Author / Speaker

Chapter Twenty Six
Separation Anxiety

   That night a squall hammered across the harbor, shoving the Wendell Holmes against the dock with gusts of wind and rain.
  Cedar barely heard the drumming. She sat in the dark galley beneath a single lamp reading “Of Mice and Men.” She read Steinbeck’s novel from beginning to end. When she finished, she closed the book and sat listening to the rain sizzle. She missed Justin. That she would never hold a little boy again was both irrevocable and inconceivable fact. So many times you rock them, and then you rock them for the last time. That Justin was now only a few months short of finishing high school shocked her. She wanted him back. She did not want him to come back.   
   The first time she read “Of Mice and Men” she was a high school senior herself. Her English teacher had asked an intriguing question. What gave George the right to kill Lenny?  
   Back then, she had been painfully shy. She had not raised her hand. But even then she knew in her heart that there was not one, but two answers. Yes, men were vengeful and Lenny would have died by a bullet either way. George provided the peaceful exit.
  But there was something more. Lenny was good, but he was ignorant of his own power and wholly absorbed in himself. He was always an accident waiting to happen.


   How intelligent are orcas? They have their own local dialect. They teach one another specialized methods of hunting. They pass on behaviors that persist for generations. Even your skeptical scientists are coming to believe that orcas might be much smarter than the size of their enormous brains suggest.
   Let’s just say orcas possess more than enough intelligence to make decisions that are quite conscious. I will even suggest they are capable of weighing ethical matters. If this is so, you ask, why would they attack innocent humans? Killer whales now regularly play starring roles at your marine parks. Almost all of them are taken from the wild. Did you know that male orcas -- who can live for 50 or 60 years -- stay with their mothers for the mother’s entire life, and they often die not long after she does? Did you know that when you captured one of the first orcas for your shows  -- taking him from a net and towing him 450 miles from British Columbia to Seattle Marine Aquarium in a floating pen -- his family pod, some 20 orcas in all, followed him the entire way? At night, Seattle Marine Aquarium trainers heard him calling to these family members from his pen. He died of bacterial infection within the year.
   This orca was by no means the last to die in captivity. Nor was he the last to suffer what your trainers call “separation anxiety”, an antiseptic term for heartbreak, as anyone with a heart can see.
   Why have captive orcas killed innocent humans? Innocence is in the eye of the beholder.  
   I could stop the transients, but at this moment I simply don’t care. Laissez faire.
  I have my own anger management issues.

   Christmas morning Marty surprised her with a turkey and all the trimmings. He arrived at the Wendell Holmes ferrying two coolers and that gentlemanly smile that always made her feel impossibly lucky. Christmas night she slept soundly in his arms.
   For two weeks now she had slept dreamless.  
   Something was amiss.

   The kayakers are honeymooners, married on Christmas Eve. The orcas don’t know this -- their intelligence has limits -- though they sense the kayakers’ giddy manner and perhaps even a little procreative tension. On this bright day, the rhinestone waters off the southern tip of Vancouver Island augmented by love, the young man and the young woman splash each other with their paddles and race each other from point to point, shouting out challenges. The water is, of course, freezing, but the air is unseasonably warm on this Christmas morn.
  Oh it is a lovely scene, innocent Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden. I could still put a stop to it, but I ask you this.
   If you have no qualm about slaying innocents, why should I?
   The orcas ambush the kayakers in the cove of an uninhabited island. Only the birds bear witness; they lift from the pines and cobbled beach and circle above the water in a screeching mass.
   It is a game. The killer whales leap from the water; 12,000 pounds of animal sends up a substantial splash. Both kayakers capsize. In the first instant, as the water settles and the birds scream, the hyperventilating newlyweds tread water close enough to look into each other’s eyes.
   The girl is yanked under first, taken by her pig-tail and pulled deep into a cold, green world. She jerks free, leaving half her scalp behind, but she has no idea which way is up. Not that it matters. In the murky deeps the whales slam into her, driving her through the water with a force that finally breaks her back. But youth is something. Still she persists in living.
  On the surface the whales push the boy back and forth, bumping him with their noses. It is a grim game with a predictable finish. The boy’s end comes in a burst of blood; the girl’s, finally, in a burst of lung.  
    The whales leave only the kayaks behind. The explanations for two overturned kayaks sweeping out through a remote pass off Vancouver Island are many-fold.  
   You doubt the truth of this? It is true, there were no witnesses outside of the orcas, the birds and the kayakers, and none of them is talking. You claim there have been no documented attacks on man by orcas in the wild; by this narrow definition, the statement is true. But you need only go to your own news accounts, called up by a tap of the finger, to see that captive orcas have killed your kind; a trainer at a marine park, a drifter who made the mistake of taking a plunge in a marine park pool at night. In the latter case, the man received a serious working over first. His testicles were ripped open. Divers retrieved the pieces of his body from the pool bottom.
    Unexpected opportunity for sweet revenge. And a much more literal definition of separation anxiety.