On the third day the question of the bell arises. That morning Mina had brought over a baker’s dozen pamphlets detailing the touristic marvels of Mirana Seaside: seasonal dunes, salt marshes, sandspits. Dahlia’s lips curl and pucker with wonder at the glossy blue photographs and lovingly-written captions (“The birthplace of thousands of seagulls”, “Turn to page 7 for the story of the last frilled squid, dead at Red Point”). Mina is as enamored as Dahlia, hurriedly encircling places to visit with a felt tip pen. But the beaches and tide pools they encounter on subsequent day trips provide a reality different to the one in the bright booklets: littered with bottle caps, chalky rock strata burned through by acid rain, piles of phosphorescent fishing nets, and, in a secluded corner, the puzzling remains of a purple Volkswagen minibus, so far eroded it’s impossible to determine its age, but looking for all the world like a close cousin of the dethroned Greek shipwrecks sinking into the Black Sea.
“Didja know, princess,” says mermaid Mina with three fingers dipping into the hazy waters of a pool, “that there’s a difference between wreck and wreckage?”
“Nu-uh! They’re synonyms, silly.” Spitfire Dahlia retorts in her mother’s most hoity-toity tone.
Mina looks over at her disdainfully.
“Naw, I’m joking, joking. What’s the difference?”
“Wreck is used when the structure is still recognizable. Wreckage is used when it no longer is.”
“Huh. Is that right?”
Dahlia returns to her inspection of the rotting pier. The sky is a perfect white, and all around Dahlia lie colorless barnacles and deep green algae like shredded party streamers. The wood creaks and sighs as she steps on it in her cobalt Mary-Janes , exuding sweet-smelling water. It’s cool and very quiet. Only Mina’s clumsy humming breaks the spell of the tense waves and brittle landscape. Dahlia licks away the last taste of that morning’s orange juice from her lips, staring out at the featureless ocean. A few minutes pass before she notices the carcass immediately to her right.
“Oh great Gods!” she cries. Mina comes to her side, as close as possible without touching her. She follows Dahlia’s gaze and finds the bird. It is lying on its back, head turned to one side. Beginning at its throat is a clean gash, making its way through its miniature organs and tissues before tapering off midway. The insides have swollen and cracked in the heat, bursting out and bubbling up. Blood and yellow plasma has been soaked up by the boards and the wing bent back.
“Wreckage.” says Mina.
“The deathplace of thousands of seagulls.” says Dahlia bitterly. “Jeez, this is awful.”
“Princess, you ain’t kidding.”
“I’m going home. I just, oh jeez, this was supposed to be nice. I’m going home, dammit.”
“Wait. Hey, wait a second.” Mina has her hand on Dahlia’s bony shoulder. “Hey, listen.”
Mina eyes her closely. “Okay. Well. Have you ever heard of the bell?”
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