“She looks so natural,” I hear my aunt say.
“I can’t believe she’s only two hundred,” my grandmother replies.
“That color really isn’t her best look, though,” my mother adds, and she’s right, because where once our dearly departed was rosy pink and bright orange with streaks of green and blue, now she’s a dismal, ashy grey.
“Why do we keep coming to these things?” I hear my father mutter to my uncle.
“Family obligation, I guess,” my uncle answers back.
I move away from the crowd, end up crashing fins with three of my cousins. Bubbles are suddenly everywhere, and it takes me a moment to re-orient myself. One of them, Red, a couple of cycles older than me, waits to make sure I’m alright. The other boys swim off, giggling. I guess it’s good that someone can still laugh.
“You okay, Starfish?”
“My name is Estrella,” I remind him.
“Estrella de Mar,” he responds. “Star of the sea… but in one of the human languages, they say ‘starfish,'”
“Human languages are complicated,” I grouse.
Red grins. “Humans are complicated. They claim they love the ocean, but then they do this…” He waves his hand toward the grey mass where the aunties are still gathered.
“Kill our reefs, you mean? I don’t think they do it intentionally. And a lot of them are trying to reverse the damage being done.”
“Yeah,” he says.
“Yeah,” I answer.
“It’s time!” I hear my grandmother announce.
“Let’s go!” Red grabs my hand, and we swim back into the school of merfolk.
“Mermaid tears,” Grandmer says, “are the only thing that can heal a dead reef. Everyone, summon your sadness, but also summon your hope.”
One at a time, from oldest to youngest, we swim along the gray reef, and let our tears cleanse the water around her, bringing back the shrimp and krill, willing the restoration of color.
Some people say that the reef is the godmother of all mermaids. Some people think something about her let us become real, instead of merely existing in the tall tales of sailors and the dreams of children.
In this case, the only truth that matters is this: The coral reef is where we begin, and where we end. She is our first home and our last. The least we can do is give back what we were given.