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A Walk by the Port

Sometimes, I walk up to the port with my dog and let him smell the salt air and the watch the waves crash against the docks. He loves to watch the seagulls and make friends with the tourists waiting for their dolphin tours, which sweep out into the ship channel, past the big freight boats sliding in with colorful cargo containers.

It's good for both of us to spend a little time by the water. Even on an island that's only two miles wide at best, I could go days without really looking at the water if I wanted to.

We try to go in the evening, when it's not too hot. Tourists crowd outside the big seafood houses with metal siding, waiting for a table. We walk past the bronze statue of the boy with seagulls flocking around him. Once, we walked to the pier after dark and that's when we saw the boy jump off his pedestal and run across Pier 19, throwing bronze breadcrumbs for the bronze gulls following him. The boy ran to the edge of the pier and balanced like a tightrope walker on the wooden edge. He was gearing up for an acrobatics routine, but it was getting late and it was a weeknight, so we left before it started.

My dog doesn't like the fishing boats. The first time we walked down to the rocking docks, the shrimping and fishing crafts all bobbing on the gentle waves, he jerked and tried to run away. I'd wanted to stay and read the names painted on the boat's sides, fill up my nostrils with that dense fish smell, but he was just too nervous. I don't blame him, really. The knocking sound reminded me of the ghosts we saw down by the cruise terminals, the ones that like to hover just above the water's edge, and then rush forward with a great wind, making the palm fronds rustle and the train tracks groan. If I was a ghost, I'd probably do the same thing. Though, I can't help but think that scaring gullible bystanders would get boring after a while. Yes, that can happen, the ghost of a middle age guy - Frank, I think? - told me once. He'd been haunting since the great 1900 Storm and he'd been through a roller coaster of ups and downs. Luckily, he said, there's a great exchange network for ghosts who need a change for a few decades. He spent the better part of the 60s haunting the New Orleans French Quarter and came back to the island refreshed and ready to scare.

By far, the best is when my dog and I see mermaids. My dog never knows how to react. He'll try to run at first, but when they come up to the pier, all covered in sargassum, he'll tentatively sniff and then lick their fingers. I bring them oranges, which are their favorite - they swipe the fruit that's fallen off the shipping boats - and they'll bring me shells from the ocean floor. The mermaids don't seem to understand humans prefer whole shells to the shards. I only have four intact shells from mermaids, but I have so many broken ones that I've started throwing them back on the beach.

I can never figure out the mermaids. Some of them laugh at my bad jokes and tell me stories of their visits to South Padre Island. Others glare at me from a hundred yards away. I worry if I let them get too close, they'll pull me under. I can never be too sure of them, but that's not just true of mermaids.


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