Wet Goddess

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Wet Goddess: Recollections of a Dolphin Lover A novel by Malcolm J. Brenner Copyright 1974, 1978, 2009 by Malcolm J. Brenner Published at Smashwords by Eyes Open Media 5895 Swaying Palm Drive Punta Gorda, FL 33982 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage or retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a written review in connection in a magazine, newspaper or broadcast.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Disclaimer: This book is a work of fiction. All characters, events and

locations described herein, with the exception of public figures, are fictitious and wholly the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual characters, living or dead, is unintentional, accidental and purely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-0-615-33460-8 This book is available in print at most online retailers. Edited and designed by Eyes Open Media, Punta Gorda, Florida [email protected]

http://www.wetgoddess.net Cover photo: Malcolm J. Brenner Colorization: Sam Pillsbury Book available at: www.wetgodess.net

Dedication To John Cunningham Lilly, M.D., who inspired me to write it; To Cay Small, my “shipmate,” who saw me through some rough weather; And most of all to D. T. T., who was there.

Table of Contents Prologue: The Least Impossible Improbabilities Ch. 1 “Welcome to Florida Funland!” Ch. 2 Invisible Fetters Ch. 3 Three Scenic Vistas Ch. 4 Fatally Fogged Film

Ch. 5 Off The Beach Ch. 6 Echoes Ch. 7 Language Lessons Ch. 8 Ruby’s First Overture Ch. 9 “Avoiding Biased Assumptions” Ch. 10 Walking On Air Ch. 11 The Dolphin Of The Mind’s Eye Ch. 12 Dream Seas Ch. 13 Warmer Waters Ch. 14 Pandemonium At The Porpoise Pens! Ch. 15 Call Of The Deep Ch. 16 A Sticky Situation Ch. 17 The Fury Of A Dolphin Scorned Ch. 18 My Dinner With Salina (And Hank) Ch. 19 Outside The Fence Ch. 20 Departures And Other Distractions Ch. 21 The Last Porpoise Show Ch. 22 Rapture Of The Deep Ch. 23 Nightmare Ch. 24 At The Lillys’ Pad Ch. 25 A Corner In Time Ch. 26 Ruby’s Return Ch. 27 Dead Reckoning Ch. 28 Reconciliation Ch. 29 Undertow Ch. 30 Waverider Epilogue: Christmas, 1995 Acknowledgements Writing this novel was a solitary preoccupation, and I am solely responsible for its content. However, a few individuals have added something along the way. John C. Ribbler, a.k.a. "the Scribbler,” gave me early moral support, and Connie Clesczewski typed a manuscript. Joan McIntyre published an excerpt from an early draft of Chapter 7 in her classic anthology Mind In The Waters, and Mark Bower set me up with Penthouse. Steve Roosa rented me a writer's cottage.

Barbara Darsey put up with me when I was crazy afterward. Sally Lucke was always encouraging. Dr. A. A. “Mac” Miller at New College taught me three important things about writing, but I forgot what they were. Paul Spong gave me a knowing nod and a wink. Dr. Randall Wells has always listened to my rantings with tolerance and without derision. Marylin Gautier suggested some improvements to the manuscript. Marilyn Tarnowski also helped. Deino Crown has been a big fan and supporter. My brother Hugh supported me for several months. Many compassionate professional counselors helped me deal with the emotional aftershocks of this experience. I’m sure there were others who are worthy of mention here that I’ve overlooked or, sadly, forgotten. My sincerest apologies. Citations An excerpt from an earlier version of this novel under a different title was published in the 1974 Scribners’ anthology Mind In the Waters, Joan McIntyre, editor. “Say Rooo-Beee!” pg. 186. Another excerpt, “Making Waves.” appeared in the Nov. 1978 issue of Penthouse. Used with permission. Sources for quotations and lyrics cited at the beginning of each chapter are given in place. They and the following brief excerpts from other works are used under provisions of the Fair Use Act: See Ruby Fall. Johnny Cash. “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” 1970. Up From The Skies. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Axis: Bold As Love,” 1969. Crown Of Creation. Jefferson Airplane, “Crown Of Creation,” 1968. Call Any Vegetable. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, “Absolutely Free,” 1968. Ruby Tuesday. The Rolling Stones, “Flowers,” 1967. Charitable Note: A percentage of the cover price from retail sales of this book is donated by the author to non-profit scientific, environmental and conservation organizations that conduct humane and ethical research on dolphins, educate the public, work to protect their environment and lobby on their behalf. – M.J.B.

Author’s Apology I am sure almost anybody could write a better novel than this. Its chief defect, it seems to me, is that most of it happens to be true. Looking into his grey eyes and fondling the dense growth on his shoulder, she said, “We are bound to hurt one another so much, again and again. We are so terribly different.” “Yes,” he said. “But the more different, the more lovely the loving.” – Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord. Olaf Stapledon, London, England, 1944

Ruby, a bottlenose dolphin (species Tursiops truncatus) in a sea-level pen. Prologue:

The Least Impossible Improbabilities My name – please get this right! – is Zachary Zimmerman, and before I level with you about Ruby and me and all the strange, sad and beautiful things that happened to us, let’s get one other detail straight: I never intended to fall in love with a dolphin! I mean, I didn’t exactly wake up one morning thinking “Gee, I guess I’ll get romantically involved with a 400-pound, legless marine mammal today!” Nobody does, any more than your average Joe suddenly gets “light in the loafers” or a devoted housewife ditches her hubby and tykes for a Harley and dykes. It just doesn’t happen like that, and anyone who says otherwise is either messing with your head or reaching for your wallet, probably both. I maintain, if you looked long enough at those people (or at yourself, if this has happened to you), you would always find the unexpected, and usually unwelcome, “revelation” foreshadowed by some obscure event in their past. Or in my case, several. With that in mind, you should know that the startling revelations recounted here were just the least unlikely among a suspiciously large number of improbable occurrences during my sophomore college year, when I was still young, stoned and immortal. Indeed, so many strange events occurred in my proximity in so short a time it would be folly to attribute all of them to chance, or even to my frequent ingestion of mind-altering substances. And while I have, alas, grown older, and I’m no longer as immortal as I used to be, no matter what I eat, drink or smoke, nothing like this happens to me any more, goddamn it! So I’m certain that a percentage of these events, no matter how unbelievable they now sound, had to be genuine, authentic consensus-reality weirdness! And of that authentic weirdness, the events surrounding Ruby were, by virtue of their consistency, frequency and quality, the least impossible of multiple improbabilities! Some of these occurrences, while intrinsically interesting, were easily discarded as irrelevant. Others, like a conversation with Salina following our nocturnal skinny-dip in a famous dolphin’s pen, could have been included to buttress my conclusions. I chose otherwise to maintain focus on the development of my relationship with Ruby, which was extraordinary enough without embellishment!

What happened, over the nine months we knew each other in the flesh, was less like an identity crisis and more like a dream wherein I fled a tidal wave in slow motion. The wave looked awesome, even beautiful, all glassy green and translucent, but it was inescapable, and I knew it was going to wash away everything and take me with it. And surfing the crest of that crashing dream-wave was this dolphin, the one I’m calling Ruby in this story. She was laughing at my slow, bipedal flight, but she was also saying, “Come join me! We can ride this out together.” To suddenly realize, without warning or guidance, that I was not what society prepared me to be, not what my parents expected me to be, not even who I thought I was or wanted to be, was devastating and destabilizing. By learning to accept me as a human being, Ruby helped me to accept myself, and that was tremendously liberating – so much so I overlooked its dangers. But then, so did she, and I believe she understood them better. After all, I was a callow college student, still practically a virgin; she was a tough old ‘phin who’d been rolled in the eel grass many times before Beau made a showgirl out of her, and she had the rake-marks to prove it. Given her previous experience, she should have known better than to flip flukes over snout for one of her captor’s species! In addition to being lethal, fickle and clueless under water, we are such very, very conceited creatures… …Sorry, I digress. To return to my original point, let me repeat it just one more time, a little stronger, for emphasis: I NEVER INTENDED TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THAT &^%$#@ SHE-DOLPHIN! There. Got that straight? Good! Because nothing else in this story will be… including me.

This isn’t a great picture, but it does capture the dolphin show’s main features: the big pool, the jumping tower, the hoops, the chickee, the riverboat, Star (jumping) and Hank.

Chapter 1: “Welcome to Florida Funland!”

I first took genuine interest in dolphins off the coast of New Guinea, where lying on the deck of a small boat I could put my eye some few inches from theirs as they swam alongside in crystalline water. The intelligence in those eyes was a shock to me. I wanted to talk to those animals, and I will swear to this day they were thinking the same thing. – R.F. Peterson, “Thar What Blows?” Yachting, 1967 At first sight, the bottlenose dolphin that would take me as its lover was only a silvery-gray shimmer rising through water the color of apple cider. Its dorsal fin broke the surface and a moment later it blew, adding a cloud of vapor to the damp Florida air, rolled on its side and stared up at me out of one soft brown eye. Being this close to a dolphin for the first time thrilled me from my beaded headband to the soles of my cheap sneakers, but wanting to impress my client I tried to appear nonchalant. There was an awkward moment of silence before the client, a tall, buxom redhead standing next to me on the weathered dock, spoke. “Well, I suppose you should get to know everybody.” After the long and noisy speedboat ride south from Sarasota, her voice sounded no louder than the throaty purr of a lioness. “Let’s start with Ruby, here. Ruby, shake hands with Zack.” The dolphin (which I now adroitly guessed to be female) obediently raised her right pectoral fin, and I knelt on the dock’s sun-warped planks and shook it. Her skin was like firm wet rubber, but warm and distinctly alive. The iris of her brown eye appeared round and so deep it went through her and into the umber depths below. Her expression seemed to hold a hint of sadness, but even as I felt that I chuckled at myself for being so damn anthropomorphic. I had no way of assessing a dolphin’s emotions, certainly not from something as intangible as the look in its eye! The redheaded client’s name was – well, for purposes of this story, let’s call her Salina O’Rourke. She has lawyers and money and connections, and I don’t. Even in deck shoes she towered a good two inches over me, and I’m no shrimp.

She had a fine, straight nose and a jaw that could’ve been carved from Grecian marble. Sometime in the misty past an American Indian had paddled through her gene pool, bequeathing her high cheekbones and skin, utterly anomalous for a redhead, that bronzed without burning. That morning, Salina wore a white cotton blouse knotted under her ample bosom and short gray shorts. Her figure wouldn’t admit she’d brought three children into the world, but the rich can afford things like that. If her hair hadn’t been pulled back and tied with a blue bandanna, it would have rolled down her back like waves on a beach at sunset. But most of all it was Salina’s eyes that caught you. They were jade green, and they could cut you one second and giggle the next. Not at all like the dolphin’s eyes. Without knowing why, I had the prickly feeling this was one of those decisive moments that irrevocably shape one’s career, perhaps even one’s future, and I wanted a snapshot of it. But my one and only camera was, by choice and not by chance, sitting safely on a shelf at home, and even if I’d brought it – who would have taken the picture? Salina knelt beside me, her blouse filling as she leaned over the water, and extended a hand. Ruby rolled on her back, expos-ing an oystershell belly with two faint pink stripes that ran from her pectoral fins (her flippers or “pecs” if you’re a vet or a trainer) to her navel. The woman rubbed gently and the dolphin arched with delight. I was able to observe that, except for a short and curiously unrevealing slit where the peduncle met the trunk, her streamlined undercarriage bore no obvious traces of pubic hair, teats or genitalia. At that moment the contrast between the females of our two species, mine so well endowed with secondary sexual characteristics, hers so nearly lacking them, couldn’t have been much greater. I took advantage of the fact for a moment before I opened my mouth and blew it. “How can you tell it’s a she?” Salina squinted at me, as if I’d asked a stupid question. Fortunately I lifted my gaze in time to meet her eyes. “Trust me, it’s a female.” She continued rubbing the dolphin’s belly, meaning its blowhole was under water. It hadn’t breathed since rolling on its side. “Why is the water so brown? Is it dirty?”

“Of course not! This pen is flushed by the tides, can’t you see? It’s the mangroves,” she explained, pointing at the thick green bushes that lined the shore north of us. “Their fallen leaves turn the water brown. Tannic acid, it’s perfectly natural.” “Why is she kept by herself?” “She goes out with the Delta Queen and does tricks.” Salina waved at a Navy-surplus World War II landing craft moored at the end of a nearby dock. Useless smokestacks, an ornate superstructure and a fake revolving paddlewheel made the Queen resemble an old-fashioned Mississippi riverboat, but twin Diesels were what moved her. Emblazoned on the wheelhouse was the name of the amusement park, Florida Funland, and its logo, a dolphin leaping through a flaming hoop. Instead of Ol’ Muddy, this boat plied the Intracoastal Waterway, a coast-hugging commercial channel that surrounds Florida like a maritime drag strip. To our west lay Blackburn Bay, the glorified sandbars called keys and then the Gulf of Mexico. Why doesn’t she just jump the fence and swim off? I wondered, but before I could ask the question Salina spoke. “We’ll take a ride later and catch Ruby’s performance. It’s mind-blowing, as my oldest daughter says!” “How much extra?” My wallet was empty. We had expeditiously avoided paying the gate fee by arriving from seaward. Salina had repeatedly reassured me we were both guests of the head trainer, with the permission of the park’s owners, a couple of local real estate moguls, but I hadn’t seen anything on paper saying I had a right to be here without paying. Much less do what I came to do. “What do you think? This is an amusement park, isn’t it? But don’t worry, you’re covered! Come on, let’s find Beau.” Without so much as a fare-thee-well to the sad-eyed dolphin, Salina strode up the dock. I cast one backward glance at Ruby, who was staring after us, and followed her. Behind me, the dolphin breathed, a sound like a blast of air from a high-pressure hose suddenly sucked back in on itself. All the time we had been talking, she had been holding her breath! The dock became a catwalk running shoreward through a cluster of sealevel pens, some occupied, some empty, Salina didn’t give me time to look. Her long, exfoliated legs devoured the catwalk’s narrow, twisted planks and climbed a marl path leading up a boulder breakwater. Ahead of us I heard a rhythmic

noise: ka-chunk, swish, ka-chunk, swish, ka-chunk-chunk, swish! We topped the breakwater and paused to catch our breath with the dolphin show spread out before us. The centerpiece was a large oval pool, perhaps two hundred feet north-to-south by one hundred feet east-to-west, encircled by a waist-high wooden slat fence. The landscaping was rocks and weedy crushed gravel with a few faded palmettos standing in for decoration. Small floating docks on the pool’s north, east, and south sides held plastic rings hanging over the water. On the west side, where we stood, a broad concrete apron sloped from the breakwater to the pool. Since we were facing some rusty bleachers, this must be the performance area. The thumping noise came from a palm-thatched hut that the ancient Calusa Indians might have called a chickee if you discounted the power lines, the two-by-four frame and the incongruous carved Polynesian tikis guarding the door. Florida Funland was nothing, if not tacky! Squinting into the hut against the glare on the pool, I made out a man’s shadowy form moving quickly, a knife flashing in his hand. He took a whole fish from a stainless steel bucket on his left, sliced it on a chopping block and pushed the chunks into a bucket on his right. Several such buckets, filled with fish chunks, sat on the floor beside him. A portable radio on the floor was playing the local country-and-western station. Being into acid rock myself I didn’t recognize the song, but it was impossible to misidentify Johnny Cash’s smoky voice over the honky-tonk piano accompaniment: I didn’t hold her back when she got restless One man is not enough when she wants it all Yeah, I let her go when I saw what she wanted ‘Cause I don’t care to see Ruby fall… That odd coincidence gave me a moment’s pause, but if Salina noticed it, she said nothing. As I recollect that afternoon it rushes back like an undelivered postcard, the sunlight warm for late November, the breeze off the bay cool. For a moment the breeze turned seaward, bringing me my first whiff of the chickee’s distinctive odor, an unforgettable blend of rusty iron, ozone from badly grounded electricity,

beer, piss, the pharmaceutical nose of veterinary vitamins and the reek of male sweat, but mostly just the smell of a fish market. “Beau!” Salina yelled, “Hey, Beau! We’re here! I brought the new photographer!” The man paused, put down the knife, turned and stepped into the sunlight, blinking. He was a touch over five feet tall with tousled blond hair and a mischievous grin. Short, but not the kind of guy you’d pick a fight with; it wouldn’t last long, and you wouldn’t be the one left standing. He wore only a pair of tattered denim cutoffs and a tarnished silver cross on a chain around his neck. The muscles in his bare arms and chest rippled as he wiped watery blood from his hands with a tattered old towel and tossed it carelessly on the ground. The grin was for Salina. I was apparently invisible. And if the bulge in his shorts meant anything, he certainly was happy to see her! “Salina! Well how-dee!” He threw open his arms, encircled her hips and lifted her off the ground. She thrashed like a captured crab. “Beau! Put me down this instant!” “I’m gonna throw you in with Satan!” He started for the dolphin pool, carrying Salina as if she were a naughty child. “Don’t you dare! Put me down, now!” “Gimme a kiss!” “Put me down first!” “Promise you’ll give me a kiss?” “Oh, all right! If no one’s looking…” He set her on her feet next to a pen where two shark-like fins broke the water. She straightened up, put her arms around his neck, and bent down until their lips met. Nobody here but us dolphins, I thought. “That’s better,” he said, after they straightened up. Salina threw a nod in my direction. “This is the new shooter.” Beau scowled. “He’s a local boy, aren’t you, Zack? He’ll work out great for the book! No travel, no lodging, no day rates!” “Riverview High School, class of ‘69,” I started to say, not even thinking it sounded funny, when Beau’s blue eyes locked on mine and measured me to the ounce.

Thinking back on it, I’m kind of embarrassed by what they saw. Not my appearance; I looked just like a million other male college students at the time. Long, curly black hair parted down the middle, hanging almost to my shoulders, the hippie head-band holding it out of my myopic eyes, framed by glasses. Freckles showing through my beach tan. Scrawny arms, knock knees. Cutoffs. A tattered purple tank top… and no camera. No, it was my attitude that now embarrasses me. I was a sophomore at the local liberal arts college; ergo, I knew everything, including the meaning of ergo. I didn’t hold myself above Beau, any more than above Salina, but something in my attitude might have made him think I did. If Beau saw all this (and looking back I believe he did), he never said anything to me about it except perhaps in the last thing he said to me, some three years later. He may or may not have been quick to judge people, but he kept his opinions to himself. At the time, he just said “What’s your name, son?” “Oh heavens,” said Salina, “I forgot to introduce you! It’s –” “Uh, Zimmerman,” I stumbled, suddenly tongue-tied and not at all professional, “Zachary Zimmerman.” “You go by Zachary all the time? That’s a mouthful.” “I guess Zack would do…” At that, Beau grinned, stuck out his hand and said “Howdy, Zack. Welcome to Florida Funland!” It was like shaking hands with an oak. “If you’re such a hotshot photographer like my lady friend here says, where’s your goddamn camera?” He didn’t let go of my hand. “First time I go on an assignment,” I explained, trying to sound competent and professional and not quite succeeding, “I just hang out, pick up on what’s going down and try to tune in on the vibes without all the hardware hassles, know what I mean?” He still didn’t let go of my hand. “I want to see this park at least once through my naked eyes before I start looking at it through a viewfinder!” I added. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other opportunities to take pictures for Salina’s book.” Beau snorted and let my hand go. It wasn’t hurt, but it was pale and I had to resist the impulse to shake the blood back into it. He glanced over to her.

“Oh, now it’s your book, huh?” “I’ve seen his work,” Salina said divertingly. “He’s good.” “What was wrong with that fat guy from New York? I thought he was just…” A mechanical roar cut him off. Belching smoke, an antique diesel tractor emerged from the palmetto scrub laboriously pulling a train of wheeled carts and rolled up to the bleachers beside the pool, where it discharged a couple of dozen sweaty people in wrinkled Bermuda shorts and damp florid shirts. Tourists. Showtime. I headed for the cheap seats. “Wait,” Salina yelled, “you can watch it from over here.” We leaned against the north side of the pool fence, just a few feet from the water. “Don’t pay Beau any attention,” Salina said. “He’s just messing with your head. He’s actually a great guy.” Before a year had come and gone I would see more dolphin shows than I cared to count, but I never saw another one like Beau’s. It wasn’t the tricks; all dolphin shows are built around pretty much the same behaviors. And it wasn’t the patter, although Beau’s lines got some good laughs. Looking back, I guess it was just Beau. Even when his dolphins misbehaved and totally exasperated him, he still loved them, and it showed in his voice when he spoke about them. He depended on them for his meal ticket, and he in turn gave to their captivity a meaning that, in the wild, they would have found in each other. Perhaps I am simply romanticizing all this stuff, but I now believe the dolphins recognized him as the leader of their little pod. Beau would say that was nonsense, but watching other people do the show, even using the same lines, it was just an act. The dolphins would go through their moves, but they were in it for the fish. With Beau in charge, they worked for him, and the fish were merely a perk. A second tour train arrived, filling the bleachers with tourists, Salina now a swan standing out against a gaggle of geese. Anticipating the show, the dolphins cavorted in their pens, drawing excited “Oooh’s!” and “Aaah’s!” from the audience each time they surfaced and blew. Beau strode out of the chickee wearing a stained white T-shirt as a concession to public modesty and a large wireless microphone on a lanyard

around his neck. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” he began, the rusty mike booming his voice from the weathered speakers around the pool, “I want to welcome y’all to our Porpoise College here at Florida Funland! These porpoise are called ‘dolphins’ by some, and they’re also called ‘bottlenose’ on account o’ their blunt snouts. They may look like fish to you, but they are ack-shu-ally air-breathin’, warm-blooded mammals like us, that give birth to live young –underwater!” Whenever Beau mentioned this, the women in the audience would twitter among themselves for a few moments, grateful that God, Darwin or Mother Nature had spared them similar feats of endurance. But his nomenclature confused me. There simply are no porpoises in Florida’s coastal waters! Beau described what kind of fish they hunted, how they defended themselves and their offspring against sharks. His summation of their mental abilities, however, left me disappointed: “They’re fast learners, alright, and most scientists place ‘em somewhere ‘tween a dog and a chim-panzee in intelligence. Now let’s get on with the show!” Florida Funland’s Porpoise College was similar to all dolphin shows seen around the world at that time, but not like the ones performed today, in the enlightened 21st Century! The dolphins, of course, behaved then just the same as they do now: swimming, jumping, flipping and retrieving objects on command. We humans, however, have come so far! We are now environmentally sensitive, ozone-friendly, carbon-neutral and even noticeably less dolphin-lethal, at least in some locations. We still put them on public display in fundamentally inadequate facilities, but at least we no longer coerce them to perform inane comedic skits that demean their essential dignity and bear no resemblance to their natural behaviors. Of course, even here in the 21st Century they’re still chattel, but we don’t make them wear floppy hats anymore, or, in the case of Beau’s lead dolphin, a mortarboard with a nylon rope tassel. “I call him ‘Star’ on account of he’s the star pupil in our Porpoise College,” Beau boasted, retrieving the plywood prop from the dolphin’s rounded melon. I wondered when I’d be sporting mine. This independent study project to illustrate Salina’s book, or Beau and Salina’s book, was an attempt to pad my rather thin academic portfolio with a few more credits.

