being a little shy, considering certain incidents in their history. We talked while she bagged some mysterious items.
        Her other job was at Weeki Watchi, a tourist attraction nearby. It's one of those waterparks built around a natural spring. I remember going to one like it between San Antonio and Austin when I was a kid. Aquarena Springs was famous for its mermaid show. So is Weeki Watchi. And my companion for the afternoon was a mermaid-in-training.
        There's a lot of competition for spots in the shows they did. This particular young lady was exotically beautiful, with long dark hair. How she kept it so perfect — being immersed in water half the day — is a mystery. I can still picture her on a sunlit rock, tail swishing the water as she meticulously combs her luxuriant tresses with a shell comb.
        The training regimen is quite long and arduous. The park has a significant investment in their performers before they ever take the plunge before a live audience. The details are fascinating, from water up the nose to care and handling of your air hose. Swimming with a costume tail isn't exactly natural, and there's lip synching to master. She explained how they converted bras to be parts of their costumes, adding scales to match their tails. Fit is important. There's a buoyancy problem with that part of their anatomy, you know.
        Ahem. Well, I just had to see the show. I could wander around the park for a couple of hours and catch the noon performance, then head out across the state with plenty of time to see what I wanted in the late afternoon.
        Nice park. Lots of watery activity for the youngsters, with slides and rafts and paddle boats. The place was crowded. I followed a bunch of old folks (with which Florida is abundantly supplied) to a boat tour of the river that flows from the spring. It was damned pleasant, clear water teeming with fish, lots of birds kept well-fed by our guide, and various critters amongst the cypress and towering riparian trees festooned with dangling Spanish Moss.
        The amphitheater was below the water level, fronted by large, thick panes of glass. I got a great seat in the second row, surrounded by kids. The view of the deep, deep spring is spectacular, and the prop castle and statues make it seem like some enormous aquarium. The fish are part of the show, entering and exiting on cue (with the help of a lot of fish snax). Lines of bubbles serve as curtains.
        This season's offering was a charming adaptation of Hans Christian Andersson's classic story. I once visited the bronze Little Mermaid in Copenhagen's harbor. She had seemed so small and frail surrounded by great ships, lonely on her rocky perch, surrounded by shutterbug tourists. The mermaids in the show were robust and perky, more Disneyesque than classical. I was fascinated by their, er, buoyancy problem.
        My own mermaid greeted me at the end of the show. She's just a hostess for now, but is near the end of her training. Too bad I won't be able to see her perform. Maybe I'll be back next year.

Next: The Edge of Space


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© Patrick Hill, 2000