Author / Speaker
Cedar recognized the perch as soon as she climbed the ladder to the bridge, the world gray in the early morning light. Justin had made the perch in sixth grade, tunneling a hole through the center of a cylindrical block of wood and then twisting a longer section of rebar through the hole to weigh down the perch. Now rusted rebar ends jutted from both sides of the wood cylinder, making the perch look like a tooth-breaking corn dog. Justin’s woodworking skills had improved considerably, but Jonathan had taken a fierce liking to this first rendition and there was no arguing with Jonathan.
The perch was tucked behind the plexiglass windshield, affixed to the console with zip ties. Cedar noted, approvingly, that Justin had placed one towel on the console and another beneath the perch.
Justin had fashioned a leather tether. Similar to the kind falconers used, it was tethered to Jonathan’s left leg. Jonathan suffered sudden bouts of wanderlust. They hated tethering him, but it would be far worse if he indulged his wanderlust miles out to sea.
He actually looked a bit like a falcon.
“Well don’t you look regal this morning,” she said, plotting in the coordinates to Water Whispers.
Jonathan ignored her, staring off toward the breakwater at the harbor entrance, where winged creatures of some sort milled in the sky.
“You know, you could cozy up just a little. Pretty soon it’s just going to be you, me and the bananas.”
He continued to stare bulbous eyed at the breakwater.
“Blink if you love me,” she said.
When Justin came up the bat pivoted and made several short ineffective hops.
“No shoulder today,” said Justin, stroking the velvety wings. “But wait until you see what’s for lunch.”
Justin pulled a blackened banana from his windbreaker. He scratched Jonathan’s ears while Jonathan slopped breakfast on to both towels.
“Most boys have dogs,” she said.
“Most boys aren’t half as lucky as me.”
For the entire trip Jonathan leaned out around the windscreen, the wind sculpting back the hair on his face so that his enormous eyes looked even bigger.
When Cedar finally eased off the throttle and the Wendell Holmes settled into the water, a terrible stench rose to greet her.
She leaned out, shouting down to Justin on the bow.
“I hope you brought a bin of towels. Next time I drop the anchor and you come up here.”
She tried to sound amused, but in her ears her nervousness made her banter sound like the bad acting it was.
Justin didn’t notice.
Grinning up at her he said, “Maybe your driving upsets him.”
The gentle sway of the Wendell Holmes ran up her legs. It was a perfect day for diving, the waters calm as shadows.
Cedar looked out at the empty ocean, not a boat in sight. It should have thrilled her.
Jonathan fluttered and looked at her.
Cedar watched her son swam directly into the cavern, but not before putting his ear to the opening and folding his hands in prayer. Then he performed a flip and disappeared.
Justin’s joy didn’t make her feel any better. On the boat ride out she had tried to convince herself that maybe this was a good thing. Maybe a second look would prove her wrong. Maybe her imagination had run off with her. Maybe she had too much motherhood on her mind. Maybe they weren’t egg cases. Every day the ocean unveiled new mysteries.
Even as she told herself these things, she knew them as lies. From the moment she had known they were coming here, she had felt edgy, weighted with a growing apprehension. While Justin lay by the opening she had scanned the waters, looking out to a ring of fall-away blue. Divers fantasized about days like this.
She felt like an intruder.
Yet she wasn’t afraid, and this was the oddest feeling of all. If she was right about the eggs and the attack, they were dealing with a creature any rational person would regard as highly dangerous. A ruthlessly efficient predator, she had told Marty. But in her heart she was almost certain about what she hadn’t told Marty. It was not a mindless predator that concerned her, but something beyond her, or anyone’s, ken.
Which drove a different fear into her bones.
Listening to herself debate, she wondered if she might really be insane. Maybe, in certain unhinged cases, water actually did whisper.
By the time she entered the cavern, Justin was already floating up at the shelf, flashlight trained on the opening. Her eyes went to a section of wall twenty yards to his left. Here light insinuated itself through a series of narrow, horizontal fissures. The light bathed the cavern in understated ethereal glow. She gazed at her son, yellow mask pressed against the shelf. He barely moved.
The light in the cavern dimmed for an instant, a cloud passing across the sun.
Cedar finned up beside her son. He moved aside, playing his beam across the perfectly arranged eggs. They were eggs. She had no doubt.
They came on board to silence. Jonathan always produced a cacophony of high-pitched squeaking when Justin came out of the water. Only the sight of Justin shut him up.
“Asleep at the wheel,” said Justin, prying his mask strap free of a knot of sun-bleached hair. “I don’t think it’ll make much difference if we threaten to fire him.”
Something was wrong. She wanted to stop Justin, but in the time it took her to find a reason, his bare feet were slapping up the rungs.
His choked cry was both affirmation and condemnation.
She did not recall ascending the ladder. Somehow Justin had torn the perch from the console. He gripped it, his mouth making rapid sucking noises, as if he were drowning on the bridge. The dangling tether held a dark branch.
Unable to bite through the leather, Jonathan had chewed off his leg. There was shit everywhere and blood, too. She had never seen so much blood.
He must have been nearly dead when he lifted off, adrenalin alone seeing him into the sky.
She bent, adding her breakfast to the mess.