After about fifteen minutes of such stunts Beau had run Star through his repertoire, or, as I am more inclined to think nowadays, Star had run Beau through his repertoire. “Our last trick is a porpoise-powered boat ride,” the trainer announced, sliding an aluminum skiff into the water. Shading his eyes from the sun, he scanned the bleachers. “Any of you kids out there got a birthday today?… Yes, you, young lady –” he pointed out a four-year-old girl whose mother was holding up her hand “– and one more, the lady in the white blouse over there.” “Oh shit.” Salina shook her head. Beau wouldn’t hear of it. “Come on down, honey, ol’ Star don’t bite… and neither do I!” Turning to the audience he said, “You know why I picked her, folks? Because a little birdie – I mean, a little porpoise – told me it’s her birthday today!” Salina, who had been dragging on an ultra-long cigarette, blushed, tossed the butt down and ground it with her heel. “That bastard, he’s actually going to twist my arm! He knows how much I hate being out in public. Hold this!” she said, flinging her purse at me, and stomped down to the pool. The three passengers climbed in the skiff and Beau tossed the painter, its end looped and padded, into the water. Star thrust his snout through the loop and took off with such a jerk that Salina and the girl almost fell overboard. The audience roared. The dolphin had to race scavenging seagulls for the chunks of fish Beau tossed ahead of him, but it was all part of the show. Over the audience’s applause, Salina shot Beau an I’ll-kill-you! grin. The skiff slowly circled the pool, Star rising now and then to breathe. Salina relaxed into her cameo. The mother seemed mesmerized by the dolphin. The little girl was nonplussed. Salina’s purse was hand-tooled leather and smelled new. There was probably a lot of money in her wallet, yet she’d handed it to me without a second thought, even though she’d met me only a few hours before. I resisted the temptation to peek inside. “Y’all get your cameras ready. When Star gets back to the dock and hands me that rope, it makes a bee-you-ti-ful picture.” When she got off the skiff, Salina was glowing. She took back her purse, fished inside for a cigarette and lit up. “Star’s eyes nearly fell out when he saw

me in that boat!” she gloated. “You’ve never done that before?” “My kids have, but not me. You’re lucky you didn’t bring your camera, I’d have taken your film!” At the time, I thought she was joking. After Star was penned, the other performing dolphins jumped for fish, which Beau held at the top of a tall steel tower. I was impressed by their physical prowess, but I also felt a little cheated. Sure, Star could locate a dime tossed in the pool, or shoot a basketball off his snout. Saki and Bimbo and Gator, as Beau introduced them, could perform beautifully synchronized high jumps. But where was the intelligence I was looking for? Where were the dolphin minds I had come to expect from reading the popular literature? The dolphins at Florida Funland behaved like – well, they behaved like a bunch of trained animals, and I, who had never trained an animal more intelligent than a dog to do anything more sophisticated than come when I whistled, wasn’t real impressed with that. My thoughts were broken by a yell and a wave from Salina, who was trotting down the dock toward the Delta Queen. “Come on,” she called, “We’re taking Ruby out!” I followed her, still cursing myself for having left my stupid camera at home.

Chapter 2: Invisible Fetters According to Prof. (Renéé-Guy) Busnel, the affection of a dolphin for his trainer exists only in the imagination of the trainer. It is an illusion and a myth. Busnel has run a series of experiments demonstrating that a trained dolphin will obey his trainer even if the latter is dressed as a woman. He will also obey a woman – and he will even obey a piece of wood, so long as the dolphin perceives the signal to which he is conditioned. – Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Phillippe Diolé, Dolphins, 1973. With a bucket of fish chunks in hand, Beau led us to the riverboat. Sea gulls wheeled expectantly overhead. I caught up with Salina when she paused to watch a guy in a wetsuit sitting on a floating dock in the pen next to Ruby’s. He had a whistle in his mouth, the lanyard around his neck, and he was holding a chunk of fish over the empty water as if he expected something to reach up and grab it. “Hank!” Salina yelled. “Hey Pulaski, over here!” The man turned, revealing a shock of curly blond hair atop a face made rugged by a hint of Clint Eastwood, foolish by a trace of Alfred E. Neuman, and waved. At that instant a dolphin burst from the water and snatched the fish from his hand, nearly taking the hand with it. The man cut loose with a string of invective vilifying the dolphin’s parentage, feeding habits and sexual proclivities, which was probably true, considering it was a dolphin; but being under water the dolphin couldn’t hear him, and Salina didn’t even blush. “How are you, Hank?” He stood up, half-a-head taller than Salina, his muscles rippling under the wet suit. “I was just fine until that shit-head Satan ripped me off! I’ll be glad to get rid of him – meanest goddamn dolphin I ever met! Who’s your hippie friend?” I was startled to realize he meant me. Salina introduced us. Hank Pulaski captured and trained dolphins for an exhibit on Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He warmed up a little when I admitted I was born there.

“Ain’t Florida great?” he raved. “While my boss is freezing his ass off up north, I’m down here drinking beer and working on a real tan! We just caught Satan the other day, he’s still a little shy, but I’ll have him jumping through hoops in no time! Wouldn’t do to send him back too quick, though, my boss might get the idea anybody can do this job!” Two toots from the Delta Queen’s air horn cut him off. “Hey, you’re going to miss a boat ride if you don’t get outa my hair!” “You barely made it, baby!” Beau scolded us as he hauled in the gangplank. “The skipper must like you, we should’ve left five minutes ago!” By Ruby’s pen a fin broke the water – outside the fence. She was swimming free in Blackburn Bay, with nothing between her and the Gulf of Mexico but a few miles of Casey Key. Again, I wondered why she didn’t just take off. Salina dragged me to the bow, where the wind was fierce but the view, from ten feet above the waterline, spectacular. “Beau said he’d let me do the jumps today!” she shouted, as excited as a schoolgirl. I didn’t understand. “You jump better than the dolphin?” “No, I get to hold the fish! He’s been promising me this for months, and today’s the day! Look, there she is!” In the churning froth of the bow wave something gray flickered, then leaped to grab a breath of air between spray and foam. Ruby rolled on her side to stare at us through the shimmering slipstream, holding her place without visible movement. Her eye, no longer lonely, now gleamed in the sunlight. “Helllooo, Rooobeee!” Salina yelled. As if in answer the dolphin flung herself into the air, then splashed back into the bow wave with scarcely a ripple. I gulped. At any moment, it seemed Ruby would get caught in the slipstream, swept under the hull, thrown into the props, sliced to bloody ribbons and blown out the backwash – but she didn’t. She rolled on her side and eyed me like a cat lounging on a couch. I stared at her in awe. No matter how precarious Ruby’s position seemed to me, she obviously loved it, sliding endlessly down that fluid wall of force. “That’s amazing!” Salina took it in through her designer sunglasses. “I told you so! Quite an instinct, isn’t it? She’s only been rehearsing this act for, oh, a few million years. Why, dolphins can…”

She was cut off by Ruby’s flukes flicking water in our faces. Beau was on the deck above us, giving Ruby hand signals, the passengers crowding around him for a better view. He grinned gleefully and pointed his finger. Ruby leaped again, showering us. We laughed like kids at an amusement park, and so did the tourists. Thirty years later, that scene remains etched in my memory: The cobalt sky filled with glossy clouds, the brilliant sun, the breeze fresh off the Gulf as we sailed in mock majesty, on a fake riverboat, down the Intracoastal Waterway, a dolphin leaping at our bow. The Delta Queen slowed and turned. “Now y’all gonna see Ruby do her stuff!” Beau shouted over the loudspeakers. “Salina, get yer flukes up here!” She disappeared up the gangway as Ruby appeared off the port bow, only to disappear underwater as Salina reappeared beside a beaming Beau. He anchored her as she stood on the railing and leaned out over the water, half a fish in her extended hand. “Rooo-beee! Let’s go!” Beau hollered. The dolphin arced out of the water and hung leisurely in the air, surveying things, then plunged down without a splash. Beau’s call had to be for our benefit. From hours spent in my family’s swimming pool I knew Mom could yell herself hoarse, there was no way you could hear her underwater. Impedance mismatch, my father the engineer had called it. Between that and the throb of the diesels, the wind noise and… WHOOSH! Cold droplets splashed my face as Ruby shot by me. Fourteen feet in the air she nudged the fish with her snout. Salina dropped it, Ruby grabbed it in her jaws and splashed down, only to appear a moment later, the fish inside her. Salina glowed. Beau’s grin threatened to split his face. Parents were lifting their kids up on their shoulders to glimpse this amazing leaping fish! But it was Ruby’s targeting ability that most impressed me. The boat was not only moving forward but vertically in the swell, and pitching side to side. The environment was totally fluid, with no stable reference points from which to judge either distance or trajectory, both of which would change between the time Ruby left the water and the time she reached the fish in Salina’s hand. She touched the fish every time, but she never touched Salina. She never grabbed the fish, just

touched it with her snout, and Salina dropped it. (Back in the main pool, the jumping dolphins had done the same thing, come to think of it, but there, the only things moving were them.) It seemed preposterously polite. Ruby jumped for Salina five times. The fourth jump was aborted by when a scavenging sea gull cut in, but the last one was perfect. I could almost imagine Ruby was smiling, aside from her standard-issue dolphin rictus. A healthy animal in superb form, her performance commanded my admiration. In the open ocean she was happy and powerful, an altogether different beast from the docile, almost somber creature I had met in the pen an hour ago. Salina relinquished the last jump to Beau. Clinging to a strut, he hollered for his dolphin and set a whole mackerel’s tail between his teeth. Ruby leaped for range and plunged just as the riverboat pitched into a yacht’s wake. The dolphin shot up as the boat came down. Beside me, someone gasped, and I watched Ruby trying to brake, mid-air, flukes cupped under her like a scoop, her eye huge, white and startled. Beau jerked back at the last second, correcting for her overkill, and Ruby got her fish plus the hearty cheers of the passengers. Nobody realized how close Beau had come to getting his face smashed on that jump except the four of us – me, him, Ruby and Salina, who was back beside me. “My god!” she mumbled. “That’s why he wouldn’t let me do the last jump!” Beau held the empty fish bucket upside down over the water, and Ruby, seeing it and knowing that her work was done, returned to her spot in the bow wave. Beau got on the p.a. system and thanked everyone for attending. As we docked, I noticed Ruby waiting outside the gate of her sea-level pen. Why come back? What possible attraction could life in a holding pen have over the freedom of the sea, the choice of her own companions? What invisible fetters had Beau placed on her, that so commanded her loyalty? (When I finally got them, the answers to those questions would shock and stun me. Ultimately, they would prove impossible to verify, so I am none the wiser.) The riverboat docked with a pile-shuddering thunk!, the gangplank slid out, and the tourists in their permanent-press shorts went back to the gift shop, the

Old West shootout, the petting zoo and the Indian fire-eater. Salina and Beau waited until everyone else got off, and I waited for them. “You done great today,” he said. “So did Ruby. She didn’t miss a trick, except that last jump. For a second there I thought you were a goner!” “‘T’wasn’t her fault. I shoulda made her wait on that wake. Can’t expect her to do all the thinkin’! Say, what time is it get-ting to be?” “Almost 4:30. Do we have to go?” Beau looked distressed, I couldn’t guess why. “Pretty soon. You know.” He didn’t explain. We paused by the main pool, where three of the show dolphins were playing with a ball. Salina lay down on the catwalk between the pens and they immediately swam to her, as if she were a sea-nymph. “Goodbye, Star. Goodbye, Bimbo. Goodbye, Gator,” she said. The dolphins – three identical gray torpedoes, as far as I could tell – rolled over on their backs for scratching. On the way back to Salina’s motorboat I looked for Ruby, but if she had been returned to that lonely little pen, I didn’t see her. §§§ Smoke from Salina’s cigarette curled upward and caught in a beam of light striking from the western window of her parlor. She sat in an overstuffed armchair, the pale afternoon sun doing beautiful, violent things to her hair while leaving her face in shadow. An Asian maid brought us cut-crystal glasses of iced tea with lemon wedges and fresh mint sprigs on a lacquered tray. Salina thanked her. We drank. Salina nodded her approval. The maid left as silently as she had come. “So how do you like it?” While the piles of dirt and wood scraps outside her house marked it as brand-new, it was not one of those cheese boxes that were even then spreading malignantly across the Florida countryside. The house’s size and elaborate architecture, the huge front door of hand-carved oak and the many other opulent touches confirmed it as the home of a person of wealth and character, or at least

a person of wealth who knew an architect with character. True, I would not have put it so close to the canal – they have a nasty habit of overflowing during hurricanes, sometimes to a depth of several feet – but it made for easy boat access. And while they harbored mosquitoes, the tall Australian pines around the house did provide shade. Since they were invasive exotics, leaving them standing could scarcely have been a nod to the local ecology. Still, it was an impressive dwelling outside, sumptuous inside. The oiled hardwood of a baby grand piano glinted darkly in the late afternoon sunshine. Rare books, archaeological artifacts and small but expensive ceramics by a local master potter filled the many nooks and shelves. The paintings, including a large, pastel abstract by a Sarasota neo-Impressionist who never let you forget he was a founding member of the Famous Artists’ School were bold, yet nondiscordant. The overall impression was of someone with enough money to live very well and enough self-confidence not to flaunt it unnecessarily. At that moment Salina seemed more mysterious than the dolphins. Frankly, I was a little in awe of her. And puzzled, too. “Are they dolphins or porpoises? You and Hank call them dolphins, but Beau…” “They’re dolphins, of course, from the Greek delphys, the womb of Mother Ocean. Sacred to Helios the sun god, not just Poseidon as you might think, isn’t that odd? It’s because the Greeks believed they appreciated music, and Helios played the lyre. But ‘porpoise’”– the word practically gagged her – “is French for ‘pig-fish!’ I don’t even want to think about the implications. The French are disgusting!” She shuddered. “Beau is a sweet guy, but he learned his trade from Rappaccini, who was a fisherman before he got into training, and a ‘porpoise’ is what a fisherman calls any cetacean smaller than his boat. Beau thinks a ‘dolphin’ is something you eat, a species of fish. The Polynesians call them mahimahi, the Spanish dorado. In Latin it’s Coryphaenus hippurus, yes, that’s the species.” She rattled off the names as if they were all her native language. “I’ve tried and tried to correct him, but he’ll never change,” she said resignedly, and took another drag. “But you don’t know Rappaccini, do you? Lucky you. So tell me what you think of Beau.”

I mulled over several possible answers, gave her one that seemed inarguable. “He strikes me as a very good trainer.” “He’s the best anywhere. Period.” As I was to learn, the superlatives in Salina’s vocabulary did not exist in degrees. “The riverboat ride with Ruby – do you realize she’s the only dolphin in the world that performs on free-release? Outside of the military, of course.” She scowled. “Nobody else can do it. Only Beau.” “Does she ever take off?” “She did, once. Got out when part of the fence collapsed during a storm.” “What happened?” “Beau was mortified, of course. We all were. But Ruby turned up a few hours later at a nearby marina, begging handouts from the fishermen. Beau brought her back, she swam right alongside his boat. That’s all in my book, Please, Mr. Porpoise! I gave you a copy, didn’t I?” I confirmed that she had, but I never told her what I thought of it: a selfindulgence only someone like Salina could afford. Published by a vanity press, the book was a narrated album of her children’s romps with the dolphins during a family vacation the year before. Any informative content seemed purely incidental. “Why does she come back?” Salina stared at me as if I’d asked another stupid question. In the shadows, her eyes stood out very white against her bronze skin. The smoke from her cigarette formed an odd vortex that lingered for a moment before dissipating in the room’s random turbulence. She took a long drag, letting the words out with the smoke. “She loves him. They all do. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. He’s damn good to them, and they know it. There are other trainers out there who are…” She stopped, as if she found the idea of someone mistreating those animals too ghastly to contemplate. “You have no idea. They choose us, you know,” she continued. “They have their favorites. Ruby and Fergus, my youngest, of course. She’s so gentle with him it’s like she’s his mother! Star picked Colleen, my nine-year-old. He loves to tease her by jumping over her when she’s in the water. You’ll have to get a picture of that. Saki – he pines for

Nikki, my teenager, but she’s got a crush on Beau.” “And you?” She was quiet a moment. “Bimbo. Have you noticed? There’s not a scratch on him. A real gentleman. Protective. Good with the children. Very strong, yet gentle.” “Will one of them pick me?” She got a wry grin. “If you hang around long enough, certainly.”

Salina, Beau, Hank and Star in the odd quiet moment at the dolphin show. As I was to learn, such moments were fleeting and infrequent.

Chapter 3: Three Scenic Vistas “Nobody has problems with marijuana!” – Elliot Gould, Rolling Stone interview circa 1972

Part 1: Among Brothers… and Sisters Back at New College, my friends were only too happy to celebrate my good fortune with a joint. “Working with dolphins and getting credit for it! Zack, you lucky dog,” Larry “Hazy” Hazelton chuckled, rolling the doobie with a tight, professional twist. He lit up and a billow of pot smoke, so different from the acrid smoke of Salina’s cigarettes, glowed in the backlight washing over his bony shoulders and long blond hair. Hazy toked again, leaned back against the balcony’s sliding glass door and passed the joint to his roommate. Gilbert Dorfman glanced up uncertainly from “Introductory Russian.” “Nyet spasisbo, bretats, U myenya dlya izuchyeiya,” he begged off. Hazy gently twisted his arm. “Boris Badenov say, ‘Toke now! Study later.’” “Ow! Torture! Well, if you’re going to be that way about it…” Gilbert took a couple of shallow tokes, exhaled quickly and handed me the joint. I took a deep hit and held it, then passed the joint to Terry Newton, who went by the nickname “Tuna.” “Gilbert, why on earth are you studying Russian?” Tuna asked. “It’s supposed to be the most difficult language in the world! Wouldn’t Spanish or French be more useful?” “Yeah, it’s real hard.” Gilbert sighed, closed the textbook and tossed it into a corner. “I figure we’ll all be speaking it some day, so I might as well get a head start.” Hazy turned his attention to some a large piece of poster board, on which he had been drafting a schematic of the Kabalistic Tree of Life, and picked up a pencil and straightedge. “How did you manage it?” he asked, connecting Cochma with Nizah through Chesed. “Manage what?” I croaked, trying to hold another hit. “This dolphin gig!” “Actually, I didn’t do anything. You know that student art show a couple of weeks ago? I’d entered a few of my photos in it. I guess this woman, Salina, who’s writing a book about the dolphins in the park, was shopping for a photographer. She saw my work and asked Professor Shartar whose it was. The next thing I knew, we were on our way to Florida Funland!” “Amazing,” Tuna said. “Definitely synchronicity,” Gilbert added.

We were pretty tight, the four of us, and each knew his role: Terry the Philosopher, Gilbert the Clown, Hazy the Mystic and me, the Mad Artist. Or was I the Mad Scientist? The fact that I suck at math would eventually answer that question, but at the time I wasn’t sure. Things could have gone either way. No, really, they could have. Tuna threaded up Dave Mason’s album Alone Together on his reel-to-reel tape deck and we listened and toked and rapped for a while before Gilbert put down his textbook and stood up, a little unsteadily. “Wow, I need some air,” he said, sliding open the glass door and stepping out onto the dorm room’s balcony. A moment later he called to us. “Hey guys, check this out!” The dorm’s balcony overlooked Palm Court, a large, tree-lined courtyard that was the site of many excellent parties. Along the red-tiled walkway that stretched north toward the student center and classrooms, a couple of the sisters were strolling toward us. The one on the left was braless under her tie-dyed Tshirt, her shorts cut practically to the crotch. The one on the right wore a long denim dress, but the sleeveless vest barely covering her breasts more than compensated. A jetliner rumbled low overhead, descending for a landing at the nearby Sarasota-Bradenton Airport. The sister on the right flung open her vest and flashed her tits at the aircraft in a gesture of civil disobedience. Many complaints lodged by commercial airline pilots had put an end to nude sunbathing by the pool and on the dormitory rooftops. A coalition of the sisters had argued, with great merit I thought, that they should not have to pay for the institutionalized societal sexism which caused male chauvinist pig private pilots to circle the campus ogling them from small planes, to the endangerment of commercial air traffic; but they had lost, and by the time I’d processed all that the jet was on the runway and the sister had covered her tits again. We nevertheless applauded her brazen audacity. She looked up at us, waved, and then flashed us. “You want to come up?” Gilbert yelled. “We’ve got some great pot!” “No thanks, we just scored some hash,” the tie-dyed sister said as they disappeared around the corner of the building. “Who are they?” Tuna asked, practically falling over the railing as he tried to

follow them. “The exhibitionist is named Jeanie, I think,” Hazy answered, the joint in his hand forgotten. “The other one is Sallie something. It doesn’t matter, they’re both spoken for.” “Shit,” Gilbert muttered. “And she had such nice tits, too.” We all knew what he meant. Most of the sisters at New College were liberated young women who would flash their tits at jet pilots or dive into bed with any guy who caught their fancy; there just weren’t enough of them. The campus male-female ratio at that time was more than two to one, and our class, considered a marked improvement over the college’s first four years, consisted of 122 men, 63 women. So for a school where the administration looked the other way when couples dumped their assigned roommates and shacked-up, where the mores were looser than cheap bell bottoms and drugs flowed like water, it could be very difficult to get laid if you were a guy at New College, particularly if, like me, you had no social skills whatsoever. I was not a virgin only by default. At the end of my freshman year, a junior exchange student named Lorraine had taken mercy on me. Staggering drunk, she had dragged me from a late showing of Antonioni’s interminable bourgeoismisery epic "L’Eclipse" back to my frigid dorm room, where, on a bed so narrow two snakes would have had trouble making it, we had copulated furtively and rather more to her satisfaction than mine, although I was extremely grateful, having just turned 19, that she had lifted the curse from me. Lorraine flattered me afterward by saying she hadn’t realized I was a virgin; that made me grateful for my liberal parents’ sex-education talks. She insisted on staggering back to her own room under her own power, leaving me lying on the bed, wondering what all the fuss was about and if it ever got any better. Like an idiot absorbed in whatever it was I thought I was doing at the time, I ignored her for almost two weeks, until I realized she actually did like me – I think one of her friends confessed – whereupon I snuck over to her room one morning and found her lounging in bed. That was rather better. Two days later she was gone, back to her husband and child in the Midwest. She asked me not to write, so I didn’t. I thought about her, but not

with longing. I was a realist. I had liked Lorraine, I had been grateful to Lorraine, but whatever love was, that wasn’t it. Not that love was what I was looking for, any more than Hazy or Gil or Tuna or most of the other guys on campus. It just seemed ironic that at the height of “free love and flower power,” and on a campus where anything went, sex was a problem acutely felt by many of us guys. As we finished the joint we rapped about our conquests and losses, who was getting what with whom how often, where, on what drugs and in what position (as if we knew), and what our prospects or lack of same were, until Hazy announced he had terminal cotton mouth. “Same here,” said Gil, opening a mini-fridge and pulling out a large bottle of turbid brown liquid. Hazy brought four thrift-store drinking vessels and set them down before Gil, who poured and handed me a brimming Ball Mason jar. “What is this?” I asked, sniffing it cautiously. “Just organic apple cider,” Gil said reassuringly, “straight up.” “Unfiltered,” Hazy added. “Unadulterated.” “Wow,” I said, “that’s really… cosmic! This cider is exactly the same color as the water at Florida Funland!” We pondered that for a minute, stunned by the synchronicity of it all. “Almost as murky, too,” I added. “I love dolphins,” Gilbert suddenly announced. “They always look so happy! And they’re so smart! Aren’t they supposed to be more intelligent than we are? Do they talk to you?” “Not yet,” I said, overwhelmed by his enthusiasm. “What did you say that woman’s name was? Salina something?” Hazy asked, contemplating the path from Yesod to Hod along Resch. “O’Rourke. Salina O’Rourke. From somewhere in New York,” I added, giggling. “I think she has a relative on campus,” Tuna added. “Who?” Gil, ever hopeful, asked. “Leo Baer. In the Environmental Studies Program. Not your type.” “Oh.” Disappointed, Gil returned to his textbook. “Which reminds me,” I said, checking to make sure that my legs were underneath me before I stood up, “I need to go see Professor Dyne.”

“You’re not going Nat-Sci on us, are you?” Hazy asked. “Nah. But if I’m going to be shooting pictures of dolphins, I might as well try and get some credit for it, and Wilbur’s the guy to give it to me.”

Part II: Supplicating the Gods of Science “So. What exactly do you want to do with these dolphins, Zack?” Everybody – even liberal arts majors – acknowledged that Wilbur Dyne, B.S., M.S., someday-PhD., was one of the coolest profs anywhere. He was young, single, bearded and hip. He was rumored to have the largest collection of underground comix on campus, and he could, if he chose, sprinkle his conversations with allusions to his more-than-passing familiarity with various obscure botanical psychotropics. His doctoral thesis, which had been perilously close to completion for the past several years, was to be the first-ever ecological survey of Sarasota Bay’s benthic organisms. I considered his question carefully. Salina’s invitation was artistic – “Illustrate my book” – and I could, if I wanted to, approach it from that angle. But I didn’t want to stop there. Some-thing else was tugging at me. “Well, I thought I could try to replicate some of John Lilly’s work. Nobody else has done that. You’re familiar with his experiments in human-dolphin communication, aren’t you?” Wilbur squirmed uncomfortably. “Sort of. I think I read that book he wrote a few years back, what was it, People and Porpoises?” “Man and Dolphin,” I corrected him. “They’re dolphins down at Florida Funland, not porpoises, although that’s what the head trainer calls them.” “Oh yeah? What’s the difference?” I suspected Wilbur already knew, but I wanted to show him I had done my homework and Salina’s answer wouldn’t cut it here. “Both are toothed whales of the order Cetacea, family Delphinidae,” I said, “but porpoises, which dwell in colder waters, are generally smaller, have a blunt snout and spade-shaped teeth, whereas bottlenose dolphins, which are native to our waters, have longer snouts and conical teeth. And very large brains,” I added, which was what really interested me. “How large?” “Larger than yours, by ten percent.” Wilbur chuckled. “Maybe so, Zack, but I am a professor of biology at a respected private college, while they are performing animals.” “You work for a paycheck, don’t you?” Squinting, Wilbur examined my eyes. “Are you high?”

