171 - hall rise
o mermaid songs called to Walter. Just the incessant squawking of the gulls overhead, as usual. They followed his boat from shore, and they called his destination home. By now, the seabirds had gotten used to him, and he no longer noticed their calls.
They were more aggressive when Walter had started his employment. He was something the birds had not seen before, a feast ready to be preyed upon. He had to constantly shoo them off the barge, but their numbers were too much for him to keep up with. Especially considering that he still had the duties of his vessel to tend to. He was one man doing the job of at least two or three.
But when the gulls learned his routine, they also learned patience. Let Walter do all the heavy lifting, they figured. Hardly any different from the townsfolk. At least they mostly left him alone now.
Walter's destination came into sight. A small outcropping of rocks jutting from the ocean. They created an island so small that a dozen men would have trouble finding space to stand comfortably. Not that any would want to. The surface was uniformly covered in layers upon layers of bird droppings.
The place had no official name. Among the sailors who frequented these waters, it was often referred to as either Bird Rocks (for obvious reasons) or Hull Break Point, based on what the jagged edges were capable of doing in stormy conditions. Sailors were not known for being the most creative lot.
Walter carefully pulled up to the little mooring that he had installed here by himself. The wood where he threw his line was also covered in shit, but there was nothing he could do about that. His hands would be getting plenty dirty, anyhow.
He tied the rope into a nice tight knot, and felt his vessel stabilize against the rocks.
Walter thought of this place by another named. Dump Island. He was a sailor in heart and mind, after all.
He moved himself down to where his ship's cargo was waiting. Today's load was not particularly heinous, and Walter was glad for that. The current had already taken away most of yesterday's shipment, so he had a mostly-clean canvas to work with.
Using his bare hands, Walter began chucking the garbage off the side of his boat and into the sea. The gulls cawed with delight as the refuse hit the water, swarming in to see what good could still come from that which had been thrown away.
Walter occasionally found something interesting amidst the trash. He had a unique view into the lives of his neighbors. But most of the trash was nothing special. More often than not, he could only describe his cargo as smelly, dirty, and disgusting.
Though he cleansed himself thoroughly after each day's work, Walter knew that he was permanently infused with the aroma of his job. He no longer had any direct sense of it, but he saw his stink in the look of others. Their faces wrinkled when they crossed paths. They found an excuse to get away as quickly as they could.
More garbage slipped away into the embrace of the sea. Someone had to do this work. He was eternally unclean, but his town was cleaner on the whole thanks to his sacrifice. Cleaner than other towns that just let their garbage rot away in some stinking ditch.
Civility came with a price, Walter thought. He dumped the last of the garbage into the ocean.