I was puzzled, though not threatened, by their return. But, as I recently learned yet again (perhaps your forgetfulness is contagious), I cannot be too careful. I watched them descend through the openings. Hovering off the wall of the sea mount, I listened; to the looping currents, to the wind making its gentle passage across the surface, to the one heart beating confusion and apprehension and the other tom-tomming excitement like a song. When the boy stopped swimming, I knew without seeing, that hehung suspended before the eggs. I was not concerned. In truth, I was a little proud.
But her fear, I confess, is mildly troubling. She knows what she has found. More accurately, she thinks she knows what she has found, but she pushes the realization away, as she tries to adapt to this new world far beyond the strictures of the old. She is evolving. I know she will adjust and accept. She is a quick study.
The bat could not absorb reality. The vehemence of the creature’s protest surprised me. I knew the bat would react to my presence, but I did not expect him to react as he did. Animals have souls, too, and the bat’s soul, like the boy’s, was serene. Or so I thought. Fear can make us wholly unlike ourselves, leading us astray.
I am deeply sorry, but now that she has discovered the eggs I have concerns beyond a fruit bat. I do not know what she will do next. I know her soul. I fear no direct harm from her. But anything else is possible. The eye of a storm is calm, but unpredictable chaos swirls beyond.
I hover before the shelf. To enter the cavern I must leave my shell, but this is not an overly difficult endeavor. Watching our offspring, I tremble. I do not possess maternal instincts, nor do I require them. They will care quite ably for themselves when they hatch. What I feel is a rising anticipation.
They are exquisite, if I may say so myself, their gold flecked edges like the hem of an Empress’s gown. In the dim water they exude an iridescence that throws light far beyond refraction’s conventional dictates.
Chinese lanterns must be very lovely.
For a moment, I allow myself to succumb. I float in the blue cavern, buoyed by feelings you might call gratitude and pride. And then, always, rising sorrow. Eggs are a product of two. Again, hollowness digs its maudlin hole inside me, ruining the moment.
Enough. It is the facts that matter now. They are better than the sum of their seeds. It is the math of Darwin. They are endowed with powers beyond mine. Communicators even you cannot ignore. Each generation should improve on the next, though this is not always the case.
In ten months they will hatch and all our odds of survival will increase. The odds may even teeter toward recovery and, hope beyond hope, rebirth. It’s possible. This planet we share is resilient. Not indestructible, oh no, but tough enough to bounce back from some sore kicks in the teeth.
I am trembling again.
That night Marty called from his cell phone. Marty almost always called her from his home phone. The island had a party line. He was single. She was single. Letting everyone eavesdrop on their conversations stopped rumors in their tracks.
There was no preamble.
“I saw something today,” Marty said. “At least I think I did.”
She was replacing an o-ring on one of the tanks, working on the back deck of the Wendell Holmes beneath a sorry puddle of fluorescent light. Her eyes burned from fatigue.
She settled the o-ring carefully and sat back.
“A half mile off the northeast end of the island, just before dusk. The falling light made it harder to see.”
“You don’t sound sure.”
Was she trying to dissuade him?
“I’m not sure. The water was already going dark. I only got a quick look. I had a passenger. I couldn’t drop the nose and put a client through the window. I rely on repeat business.”
“What did you think you saw?”
“A shadow. Twice the size of your boat at least. Maybe bigger. I don’t know how deep it was. It was moving. Not fast, but fast enough to see steady movement.”
“It was moving opposite the wind.”
Maybe, she sighed.
“It’s not proof, you know,” said Marty.
She almost laughed.
“You sound like my 8th grade science teacher.”
“One more thing,” said Marty.
“Draw a straight line and it was headed for the harbor.”
After she hung up Cedar leaned out over the railing. Dark water moved along the hull toward the sea, the tide going out.
Just before midnight, at slack tide, the current ran briefly again.
I have told you I do not feel love as you know it. What I feel is more an actual physical attachment. This physical attachment is no less powerful than your lovelorn emotional trappings. When a child pries a sea star from a rock, it does not go unnoticed by those left behind. But the survivors do not feel an absent pining; they feel a measurable shock through every appendage. It is not phantom pain at all. My mate met a terrible end. Does the pain recede? Perhaps with time, but the pain I still feel is as real as a bat gnawing off its leg.
I believe, over millennia, my evolution has brought me closer to the love of which your poets speak. Part of me relishes this. Part of me wishes it away. You understand this. I don’t have to preach to you about the heights and depths of love. Wasted breath. I will only say this. I am beginning to feel the whisperings of things that are not physical, things I cannot label or pin down. Maybe this is the point. Love, you say, is a many-splendored thing. Perhaps this is your way of absolving definition. I like the indefinable. Life is meant to hold mystery. Love, God, peace, heaven, hell, Satan, terror, fury, war, hatred. It would not be life if there were no questions without answers. No spice, without a little confusion.
If I may use the word, the love I feel when I clasp the hull of the boat is not the passion I transmit to the woman, but it is no less powerful. Even as she writhes in the arms of perfect dream lovers, beset by blood poundings and flushings, I am there on her periphery, with her, too. Females understand each other’s needs. It pleases me to please her. But how to explain our connection in terms you might grasp? Perhaps two women who have each lived long enough to know life, sharing hidden sorrows and secrets in a late night kitchen, one reaching out to gently caress the other’s brow, taking some sadness for her own.
Who is soothing who is a matter of debate. I come here to the harbor as much for me as her.
I need reassurance too.
Given the inclinations of your species, it is so easy to doubt.