“Why, you jealous? Want some? Will I be graded on whether I’m high or not?” Wilbur rubbed his forehead. “If I do, and I’m not saying I do, I know where to get it. No, I just want to get a handle on where you’re coming from with this independent study project. Your major’s liberal arts, isn’t it?” “Communications in all its forms – audio, visual, graphic and inter-species.” “If you say so! But you’re basically a liberal arts major invading the Natural Sciences Program, where a different set of rules apply, and I want to make sure… you’re not out of your depth. So tell me, what got you interested in dolphins?” Oh, did that ever throw me back… 1957: Sitting on my father’s knee, he’s reading me a picture-book about a gray whale swimming from the Arctic to Baja, California to birth her calf. She meets a pod of dolphins on the way. Then along come killer whales – villains in this simple, childish universe. The killer whales chase the dolphins, and the gray whale gets away. No matter how many times my father reads it, the book never says if the dolphins got away, so I ask him. He thinks about it for a while. “Probably not,” he finally admits. 1961: “Flipper” is playing at the drive-in and it is so cool! There’s this dolphin, see, and this dumb guy shoots it with a spear gun so it beaches itself, but this kid and his little brother nurse it back to health and now the dolphin is their best friend! Flipper’s so smart he talks – well, almost! Bud and Sandy can understand him; why can’t I? 1962: The Aquarama, a magnificent new aquarium, has just opened in Philadelphia. Some outdoor exhibits feature tropical foliage. “Ooh, Mil, ‘ow they will make those palm trees grow up ‘ere?” my mother wonders. “They’ll freeze come winter!” “Electric heaters in the soil around the roots,” my dad explains. “They can keep them growing year-round that way!” There are tanks and tanks of beautiful fish, and there are dolphins, too, performing inside in a huge glass pool, you can see them splash down after their jumps and flips. I want to go back stage and pet them, but Mom says it’s not allowed. The dolphins swim to an outside pool where the water is steaming.

Their breath makes fountains in the cold, frosty air. 1964: “Flipper” is on TV and dolphins are everywhere! Everybody’s talking about them talking to us, or us talking to them. A picture in LIFE magazine shows a scientist in Hawaii listening to dolphins with giant plastic ears. Even my father, the electronics engineer, can’t explain it. But he tells me a Dr. John C. Lilly is studying dolphins so we will understand how to communicate with extraterrestrials, when we meet them. How soon will that be? Dad doesn’t know. 1966: I keep asking, but Mom won’t say where we we’re going. She just screams at me and my little brother “Get in the car! Get in the car, NOW!” I get in, but I am so scared. Mom’s been acting crazy since she threw Dad out for seeing that secretary. She drives and drives into Philadelphia. On the overpasses I’m afraid she’s going to drive off and kill us all to get even, but she doesn’t. Finally I figure out where we were going: to the Aquarama. But it isn’t the same. The place is all rusty and old. The tanks are cracked, most of the fish are gone. The palm trees have died, and so have the dolphins. One of the guards says they caught pneumonia from breathing cold air while swimming in the heated water. Mom really wanted to do something nice for us, but it’s just all sad. On the way home, I almost cry. “What’s wrong with you?” my mother asks angrily, but I know better than to try to explain. June 1970, five months ago: Sitting on a dock on the Gulf of Mexico, blowing a joint and grooving on a really cosmic sunset, all gold and fiery orange, dig, when suddenly I cop to all these black fins rolling in the water – a pod of dolphins is passing by! Without a second’s thought I dive in and swim, swim like mad. A hundred yards offshore, I stop and look around. Where are they? Surely they must be right about here… Their fins break the water ten yards in front of me. They dive. They resurface ten yards down the coast, having swum directly underneath me. Disappointed, I return to shore. What did I expect them to do, stop and chat? When I get out, I discover that, in my stoned enthusiasm, I forgot to take my wallet out of my cut-offs… “Zack? Hello? Anybody in there?” Wilbur’s voice brought me back. To me, the chain of associations had come and gone in the blink of an eye, but apparently it had taken a little longer.

“Uh, sorry, Wilbur. I guess you could say I have a casual interest in them, going back to childhood. But it was Lilly’s work that really caught my attention – the notion that by trying to communicate with dolphins, we might learn how to communicate with extraterrestrials. I’ve been fascinated with them ever since.” “Hmm. Well, short of you changing your major, I don’t know what to do. My specialty is the ecology of benthic organisms, after all – clams, snails, tube worms. I don’t need, or want, to communicate with them, so I feel a little bit out of my depth with this ethology-linguistics stuff. You’ve heard of ‘Clever Hans,’ haven’t you?” I assured Wilbur that I was familiar with the true story of the famous ‘talking horse’ that could answer questions and solve mathematical problems by stomping its hoof – when somebody present knew the answer! Hans, it turned out, was only clever enough to read his human handlers’ unconscious body language and know when to stop stomping. “Those kind of problems always bedevil researchers who try to prove lower animals can ‘talk,’” Wilbur continued, “and the field doesn’t have a really good reputation. But why don’t we start off like this: get me a reading list. Not just Lilly’s stuff, find some other sources. See what other scientists have to say about Lilly’s ‘talking dolphins.’ I’ve heard there’s a new psychologist training a dolphin at Trident Marine Lab, why don’t you try to hook up with him? Write a proposal. I’ll take a look at it, and if you want to run some experiments – well, we’ll play it by ear from there.” “You mean you’ll sponsor me?” “Yeah. It should be interesting. Who knows where this might lead?” “Gee, thanks, Wilbur! If there’s anything I can do for you…” “Well, as a matter of fact…” Professor Dyne leaned over his cluttered desk, his voice conspiratorially hushed. “Do you know where I could get a mint copy of Zap Comix #3?”

Part III: The Home Front Hitchhiking back and forth to New College wasn’t much of a problem in those days; there was a lot of traffic headed for the beach, and I got home around sunset. That year, home was my mother’s house on Siesta Key. My father bought it for her after the divorce: two bedrooms, two baths, and a living room that merged into a small kitchen and dinette. Its best features were a wide lanai and a half-acre back yard with live oaks. Our first year there, I slept on the couch until my mother had saved enough money to convert the garage into a third bedroom. The house was centrally air-conditioned – except for my room, of course. Like any sensible college student, when my mother was around I didn’t spend any more time there than I had to. When she wasn’t there, it got a lot better. Right now she was there. My brother Howie, just turned 17, looked up when I came in but said nothing. He sat at the kitchen table reading a tattered Dr. Strange comic book with eyes the size of golf balls. My mother’s bedroom door was closed. She must be sleeping. “How’d it go?” he asked, not looking up. “I’ve got a sponsor. I can’t believe it, Howie, but this is really going to happen! I’m finally going to work with dolphins!” “Great. If it doesn’t pan out, there’s an ad for sea-monkeys in the back of this comic. Maybe you can figure out how to talk to them.” “You’re fucked-up, you little rodent.” “So are you!” he shot back. Touché! “Mom got real pissed-off with you,” he added, perusing the Johnson-Smith ads. “You should have called and let her know you’d be late for dinner.” “I’m not late,” I said. “Did you guys eat early?” “No. We were waiting on you, but you were…” “Zaaack,” my mother moaned. My brother rolled his eyes, gathered up his comic book, went into his room and shut the door. My mother’s bedroom was dark. She was lying on the bed, dressed, stretched out under the covers. She looked up when I came in.

“I’m so glad you’re back,” she whispered. “I was worried about you. I don’t mean to be a nag, Zack, but I do wish that, if you’re going to be late for a meal, you’d at least call and let me know.” I apologized. “Help me up, will you?” she said. I slipped my hands under her shoulders and lifted her into a sitting position as gently as I could, but the pain made her wince anyway. “Make me a cup of tea, luv?” This was an old drill. I put the kettle on the stove, and shortly the water boiled. I swilled it around inside the ceramic teapot – very important point, my mother doesn’t like cold tea. It had to be a certain brand of loose-leaf orange pekoe – she was very particular about that – one teaspoonful for each cup and one for the pot, steeped for three-and-a-half minutes, no longer. My resentment grew stronger with the tea. I didn’t want to be here, but I didn’t seem to have any other choice. My freshman year I’d lived on campus, but in his infinite wisdom my father had decided there was no sense in shelling out for his son’s dorm room when he was already shelling out for his ex-wife’s house in the same zip code. The fact that my mother couldn’t do anything about her arthritis didn’t make her any easier to live with. But how, where, to get away? I didn’t want to drop out, and I wasn’t independent enough to work full-time while attending school so I could afford a place of my own. I put the mugs with the milk in them and the tea pot under its cozy on the tray with the sugar and brought it all to my mother, who had managed to stumble out of bed long enough to switch on the small, black-and-white TV set. On the news, Chet Huntley was vainly trying to explain to a skeptical David Brinkley the government’s line on our latest “strategic victory” in Vietnam. My freshman year had also been the second year of the draft lottery. By sheer dumb luck I had pulled a number in the high 300’s. We would nuke Hanoi before they sent my lily-white ass to slog through some goddamn Asian rice paddy! I poured the tea. The spoon in my mother’s knotted, swollen hand chipped at the hard brown sugar in the bowl. Finally she levered some into her cup and took a sip.

“Oooh, that’s good! Thank you, Zack. I do so appreciate your being around, luv.” “You’re welcome, Jo. I’ll get some dinner started in a few minutes,” I said by way of apology. “That would be nice,” she said, easing into a more comfortable position. “I left some hamburger out, do you think you could fix it?” I was tempted to ask if it was broken, but I didn’t. In this condition, my mother had no sense of humor. She was like some huge, wounded animal that radiated pain the way a broadcast tower emits radio waves. Over the years I had developed some shielding, but it was never quite enough. Now Chet and David were reviewing the nightly body counts. “Oooh, it’s ‘orrible!” my mother groaned. “I didn’t survive the Blitz just to see this! It’s terrible, it’s just bloody murder! We’ve got no business over there!” I couldn’t help but agree. Now a commercial, Speedy Alka Seltzer at the chalkboard or Hertz dropping somebody into the driver’s seat. “How’s school going, luv?” “Pretty good. Professor Dyne said he’d sponsor me on the dolphins.” “Oh, is that the class with the lady who liked your pictures? What was her name, Samantha? Serena?” “Salina.” “Oh yes, Salina. I do so hope that works out for you, Zack, I know you’ve been wanting to do something with dolphins for so long and when Serena saw your pictures in that show it just seemed natural, you working with her. Besides, there’s a chance you’ll get some photos in her book, isn’t there? Will you get paid? That would be so good for you, dear. I do so want to see you succeed…” Sure you do, Mom. So do I. “…and I just want you to be happy, you know? Pour me another cuppa, there’s a luv. You’ll get dinner on soon, won’t you? I could ask Howie to do it but he’s so...” As if on cue, my brother slammed out of his room, slammed into the bathroom. My mother sighed. All the troubles of the world settled on her arthritic shoulders. “...He’s become so sullen, so withdrawn! And him such a happy little baby! I don’t know what’s come over him!” As my mother turned to stare at me from

eyes that were wells of pain, her lined face caught the flickering blue glow of the TV set. “Zack – he’s not on drugs, is he?”

Chapter 4: Fatally Fogged Film The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-andtake, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box. – French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson Fourteen feet above the water, Ruby seemed to hang in mid-air. Through the viewfinder I saw the glinting droplets flicked from her body, the water she carried upward cascading down her smooth flanks. Beau clung to the Delta Queen’s railing, his outstretched arm holding the chunk of fish. My finger jerked reflexively on the shutter release, capturing the scene in one five-hundredth of a second. …But she isn’t doing this for the fish, I thought. Ruby used more energy launching her four-hundred-pound body into the air than she got from that chunk of mackerel. A half-second later I flinched as she splashed down, showering me. Fortunately, the camera was a waterproof Nikonos. Beau grinned wildly at me. Correction – at Salina, who had snuck up beside me. “Isn’t this great?” she shouted over the wind. “Ruby’s in top form to-day! You better get some good pictures!” “No problem with this!” I waved the camera. Salina nodded. She was wearing navy blue shorts and a loose cotton blouse hand-embroidered with Bolivian peasant designs. Her hair was pulled back and clipped, leaving the temples flying wild. She might as well have been the one making the jumps! The riverboat was packed, and all aboard had their cameras aimed at the hole in the air where the dolphin had just been. “Rooo-beee! Ho!” Beau yelled, and with a powerful thrust of her flukes the dolphin shot upwards, a silver-gray torpedo suspended for a moment against the azure sky. It had been two weeks since my first visit. My notes from that day are abject, constituting a mere thirteen sketchy lines handwritten in a battered, spiralbound notebook: “The second trip, around Dec. 13, I think, was a little longer and a

little more interesting…” I can rail against myself, my inconsistent journalism, my faulty memory, my slipshod approach to science, but how could I have foreseen the overwhelming significance these events would assume in my life? Ruby soared up flawlessly and took her last fish. I snapped the last shot on the roll and found a seat in the shade of the upper deck to re-load. Planning this assignment, my main photographic observation had been that dolphins could splash a lot of salt water, which could easily ruin my cheap Fujica 35mm rangefinder camera. I had prevailed upon a sympathetic scuba-diving friend to lend me his Nikonos II. It had an achingly sharp Nikon wide-angle lens, but Jacques Cousteau’s waterproof engineering made it a bitch to load and unload, so the diver had demonstrated every step of the process for me. The camera had a unique, sprocketless drive, so I started turning the inconvenient little knurled knob that manually rewound the 35mm film. A whole roll, thirty-six shots, of Ruby’s jumps, captured against the cloudless Florida sky! Each exposure had been perfect. I couldn’t have done better in a studio. The pictures would look great in Salina’s book! I kept turning the rewind knob, but couldn’t feel the film’s accustomed drag. I should have heard a quiet click as the leader disengaged from the take-up spool and was pulled back into the light-tight metal cassette. Oh well, I thought, it’s an unfamiliar camera, it should feel different… …What a colossal opportunity this assignment was! Not even out of college, and I’d replaced some big-name New York shooter who had flubbed the pictures for Salina’s first book! Talk about lucky breaks! My shots of Ruby and the other dolphins would be seen by millions! Why, I might even get an assignment from National Geographic!… …The film had to be rewound by now. Following my friend’s instructions I dismounted the lens with a clockwise quarter-turn, and, with a vigorous thrust of the two metal lugs attached to the neck strap, popped open the hermetically sealed top. There was my film, still wrapped around the take-up spool, exposed. Although I do not remember saying them at the time – I was momentarily struck dumb – there really are only two words that accurately describe that feeling. The first one is “Oh.”

My reflexes are pretty good, but compared to the quantum-physical absorption of photons into the electron shells of silver halide crystals, I am, let’s face it, slow. I fumbled the camera closed, an embarrassed flush beading my brow. Only then did I recall my diver friend reminding me to pull UP on the rewind knob to engage the film cassette’s spindle and rewind the film! With my Fujica, doing that would have opened the back prematurely – and exposed the film. Chastened and humbled, I rewound the film, really this time, and reloaded the Nikonos. I wanted to throw the ruined film, or the accursed camera, or myself overboard, but I stopped short; pictures toward the beginning of the roll might yet be salvaged. The Delta Queen slowed and turned, throwing up a wake the little runabouts sought to avoid. As we gathered speed for the return trip the dolphin reappeared, cruising in the bow wave, leaping for the sheer exhilaration of it. Determined to recover my losses, I forced my way through the tourists who had crowded to the bow railing. When I got there, I saw in the white froth churned up by the bow – nothing. Then Ruby blew between the waves and rolled on her right side to stare upward. She brought her left eye to bear on me and maintained that position as she sliced through the waves. The sun was brilliant. Through the railing pressed against my hips I could feel the riverboat’s twin diesels throbbing while the west wind whipped salt air in my face. Whenever I smell salt air, which I rarely do these days, these memories flood back to me. Ruby submerged. I sighted through the viewfinder and caught a photo of her as she reappeared in the brownish water. The look in her eye remains now as it was then: serene, clear, calm and penetrating. No matter which way I turn the photo, she is looking right at me, and no one else. The boat slowed as it approached the dock. Ruby left the bow wave and returned to her pen. A well-muscled guy who resembled a younger version of Beau made us fast and slid out the gangplank so the tourists could disembark. The last ones off the boat were Salina and Beau, his arm casually draped around her waist. She saw me aiming the camera at them and waved me off. “Ruby done real good today,” Beau said, unawares.

“I bet Zack got some great shots, didn’t you?” She would have to ask! “Uh, yeah. Great.” “You sound uncertain.” “I had a little, uh, problem, with the, uh, camera, but I’m sure I got some decent shots somewhere on that roll.” Salina scowled but said nothing, lit a cigarette and strode up the pier toward the main dolphin pool. A half-smirk twisted Beau’s face, then he followed her. Some great photographer I was! I didn’t have an excuse, I wasn’t even stoned. Over at Ruby’s pen, that big blond guy, what was his name? Hal? Henry? Hank, that was it, Hank had let the dolphin in and was dogging the gate behind her. She swam in slow, languid circles, rising occasionally to breathe. I would not have known her for the lively creature I had just photographed leaping beside the riverboat. She must live to perform. “Hey there, Zack!” Hank met me on the catwalk surround-ing Ruby’s pen. “Salina’s told me you want to do some kind of experiments with our dolphins?” Yes, I did, but I didn’t know what, didn’t have any idea how to do such experiments and apparently didn’t have anyone who could tell me. “I want to see if it’s possible to communicate with them, Hank. It would be real interesting to repeat some of John Lilly’s work.” “What, brain surgery?” Hank glared. “Don’t you go cut-ting on any of my dolphins!” I was mortified. Realizing I had said something terribly wrong, but not knowing what or why, I tried to reassure Hank that harming anyone’s dolphins was the last thing on my mind. But what was this about Lilly carving up dolphins’ brains? All I remembered were his communication experiments, and none of them had involved surgery. I made a mental note to check that. Hank took a look at me – the gods know I didn’t look like any brain surgeon, not even a medical student – and laughed. “Well, I guess if it’s okay with Beau, it’s okay with me,” he said, and went up towards the main pool, leaving me shaking my head. Chuff! Ruby was floating in the middle of her pen with something draped over her snout that looked like a stiff green snake. She tossed her head, then submerged.

When she came up again, the green object was draped over a flipper. She rolled, exposing her belly. Wrapped around her like a circlet was a plastic garden hose. Curious, I watched for several minutes as Ruby maneuvered the hose this way and that, diving and surfacing. I was worried that she would get tangled up in it, but that seemed to be her intention. Finally I decided she was in no danger of drowning. Bored with her aimless antics, I returned to the main pool to take some pictures of the jumps there. §§§ “I try to work on the book, but they’ve been bugging me to go back to the park ever since our last trip,” Salina sighed, waving a cigarette at her three children, who were romping in her swimming pool. “I tell them it’s too cold, they wouldn’t have any fun, but they insist.” Although I had known Salina for two weeks, I still had no idea how she supported herself. Certainly not off the sales of her little book! She didn’t work and showed no signs of having a husband – anywhere – although I had no doubt she could do anything she set her mind to. So I asked her. She shouted at the kids to be quiet, then suggested we move into the den, where she could keep an eye on them through the sliding glass patio doors. She pointed out her framed master’s degree from a prestigious old-line women’s college and mentioned a couple of substantial jobs she’d held as if they were of little consequence, compared to the things she would yet accomplish. “I can’t stand those silly ‘women’s libbers’ who whine about discrimination,” she complained. “Nothing’s ever stopped me from getting what I wanted!” I believed her. Though her degree had nothing to do with marine mammals in particular or the life sciences in general, I already regarded Salina as an expert on dolphins, albeit a wildly opinionated one. Perhaps because no one else I knew, knew as much about them as she did. Hank, maybe, and Beau, certainly, but there intra-species communication became a problem. Salina revealed she was living happily on the settlement from her recent divorce. “But that can’t last forever, so I am becoming a writer,” she announced, leaning forward in the chair, fingers laced, elbows on her widespread knees.

“That’s why I need this next book, and your pictures, Zack. You did get some good shots today, didn’t you?” I assured her I had. Then I thought of Ruby’s curious behavior with the hose. Beau had dismissed it: “Ah, she’s just playin’ with it.” That answer hadn’t satisfied me. Although awkward, the apparent deliberation of Ruby’s manipulation suggested some intention. I described her actions to Salina. “Do you have any idea what she was doing with it?” “Of course! She was hoping it would go zip!” Salina thrust an index finger at her crotch. “You mean…?” I stammered. “Yes.” Salina sat back, studying me. “She was using it like a dildo. They’re very bright, you know.” “Do they uh, breed in captivity?” I asked, wary of offending her. “Are you kidding? They screw like crazy! But the females, for some reason, won’t conceive, that pool’s too small. Out in the wild it would be a different story.” Her bluntness caught me off-guard. When my mother got angry her mouth could make a Marine Corps drill instructor blush, but not having grown up around rich people I thought they were stuffy and inhibited and didn’t talk about things like s-e-x the way the rest of us did. Salina’s unexpected earthiness delighted me. “Ruby’s incredibly horny in that little pen, all by herself,” she went on. “I’ve told Beau, but he just doesn’t seem to want to do anything about it. When she was smaller, he used to move her up to the main pool to be with the male dolphins every now and then.” “I bet she enjoyed that!” Salina rolled her eyes. “They just went nuts! They’re like us – they need a good screw every so often or they go crazy.” “What about the males?” I asked. Four of them – Star, Saki, Bimbo and Gator – were all in the main pool without any female companionship. “The males,” she said, “don’t bother me. They can always take it out on each other. But poor Ruby, I really feel sorry for her.” Given my own situation, I thought I knew how she felt. The dolphin, I mean.

Chapter V: Off The Beach Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain come joys, delights, laughter… sorrow, grief, despondence… And by this same organ we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us, some by day and some by night. –Hippocrates, “father of medicine,” 4th Century B.C.E I was the smoked turkey in a student hoagie, eleven layers of meat and cheesiness sandwiched in a crunchy old station wagon, marijuana mayo, hold the onion, rumbling down Orange Avenue toward the Gulf beaches of Siesta Key. The campus cleared out for Christmas except the Sarasota deadheads who refused to go home, the few whose impoverished parents could not afford airfare and me, the local freak. I slightly knew Jeanie, the aeronautical exhibitionist, who was crammed between Tuna and me in the back. Gilbert was stuffed in with us too. The male to female ratio in the car was three to one, somewhat worse than on the campus. A cop followed us, one car back. Nervous, I strained to overhear the conversation in the front seat: Did the cop want to bust us? Should we pull down a side street or continue to the beach? But the gods favored us: When we turned onto Siesta Drive, the cop pulled into the neon-encrusted Quickie-Mart. All he wanted was a doughnut and a cuppa joe. Smooth sailing all the way! Tuna passed around a tiny brass pipe. The odor was unmis-takably that blond Lebanese hash from the Bekaa Valley that reportedly financed P.L.O. hijackings, although none of us were concerned about that just then. When it got to me, there was nothing in the bowl but gray ash. I reported this to Tuna, who just smiled, shrugged and took back the pipe. Jeanie reached into her jeans. “I’ve got some,” she said, handing me a lid, “but it’s just pot, and I don’t have any papers.” Somewhere in the crush of limbs her calf and thigh were pressed against mine. She felt warm and soft. I realize how tight and hard my whole body felt. The threat of being busted made me nervous, but Jeanie seemed carefree. I wished I could feel her warm softness all over my body. She was a couple of years ahead of me. I ached to know what to

do for her, how to reach out to her. She seemed friendly. Jeanie smiled at me sweetly, then turned as a guy with long black hair reached for her over the back seat. They exchanged a very long, very wet, very French kiss. Oh well… We stopped at a convenience store in Siesta Village to buy beer, ice cream bars and rolling papers. When we got back in the car, Jeanie sat on the guy’s lap, putting five in the middle seat. Tuna, Gilbert and I had more room, but I no longer had Jeanie’s thigh pressed against me. Crescent Beach is just a short drive from the market, but when we got there, two Sarasota County Sheriff’s cars were parked under the streetlight. “Shit,” said our driver, whose name, I think, was Bill something, “what do we do now?” “Ask Zack,” Tuna suggested helpfully, “he lives out here, don’t you, Zack? Where do locals go to avoid the cops?” “Try Turtle Beach,” I suggested. Five miles down Siesta Drive, it was a less populated and less popular hangout than Crescent Beach. Bill drove slowly away from the beach access, then, when we were out of the cops’ sight, gunned the over-loaded station wagon for all it was worth. Minutes later we en-tered the Turtle Beach parking lot, behind some high dunes, and tumbled out of the car. Night. Stars. Cool breeze like a lost lover’s last touch. Roar-crash!shhhhhhshh. The surf there had a particular tinkle to it, thousands of ground seashells clashing together with every wave. “Wheee!” Jeanie raced over the dunes, her boyfriend in hot pursuit. Gilbert handed me a can of beer. “Wow, this is nice! Is that all the ocean there is?” he asked, pointing to a small lagoon. I directed him up a dune. At the crest, the sea wind hit us full force. Down by the water, a couple of the brothers and one of the sisters were trying to play Frisbee in a crosswind. One of the other women in our party was strolling in the surf with Tuna. Of Jeanie and her friend there was no trace. “Hey,” Gilbert asked, “you got that pot?” I found a dune that offered shelter from the wind and light from the parking lot lamp. Sitting cross-legged, I turned my back to the wind, trying to keep the blowing sand out of my face. I couldn’t see in the dark; I pushed my glasses up on my forehead. The pot was mostly seedy brown buds. My glasses fell down; I pushed them up again.

I was getting pissed off, but some part of my mind seemed to be analyzing each move, evaluating my situation and adapting to it without feeling any frustration. The pot was hard to roll, and the wind threatened to blow everything away before we could get blown away. Cursing, I hunkered down and got some shake on the paper. I carefully lowered my head and licked the adhesive, thinking, This is stupid, it’s like I’m watching a nature documentary on TV! And suddenly – I was! My hands became alien arachnoid appendages, grotesque white crabs going about their business, detached from the mind observing them. That mind didn’t speak, but it was keen, and if its thoughts could have been put into words it might have said How does he do that? He’s using his grasping appendages to form the thin tissue into a tube to contain the mood-altering substance! Given the wind and the darkness, he’s showing not only a lot of skill, but a very strong motivation for the effects of… POP! The joint in my hands wouldn’t have won any beauty contests, but it appeared smokable. I wondered who’d rolled it; it damn sure wasn’t me! “Cool! I didn’t believe you could really do that out here, with this wind and all!” Gilbert exclaimed. “Far out!” Neither did I! “That was weird.” “What?” “I dunno, it was just like for a second there, somebody else was looking through my eyes. Like my hands didn’t belong to me, but to somebody else. Y’know?” Gilbert shook his head. “You’re stoned already, and you haven’t even smoked that thing!” Huddling in the shadow of the dune, we smoked the joint and washed it down with beer. As Gilbert wandered away, the darkness enfolded me and the wind became the caress of a lover I had never known. I looked up; how had Isaac Asimov put it? “The stars like dust, the galaxies like grains of sand.” Roar-crash!-shhhhhhshh. Roar-crash!-shhhhhhshh. Blacker than space, colder than the void between the stars, the ocean hissed and surged around my feet. I waded through the surf alone, in the shadow

of the dunes, and with every step I crushed a thousand dead sea-creatures’ tiny homes infinitesi-mally closer to the grains of sand they would someday become. The ocean’s foam was light gray against the darkness of the waves. By day, everything here glittered; at night, the ocean soaked up light like a rag soaking up blood. On my human scale, the infinite space above me and the fathomless ocean at my feet were mirror images of each other in their vastness and obscurity. But while my eyes perceived the light of stars ten million years dead, they could not penetrate one foot, one inch, into those pitchy waters. Roar-crash!-shhhhhhshh. Roar-crash!-shhhhhhshh. Turning west I stared into the wind, and tears, the remnants of my body’s ancient compact with the sea, sprung into my eyes. Changeless, the sea rolled on, just as it did when this had been a beach of monsters, when Archelon and Megalodon prowled its depths. Since then the sea level had risen or fallen, the coastline shifted in or out, but nothing fundamental had changed. The sea and the stars pulled me in different directions. Come out here! one whispered. Come home! the other roared. Between them I was lost, and filled with an aching longing for something I had never known, did not know, could not know. It had no name I could give voice to, but it seemed as remote from the press of flesh and the warmth of smiles as the stars above me. Roar-crash!-shhhhhhshh. Out there, a hundred yards off the beach, the waves were pounding a sand bar with enough force to shatter concrete and twist steel. The sand yielded, shifted, moved, re-formed, en-dured. Out there… …I remembered Ruby in her pen down at the amusement park, that’s where she came from, out there was her home. However hostile and wild and impenetrable the waters of night might seem to me, they were her highway, her larder, her nurs-ery, her boudoir, her birthright. Out there her kind were slipping through the dark waters, probing the depths with beams of trenchant sound, calling out to one another I am here, come to me, stay close by, hunting, feeding, rising to breathe then diving to make love. For them the night held no fear, the sea no terror. Ruby in her pen, a few miles down the coast – this darkness was hers, this

ocean was hers, and what had we done? Stuck her in a prison of wood and wire, snatched a free rover of that wildness and tamed her, forced dead fish upon her, trained her to do our bidding, made her a plaything which jumped at our pleasure, a servant of the Hands of Man. Her stare in the bow wave haunted me, in it something wild that would never yield, something that called out to me… Hey Zack! …Desolation engulfed me, the sea sucked me under its coldest waters. In the midst of this splendor, this mystery, this majesty, I stood, as always, alone. My back to the waves, the tears in my eyes weren’t from the wind any more. “Zack! Hey, Zack! Where are you?” The wind swept voices to my ears. Tuna padded up, pant-ing, the wind doing weird things to his hair. “Where the fuck have you been, man? We’ve been looking all over for you, we were ready to go ten minutes ago, every-body’s freezing, we thought maybe you’d fallen in or some-thing!” “Sorry.” He noticed the water on my cheeks. “Are you okay? You didn’t drop, did you?” “Nah. It’s just…” How could I explain? I swept my arm toward the waves, the stars. “All this.” Tuna, the stoned philosopher-prince, stared out into the night. “Yeah,” he said, “I know. C’mon.” We piled into the rusty old station wagon and headed home, Bill driving slowly now, everyone awed by something in the night. Jeanie rested her head on her man’s lap. I stared down at my hands. My hands; they were mine; irrefutably connected to the arms, which were attached to the body that housed the brain containing the mind that created the personality staring down at the hands. And yet… They look so weird! They’re not mine! Shocked, I realized two discrete personalities were sharing my head. One was the recognizable character I knew as me. The other was the same stranger who had been staring at my unfamiliar hands when I tried to roll a joint on the

beach. Now it directed its attention to the interior of the car, my fellow passengers, the dark landscape sliding by outside. Its response: Wow! This is… different! This sudden occupation didn’t frighten me–the intruder felt benevolent, even bemused–but it made me uncomfortable, being uninvited and all. I mentally confronted the intruder, which had a distinct personality but was utterly incognito. Different from what? Different from where I am. It’s all so strange, so fascinating, so new! It emanated waves of awe at the car’s sculpted metal, the horsepower, the speed, even the clothes we wore. Then, suddenly, I was angry. Who did this being think it was to penetrate my consciousness, to appropriate my eyes as its remote-sensing cameras? You want ‘different?’ I’ll give you ‘different!’ I imagined us about a foot above the car’s roof as we sped along the asphalt ribbon called road. I spent the summer before my freshman year working on a crew building roads like this one, dripping sweat in the Florida heat, and now I threw that in too: the grading, the gravel, the acrid smell of hot tar… …The intruder was puzzled, but it seemed to enjoy the sensation of speed. Whee! I jacked us up further, looking at the other cars racing in opposite directions down the road, down other roads, each carrying passengers headed to their own destinations, cars made from steel ripped from mines in the belly of the Earth, fueled by gasoline burned in internal combustion engines… the inferences stretched out around us, an interrelated web of man-made connections. The scenario’s complexity left the intruder stunned and confused. Yeah, I’ll give you ‘different,’ all right! I jumped up a thousand feet. Sarasota blazed in the darkness, street lamps illuminating a network of roads, tall buildings and ten thousand homes lit with electricity sent over wires strung like a huge copper spiderweb across the landscape; light, branding our signature on the darkness, screaming out at the stars We exist! We live! We are here! The intruder was frightened and humbled. Overwhelmed by the vistas I revealed, it radiated shocked awe. I never guessed… I didn’t think…

A jet landing at the airport was tons of metal, held aloft by controlled whirlwinds! Invisible messages, pictures, sounds, flew through space on modulated electromagnetic waves! Between us and the stars, artificial satellites circled the globe, our hungry ears eavesdropping on the Universe! And beyond them… EEEYAAAAAHH! With an unvoiced shriek, the intruder vanished. Apparently I overloaded it, yet in the flush of victory, I felt strangely… empty. “Did you say something?” Gilbert asked. “Huh?” “I just said, ‘Did you say something?’” “Not to you.” “Oh. Okay.” A few minutes later, the driver let me off at my mother’s house. The windows were dark; she and Howie were asleep. I slipped in the side door and quietly got myself a glass of water in the kitchen, using the stealthiness I had taught myself to keep from waking my mother. Back in my room, I sat down and tried to do some reading for Professor Dyne, but I was foggy and be-fuddled and couldn’t focus. I had been smoking pot for about a year, and during that time some pretty strange things had happened to me, but my mind had never been invaded and appropriated like that before. I tried to get a handle on the experience, but there was nothing to compare or contrast it to that would throw it into relief. Finally I made a mental note to ask Hazy, Tuna or one of the other, more experienced tripsters about it the next time I was out at the college. I assumed it was probably just one of those odd, quasi-hallucinatory things that happen to you sometimes when you smoke some good pot. Oh, how wrong I was!

Chapter 6: Echoes We might imagine one dolphin saying to another, “Darling, you do have the cutest way of twitching your sinuses when you say you love me. I love the shape of your vestibular sacs.” – Dr. John. C. Lilly, Man and Dolphin, 1967 I still shiver when I recall the ride in Salina’s boat two days later. The howling wind, the slapping waves and the roaring outboard didn’t stop us from shouting ourselves hoarse, discussing a little problem that had come up. Her name was Klara. Beau’s wife. “This is preposterous!” Salina yelled. “She’s thrown a big wrench into our plans! She’s just plain crazy, and she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, either! My relationship with Beau is totally professional!” Maybe so, but remembering the way they kissed on my first day at the park, I wondered which profession she meant. She reproached Beau for not being man enough to keep his wife in line. Then she apologized for not accompanying me to the park. Heartbroken to learn they wouldn’t be visiting their beloved dolphins, Nikki and Colleen accused their mother of luring them to a picnic on Sanibel Island under false pretenses. Salina had sent her nephew ahead by car to reconnoiter. From the dock, he waved us in and made us fast. A big guy with enough body hair for both of us, Leo Baer was a New College student like me, but from Salina’s social class. Heedless of the cold, he wore $100 swim trunks, designer shades, hand-tooled leather sandals and a tank top. He was sedate, but unstoppable, and when he spoke, you knew better than to argue. Fergus, Salina’s youngest child, rode with him. Salina hesitated before setting foot in the park. “Is she here?” Leo swept the surroundings with his arm. “The coast is clear!” he announced, as if he’d cleared it himself. Still, she wasn’t taking chances. “Wait in the boat,” she told the girls. “Aww, Mom!” Nikki howled. “We’re not babies, you know!” Colleen scolded. “Come on then. But stay with me and don’t…” With squeals of delight the

girls leaped from the boat and raced ahead. Salina followed them and I followed her. Without a sideways glance, she breezed through a passel of half-naked, towheaded kids playing with a scruffy German Shepherd. The way they were dressed, they didn’t look like customers. Salina entered a small, faded-green cinderblock cabin set a hundred feet back from the northeast side of the main dolphin pool. The interior was whitewashed, decorated in late Playboy with the occasional tool calendar thrown in for variety, a style I found very distracting. Furnishings consisted of a couple of Salvation-Army-reject couches, a GI-surplus cot, a card table and some battered folding chairs with OSPREY 1ST BAPTIST CHURCH stenciled on the back. Faded chintz curtains hanging from a busted rod partially blocked one window, suggesting that some hapless woman had once tried to make the cabin livable and failed miserably. Beau and a blond, mustachioed guy in a wet suit, whom I hadn’t seen before, huddled around a heater, sipping coffee. When Salina stepped in, Beau looked up with a hangdog expression that might have been a smile, once. The blond guy glanced up from a tattered issue of Argosy. “Howdy, Salina!” he said, lifting his chipped mug to her. “Hi, Don. Hello, Beau. Where’s Hank?” “Right here,” he said, stepping out of the bathroom, his hair wet, tucking a towel around his waist. They embraced. “I could use some help today,” Beau began. “Can it, Beau, you know I haven’t had a day off in almost three weeks,” Hank griped. “And we came all the way down here just because it’s Hank’s birthday,” Salina added. “You’ve got Don to help you, there isn’t anything Hank can do that he can’t do as well or better.” Beau stared at the floor. Don went back to reading Argosy. The human pecking order at Florida Funland seemed to change every time I went down there. Or maybe nothing changed; maybe I just saw different sides of the same story, like the Buddhist monk in Kurosawa’s film “Rashomon.” Hank pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans. Beau followed us to the pool, where we picked up Nikki and Colleen. Hank climbed into the boat with the girls, who had suddenly forgotten how much they hated the idea of a picnic on Sanibel.

“Sure you don’t want to come?” Salina asked Beau. “We’ve got plenty of cold cuts.” He examined his feet. “Not today. Gotta do four shows. Five, maybe, if we git the traffic.” “Let Don do them. Nobody's going to show up in this weather.” “He’s got his own stuff to do, and besides, it ain’t my birthday.” “Come for dinner, then.” “Can’t.” “Why not?” “You know.” “Some other time?” “Yeah. Some other time.” He turned and walked away. Salina stared after him and sighed. Hank yanked the starter and they took off, plowing a wake back to the Intracoastal Waterway. Leo pulled out, raising a cloud of dust. The towheaded kids followed Beau as he hauled buckets of fish to the chickee. He did not look happy. Not a good time to ask him anything. The day’s first show would begin in a few minutes; perhaps he would be in a better mood afterward. Perhaps I would understand what was actually going on with these people. A commotion by the big pool caught my eye. The northernmost pen was churning. Two dorsal fins surfaced, then a third. A pair of flukes thrashed, raising an explosion of spray. It looked like a fight. Salina had told me of bitter rivalries and violent clashes among the dolphins, especially the males, which contradicted their then-popular image as amiable, peaceful creatures. Although Beau had them paired as team jumpers, boisterous Bimbo and rough-edged Gator were implacable foes. Salina had once inadvertently instigated a fight by scolding Bimbo for keeping Gator away from her. I ascribed the males’ irascibility partly to their horniness, which I could relate to. Now I was witnessing one of those fights, and nobody was doing anything to stop it. The current residents of that pen were a male dolphin so irascible Beau had named him Satan and a female captured with him in a very weakened state. A fungus infection, caused no doubt by the vast amount of raw sewage then pouring into Sarasota Bay, had eaten away part of her snout. Since her capture,

the fungus had been retreating before the medication Beau slipped into her fish, but Trixy, as Beau called her, was still weak, and I feared the violence was directed against her. Another burst of spray. A single pair of flukes stuck straight up in the air, slowly revolving. What was going on? Then one of them lunged into the air and I caught a flash of hot pink protruding from his belly–not a wound, but an erect penis. They weren’t fighting, they were balling! I was witnessing not violence, but the most remarkable sex play I had ever seen. The dolphins’ exuberance practically burst the little pen asunder. Two males and a female – yes, Trixy certainly was much better! Now she surfaced with a male on either side of her. All three breathed explosively, then dove. “Aren’t they something?” I spun around to see the guy with the mustache grinning at me. “Yeah, they sure are.” I felt like I’d been caught peeping in a bedroom window. Don worked for another park that was buying dolphins from Beau, but he didn’t make any jokes about hippies. The kids, he told me, were Beau and Klara’s, some of them adopted. I was trying to decide whether to ask him what exactly was going on when we were distracted by more commotion from that pen, which was churning like a top-loading washing machine. “They really go at it, don’t they? Like cats, I guess,” he said, shaking his head. “I recognize Trixy.” The pink splotches of freshly healed skin on her snout were visible clear across the pool. ”But who’s in with her?” “What, can’t you tell?” I was embarrassed to admit that, try as I might, I consistently failed to recognize individual dolphins. “Come on, I’ll show you.” Don strode down the catwalk to the pen where the three dolphins were cavorting. “Hey, you guys! Cut that out!” he yelled. To my astonishment, the dolphins stopped screwing and stuck their heads out of the water–two of them, at least. I shot a picture. “They do look alike, until you get to know them,” Don explained. “You recognize Satan, don’t you? He’s on the right with that brown patch on his chin

– in fact, he’s kind of brown all over. Beau was thinking of calling him ‘Java Joe’ or something until we realized how mean he is. Gator’s on the left. See his battered, upturned snout, and the scars he got from fighting with Bimbo? He’s no pussycat either. I guess you recognize Trixy, in between them? She must like it rough, fooling with these two!” “Is there any way to tell the males from the females?” “Yeah, with dolphins the female is the one on top! Now, if you look over here” – he turned to the pen just south of Trixy’s – “you got Saki, he’s got that cut near his eye. Bimbo’s got a cleft in his chin. And good old Star, with that short, dark snout! Those streaks on his forehead run up over his eyes, almost like he has eyebrows! Hell, how can you get them mixed-up?” A tour train rumbled up. “Time for the show. I’ve got to help Beau, so why don’t you find someplace to watch from?” “Can I stay afterward?” I asked. “It’s not my park. Ask Beau.” In a few minutes, the bleachers were almost filled. A good crowd got Beau primed. A performer at heart, he also wanted his audiences to carry away his appreciation for dolphins. “Y’all see this here quarter?” he said, holding up the shiniest two bits in his pocket. “I’m gonna throw it in the middle of the pool, and Star will find it and fetch it back to me, which he as a porpoise is able to do with his ‘sonar’!” Actually it was bioecholocation, but most people had heard the military acronym, even if very few of them knew that it stood for Sound Navigation and Ranging. The principle was the same: emit a sharp pulse of sound – the familiar ping! in old World War II submarine movies, a click for a dolphin – and the returning echoes paint a picture of your environment and everything in it. The difference was, Star could ping his environment 1,000 times a second at 160 kilohertz with a beam focused like a spot-light. That alone made his sonar roughly one million times bet-ter than the Navy’s, never mind the data processing in that big, convoluted brain. I wished Beau had a hydrophone in the pool so the audience could hear the creaky-hinge sounds Star made as he swept the bottom searching for the coin. In the blank field of the mud and rocks, the quarter would ring like a bell. He some-how pried it out of the mud with his underslung lower jaw, per-haps by pushing down on its edge. With an actor’s sense of timing he

waited for the anticipation to build topside. “I dunno what’s goin’ on,” Beau muttered, feigning concern. “Yesterday I threw in a quarter and he brung back two dimes and a nickel. Ho!” Star burst from the water, the quarter clutched in his jaws, to hearty applause. The show went well, and afterward Beau seemed to have forgotten about the awkward situation earlier. I didn’t mention it when I asked if I could stay. “Okay by me,” Beau said. He was taping a crack in one of the plastic hoops Star jumped through in his act. “Just remember, no brain surgery.” “When do I get to see that?” I asked, pointing to the park’s logo on the riverboat. “What?” “The jump through the flaming hoop! It’ll look great on the cover. We’ll shoot it in color, at twilight so the flames show up, with a flash to freeze the dolphin mid-leap.” Beau put down the tape and stared for a long moment at the logo. “You don’t.” “Why not?” “Don’t do that no more. Shit. Hand me that other roll, will you?” I obliged. “Why not? Did one of the dolphins get burned, or something?” “Burned? Hell no! They go through too quick to git burned! Trouble was, the kerosene would drip off the rags and foul the water, and it was bad for their skin.” He held up the hoop and bounced it a couple of times. “Reckon that’ll do.” Two blasts from the Delta Queen’s air horn. Beau tossed the hoop aside and grabbed a windbreaker. “You comin’?” “I thought I’d try to get to know the dolphins in the main pool better.” Another one of those glances, suggesting that I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about but he was too polite to argue. “Suit yerself. Don’t mess with Satan or Trixy, they ain’t broke-in yet.” He grabbed a bucket of fish and hurried to the boat. I strolled out on the catwalk. Although Don was around somewhere, he was probably preoccupied, so I pretty much had the park to myself. That felt good, as though I could do whatever I wanted. I was already starting to take things for granted. Beau had left the jumping trio in the main pool, apparently trusting Bimbo

and Gator not to kill each other in his absence. He reasoned they weren’t as likely to challenge each other for dominance in common territory as in each others’ pens. As I approached the edge of the apron, Bimbo swam up, rolled on his side and stuck out a flipper. Had Beau had taught him that or had he just picked it up from Star? Dolphins acquiring new behaviors from observation, without a tangible reward, seemed perfectly natural, and I didn’t give it a second thought. I bent down to shake his flipper, but my arm was about an inch too short. As I moved closer to the edge of the apron, Bimbo backed up without flicking his flukes. Since dolphins lack our expressive facial features – eyebrows, lips, forehead – I am at a loss to tell you how I perceived an actual grin on his face, but there it was. I played fetch for a while, then, leaving Bimbo, I decided to check out Satan and Trixy. Could Satan really be as ill-tempered as everybody said? It was probably just a question of approach. I rolled up my sleeve and stuck my hand in their pen. Trixy wedged herself into the corner farthest from me. Satan stopped about a foot from my hand, swiveled his eyes upward and stared at me with an ominous intensity. A beam of echolocation pulses shot through my hand, analyzing the bone structure to see it if was anybody Satan acknowledged, that is, somebody with fish. Answer: no. He lunged forward and delivered such a hard nip that I jumped back, startled. Without batting a flipper he turned and swam back to Trixy. Regarding my hand, Satan was nothing if not judicious. In spite of having eighty-eight conical teeth, he hadn’t even broken my skin. “Told ya not to mess with ‘em, didn’t I?” Beau’s voice startled me. I whirled around to see him standing behind me, arms akimbo, and felt my face flush. For a moment I was speechless. I hadn’t even noticed the boat docking. “You’re back awful quick,” I said. “So cold we decided to make it a short trip. Look, you think you know these porpoise better’n me?” “N… no,” I stammered, figuring that this assignment was probably at an end.

“You better not, ‘cause I’ve known some of ‘em for years, and half the time, I don’t know what they’re fixin’ to do. You ain’t bleedin’, so it looks like Satan don’t hold a grudge. If he did, you’d be short a finger or two. You in any kind of shape to help me with a chore?” “Uh, sure!” Anything to get back in Beau’s good graces. I followed him to a small cubical icehouse. A panel truck was parked outside and the guy who looked like a younger but taller Beau was slouched against it, smoking a cigarette. When he saw us approach he straightened up and tossed the butt on the ground. “This’s my little brother Otto,” Beau introduced us. “He likes to hang around and pretend he’s bein’ useful. Zach here goes to New College, Otto. He’ll help you with the truck. We gotta git this done because that fella from the lab will be here soon. I’ll come back in a few minutes.” “What’s in the truck?” I asked Otto as Beau walked away. “Dolphin TV dinners.” Otto rolled up the door, revealing a stack of 25pound boxes of frozen fish, mostly mackerel. I put my camera safely to one side. Otto climbed into the truck and began throwing the boxes to me. I caught the first one and threw it into the icehouse, barely caught the second and missed the third. “Wait a minute. This would work better if we traded places.” I climbed into the truck and began throwing the boxes to Otto, who didn’t seem to have any trouble catching them. “So you go to –huh!– New College?” he asked after a while. “That’s right.” “I hear them – huh! – hippie chicks out there are really into – huh! – suckin’ and fuckin’.” I wasn’t sure which bothered me more, his vulgarity or his casual redneck chauvinism. It might be true, and some of the female students were such libbers they could have mopped the floor with Otto one-handed, but I felt obliged to defend their reputation. Call me old-fashioned. “They mostly only put out for other students,” I said. “It would be hard for a guy from off-campus to get laid.” “Shit, and ain’t that just my luck! – huh! – I was hopin’ you could set me up.”

The pile of boxes in the icehouse was soon about as large as the pile in the truck. I kept pitching them to Otto, who seemed tireless. “Well, you know – huh! – where I could score some good weed, then?” It seemed my school’s reputation preceded me. I did in fact know of three campus-based vendors, with quality ranging from standard workman’s bud to knock-your-socks-off-one-toke-wonder-weed, but strangers asking about dope, even well-referred strangers, make me nervous. “Sorry, can’t help you,” I said, tossing out the last of the boxes. “There seems to be a drought on, the market’s dried up.” “Well fuck, what good is that?” Otto swore, shutting the icehouse door on its frozen contents. “I work hard enough that I deserve a little reefer now and then, and all these Mexicans around here got is fuckin’ dirt weed. You can get higher smoking dog shit than on that stuff… oh, hi Beau.” Beau had returned with a couple of metal buckets. He stepped into the icehouse, where the still air made it feel almost warmer than outside. “Gotta get some of these thawed before the next show,” he muttered to himself. He grabbed one box and ripped it partly open. The mackerel were frozen into a single mass. “Can’t you thaw them in the sink?” I suggested. “Not enough time. Piece o’ ice this big take all day to melt.” Grabbing the box with both hands, he hefted it above his head. “Why don’t you let me do that, on account of your bein’ such a shrimp?” Otto asked. Beau didn’t answer. He hurled the box onto the concrete floor where it split wide open, sending frozen fish flying in every direction. “Reckon that’ll do,” he said. “Otto, help me round these up.” “You need me for anything else?” “Nope.” Avoiding Satan and Trixy, I went back to the main pool and played with the boys there for a few minutes before I remembered I’d left my camera sitting by the icehouse. By then, a pickup truck bearing the logo Trident Marine Laboratory had pulled up behind the panel truck. Of course, I recognized the name immediately. Trident was a small but famous lab, located on the south end of Siesta Key, devoted mostly to the study

of sharks and rays. It was a required biology field trip for every high school in the county. Beau and a taller, gray-haired man in a windbreaker had just finished loading some of the fish boxes into his pickup. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this,” the man said as I retrieved my camera. “Of course, we’ll replace it from our supplies as soon as our shipment arrives.” “No problem, Doc, ‘long as we got plenty, I’m happy to share. Hey Zack,” Beau said, catching sight of me, “come on over. This’s somebody I want you to meet. Zack’s a New Col-lege student that’s studying our porpoises. Zack, this’s Doctor Irvin’ Shuvoff.” Hadn’t Professor Dyne said something about this guy? That I should hook up with him? And now, Beau had delivered him to me by pure chance! “Pleasure to meet you!” Shuvoff said, grabbing my hand and pumping enthusiastically. Beau got into the panel truck and drove away. “I’ve heard so many wonderful things about your school! Are you studying marine biology?” “Actually, no, I’m a liberal arts major. Dolphins have always fascinated me.” “They are amazing animals. We’ve only barely begun to scratch the ways they can serve us. So what are you doing with Beau’s dolphins?” “Well, I’m shooting photos for a book, but I’ve been thinking about conducting some communication experiments,” I be-gan, frankly overwhelmed by Shuvoff’s enthusiasm. Wouldn’t Wilbur be impressed when I told him how I’d run into this guy? “Excellent! There’s so much we don’t know about that subject. And tell me, what are you reading?” “Well, all of Lilly’s work…” Amazing, the way the air around me suddenly congealed. A scowl replaced Shuvoff’s smile, and flakes of snow fell between us. “That man,” he hissed, “is either crazy or fifty years ahead of his time, and most of us think he’s crazy! If that’s the course you’re determined to take, I’m afraid I can’t help you, young man. Good day.” And without another word, he turned on his heel, got into the pickup truck and drove away, leaving a burning rage rising in my gorge. How dare he treat me like that? Did this subject broach no discussion? Was the very mention of Lilly’s name so taboo as to end all reasonable discourse? Apparently so!

I had just received my first lesson in “scientific objectivity,” and it was not a pleasant one. The contemptuous way Shuvoff dismissed me would stick in my craw for years, turning me against the scientific study of dolphins. I had lost an opportunity to become a scientist – and he had lost the chance to help make me one. §§§ Back in Salina’s parlor, I was undergoing what was becoming our customary debriefing. “I think a film about them could have tremendous appeal. Why don’t you make one?” she asked, stretching her legs out on a footstool and exhaling a cloud. I had been considering that very idea, but Salina’s suggestion nearly put me off. “With underwater photography, the jumps in slow-motion, close-ups of their adorable expressions, and, of course, Beau’s impeccable care, you could have a real hit on the independent film circuit! Surely you could sell it to one of the networks, couldn’t you, like Cousteau? It might even become required viewing for dolphin trainers!” Like most people who are eager to tell others what they “ought” to do, Salina had no idea what was involved in making such a film. “I’d love to. Do you know someone with $10,000?” “Ah. That much. Couldn’t you bring that down by getting your friends in the New College film department to help?” “There’s no such thing. Nobody teaches film out there, we just do independent study projects, like I’m doing with your book. There’s very little equipment, most of it junk.” “What a shame. What on earth impelled you to study cinema there?” “I’m thinking about transferring to the University of South Florida. I hear they’ve got a great film department.” “In Tampa?” She frowned. “Won’t that affect your commitment to the book?” Sensing an impending misstep, I quickly explained that I would also take classes in still photography. Access to the University’s well-equipped darkrooms could only help us, perhaps even lead to a movie.

“Do they have underwater movie cameras there? It will be absolutely necessary to show Star’s echolocation.” Her request puzzled me. “You can’t photograph echolocation pulses. That’s sonic energy, not light.” “I know that!” Salina snorted. “I meant the part of the act where Star retrieves the coin. It’s very important. You must know that nothing separates our consciousness from theirs so much as their ability to echolocate, and our inability? Oh, Juno!” The Asian maid emerged from the kitchen, took Salina’s request for two gin-and-tonics and scurried to the wet bar. Salina stubbed her cigarette and leaned forward in her chair, fingers entwined, eyes boring into me. “Surely you’ve wondered why, in religion, myth and art, God-the-Father-Almighty is always portrayed as a being of light?” Actually, the question had never occurred to me. “Because of these!” she said, jabbing forked fingers at her eyes as if to poke them out. “Primate eyes! Yes, beautifully adapted for daytime color vision but totally useless in the dark! They force a diurnal existence on us. When night falls we’re helpless, confused and terrified. We depend on light, but we can’t produce it except by artifice. “The true triumph of man’s mastery of fire, Zack, was not cooking food or making warmth or any of those other silly things anthropologists tell you; it was driving back the dire wolf, the cave bear, the saber tooth tiger and all the other demons of darkness with sparks from the sun itself! So we worship light, and light sources like the sun. Thank you,” she said, lifting the crystal glass off the lacquered tray and sipping the contents. “Mmm. Zack, is that too strong for you?” I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was. I assured Salina the drink was fine, and she thanked the maid, who nodded her wizened head. “Drink better too strong than too weak,” she said and departed. “So you see, that human distinction between light and darkness, vision and blindness, safety and terror is absolutely primal,” Salina continued. “It’s the most fundamental element of our mythology, our psychology and probably our physiology as well. But it doesn’t mean squat to a dolphin!” She tapped another cigarette out of a hand-tooled silver case on the coffee

table and lit up. “Darkness doesn’t even inconvenience them. Cover their eyes with foam-rubber suction cups and they can still navigate the most elaborate maze you can devise. On the blackest night, in the murkiest seas, they can not only detect a shark two hundred feet away, they know what species it is – and probably what it ate for lunch! All this, simply by analyzing the echoes of those clicks they make by squeezing air through their sinuses. “That little coin-toss doesn’t look like much, but it’s the most important part of Beau’s act. A human diver could spend all day looking for that quarter and not find it, but it’s never taken Star more than thirty seconds! And that’s the difference between them and us. Isn’t evolution amazing? You just have to capture that on film!” The park’s murky water would make underwater cinematography an exercise in Impressionism, but I didn’t remind Salina. Instead, I recounted my difficulties distinguishing the individual dolphins. She laughed. “Oh, don’t worry, I wasn’t any better at first,” she assured me, adding some of her own observations. Bimbo was a ham who craved human attention. Star was a “true actor,” with a good stage personality, but offstage he preferred to be alone. Saki was the most natural of the three and would interact with humans or withdraw as he felt. “Did you meet any of the others?” “Well… uh, Trixy and Satan…” Salina’s eyes flashed her disapproval as I recounted my attempt to contact the demonic dolphin. “You’re very lucky,” she said. “Two months ago, he would have taken your hand off!” “I thought dolphins were non-aggressive toward humans!” “What a load of crap! Let me tell you a story. Beau’s wife – his first wife – fancied herself a dolphin trainer. One of those know-it-all types, she had one dolphin that wouldn’t do what she wanted, so she took to hitting it with a plastic pipe” – Salina mimed striking – “right across the blowhole! Beau had told her never to use negative reinforcement on them, but she was too stupid to listen! So…” She dragged on her cigarette, leaving me hanging. That woman had a bomb disposal expert’s sense of timing. “So what?”

“One day she made the mistake of trying to do that while she was in the water with it. The dolphin, who was really a sweet creature, grabbed her hand in its jaws. Frightened, the woman tried to pull away. Well, if a dolphin bites you, you never, ever pull away! Remain calm and wait for it to let go, but could the stupid bitch do that? No, she tried to yank her hand out of the dolphin’s mouth, and you know how sharp their teeth are! Ripped out all the ligaments. Her hand was useless after that. Needless to say, that woman did not have a future in dolphin-training.” The dry relish with which Salina concluded that story was disquieting. The drink, I realized, was going to my head. “Have you ever met Dr. Shuvoff?” I blurted out, surprised at myself. I hadn’t intended to mention the incident. “The scientist working at Trident Labs? Yes.” She snubbed her cigarette in the ashtray. “Unpleasant fellow. He’s doing some kind of work for the Navy, training a dolphin to kill sharks or something, but he won’t talk about it, I just know what I read in the paper. All very hush-hush. Why?” “I met him today. Beau tried to introduce us, and it seemed we were getting along fine, until…” “Until what?” I described my misstep. Salina just snorted. “Well, Zack, you’re learning,” she sighed. “You can’t go waving red flags in front of bulls and not expect to get gored now and then.” She made it sound like I’d deserved it! I felt angry all over again. Time to go. My bike was chained to the tree just outside her door. I started to get up, then remembered I still needed something from her. I was sure she would loan me any book in her dolphin library, but when I told her which title, she nearly blew a fuse. “The Mind Of The Dolphin? Are you crazy? It’s worthless!” “How can you say that?” She flicked her silver table lighter. “Didn’t you learn your lesson today? Lilly’s killed more dolphins than all the other marine mammalogists put together!” That made her the third person to fly off the handle at the mention of Lilly’s name. “What has everybody got against him?”

“Five dolphins at Marineland died because he stuck electrodes in their brains!” I had just finished reading Man and Dolphin, Lilly’s own account of those unfortunate events. “No, they died from the anesthesia! It was the 1950’s, and nobody knew back then they don’t have a breathing reflex! If they go unconscious –” “– They stop breathing, I know all about it! Each breath they take is a deliberate act of will!” She stood and strode about angrily, arms waving. “One or two I could understand, but you don’t have to kill five of them to prove a point! Now he’s giving them LSD!” “Look, I don’t want to stick electrodes in your dolphins’ brains, and I certainly wouldn’t waste any good acid on them! Wilbur Dyne, my biology professor, gave me this stupid reading list, Lilly’s book’s on it, I couldn’t find it at school and somebody stole it from the public library! He’s the only scientist who’s even tried to communicate with them, so I need his information. Nothing else is available! As to whether it’s good or bad, I can judge that myself.” She cooled off, slightly. “The problem is not communication! Beau and I communicate with them just fine, they’ll do anything we tell them to do. But you’re right about the lack of good books. You’d think with all the wonderful research that’s been done, somebody would write a decent book…” She rummaged through her shelves and handed me a couple of volumes on marine mammals. I thumbed through them – the information about dolphins filled just a few pages – and put them aside. “Somebody other than John Lilly, you mean.” “He’s a lunatic!” “You don’t think they could learn our language?” “They already understand us! What more do you need?” she fumed. “It’s Lilly’s methodology I find so disgusting! He’s a sexual pervert, setting up that poor young woman to live with a male dolphin for six weeks! ‘Trying to teach him English’ my ass, she ended up screwing him! Lilly may be brilliant, but he’s psychotic! I wouldn’t leave my kids alone with him for five minutes! Don’t the Caldwells have a book out?” I dropped it. Salina was my access to the dolphins, and Lilly’s book wasn’t worth endangering that.

“Never mind, I’ll just order it from the college bookstore.” “Oh, here, take it!” she cried, tossing the book at me. I caught it. On the cover, a smiling young woman in a wet leotard hugged an enormous dolphin arched sideways in a shallow pool. What was so perverted about that? “Just keep it, I’m afraid the kids might get their hands on it! Sorry if I sound rash, you are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but would you please not mention his name around me? He upsets me so! Come back any time, Zack, you’re always welcome.” By now I felt like silicon putty, stretched all out of shape. “Sure, Salina, sure. Thanks a lot.” I tucked the book into my backpack. “It’s nothing,” she said, savoring her drink. “But there is just one small favor I would ask of you.” The idea that Salina would ask a favor of me was startling. What could I possibly do for this woman that she couldn’t do for herself, or hire someone more resourceful than me to do? “Tell me, did Klara ever show up today?” Never having been introduced to Beau’s wife, I wouldn’t have known her if I’d seen her, but I shook my head. It was obviously what Salina wanted to hear. “I know you’re dying to get on with this project, and so am I,” she said, “but stay away from the park for a while. Until this shit with Klara blows over, at least.” “How long?” She pursed her lips, furrowed her brow. “A month or two. Certainly no longer, I don’t want to lose too much momentum, and by that time the water may be warm enough for us to go swimming with them again. Will you do that, please? For the book? For me?” Not like I owed Salina any great allegiance or anything, but, eager to keep the book project afloat, I agreed.

Chapter 7: Language Lessons Some scientists predict that man and porpoise will someday engage in meaningful discourse. This has caused a scientific rhubarb, however, since other scientists insist that man has no more chance of holding a two-sided conversation with a porpoise than he has with his wife. – John O’Reilly, “A Pet Porpoise in a Pool,” Sports Illustrated, September 1963 So for two months I cooled my heels. My academic hopes and professional dreams rested so heavily on Salina’s book that the thought of messing it up through callow impatience was terrifying. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to blow it! Finally, in late February, she called to tell me I could start taking pictures again. I suspected I was a stalking horse, but I was eager to return. Life without the dolphins lacked something. I wanted to swim with them. Had I been a real scientist and not a half-assed hippie-dippy liberal arts major, I would have avoided putting myself at their mercy as long as possible, or recruited some flunkies to swim with them. Let’s face it, there’s something alluring and ineffably mystical about swimming with dolphins. Salina’s stories might have accounted for some of my eagerness, but that doesn’t explain why swimming with dolphins has since become a New Age cottage industry. Normally sane people travel enormous distances, pay large sums of money and sign injury waivers they would otherwise shred for the privilege of spending a few minutes in the water with them. At least I was getting it for free! I mean, why would anyone in his or her right mind pay for the dubious privilege of being nearly helpless, in a hostile environment, at the mercy of a bigger, stronger, possibly smarter animal with a mouthful of sharp teeth and battering-ram flukes that could, if it wanted to, kill you several different ways without thinking twice? People don’t pay to go into cages with wolves or tigers; in fact, I think most people would willingly pay to avoid entering a cage full of wolves or tigers! Yet

we all want to get in the water with dolphins – computer programmers and career criminals, psychic housewives and autistic children, poets laureate and jaded cynics. It begs the question: do we as a species have a trust issue to work out here? By throwing ourselves on the mercy of the dolphins, do we obtain some abstruse form of absolution from our very humanness, which we have been brainwashed into believing is inherently flawed or evil? Are we unconsciously seeking to recapture some fleeting glimpse of “Paradise Lost,” which we naively believe the dolphins inhabit? I don’t know, but somebody ought to investigate this very human need. The first week of March was colder than December, and I chafed under its stiff north wind and scudding gray clouds. By the middle of the second week, things had warmed enough for me to hazard a visit to the park on my own. As I drove up the access road, I glimpsed through the palmetto fronds a tall, redheaded figure by the bleachers. Could it be – no! It was… “Beau’s not here!” Salina explained mischievously, as we strolled back to the main pool. “Hank’s doing the show. I’ve never seen him do it before, and I had to bring back some belongings he left at my house, so… here I am!” She looked ravishing in tight blue jeans and a lime-green jacket, her hair glinting in the sun. “What’s that lump in your pocket?” she asked. I pulled out a pink foam rubber ball I’d bought in hopes of a drier game of catch and threw it into the main pool, expecting Saki or Gator to toss it back to me. Instead, they ignored it. Salina pronounced it too small. “What do you mean, ‘too small’? Last time I was here, they were tossing me scraps of seaweed the size of a quarter!” “I mean,” she said, “it’s too small! Saki! Gator!” I never figured out how the dolphins could hear us. In addition to impedance mismatch, the ambient noise of the pump that continuously circulated fresh water into their pool through a six-inch pipe would have drowned out an airborne voice. Perhaps they were responding to her footsteps, conducted through the pilings supporting the concrete apron, identifying us by the cadence and impact of individual footfalls as we approached. These were questions I couldn’t answer; but when Salina called them, they came as if shot from a cannon, bobbing and squealing. When she was around, I wasn’t even fish guts.

“Up, Gator!” she cried, holding her hand out. They yo-yoed for a minute, his snout in her palm, before I remembered my camera, but as I framed the shot, he slid into the water. “Camera shy,” she explained. How the hell could Gator know what a camera was? But nothing seemed to faze her that morning. Some splashing from one of the side pens caught my attention. If I turned my camera away from Salina, Gator might be more playful. Then I could sneak back and grab a shot. I knelt on the catwalk at Star’s pen as he hovered so close I could see myself reflected in his eye. Entranced, I stroked his flank. He blinked but didn’t move. Salina appeared behind me, looking over my shoulder. Then another figure rushed at her, and Star’s eye suddenly went wide. It’s difficult to say how dolphins express emotions with their eyes; they lack the brows that enable us to encode subtle shades of meaning. In the often-turbid waters of their environment, they probably cannot see each others’ eyes most of the time, leading scientists to theorize that they express their emotions with gross body postures that can be read by echolocation from a quarter-mile away. There is no reason why their expressions should compare to ours, yet their eyes remain for me the most expressive part of their bodies. There was no reason for me to have known that Star’s eye went wide with fright, but I did. “Git outa here, you bitch!” Salina gasped. I spun around to see her struggling with a short, blond woman who was clutching an infant in one arm – Klara! I’d glimpsed her once or twice before, but we’d never been introduced, and now was a little late for formalities. Salina’s face was twisted with anger, but Klara’s was… how can I describe it… incandescent, and threatening to melt? Suddenly Hank was between them, struggling to keep the women apart as they screamed and clawed at each other. The baby began to wail. “Make her leave!” Klara demanded. “Since when the hell does this place belong to you?” Salina shot back. I gaped like an idiot, paralyzed by the intensity of the fight. If I defended Salina, Klara would throw me out. If I sided with Klara, my deal with Salina went down the tubes.

Star stared at us, wide-eyed, jaws agape, then turned and dived. His little pen rang with complex click trains and whistles, emitted so loudly I could hear them above water. “If you don’t get outa here, I’m callin’ the cops! You ain’t paid admission!” Klara threatened. “Be my guest!” Salina yelled, tossing a dime on the catwalk. “Salina, go to your car,” Hank said. That stopped her. “What the hell…” “You want to see me do the show, right? Well, you will! Between now and then you can wait in your car. Nothing she can do about that.” “What right do you have to tell me…” “Will you just go sit in your goddamn car?” Hank yelled, shoving her toward the parking lot. Suddenly Klara’s glare was focused on me. I felt the rush of her wrath, but before she could open her mouth, Hank was in her face. “What in hell are you doing, woman? Who pinned a god-damn badge on you?” he yelled. Klara was taken aback; Hank towered over her, and he was a man. “You got no right to do that!” “I don’t want her hangin’ ‘round here!” Klara snapped back. Hank might be a man, but she still held the baby. “She’s not ‘hanging around!’ She was bringing me some things I left at her place and watching the goddamn show! You and Beau aren’t even supposed to be here, for chrissake!” “Well I don’t like her!” Klara yelled. Hank practically tore his hair. “You don’t have to like her! Just accept her, damn it! You got nothing to worry about, she’s with me now, and if you don’t want to look at her when she’s around, then look the other way!” Klara rallied. “You don’t even belong here!” she shouted back. “You’re trainin’ for Steel Pier! These ain’t your dolphins, and this ain’t your ‘musement park!” I fled to the other side of the pool. When Beau showed up, I was startled to see what appeared to be a blackish-gray cloud surrounding him. He stared at the ground while Hank cooled Klara down to mere luminescence. Finally I ventured back within earshot.

”…And git him outa here, too!” were the first words I heard. Klara was pointing at me. “He’s workin’ for her!” “Zack has nothing to do with this!” Hank said. “He just happens to know Salina! Hey, Zack – what are you taking pictures for?” I had learned to trust my instincts at times like this. “Biology class,” I shouted back. Which was true, sort of. Hank turned back to Klara. “See? You’re wrong. He isn’t working for Salina.” “Well he ain’t photographin’ my dolphins!” Klara yelled. “They aren’t your goddamn dolphins!” Hank shouted. “Satan and Trixy are!” Perhaps, like minor-league baseball players, they’d been traded; perhaps they had been Klara’s all along. I didn’t know. As a tour train arrived and began disgorging paying customers, Beau, suddenly remembering the park had an image to maintain, took Klara and Hank by the arms and hustled them into the trainers’ shack. Salina got out of her car and stood by the edge of the main pool. She was still fuming. “I thought Beau wasn’t going to be here today.” “So did Hank. Surprise, surprise! I should have that bitch thrown in jail,” she growled. “I could do it. I know the judge.” “On what charge?” “Attempted murder.” I thought she was being sarcastic. I had trouble believing that Klara could murder anyone while holding a six-month-old baby. “What happened?” “She snuck from behind and tried to push me in the pool!” That didn’t sound so deadly. “You can swim, can’t you?” “With Trixy in there? She can’t stand humans! No telling what she would have done! Oooohh… if only Klara hadn’t had that damn brat with her! I could have flipped her like that!” With a flick of her fingers, she sent her half-smoked butt tumbling into a nearby bush. “I have a black belt in jujitsu, you know… what’s that?” A battered pick-up raised a cloud of dust as it raced up the access road. “Good riddance,” Salina muttered, “– wait! Did you see two people in there

or one? Shit!” I strained my eyes, but the dust hid the truck. “I couldn’t tell, maybe two… why?” “Klara might be lying in wait for me,” she explained, straight-faced. The show, when it finally started, was none too snappy. Hank had a lot on his mind, and the audience might as well have been embalmed. Nobody felt like performing; Star missed the lay-up twice, and Saki refused to do the 21-foot jump regardless of Hank’s incentives. Afterward, the remaining humans retreated to the trainers’ shack, where Salina accepted Hank’s offered beer. “That woman ought to be committed,” she muttered. “She’s being a crazy no-count bitch,” Hank agreed. “Not listening to the voice of reason nor anybody else, neither. I mean, Beau swore up and down to her that there was nothing going on between you two, that you were just writing together… well, thanks for bringing my things down, anyway.” “Zack, I’m not sure what effect this is going to have on the book,” Salina said, voicing my unspoken concern. “Everything is up in the air right now.” She got up and ran her hands through her hair. “You have a car here, don’t you?” “Yeah, why?” “I want you to follow me out.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The image Salina conjured up was almost too ludicrous: Klara lurking behind a saw palmetto, the baby clutched to her breast for silence, a 12-gauge shotgun cocked across her knees, waiting to blow Salina away. Nevertheless, Hank and I got in my mother’s car and followed Salina up the access road and back to the highway. No buckshot came flying out of the palmetto scrub. “That woman is being an utter ass,” Hank said as we bumped back to the dolphin show. “Which one?” “Klara, of course! She might have had cause to complain when Beau was going over to Salina’s all the time to work on the book, but it’s been nearly two, two-and-a-half months now since he’s done that, and the first time Salina shows up here – POW! Klara’s all over her! It ain’t justified…” I thought of Trixy, Satan and Gator, roiling together in that little pen. The

dolphins’ sex lives seemed so much simpler. “Can I go swimming with the dolphins?” I asked as I parked behind the bleachers. “Sure.” Hank had other things to worry about. “Just go in with Ruby, she’s the least likely to give you any trouble.” As I approached her pen, Ruby swam to the edge. I had on cheap sneakers to protect my feet from the rocks, so I rolled up my jeans and waded in. We met in knee-deep water, and Ruby held still while I rubbed her snout and head. Her skin was remarkably smooth with fine ridges, like fingerprints. Under my touch, it flaked into filmy gray fragments, which were snapped up by a school of minnows circling her head like mosquitoes. Did they irritate her as much as the bloodsuckers did us? She didn’t have anything to rub against in that pen, not even another dolphin. It was my first chance to examine her. Up close she looked different from the others. Her coloration was darker, almost slate blue, against which a multitude of small scars stood out palely. Lighter patches hooked around both her eyes like question marks. Where her snout met her melon (the bulging dolphin ‘forehead’), symmetrical flow marks sprang up and ran back over her head, merging behind her blowhole. The tip of her snout was rough and dented in spots. She looked like a dolphin who had seen some hard times and survived by dint of strength. For no apparent reason, she pulled away from me and swam into the center of the pool. The wind was down, the water relatively warm; the dolphin was, if not friendly, at least tractable, and with all the other problems that day nobody was paying the slightest attention to us. I changed into shorts in the trainers’ shack, went back to her pen and waded in up to my waist. Where was she? Something rammed my left knee from behind, causing it to buckle, and I fell backward into the water. I couldn’t see Ruby or touch her, just feel her rough, bony snout as she ground it into the back of my knee. It occurred to me that Ruby’s snout must itch and she had nothing to rub it on except rusty wire, barnacled rocks and splintery wood. The pressure on my knee stopped suddenly, and I turned around, looking for her. She surfaced at the far end of the pen and began making a racket of loud croakings, clickings and raspings. With my head up, Ruby wasn’t wasting energy directing sound at me

under water. She knows I hear in the air! I felt like she was calling me to join her on the deep side of the pen. By this time the water was freezing, for those of us who had not yet evolved blubber, but I decided to be a man about it and dove in. With my head under water, I could hear Ruby whistling as she drew closer. She circled me a couple of times, then nuzzled my knees, forcing me to the surface. Something like a gentle electric current shot through the joints, tingled up my spine and impinged on my brain’s hearing centers, although it had nothing to do with my ears. Ruby was echolocating on my knees from mere inches away, scanning the bones and cartilage at her highest resolution. Knees must be a fixation with her. In chest-deep water she came to me again and let me stroke her, then shot off to the deep end of the pen and called me to rejoin her. No way! I thought. Starting to shiver, I wished for a wetsuit. Suddenly she was orbiting six or seven feet away from me, circling very fast, appearing agitated. A moment later, moving so rapidly I couldn’t follow her, she was on the far side of the pen. Then she shot toward me, her dorsal fin cleaving water. My stomach muscles tightened involuntarily, like when a bully tries to gutpunch you. I was totally helpless, and for a second I thought I was going to be rammed by a 400-pound dolphin traveling at twenty miles an hour. But two feet away from me she flicked aside just like that, then lifted her head and chattered at me from the deep end. I didn’t believe Ruby would deliberately hurt me, but she might do so accidentally, and that little demonstration had scared me. Time to get out, I thought. Before I could so much as turn toward the shore, she stopped her racket, lowered her head and swam back to me slowly and calmly. The instantaneous change was eerie. I hadn’t made a move, only decided to get out, a purely mental action! Ruby coasted to a stop in front of me, blew, submerged, and began to gently nuzzle my sneakers with her snout. She moved to my ankles, then rubbed my shins and calves, moving her rough snout gently up along the skin of my inner thigh, where I am extremely ticklish, but Ruby’s touch didn’t tickle.

Then, with great self-control and delicacy, she began to nuzzle my crotch. In spite of the cold water I found the sensation strangely erotic, but I had no idea if that was her intention. I don’t remember feeling embarrassed. She wasn’t hurting me. The feeling that she was doing her damnedest to get me aroused was unavoidable, and she did a pretty fair job of it, too! When she broke off and swam to the far end of the pen, I waded a few steps to shore and got out. She floated into the shallows, rolled on her side and stared at me with an expression that could have reflected almost any emotion I cared to project on it, but which I could not interpret. “Just a minute, Ruby, I’m coming back,” I said, feeling foolish for talking to her. I put on a nylon windbreaker and waded in up to my thighs. She wanted to be stroked, and I obliged her. There must be something else we can do, I thought; and then I remembered the rubber ball. It was still in the main pool, and the wind had pushed it ashore. I retrieved it, got on the catwalk beside Ruby’s pen, and tossed it to her. After nosing it for a couple of seconds she tossed it to me, every bit as expertly as Saki or Bimbo had done. Although she’d never been trained to play catch, she immediately grasped the concept and seemed overjoyed that somebody was paying attention to her. We had played happily for a few minutes when I began to wonder if I could use the game as a reward to shape her behavior. If so, what could I try to get her to do? Well, what was I down here for? To take pictures, yes, but also, as I had assured Professor Dyne, to replicate Lilly’s language-acquisition experiments. Those experiments were detailed in The Mind of the Dolphin, the book Salina hadn’t wanted me to read. The “poor young woman” was an unmarried kindergarten teacher named Margaret Howe whom Lilly had hired to teach English to a male dolphin named Peter. To promote bonding, the pair had lived together day and night in a partially flooded room at Lilly’s lab in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Howe unabashedly admitted she let Peter masturbate against her leg when his sexual needs overwhelmed him. After a few weeks of daily vocal practice, Peter had begun to mimic Howe’s voice, or so Lilly claimed; but even though Howe had taped hundreds of hours of their lessons, Lilly’s critics refused to accept that the dolphin was doing anything more intentional than responding to

a rewarding stimulus. That was also a testable hypothesis, but nobody, including those same critics, had ever bothered to test it! Why not me? Why not now? Beau had trained Star to squawk for the microphone, but had anyone tried with Ruby? She seemed to be a quick learner. Why not see if I could get her to mimic her name? “Ruby!” I yelled at her. “###%%%@@@!” she called back, nodding her head. It was a nasal, raspy, high-pitched squawk, but what amazed me was that Ruby seemed to instantly comprehend that I wanted her to respond by making a noise! Far out, I thought, tossing the ball into the pen. She grabbed it and tossed it back. “Say ‘Roo-bee!’” “###%%%@@@.” She made the same squawk as before. “No, I want you to say ‘Roo-bee!’” “###%%%@@@!” Ruby was definitely into the game. My plan just might work! But as near as I could tell without a sonograph, she was repeating exactly the same sound each time. Could I shape it? I withheld the ball. “Say ‘Roo-bee!’” “###%%%@@@!” “No, say ‘Roo-bee!’” I said, holding the ball just out of her reach. She made a cacophony of rough-edged sounds that sounded like a scolding, not what I wanted. It took a couple of minutes of patient coaching, but suddenly she broke her squawk into two distinct syllables: “### – @@@!” That was better! I threw the ball, she splashed after it and tossed it back to me. What happened next was stunning. I have often, in the intervening years, regretted that I didn’t have a tape recorder running; I will probably never get another chance. In five minutes, Ruby’s squawk began to mimic more and more closely the syllabification, inflection, tonality and duration of my “Roo-bee!” Every time she came closer to copying my pronunciation I threw the ball, and she retrieved it. Each time her phonation drifted from mine I withheld the ball until she improved. We stood a few feet apart, her in her pen, me on the catwalk, staring at each other with bright eyes, and the excitement between us was electric. Never

before had I experienced such intimate contact with another creature! It felt like what I had been created to do! The world closed us off. There were just the two of us, this engaging little game of catch and this improbable language lesson. Nothing else seemed to exist. Occasionally Ruby would revert to squawks; I would withhold the ball until she produced humanoid sounds. She rapidly developed an RRR-sound on the beginning of her squawk, then added an EEE-sound on the end. The unintelligible squawk that had originally come out of her blowhole now sounded like “RR%%[email protected]@EEE!” What had taken Margaret How and Peter Dolphin weeks of daily practice, Ruby and I had accomplished in ten minutes with a rubber ball! “Say ‘Roo-bee!’” “##, RR%%[email protected]@EEE!” I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to hear it again and again. “Say ‘Roo-bee!’” “###, &&*****! %%%%%#### RRRRrrr^^^^###!” Ruby’s humanoid mimicry broke down abruptly and completely. She began to babble, splash and ‘ya-ya’ – shake her head up and down playfully with her jaws open. “Hey! What’s the matter? Say ‘Roo-bee!’” “###&&&&&aaaRRRR, @@@@@dddd! Eeeee…” She swam back a few feet, lifted her head up and made a distinctive sound I could render phonetically as “kEEEorrrOOOP!” Without knowing why, I had the sudden, inexplicable urge to imitate her. She seemed to expect it of me. “KEEEorrrOOOP!” I sounded ridiculous, nothing like her. But I wasn’t the trainer, with the expectations of an audience to fulfill and bills to pay; if Ruby was as intelligent as I thought, wasn’t turnabout fair play? “###orrOOP!” She changed the sound a little and gave it back to me. I mimicked her changes as best I could: “K##orrOOP!” Ruby was apparently pleased and nodded her head. She changed the sound again: “###[email protected]@@!” Ye gods, she’s doing to me what I was just doing to her! Where are

we going? – For there was the inescapable sensation that Ruby was leading me somewhere, that this behavior was not merely some random blats and squawks made to pass a boring afternoon. The ball, by now totally forgotten, lay rolling in the water beside her. “###[email protected]@@!” I said, having no idea what that meant. Human lips and vocal chords were utterly inadequate to produce the sounds she wanted me to make, but I would try, Ruby, I would try… “###%%%@@@!” she said. That sounded oddly familiar, though I couldn’t think why… “###%%%@@@,” I said – and suddenly realized I’d finally repeated the sound she’d made when I first asked her to say ‘Rooo-bee!’ The realization struck me as the sound was coming out my lips. Several fuses in my mind blew at once and I nearly fell off the catwalk. Startled, I did a double take on Ruby, who was watching me with great concentration. When she knew I knew what she’d done, she flipped-out and charged around the pool, throwing water in the air, obviously happy that this two-legged cousin was progressing so rapidly! I stood there watching her, dumbfounded, trying to understand what had just happened. Did “KEEorrOOP” have meaning? If so, what was it? I had been asking Ruby to say her name, and certainly she knew she had a name; the signaturewhistle each dolphin uses to identify itself was one of the first dolphin sounds recognized by cetologists. If “Ruby” was our name for her, was the sound she had led me to imitate her name for her? Or was it her name for me? Either way, Ruby had added another level to the game without my realizing it. By insisting that she mimic me first, I had been the one slowing down our language lesson! “Hey, sonny, you work here?” Startled by an unfamiliar voice, I turned to see a sunburned man in Bermuda shorts, a straw hat and a florid orange shirt. A shiny new Nikon FTn rested on his beer belly and a soggy cigar dangled from his lips. More like him, and their wives and children, were trooping down the path from the main pool. “No,” I said slowly, my spirits sinking, “I’m just a college student.”

“Oh,” he said, rolling the stogie with his rubbery lips, “I was wondering what kind of shark that was.” “It’s not a shark, it’s a dolphin,” I snapped, wondering how anybody could be so dense. “The trainer lets me study them…” The rapport I’d felt with Ruby just moments before evaporated. The gaggle of tourists surged onto the catwalk, pointing, jabbering and asking stupid questions. On the PA system, Hank announced that the next show would begin in five minutes. I should have stayed with Ruby and kept on working with her, but for some reason I cannot now explain, I didn’t. The enchantment was broken, our language lesson over. Like everyone else, I trooped to the main pool to watch the show, and afterward I decided to leave. Perhaps I naively thought there would be more such opportunities in the future. When I came back to say good-bye to her, Ruby was playing rather listlessly with a mangrove seedpod that had drifted into her pen. I wondered why she hardly acknowledged me. On my way to the parking lot I crossed paths with Beau. “Sorry ‘bout this morning,” he apologized. I had completely forgotten the unpleasantness with Klara. “Beau, the most remarkable thing just happened! Ruby was talking to me!” Beau wrinkled his brow. “Oh, yeah, they’ll make all kinds o’ sounds. Sometimes it do sound like they’re tryin’ to talk. Don’t mean nothing’, though. Just like a dog barkin’.” “No! Not like that!” Beau’s skepticism cooled my eagerness. “She was imitating my words, mimicking me! And then…” “Was she, now. Well, like I say, they’ll make all kinds o’ sounds, friend, but frankly I’ve heard parrots that talk better’n these here porpoises!” He smiled, and strode off to the icehouse. §§§ Salina had made it abundantly clear what she thought about “talking dolphins,” so I never told her about that experience. But some years later I ran into Drs. Bill and Margaret Tavolga, a married couple who had done pioneering

studies on cetacean behavior. Since they knew so much about dolphins, I thought they might have some insights into my “language lesson” with Ruby, and, with some hesitation, I told them about it. The two Ph.D.s, who in their sexual dimorphism resembled nothing so much as a pair of elephant seals, listened gravely to my tale, and at the end pronounced it “barely believable.” “It’s a shame you didn’t have a tape recorder with you,” Bill said. “So often, one’s subjective sensory impressions are prone to unconscious distortion. One hears what one wants to hear, especially around ‘talking dolphins.’ Lilly’s work is a prime example of that.” “Very true,” Margaret added. “If you want to become a marine biologist, as you say you do, you need to understand that no story like yours is ever convincing in and of itself. Some impartial outside reference source is necessary to evaluate an experience like that in a truly objective context.” That terrible sinking feeling returned, the realization that I was talking to the wrong people, that I should have kept my mouth shut. But my encounter with Ruby was so strange, so far outside normal human experience that I was desperate for some validation, any validation. And being dysfunctional, I was looking for it in all the wrong places – from people like Bill and Margaret, who would never credit a dolphin with trying to communicate, even if it called them collect from a rotary phone. What killed me was that they were right, of course. Even a tinny recording on a cheap cassette deck would have been better than what I have now, which is just a vivid memory of getting a language lesson from a dolphin and not having the sense to keep it going. If only I’d had a good tape recorder, say a Nagra IV like they used to use in the movies, and Rochelle salt-crystal hydrophones, waterproof transducers, a sonograph, a real-time frequency shifter and a nifty little computer like this one I’m writing on now, a research lab in the Virgin Islands where I could have worked with Ruby for weeks without interruption and indoctrination into the orthodox methodology leading to a degree with enough letters behind my name to be credible, then maybe, just maybe (if I didn’t admit to having used drugs), people like Bill and Margaret would have taken me a little more seriously. To Bill and Margaret I was just another self-marginalizing liberal arts major,

making do with the inadequate tools at hand – a rubber ball, my ears and my brains – and unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for the demands of science. “Besides,” Margaret said, as I was on my way out the door, “we hear stories like this all the time. There’s never anything to them.” Implying, of course, that there was nothing to mine. But who could blame them? The accepted dogma of the day, which they had helped to write, was that dolphins were just big, bright marine mammals, somewhere between a dog and a chimpanzee in intelligence, that happened, for some unknown reason, to tolerate humans well. And who, believing that, would expect a scientist, busy writing grant proposals and supervising graduate students, to waste precious time and possibly make a fool of him or herself by climbing into a dolphin’s pen on a chilly March afternoon and trying to squawk at her in her own language? Certainly not me!

Chapter 8 Ruby’s First Overture Dolphin customs in the matter of socially acceptable sexual behavior would not meet with those imposed by our society. Neither, however, do they need psychiatrists to solve their sexual problems. –Drs. David and Melba Caldwell, The World of the Bottlenose Dolphin, 1967 “These are fabulous, Zachary! Absolutely fabulous!” Salina pushed away a plate of scrambled free-range eggs and sugar-cured Virginia ham to slowly thumb through the stack of photographs before her. I sighed with relief. Thanks to my little problem with the Nikonos, the prints were a salvage job. I’d spent hours in the inadequate New College darkroom artfully dodging, cropping, burning, and spotting – the kind of stuff you could now do in five minutes on a computer, and do ‘way better – to get a few 8x10’s that looked halfway decent. The accolades Salina was heaping on my photos were thicker than the name-brand ketchup on her table, stronger than the Colombian coffee in her cup. Privately, I resolved to do better next time. “What do you think, Hank?” Hank put down his coffee mug and peered over Salina’s shoulder. His gaze strayed to her cleavage, then moved to the photo of Ruby leaping for a fish. “Not too bad… say, did I ever show you the ones I took with my Instamatic?” Why had I been surprised when Hank, sleepy eyed, tousle-haired and ridiculous in one of Salina’s florid robes, had opened the door to my knock? Like ambitious females of every warm-blooded species, Salina was simply following a hierarchical mating pattern: having failed to displace the alpha female, she accepted the unencumbered beta male. Hank was as high up the Florida Funland dominance hierarchy ladder as she could climb. The fact that he was a prime hunk of Polish sausage didn’t hurt, either. “Look at this one!” she said, holding up the photo of Ruby cruising in the bow wave. “Zack, this is phenomenal –you’ve captured the very essence of

dolphinity!” “Dolphinity?” “Like humanity, only wetter,” Hank explained, pouring a fresh cup of coffee. “She made it up last night.” “We were up ‘til all hours, writing feverishly,” Salina added, yawning. “How’s it coming?” “Smashingly.” “Yeah, but all that writing damn near wore me out,” Hank said, stretching a kink in his neck. “My fingers are still knotted up.” “True,” Salina murmured, rubbing his shoulders, “but think what we accomplished!” “Mmmmm,” Hank purred. “Yeah, we knocked out a couple of great chapters… hey, where you going?” Salina broke off the massage, went to the bookshelf and returned with a copy of her first book, Please, Mr. Porpoise! She flipped it open and laid it beside my photos. The photographer’s name was instantly familiar to me; he was that New York-based underwater shooter whose work had been on the cover of a recent National Geographic. Before that he’d shot a multi-page spread for LIFE on the Great Barrier Reef and sold a shark story to Sports Illustrated that involved real diving, not shooting drop-dead models in swim suits. “He wanted thousands to photograph Beau’s dolphins, and in his shots you can’t see them,” Salina complained. Technically, his photos were perfect, crisp and well exposed. I couldn’t find anything wrong with them and told Salina so. “That’s the problem, there’s nothing right with them, either! He shoots dolphins the same way he’d shoot cars or wine or ketchup bottles. In his photos he’s looking at the dolphins, whereas you’re looking into their souls. Do you understand?” I sort of did, although I suspected Salina was really describing Mr. Big Shot’s use of fill flash, which gave his lighting an artificial quality, while I, being less experienced and under-equipped, had relied on available light and the forgiving nature of black-and-white film. “Your feelings for them show quite clearly,” she added. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what I demand.”

There were no underwater photos of the dolphins in Salina’s book, and I asked her why. “He refused to get in the water with them,” she griped. “He said they were too unpredictable. His big thing was photographing sharks. He said they were his friends, the idiot.” §§§ After breakfast, Hank and I left for the park in Salina’s boat. “Just going down for a little while today,” he yelled over the puttering outboard as we navigated the canal. “Gotta do some work with Trixy and Satan.” He was feeling masochistic, then. “I thought they were Klara’s.” “I sold her and Beau on the idea of leasing them to me for a show.” “How are they coming along?” “It’s blown over, now that Salina’s not around.” “I meant the dolphins!” “Not so good! Hang on, here comes a wake…” He gunned the outboard, obliterating further conversation, and we shot into the Intracoastal Waterway. Why was Hank so determined to train Trixy and Satan, who had stolen Ruby’s reputation as the “dumbest” dolphin in Florida Funland? Satan’s obdurate resistance to training was no greater than Hank’s stubbornness in attempting to train him, so who was really being dumb? If the dolphin somehow understood that his destiny was to entertain people, what better way to compel his release than by remaining as unentertaining as possible? Seen in that light, weren’t Hank and Satan flip sides of the same coin? I was looking for Ruby’s blow and dorsal fin as we puttered up to the dock. Our last encounter had left me filled with hope that we would someday hold a meaningful conversation, or at least discuss popular culture and the tides. But her pen was empty. There was a blow in the next pen over and a fin appeared with another small fin beside it. Behind those two, surfacing a moment later, was Ruby’s notched dorsal fin. Hank made us fast. “Hey! You moved Ruby! She’s got company!” “Didn’t I tell you? Beau caught them a couple of days ago. They’re going to

Zoo World in Ohio.” Was I pissed! Salina had promised me I could shoot Beau’s next catching expedition. The New York shooter had failed to do so, and she’d said over and over how much she wanted some catching pictures. Now, I realized, all such “promises” were in free fall. “Isn’t that a little far from the sea?” “Oh, they got a zillion-gallon tank with all kinds of pumps and filters, artificial sea water and everything. These dolphins’ll probably like it better up there, seeing how polluted the bay’s getting.” “Why are they in with Ruby?” Hank chuckled as we reached the chickee. “Hey, let me tell you! Yesterday, while she was on her last run, old Ruby ran into a couple of wild dolphins – males!” “I bet the tourists got their money’s worth!” “We thought we were going to lose her! She was fixing to elope with them! We were ready to take the skiff out and net her when she came back on her own. We haven’t seen the other two, so we figure they were drifters. It’s getting to be mating season, Beau says that’s why Ruby’s so uppity. So when we caught these two, he figured if we stuck her in with them, they all might feel a little more at home.” “Are they males?” “Naw, a mother-daughter act, near as we can tell. But they’ll keep each other happy, and maybe Ruby won’t be so likely to go ripping off the next time a piece of porpoise pecker swims her way.” “Is it okay if I go in, after the show?” “Sure, the new ones probably won’t come near you. The water’s still pretty cold, but Don might loan you his wet suit, you’re about his size.” Don was in a generous mood. Wet suits come in several thicknesses, and his was the thinnest, one-quarter inch, designed for Florida’s waters. The leggings, called “Farmer Johns,” came up to the chest and over the shoulders with wide, suspender-like straps and a convenience zipper in front. The top was a neoprene shirt with a front zipper and a “beaver tail” flap that went under the crotch and fastened to the front with a couple of rotary snaps. Instead of neoprene booties and plastic fins, which would have been awkward on the

rocks, I wore old sneakers. I was eager to get back in with Ruby, but concerned about the wet suit. Lilly had pointed out that the neoprene foam absorbed a dolphin’s echolocation pulses, which would otherwise give me a characteristic echolocation signature. At best, a wet suit was like a chador, the head-to-toe garment that covers traditional Muslim women; at worst, it might render a human unrecognizable. Better start off slowly. If Ruby couldn’t recognize my echolocation signature, she might recognize my behavior. I threw the pink rubber ball into her pen. At the splash Hank, who was trying to get Trixy’s and Satan’s attention, looked up. “What the hell are you doing?” he yelled. “Get that outa there, quick!” “I just want to play catch,” I protested. “They aren’t eating yet! One of them might swallow it!” Oh. The little fin broke away from the big fin and headed for the ball, which sat bobbing in the middle of the pen. There was absolutely no way to reach it before the little dolphin did… no way for a human, that is. Ruby cut in front of the little dolphin, grabbed the ball and began tossing it around. Was she just playing with it, or did she recognize the threat to her new pen-mate? One toss sent it near Hank, who threw it on the rocks, out of harm’s way. “Don’t let anything get in there with them,” he warned me, “no toys, no floats, nothing! Not until we’re sure they’re eating.” “Okay! Sorry. What would happen if it swallowed the ball?” “You don’t want to know.” Oh. I waded into the pen. The water was cold for a moment, then the thin layer trapped next to my skin warmed up. This is what it must feel like to be a dolphin, with layers of insulating blubber: the sensation of temperature without hemorrhaging deep body heat. The suit was so buoyant I bobbed like a cork. Ruby swam up and echolocated on my hands, the only exposed parts of me, then rubbed against my rubber-clad legs. Before I could touch her, she swam to the far side of the pool and started cruising with her mates. As I followed her, she swam underneath me and returned to the shallow end of the pen.

How frustrating! What happened to that closeness, that intense sense of rapport we’d achieved the other day? What was different, now? The wet suit? The new dolphins? The phase of the moon? Me? I clung to the wire fence that separated her pen from the channel, hoping Ruby would acknowledge me. The water here was shallower than in the middle, and I could touch bottom. “Hey! Mind if I take some pictures?” Hank was holding my camera, which I’d left on the catwalk. Photography was useless; only my head and Ruby’s dorsal fin were showing, and without a telephoto lens we would be lost against the mangroves upshore from us. But why not? The camera was so automated even Hank could use it. I yelled my permission. The new dolphins stayed away, while Ruby patrolled between us, just out of reach. I felt abandoned. “Can’t get a picture of you just hanging on the fence like that,” Hank complained. “Do something!” “Like what? She won’t come near me!” “Well, sometimes with dolphins, it’s like with girls, you know?” I shook my head. Had he really said that? “I mean, you gotta be aggressive! Make the first move! Take some initiative!” Hank yelled. “You’re just hanging on the fence, watching her swim by, and that ain’t gonna do it!” Hank was no rocket scientist, but when he wanted something he went and got it – wasn’t Salina living proof of that? Completely forgetting our “language lesson,” I wondered how I could expect Ruby to recognize the benefits of interspecies communication. And I was just pissed at being ignored. The next time Ruby swam past me, I shoved off the fence and grabbed for her. With a lithe twist she eluded me. Undaunted, I splashed after her and was rewarded with the briefest touch of her flank. What’s the matter with you? I wondered. You were so friendly last time, so talkative! Is this wet suit freaking you out, or is it your new friends? I mean them no harm! Can’t you understand I just want to play, and maybe get you to vocalize some more? I curled up in a ball. When Ruby swam by I darted out my hand and was

again rewarded with a brush of her flank. This was going nowhere. I’d chased her halfway around the pen, it seemed, before I straightened up and focused all my attention on her, frustrated enough by now to try just thinking at her. Why can’t I touch you? What are you afraid of? My hands? There’s nothing wrong with them, just standard-issue human hands, we use them for everything! If you’d only come close enough, I’d show you what these hands can do… I was thinking primarily of rubbing her head, as I had on my previous visit, but for some reason I still cannot explain –perhaps my own deprived condition – the vivid image of how a man uses his hands in foreplay with a woman flashed through my mind. …I won’t hurt you, I promise! Won’t you talk for me, like you did last time? Prove to Hank how smart you are! What are you so afraid of? For about a minute, I mentally cajoled her before she drifted close enough for me to rub her head. That surprised me, but I wasn’t about to let Hank know it. “Hey, that’s great!” he said, aiming the camera. “What did I tell you? Let me get a picture!” If I had known how stupid my hair looked, I would have told him to forget it. As I rubbed her, Ruby slowly drew closer. Once again, her behavior had changed abruptly, and in response to some stimulus I couldn’t recognize. Now she was again “the gentlest dolphin,” gazing at me dreamily from half-closed eyes, totally relaxed! I put one arm around her. Holding her was like hanging on to a floating log, but I was acutely aware of how alive this log was. She breathed with explosive suddenness, her exhalation making us bob for a moment before she inhaled again. Even as I tried to hold her, Ruby swam past me. Now I was rubbing her back; she rolled in my arms, and I was rubbing between her flippers. The force of her strokes pushed us underwater for a moment, and when we surfaced I was rubbing her vulva. Ruby’s jaws opened; she began to wriggle and thrust. I hoped to hell Hank wouldn’t take a picture of this! “Ruby, you are one hard-up dolphin!” I muttered. “Whaddya say?” Hank lowered the camera.

“I said, she’s one hard-up dolphin!” Ruby thrust her genital slit against my hand. If Hank took a picture now I’d kill him, size notwithstanding! He laughed. “Whispering sweet nothings in her ear, huh? Stroke her head again, that was good.” I tried to move my hand forward; Ruby maneuvered, keeping it where she wanted it. I left off stroking her and swam around to her head. She stared at me, expecting something I was unprepared to give her. Ruby swam slowly forward, rolling until she had me where she wanted me, then stopped. She wriggled and thrust so my hand rubbed her labia, hard. I was as much confounded as embarrassed; she’d never behaved this way before! Could the mere thought… Ruby grunted and splashed, forcing my fingers against her. She arced sideways with pleasure, lifting her head and flukes from the water, just like Peter Dolphin on the cover of Lilly’s book. “That’s it!” Hank yelled. “I couldn’t see her underwater. Just keep her head up like that, it’ll make a great picture! Whatever you’re doing, don’t stop!” Disturbing and arousing at the same time, this undesired intimacy was bizarre and yet somehow incredibly familiar, like a flash of déjà vu without a corresponding memory. A masturbating dolphin? I’d never been around a dolphin before coming to Florida Funland, much less had one rub-off on me! As I held Ruby’s head up with my free arm, the camera jammed and Hank swore. The dolphin broke away and hung head-down in the water, flukes in the air, offering one particular spot for scratching. “An all-time great linear thinker,” as Hazy would say. It was erotic, vulgar, funny, embarrassing and all out in the wide-open, although no one was around except Hank and the other dolphins. I’d never felt that kind of confusion before, not even the first time with Lorraine. Not like this, I thought, acutely aware of Hank and the camera. Not like this! Let me show you how… Ruby breathed explosively, showering me with spray. I grabbed her dorsal fin with my right hand, and, as if on cue, she began to swim slowly around the pool, towing me. Thrilled, I slid my left hand underneath her, where it was hidden by the dark waters, and let the rhythmic undulations of her body caress her where she wanted to be touched. Ruby’s behavior was blatant but also oddly innocent. What’s wrong with

it? I found myself wondering. What’s so bad about making her feel good?… Ruby was a huge, powerful engine towing me through the water, silent, sensual, pleasuring herself with my accommodation. Under the borrowed wet suit, I had an erection. She circled the pool and shrugged me off in front of Hank, then came back and rolled over in front of me. Fortunately, he was out of film. “I think you can get busted for this,” I said, trying to make light of it, “consensual sex with a dolphin!” Hank laughed, reached down and chucked Ruby under her chin. “Leave the boy alone, you old whore! Well, I gotta get ready for the show, so adios, lovebirds…” He walked off, smirking. In spite of the wet suit, I was almost shivering. The shallows were marginally warmer, so I tried to persuade Ruby to join me there, but she played with the mother-daughter pair and showed not the slightest interest in me. Cold and wet, I got out and walked back to the trainers’ shack, wondering what I’d just done. Become a cetacean sex object? Would my relationship with Ruby ever get any farther on an intellectual level? She was so horny! I put a kettle of water on the stove for coffee and stripped off the wet suit in the shower stall. I had a newfound respect for male dolphins and the difficult job they performed, perpetuating the species. I’d had trouble just trying to hold on to Ruby while she swam, much less copulate with her, and I had hands! How did the males ever manage it? Before the second show, I borrowed Don’s truck, operating on the principle that if a man’s big enough to loan you his wet suit, he will probably loan you his truck, especially if it’s as old as Don’s was (but don’t ask for his razor). I drove to a nearby convenience store, where, for 50 cents – all the money I had on me – I bought a soggy ham-and-cheese sandwich. As I choked it down I cursed myself for not having had the foresight to pack a lunch. When I got back, the trainers’ shack was filled with smoke. The kettle had boiled dry and almost melted. Somehow a major fire had been averted. On her run with the riverboat, Ruby behaved. She didn’t take off, and no roving male dolphins showed up to seduce her. I was disappointed, but wondered what kind of pictures I’d have been able to get anyway, with my camera. I took some shots as Don put her through her paces, but the light was

flat and lacking in drama. He let me shoot from the top deck, where I’d never been before. The wind was brisk, the view beautiful. As I leaned over the railing, squinting through the viewfinder, finger tight on the shutter release, waiting for Ruby to jump and wishing for the umpteenth time that I had listened to my father’s advice and bought an interchangeable-lens camera, a gruff voice behind me yelled “Hey, sonny!” Distracted, I turned to see the riverboat’s skipper, waving his cap at me from the wheelhouse while he steered with the other hand. “How would a body go about getting copies of them photy-graphs you’re taking?” The splash below meant I’d missed what probably would have been a great shot. I was so pissed, I didn’t even bother to shoot the skipper’s picture. He looked like a sea captain out of 1940’s central casting – plump, jovial, bewhiskered, wearing one of those brimmed caps with a lot of scrambled eggs and a little gold wheel on it, puffing on an old and well-chewed corncob pipe. I stuck my head in the open wheelhouse window where we could talk over the wind noise. “I’ll make you some prints if they come out. My luck hasn’t been too great, lately. What’s your name?” “Peter – ah, but I’m no saint!” He chuckled. His accent marked him for a Down Easter, now retired far from those cold, rocky coasts. “Did you perchance get any pictures of Beau when he was out a-catching the other day?” “No, and I’m pissed! Nobody ever tells me what’s going on around here,” I complained, as if I had some right to know. “Ah! Then you be in the same boat as me – and ‘tis me own boat! Ah-haha!” Below, Ruby threw herself into her final jump. Damn it! Why was I wasting time on this weird old codger? “Then you’ve not seen Beau out a-catching them before?” I told him I had not and asked if he had. “Aye, several times, not that he needs the likes of me along, I cannot even swim!” “What do you mean? It took five of us to net one the other day! Is catching wild dolphins like that?”

“Not nearly so much.” He took a couple of deep puffs. “That Beau, he’s a queer’un. Don’t like to use the net if he don’t have to. Many a time, what I’ve seen him do is take a little skiff right in amongst a school of ‘em that are milling about, and single out one he likes with his eye. Then, when it swims alongside, off he dives and grabs it about the neck, like so –” Keeping one hand on the wheel, he threw a hammerlock on himself. Impossible! He had to be putting me on. “Yeah, sure. What happens then?” “Why, he just swims it back to the skiff, side-stroking, and we lift it in. Heavy, they are! Seldom we had one that would put up any kind of fuss at all… it ‘most seemed like Beau had ‘em mesmerized, or something. Utterly pixellated. But as I said, Beau’s a queer’un. Don’t like the net.” He reached up and blew the whistle twice, then hauled back on the throttle. “Riiiight” was the only thing I could think of to say. What a load of crap! Any dolphin could shake Beau off and skewer him like a shish kebab, as Ruby had nearly done with me! The boat was approaching the dock; Peter backed down the twin diesels. I thanked him for the interesting story and headed below decks. A liberal arts student I might be, but I knew when some old geezer was pulling my leg. “Don’t be forgetting my photy-graphs!” Peter yelled after me. The boat docked, the tourists got off, and Ruby was persuaded to return to her pen with a hunk of mackerel. I quickly got back in the wet suit and joined her. She stayed at the far side of the pen, suspicious, as she’d been before. I swam out to the middle. Again she played hard-to-get. When I caught up with her she rolled over, exposing her genital slit. It was flushed a pale pink. Ruby’s behavior was no different from a dog rolling over for a belly scratch – except for the location! Whatever else my parents taught or mis-taught me, they’d always maintained that sexuality was normal and healthy, not dirty or repugnant. Here I was, confronted by a very willing, amorous female, asking nothing of me but my cooperation. How often had a woman ever been so clear with me, so direct, so uninhibited? At least when she wasn’t drunk? The tourists were gone. No trainers in sight, no one around to witness what

we would do. Putting my right arm around Ruby’s head for support, I put my left hand on her vulva. In the cool water, she felt warm. Her eye half closed. As I rubbed her gently, she began to swim slowly around the pool, towing me effortlessly. What’s wrong with this? I kept asking myself. Ruby obviously enjoyed it, and it wasn’t doing me any harm. But was it what I wanted from her? No. I wanted the engaging discourse, the sense of purpose, the bright-eyed expectancy of our language lesson. The sky was cloudy, the light cool and gray. A northerly breeze was kicking up little waves. When we stopped in the middle of the pen, we seemed to be the only living things for miles. That’s when I realized I could have sex with her. Right there, in the middle of the pen. We were totally exposed, but by the same token I was dead certain nobody was watching us. Keeping one arm around Ruby, I reached down and unsnapped the wet suit's beaver tail, pulled down the convenience zipper. I had a tenuous erection. Part of me trembled with a strange excitement; part of me seemed to be in a dream, remote, detached, dazed. I could not believe what I was about to do. Ruby held absolutely still. Holding my penis, I slid it between her labia, hoping to find my way into her vagina by luck. Gently, Ruby began to swim. I pushed harder, but something blocked me, as if there was no real entrance, just a shallow trench. Ruby took a deep breath. She was hard to hold, and her movements threatened to dislodge me. Suddenly I felt terribly exposed, vulnerable. Was that old skipper still up in the riverboat’s wheelhouse? Could he see what we were doing? Would he bust me? Ruby lifted her head from the water and stared at me. I pulled her to me, tried again to thrust into her without success. I could not penetrate her more than an inch or so. My erection was slipping away. Letting Ruby go, I swam back to the shallows and closed the wet suit. Thought wouldn’t come to me. I sat and stared at her as she swam to the far side of the pen, dived, and came up with something on her snout.

The green rubber hose. She had it coiled around her flipper, trailing under her body. Was this perhaps an invitation to play tug o’war? It wasn’t. When I grabbed one end of the hose, Ruby deftly unwrapped herself from it. If I wanted to be anthropomorphic, I would say she swam in sullen circles, but I had no way of assessing her feelings. She ignored me, did not respond to my calls. She rolled in the water until the hose was coiled around her like a boa constrictor. When Don came down to let her out for the next show, I gave up. She ditched the hose with a toss of her head and a stroke of her flukes and left me alone in the pen. After I got out, I stood under a warm shower until I felt like I was melting. Then I turned up the heat until the water stung my skin. I hadn’t realized how cold I was until I’d gotten back to the trainers’ shack and stripped off the wet suit. Bone-chilling cold, almost to the point where I couldn’t shiver any more. In spite of what I knew about dolphins’ sexuality I had never anticipated that Ruby would solicit me, never imagined I would respond like I did. I’d just tried to have sex with a 400-pound, handless, legless animal, yet I didn’t feel perverted or dirty, as we are told one is supposed to feel in such circumstances. What am I doing? I wondered. Of course, Ruby and I were different species. But she had been demonstrative in foreplay, cooperative, if not exactly ardent, about mating… Then, like a slap in the face, I realized what was really up: I was flattered! She paid attention to me, she found me attractive. At some previously unconscious level, the species difference somehow didn’t seem to matter one bit, it only added to the attraction in a way that is indefinable if you don’t know what I mean. I knew Ruby was simply trying to fulfill a physical urge, like hunger, in the absence of a male of her own species. There couldn’t be much more to it than that, could there? But what about me? I stood under the blast of hot water and let the steam curl around me, wrapping myself in its tendrils like Ruby wrapping herself in that silly green hose… …She was out there, in that water, not even feeling the cold. Steam… fire… heat… pipes… iron… gas… electricity… coal… mines… power plants… uranium… fission… bombs…

…hands. My first lover wasn’t Lorraine, wasn’t even human. She was an apricot miniature poodle bitch. After school, when my father was at work, my mother was shopping and my brother playing with his friends, I frequently had the house to myself. The apricot bitch had been a rogue in a black litter, and since nobody wanted her my mother kept her intact, hoping to find an apricot male to see if she’d breed true. One day when I was about 12, she was in heat and I was horny and frustrated (for there were no girls my age on our street), I coaxed her into my bedroom and up onto the bed. Bitches in heat, bless them, will hold still for anything that doesn’t hurt, and if she’d been a standard poodle I’ve no doubt we’d have gone all the way. Being a miniature, she was too small for me, even in my pre-adolescent state. I could get the head of my penis into her, nothing more. But I would not relinquish my position, and after a few seconds of frenzied thrusting I ejaculated inside her, a curious, almost painful sort of climax, then collapsed. The bitch, incurable romantic that she was, leaped off the bed and promptly began licking herself. Almost immediately, I succumbed to a terrible shame that seemed all the more pointed for being groundless. What was wrong with me that I had to waste myself on a bitch? At the same time, I obviously hadn’t hurt her, so what was wrong with it – except that I felt incredibly ashamed? What I really wanted was a girlfriend, not a bitch. Although we kept her for years, I never again tried to mount that bitch, and I never breathed a word of it to my parents. They were liberal, but not that liberal! As the steam curled up around me and the hot water pelted my skin, I thought very hard about the little apricot dog. Now, here was this dolphin throwing herself at me. Completely different from the dog. Wasn’t she? For one thing, Ruby wasn’t mine, and I couldn’t call her into my room and lock the door. For another, I’d solicited the dog. Admittedly, it hadn’t been hard, poodle bitches in heat are such horny little fuckers.

The difference here was that Ruby had solicited me. Of course, I went along with it, couldn’t see much wrong with it… …and, in point of fact, I was flattered! In this situation, was Ruby me, and I the dog? There couldn’t be much more to it than that, could there? Ruby just wanted sexual gratification. Or so it seemed. So. I turned off the water hard, to keep the leaky taps from dripping. The cold air stung. It was up to me to decide where this relationship would go. Even if I only let her rub off, becoming Ruby’s surrogate lover was risking the focus of my experiment, which was to communicate, not copulate! I must assume control of the situation! Having read some of B. F. Skinner’s writings, I was familiar with the principles of behavior modification: animals tend to repeat behaviors for which they receive positive reinforcement and tend not to repeat behaviors for which they receive negative reinforcement. That was how Beau had trained Ruby, and all the other dolphins, to perform. That was how you trained an animal to do anything. It was simple, then. I wouldn’t encourage Ruby or let her rub off on me. If she tried, I’d get away from her. Eventually, she’d figure it out, and we’d get back to work on communicating. Now if only I could find a clean towel…

Chapter 9 “Avoiding Biased Assumptions”

It may, in certain cases, be permissible to compare animals among themselves; but animals cannot be compared to man or measured by his standards. For man is the only being who preserves the four prerequisites necessary for the elaboration of a civilized society: the brain, the hand, language and longevity. – Cousteau and Diolé, Dolphins When Hank and I left that morning, Salina had asked me to stop by on my way home. Now the Asian maid brought us gin-and-tonics garnished with fresh mint leaves in cut crystal glasses on a hammered silver tray. Salina sipped and nodded her approval. The maid left as silently as she had come. I told myself I no longer stood in awe of Salina’s personal foibles, but in point of fact I had simply been conditioned to not argue with her. You couldn’t win, and even if you did, you knew things would be worse than if you lost. I was tired from the cold water and my exertions with Ruby – which I had no intention of revealing to Salina, or anyone else, ever – and I reminded myself to keep my bullshit-deflector shields at full strength under her roof. “Get any good pictures today?” Of course, I couldn’t discuss all of what had happened; that would be the end of my assignment! Salina was quite aware of the dolphins’ sexual proclivities, but she didn’t need to know about mine. Still, I needed some touchstone to see if Ruby’s overtures had been abnormal. “I didn’t, but Hank took some of me with Ruby.” That made her laugh. “You got in the water with her, that’s wonderful! How was it?” “It was crazy! Hank said it’s getting to be mating season, and all Ruby wanted to do was rub off on me. I bet she wished I was Bimbo! Did she ever get horny with you?” “Of course not! I wouldn’t let her. But Beau was putting her up in the main pool with the males, then. I can’t understand why he doesn’t move her up there now! He keeps telling me she’s too heavy, but if he’d just ask Hank or Don to

help him…” “Help him?” “Beau caught her as a juvenile. When she was smaller and only weighed about 300 pounds, he could move her all by himself. He’d set a stretcher by the edge of her pen, wade in, and Ruby would swim into his arms. He’d just pick her up and carry her to the stretcher, and Ruby would never bat a flipper. Then he’d get someone to carry the other end of the stretcher and he’d dump her in the big pool with the males for a day or two. When she’d been sufficiently screwed, she was willing to go back to her pen and back to work with the Delta Queen.” “He picked her up all by himself?” “Beau is stronger than he looks. It’s a damn shame you weren’t on the catching trip, we’ll need some pictures of that.” “You were in on that? Why didn’t you invite me? I would’ve loved to go!” “And I would have loved to take you, but Beau thought Klara was coming! She changed her mind at the last minute. When he sailed into the bayou, I was so surprised I didn’t think to call you! He just whisked me away.” “See if you can get me in next time, will you? I could get some great shots! You know that old geezer who pilots the riverboat?” “Peter?” Salina reached for a cigarette. “Yeah. He tried to feed me some bull about how Beau catches dolphins.” “What did he tell you?” she asked, tapping out a smoke. “Some crazy shit about Beau jumping off the skiff and grabbing them around the…” That curious ice-water feeling stopped me again. Salina was glaring at me over the top of her table lighter. “He does catch them that way,” she said, flicking a flame. “When he can. He jumps in and grabs them like this…” She lit the cigarette, put down the lighter, then made exactly the same arm-around-the-throat gesture as the riverboat captain! “…Then swims them back to the skiff, sidestroke. That’s how he got the mother and daughter,” she went on. “He grabbed the mother and the little one followed her. To do it the other way is too dangerous. He tried, once…” She settled back and took a deep drag that seemed to inhale my attention with the

smoke. “Some oceanarium wanted a mother and calf. He saw this pair swimming by the catching boat, so he dived off and grabbed the baby, which went limp his arms. The mother disappeared, or so it seemed. He was swimming the baby back to the boat when he thought, ‘This is too easy!’ He looked up and saw the mother’s dorsal fin twenty feet away, coming straight at him, full tilt.” “What happened?” She snorted. “He was a goner. He threw up his arms, ready to die, but the mother went around him like that –” Salina made a sinuous motion with her hand – “collected her baby and took off. Beau never saw them again.” I emptied my lungs. Salina’s dolphin stories had the hypnotic quality of some varnished old major-domo’s tales from the Hindu Kush. “No other animal will do that. If you threaten any other animal’s offspring, it will kill you without a second thought. Only a dolphin would let Beau get away. So it’s dangerous to grab a baby, and he learned his lesson. But with my own eyes, I’ve seen him grab a bull dolphin ten feet long, and it immediately became as gentle as a lamb.” “But… why?” Her expression made it clear that I could never comprehend her secrets, nor the dolphins’ either . “Because they know!” §§§ My room wasn’t much, a ten by fourteen-foot cinder block rectangle with no heat and no air conditioning, but – except for being attached to my mother’s house – it was my world. Much larger and more comfortable than the New College dorm room where I’d spent my freshman year, it had a bed, a desk, a closet, a window with a view of the back yard, a comfy vinyl armchair and its own door to the outside, so I didn’t have to go through the house. It was steeped in tetrahydrocannabinoids and testosterone. Whatever else the world might throw at me, I could do what I wanted there, and no one could bother me. I turned down the lights, except for the swag lamp over my chair, opened the windows and lit a joint, which burned with a satisfying incandescence. The

cloud I exhaled went out the window on the breeze. The desirable warm, fuzzy feeling increased in my head and shoulders. It had been a strange day… a very strange day. I’d actually tried to get it on with Ruby! Why? I could not run from my own impulses. I hoped that if I ever lost my grip on reality, for whatever reason, I would be self-aware enough to get help. I had to accept responsibility for my behavior, even if I didn’t accomplish very much. Ruby had been demonstrative, receptive and enormously attractive in a primeval kind of way, but it hadn’t worked. Well, I had reached a decision about that and I meant to stick to it. I would get our relationship back on track and steer it away from matters sexual. I was confident I could do it; I was, after all, a human being, and master of my fate. But I really needed to find a decent woman. Lorraine had been almost too easy. Turned out she’d had her sights on me for days before she dragged me to bed. And then I had virtually ignored her for two weeks! How could I have been so stupid? I told myself I wanted sex, I wanted love and affection, yet I hadn’t been willing to make even the slight effort required to keep up a very undemanding relationship with Lorraine. What was wrong with me? Obviously something must be, or I wouldn’t be turning to dolphins. It wasn’t that I didn’t like women or thought them inferior or treated them badly. In fact, I was discouraged to observe that many men who didn’t like women, thought them inferior and treated them badly got laid on a regular basis, whereas I didn’t. I flicked the ash off the joint and took another deep hit. My head felt considerably lighter. What had Hank said today? “Sometimes with dolphins, it’s like with girls, you know?” It sounded stupid, but he was right. I could do whatever I wanted to about Ruby, but the problem really wasn’t hers. The problem was mine. Unless I did something about it, the problem would simply express itself in a different way, like squeezed clay oozing between my fingers…

…hands. A rush was gathering in my neck and shoulders. The next time I met a woman who seemed genuinely interested in me, whoever she was, I would not let the opportunity to develop a relationship slip away! I would make sure she knew I was as interested in her as she was in me! Then I would… …I would… would, uh… …zzzzZZZ ZZ-Zzz Z! zzZ-ZZ ZZZzzzz… As the rush receded, my bloodshot myopic eyes were overwhelmed by the angularity of the space around me. All sharp corners, it seemed ineluctably alien. And it was so very… dry! The walls and floor were some type of artificial rock, and the odd and glaring illumination emanated from an object above my head. I was seeing the room as I had never seen it before, and from a previously unknown perspective. Wow, I thought, I’m really fucked-up! I picked up the book that I had providentially laid at hand before lighting up, so I wouldn’t have to go stumbling around the room looking for it afterward. It, too, was rectangular, as were the desk, bed, closets, doors and windows. How sharp and potentially painful all these angular shapes were, with their many points and corners! Highly unnatural, they seemed to have been designed with agony in mind. Except for cubic parallelograms like salt or pyrite crystals, nature almost never creates right angles; they break too easily under stress. Yet every shape around me was a right angle, and it was all wrong. I cracked the book and confronted thin sheets of a fibrous white substance covered with small black squiggly marks. Possibly they conveyed some kind of meaning; what, I was unsure. Part of me knew how to decipher the marks and was capable of automatically doing so when it saw them, without even thinking about it. Part of me was not only confounded by them, but found the very thought of them preposterous. This was not me, I realized, experiencing these alien impressions of my surroundings. It was… somebody else. Yes, that’s right! It’s me! The mental entity seemed overwhelmingly gratified that I’d recognized it. Its warm fuzziness held a characteristic signature: apparently this was the same astral “critter” that had accosted me after the beach trip with Hazy, Gilbert and the

others. Since then, I had simply dismissed it as one of those silly things that happen when one is stoned. If so, I must be more fucked-up than I thought. The entity, however, didn’t presume to judge my vices. It was so happy to be in my head, and so curious about what it found there! My momentary dyslexia, I now realized, belonged not to me but to it. It had no concept of writing or reading, so of course the printed page looked meaningless to it. Strange place you got here, the entity thought, surveying my room from a number of angles. The sensation felt disjointed, almost indescribable; while my body slumped motionless in the chair, I could access the visitor’s impressions as it floated effortlessly around the room, poking into the cobwebs in the corner above and behind my head. Although not at all frightening, it disconcerted me. What do you want? I asked it. A wave of feelings answered me. These many years later, I find it difficult to put them into words: exuberance, joy, excitement, curiosity, and a peculiar gratitude that I’d even acknowledged its existence. And love. But I did not recognize it at the time. To be here, the entity thought, with you! I found that disturbing. Nobody else, it seemed, wanted to be with me, so why should this thing want to be with me? I considered the half-smoked joint in the ashtray. Faced with this nameless abstract denizen of the who-knows-where, I needed reinforcement. I re-lit the joint and took another hit. The whole process – matches, fire, smoke, dope – was utterly fascinating to the entity, which watched (if watched is the correct word for something seeing through my eyes) with the detachment of an anthropologist and the feverish enthusiasm of a two-year-old. That’s amazing, it thought. So that’s how you get here! Where’s ‘here’? Where I am, it answered cheerfully. This current. Whatever it was, it definitely had a playful bent. I felt grateful; it could have been something out of the Cthulhu Mythos… Paranoia suddenly seized me. Didn’t demons and other supernatural creatures first appear in pleasant, even tempting guises to lull their victims into a false sense of security? I was instantly on guard. Who are you? I challenged it.

It seemed to laugh. I’m… me, it thought. You suspect I’m a ‘demon.’ Well, let me reassure you: whatever a ‘demon’ is, I’m not. Like I could trust a demon… then I recalled demons were not known for their sense of humor. I decided the odds of this thing being “demonic” were rather low. Impish, possibly; demonic, no. Most surprisingly, the entity was puzzled by my urgent need to identify it, to give it a name and assign it a status as either friendly or malevolent. Who are you? I again demanded. Come clean! I can’t get any ‘cleaner’ than I am. And you know who I am! No I don’t! Yes you do! If I knew who the fuck you were, why would I be asking you all these stupid questions? Good question! Why are you asking me all these questions? Don’t you enjoy my being here? No. Now that you come down to it, not really. Why not? This is what I get for smoking dope, I thought: my consciousness had shattered. I was confronting shards of myself that didn’t recognize who or what they were. I ran a quick mental check. The rest of me was okay; I knew who I was, where I was, when I was born, who the thirteenth President of the United States was… well, no, actually, I didn’t know that. (It was Millard Fillmore, which perhaps explains my amnesia.) Why are you so upset? the entity asked. I’m not used to having unknown visitors poking around in my consciousness, I explained, perhaps somewhat more curtly than was necessary. You’re not? I thought you liked me being here! I enjoy being with you! Don’t you enjoy being with me? If you have ever been out for a walk and had a lost puppy follow you home, you will understand my exasperation. All right, I don’t actually ‘dislike’ you, okay? It’s just that I find your presence here, uh, kind of weird. I’m not used to you, is all. Oh, don’t worry, the entity thought, radiating a cheerful and thoroughly

nauseating joy, you’ll get used to me! The prospect of this uninvited visitor hanging out indefinitely in my consciousness, obfuscating my own thoughts with its gee-whiz attitude, was simply too much to bear. Last time I had run it off by overwhelming it with the complexity and scope of human civilization. That trick wouldn’t work again, because the entity now knew what it was up against. It poked curiously into the 60-Hertz alternating current coursing through the light bulb overhead. Ouch! If I wanted to be left in peace, I would have to appeal to its good nature. Look, it’s all cool and everything if you want to come and check me out from time to time, I really don’t mind, but can I ask a favor of you? The entity momentarily withdrew its attention from an astral exploration of the contents of my closet, none of which made any sense to it. Can you leave me alone for right now? I need to do some reading. I didn’t expect it to understand reading, but it did understand that some kind of knowledge transfer occurred between those squiggles on the page and me. The ramifications, I suggested, could be serious is this didn’t occur. The entity considered that. Okay, but I’ll be back… When? When you least expect it, it thought, and was gone. There was nothing wrong, or even odd, about the angular shape of my room. The corner behind me remained unseen. I would have to do something about those cobwebs, though, or my mother would be after me. She might let me smoke dope in here, but I had to keep the place clean. I looked at the book in my hands – Lilly’s Man and Dolphin. I was reading it, or rather re-reading it to see if I could find those passages about brain probing that had so upset Salina and Hank. Chapter six was titled “Avoiding Biased Assumptions.” My eyes lit on Lilly’s comments about anthropomorphism, and the converse “sin,” “zoomorphizing:” “…I hasten to add that there are certain aspects of human behavior that might well be explained on an instinctual and ‘simple-minded’ basis – for example, the ways in which a person acts when extremely fatigued, when under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or when he has sustained certain kinds of brain injury, or in the agenesis of the cerebral

cortex. But these are all examples of biological degradation of a human – converting the complex human into a simple animal by chemical or traumatic means.” Wow, man, I thought, really! Right on, dude!

Chapter 10 Walking on Air I found my own true love once On a blue Sunday She looked at me and told me I was the only One in the world Now I have found my girl… – The Doors, “Blue Sunday,” Morrison Hotel, 1970 Professor Wilbur Dyne was stone cold sober. So was I, and I intended to remain that way through this little interview, whatever it took. Afterward, of course, I had other plans. “This is all you’ve read?” he said, tapping the list I’d placed on his desk. I squirmed. “It’s been difficult to find some of those papers, Wilbur, you know our library’s a joke! I looked for these journals – Experimental Psychology, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Biological Abstracts – and I can’t find them here, or at the city library either! They’d never heard of them.” I glanced at Wilbur’s bookshelves, crammed with issues of the highly specialized biological journals that published the peer-reviewed articles in benthic biology. “How much of this stuff could you find in our library, if you had to read it? Even our collections of Nature and Science are spotty. A lot of back issues are missing!” Wilbur nodded. “I know, I know,” he said. “The library here isn’t half what it should be, especially in the natural sciences. They could have spent more money endowing that place and less on the imported tiles for the Palm Court, I guess. My question is, what are you going to do about it?” “I’m doing a term’s off-campus study at the University of South Florida next month.” He brightened. “In biology?” “No, film, photography and Electronic Music 101. That should help me communicate with the dolphins. But their library is huge, it ought to have these

journals.” “You’ll have better luck up there, I’m sure. You’re still recording your observations on dolphin behavior, right?” “Oh yeah.” If Wilbur wanted to call what I was writing ‘behavioral observations,’ that was fine with me. So far he hadn’t asked to see my field notes. That, too, was fine with me. He surveyed the photos I’d spread on his desk. “These are pretty good shots, from an illustrative point of view, I guess. I’m not sure what their biological significance would be, but… they’re good shots.” If Wilbur was uncomfortable with the interdepartmental nature of my independent study project, he never said so. It may be that, like me and so many other New College students and faculty at that time, he was lulled into a sense of complacency by the solipsistic attitudes of the place. He did, after all, have his own graduate studies to pursue, and his own small but dedicated cadre of biology students who knew how to conduct a decent benthic-organism survey in the mud flats west of the campus. Perhaps he took on projects like mine, involving the artistic aspirations of flighty liberal arts students, to amuse himself. Perhaps in another sense I was penance for his personal battle to remain objective. Let me assure you, it’s a lot easier when your subject is a mollusk. “You know, I met this Salina woman at a party the other night,” Wilbur mused. “You did?” For some reason that surprised me. “Yeah. When she found out I was your professor, she started raving about your photos! She thinks you’re the greatest thing since Kodachrome ! I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m not on the fine arts faculty.” “Really?” No wonder Wilbur seemed willing to cut me some slack on the reading list! “Really. By the way, how’s her book coming? I forgot to ask her.” “There… have been some delays. But it’s going ahead, as far as I know.” “Good. Well, that’s it, Zack. Check out those journals when you get to the library in Tampa. I’ll be interested to see your write-up when you’re done with this.” So, I thought, will I!

§§§ Gilbert cracked open the door of his dorm room to my knock. Seeing me, he smiled. “Oh, it’s you!” Turning into the room he yelled, “Be cool, guys, it’s just Zack! Come in,” he added, letting the door swing wide. Inside I was pleasantly surprised to find Gilbert’s new roommate Tuna sitting on a bed, his old one Hazy lounging against the far wall and another person seated with his back to me. Hazy had given up the formal study of Oriental religions, dropped out of New College and moved into the Main Street House, sort of a way station/commune for New College students who couldn’t hack campus life or were between matriculations. (You’d think that with all the phenomenally talented people who lived there and the enormous quantities of psychedelic drugs they consumed, they could have come up with a more imaginative name, but it was just known as the Main Street House.) When the other person turned around and lifted his shades, I got an even bigger surprise. It was Salina’s nephew, Leo Baer. I hadn’t seen him since that day at the park. He didn’t exactly look happy to see me, like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Come in, come in,” Hazy said, grinning. “You two know each other? Zack, this is…” “We’ve met,” Leo said, standing rather stiffly to shake my hand. “Nice to see you again.” “You too! Say, have you been back to the park since that day when…” “Nope.” What was eating him? “Leo and I were just concluding some business,” Hazy ex-plained. “Sure you don’t want to smoke a bowl?” Leo shook his head. “Well, it’s $20.” “That’s a little steep,” Leo replied, reaching for his wallet. Hazy reached into a canvas backpack beside him and pulled out a lid and a little hanging postage scale. “Yeah, but it’s a weight ounce of Panama Red. Let me show you,” he said, clip-ping the lid to the scale. “You really ought to try some, then you’d appreciate…” “That’s all right, Hazy, I’m sure it’s righteous weed. Maybe next time.” Leo pulled a couple of bills from his wallet and handed them to Hazy, who shrugged. “And I had a bowl all ready to go, too. Zack, would you care to indulge?”

“I was wondering when you’d ask!” I settled onto the floor. Hazy handed the lid to Leo, who started for the door, then turned back as if he’d forgotten something. “Zack, could I have a word with you? Outside.” He gestured to the door. “Thanks, Hazy,” he added, slipping the lid into a pocket. We stepped out, and Leo pulled the door closed behind us. “You know, I don’t even smoke this stuff,” he said abashedly. “I’m just doing a favor for a friend. There’s absolutely no reason for Salina to know about this.” “Your secret is safe with me, Leo,” I said, wondering what all the fuss was about. “Thanks. I knew I could depend on you.” He started to walk away. “See you at the park sometime?” “Yeah, maybe,” he called over his shoulder. I stepped back inside. “What was that all about?” Gilbert wondered. “He was just being paranoid. Thought I was going to narc on him to his aunt or something, I guess.” “His aunt?” Hazy asked, lighting a pipe. “The woman I’m shooting the pictures of the dolphins for.” “Oh yeah.” Hazy handed me the pipe. “How’s that coming along?” At first I dithered, recounting Salina’s catfight with Klara and its potential impact on the project. That elicited some more-or-less misogynistic comments from my friends; we were liberated back then, but not that liberated. I took another hit and found it odd how the sharp edges of the buildings beyond the balcony caught my attention, as if something I could not apprehend had just rippled across my mind, leaving turbulence in its wake… Some people who are confronted with profoundly weird experiences never discuss them with anyone, or do so only with great reluctance. They must have some kind of inner solidity that I lack. They know with absolute certainty what has happened to them. They don’t need to outsource their validation, and to reveal the anomaly would only invite ridicule or scorn. I have often wished I was that kind of person – strong-willed, selfcontained, taciturn – but I am not. Perhaps it comes from always being the kid stuck in the farthest corner of the classroom, the last to have his name called at

attendance, the hindmost out the door for recess. At a young age I learned that my worth was extrinsic, that my value as a human being was determined by something as capricious as a name, as arbitrary as a letter of the English alphabet repeated twice. As a result, I need to know that I am thought of as a good person; I need to hear others say it. And when confronted with an inescapably bizarre experience, people like me often seek validation by attempting to share it with others. It is, I acknowledge, a terrible liability. These three guys were my best friends, some of the few people I trusted in the world. I’d kept them up-to-date on what was happening at the park, but I hadn’t told them everything. A part of me desperately needed to talk about what was really going on between Ruby and me, but I could not approach it head-on. “Have you ever had a woman throw herself at you?” I asked bluntly. “How did you handle it?” Gilbert’s wistful look told me he hadn’t. “I wish!” “Not recently,” Hazy said, “but when they do, it’s great! Just lie back and let them do the work,” he chuckled, refilling the bowl. “Sheila gets that way now and then,” Tuna said, naming the young Medieval studies major he was lucky enough to be shacked-up with. “Sometimes she does it when I’m trying to study for a test, and then it’s distracting, but other times… well, like Hazy said! Why? Have you suddenly gotten lucky?” “I don’t know. What would you guys do if, instead of a woman, it was a female dolphin throwing herself at you?” Gilbert paused, the lighter midway to the bowl, staring at me with eyes the size of bottle caps. Tuna looked like he had difficulty accepting the phenomenological validity of my statement. Hazy just said “What?” “There’s this female dolphin down there, Ruby, and, I… I think she’s got a jones for me,” I stuttered. “A dolphin lover,” Hazy mused. “Now what would that be like?” “Wet?” Gilbert suggested. That cracked us up. They immediately grasped the significance of my “language lesson,” so I described Ruby’s unabashed behavior on my last visit, and my response to it – somewhat. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell them about trying to have sex with Ruby. That was something I had difficulty admitting, even to myself.

“Gee, I always assumed they were like fish, that they just spawned or something,” Gilbert said. “Not at all, I’ve seen them go at it. They screw like crazy.” “I can’t imagine a more sensuous lover,” Tuna said, smiling at the thought. “This Ruby sounds like one red-hot mama!” Hazy added. “She’s sure not hung-up about letting you know what she wants! If it were me, I’d just kind of go with it, you know? Let her get her rocks off!” A tremendous sense of relief flooded me. My friends implicitly understood my situation, and they did not disparage my actions. It might not be how they would react, but they could appreciate my response to Ruby’s overtures. Hazy handed me the pipe, which I accepted with a renewed sense of friendship. “Yeah, but how will I know if she’s had an orgasm?” I asked. Hazy cracked a toothy grin, his hand describing an upwards-curving arc. “When she leeeaps into the air!” §§§ The way my brother told it, he and his friends hadn’t gone to Myakka State Park intending to get busted. The vigilant park ranger who’d spied them running around the meadow, turning cartwheels, yelling and whooping, naturally assumed they were high. He stepped out of the bushes aiming a double-barreled shotgun at them and shouted, “Freeze!” Howie grimaced at the irony of it all. “So he told Elaine and Shelly to turn their backs, then he made me and Gary and Paul strip. Paul was afraid he was going to corn-hole us, or something! That’s how he found the joints in my sock. They were Gary’s, but he’s got a prior, y’know? But we weren’t stoned when he busted us, Zack, honest we weren’t.” Turning cartwheels in a meadow didn’t seem like “probable cause” to me, but there wasn’t a hell of a lot I could do about it now. The juvenile center’s supervisor approached us. “We’re closing in fifteen minutes,” he said, almost apologetically. Howie sighed again and stared off into space. He was lucky – only seventeen. His record would be expunged in six months. I had been at home wondering where, exactly, Howie was when the phone

rang. (Believe it or not, I felt responsible for the little snoid.) It was our mother, calling from the New England college where she was attending an adult degree program, “Trying to make something of my sorry life,” as she put it. (I was glad to see her better herself, as it left me with her car.) The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office had just called to inform her Howie had been busted for misdemeanor possession. Surprisingly, she had been uncharacteristically compassionate and asked me to go easy on him. So the first thing I did when I got to the Juvenile Detention Center was give him a big hug. He nearly shit his pants, but what the hell, a bust was a bust, it could happen to anyone. As Howie sat mulling his fate, the center’s door flew open and a young woman in a pale blue dress swept in. She paused for a moment, then, catching sight of Howie, ran over and threw her arms around him, her long brown hair cascading over his head and shoulders. “Oh Howie! I’m so incredibly sorry you got busted! It’s such a fucking bummer I can’t believe it! That pig was horrible, I thought we were all going to die, and all you had were a couple of joints in your sock! Is there anything I can do to get you out of this awful place?” Howie disentangled himself from her for long enough to ask, “Loan me your nail file?” At that the girl, who had been on the verge of tears only a second before, broke into a smile that lit up the juvenile detention center like a bank of Klieg lights. Even her braces seemed to glitter. In spite of Howie’s predicament, I found myself envying the attention he was getting. The girl let go of him, turned around, saw me and blushed slightly. “Zack, this is Elaine Ingersol,” Howie said, “Public Enemy Number Five.” She laughed. “You must be Howie’s big brother. He talks a lot about you.” Our eyes met. Hers were cornflower blue, matching the piping on her calico dress; they looked out from granny glasses with delicate circular frames. Her shoulder-length hair was the color of cinnamon toast, her nose was slightly pug (very cute!) and she had a smattering of freckles. Something happened. It was like somebody threw a switch and a magnetic current was flowing between us. I had never felt anything quite like it before, and I knew in my bones she felt it, too. I barely noticed the contingent of Howie’s friends who trooped in behind her and attempted to cheer him up. Elaine and I

stared at each other like a couple of love-struck idiots. “You were with Howie when he got busted?” I finally asked. “Oh, yeah! It was terrible! Did he tell you that park pig had a shotgun? I was so scared, I nearly peed! We thought they’d feed our bodies to the alligators or something! When that sheriff’s deputy came for Howie, I just wanted to slug him. The deputy, I mean!” She was spunky, too! I liked that in a woman. “All this trouble for two lousy joints! And we didn’t even get to smoke them! Oh Howie,” she said, turning back to him, “I’m so sorry…” That led to a protracted group hug among Howie’s friends. I felt left out, but that didn’t stop me from spending what little time remained chatting with Elaine. She was a senior at Sarasota High School. Her father practiced orthodontics at a local dental clinic. She liked horses, bicycling, and romance novels, “but not the real drippy ones.” And no, she didn’t have a boyfriend. I couldn’t understand why not. Elaine was the picture of charm. She was warm and intelligent, affable and witty. When the supervisor called for lock up, she sweetly declined my offer to drive her home. “My dad’s expecting me to come back with Shelly,” she said, mentioning another of Howie’s friends. “But maybe some other time…” The way she left that open gave me a thrill. She liked me, goddamn it! She really liked me! Bidding Howie good night, I stepped out. The doors locked behind me, leaving him to his fate. Our mother would be flying back tomorrow to see what could be done. Elaine climbed into a beater with the rest of Howie’s friends. I waved as they pulled out of the parking lot. She turned and waved to me out the back window, smiling as they drove away. Howie’s life might be fucked right now, but on my way back to my mother’s car, I was walking on air.

Chapter 11 The Dolphin of the Mind’s Eye If you can just get your little mind together, Then come on along with me We’ll hold hands and watch the sunrise From the bottom of the sea. But first, are you Experienced? – Jimi Hendrix, “Are You Experienced?” The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968 “My dad is a little freaked-out about all this,” Elaine explained, sipping a diet pop. “Freaked-out about what?” “Well, you know… about you.” “Me?” Given all the really freaky freaks running around at that time, brewing acid, burning U.S. flags and blowing up draft offices, I found it hard to believe I could freak-out anybody. Elaine blushed. “Well, he thinks I’m too young to be seeing a college guy.” “It’s because I go to New College, isn’t it?” “Sort of, yeah. I tried to tell him there’s nothing wrong with the place, but he thinks you’re all a bunch of Commie faggot pot-heads or something.” He got the faggot part wrong, I thought. “Then there’s the whole thing about Howie getting busted. Dad thinks that since you’re Howie’s older brother, you must have led him into it.” “That’s ridiculous! Howie turned on before I did!” Elaine nodded. A thought suddenly struck me. “Do they know you turn on?” “No. I haven’t told them because, well, it would just be a real bummer right now, you know? I mean, they’re already separated, and they’re talking about a divorce.” Her head sunk into her hands. “It’s all just too weird! I really like you and everything, Zack! Do you know how hard it is to find a guy who isn’t a slob or a jock or a creepy weirdo? But now, I dunno if I can handle it!” We were sitting on a sea wall at a hangout called “the pier,” a small public access park where, the year before, I’d ruined my wallet in that abortive chase

after a pod of wild dolphins. My bike leaned against an Australian pine. Howie, now on probation, was walking with his friends a little way down the beach. The only thing we were high on was the sunset, which was splashing everything a drippy metallic orange. I had to tell her, sooner or later. “Well, tell your dad I’ll be at the University of South Florida in a few days. See if that calms him down.” “Oh. Isn’t that up in Tampa? That’s an awfully long commute, isn’t it?” When I confessed I no longer had my own car, she cringed. “Don’t look at it that way!” I quickly reassured her. “It’s just for one term, ten weeks, then I’ll be here all summer. And I can come back on weekends! Hell, Elaine, I really like you! I wish I’d never set up this stupid off-campus study program, but I had no way of knowing I was going to meet such a neat girl just a few days before it was supposed to begin! We can still get together! I promise!” Elaine smiled hopefully. When she did that, I just melted inside. “I’m so glad,” she said, and threw her arms around me for a brief, wonderful hug. She wanted some reassurance I wasn’t going to abandon her, “What are you going up there to study?” she asked. “Communications. Mostly film and photography.” “Cool! What else?” “Electronic music.” “Neat! Anything else?” “Oh, just an independent study project.” “Yeah? On what?” “Dolphins.” For a second, Elaine was smitten with a look of utter astonishment before she burst into a smile that exposed the fundaments of her orthodontics. “You are? Ohmygod, that’s so unbelievably cool! Are they up in Tampa, too?” “No, down at Florida Funland. You know that little amusement park on the way to Venice?” “Oh jeez, this is just too much! I’ve always loved dolphins! They are sooo neat! Do you get to pet them?” I suppose you could call my last encounter with Ruby “petting” – very heavy

petting, with a very heavy pet. “Yeah, I do.” “Oh, wow! That must be so much fun! I would love to pet a dolphin sometime! They’re such beautiful animals!” “You would?” I said, my mental gears whirring. “I could set it up…” “Really?” “Yeah,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant, “sure. The trainer down there, Beau Coleridge and me, we’re, uh, old friends, and uh, I come and go as I want and I bring whoever I want, provided it’s okay with him and all, but I don’t see any problems.” “Oh! Oh! Oh, WOW!” To my utter astonishment Elaine threw her arms around me and delivered a big, fat kiss on my lips! It was brief, no tongue, some braces, but very gratifying. I wanted more but was not so stupid as to press the issue. “This incredible!” she cried. “I knew there was something special about you the moment I saw you at the juvenile center! Your brother’s a cool guy, but you’re even cooler! When can we go?” “Let me set it up with Beau,” I said, simultaneously exalted and wondering exactly what I’d gotten myself into. Still, having Elaine overwhelmed with gratitude couldn’t hurt our relationship, could it? I had finally done something smart, something right! In addition to being really fun for Elaine, I would get some great pictures for Salina’s book of a beautiful girl swimming with a beautiful dolphin. Her best friend Shelly ambled up, dark hair framing her angular face, the bottoms of her jeans wet from wading in the tide. “Uh, Elaine, we gotta go,” she said, a bit apologetically. “We told your dad we’d get you home before dark.” We stood up; we hugged; Elaine kissed me again – on the cheek, a friendly sort of kiss. “You know my number,” she said, “call me any time before my dad gets home. Let me know when we can go down and visit your dolphin friends!” She and Shelly climbed into somebody’s rolling rust heap and took off. “You look happy,” Howie said. “She likes me! She really likes me, Howie! She wants to visit the dolphins! And hey – she kissed me!” “Groovy!” Howie said. “Did you cop a feel?” He took the temperature of the water the hard way.

§§§ Taking Elaine down to Florida Funland had seemed like a brilliant idea at the time. More importantly, it had gotten her over her discouragement because I was going to USF. Life always presented me with conflicts like this, new opportunities which arose just as a critical choice had to be made. No matter which path I chose, I lost something. There was the whole question of bringing guests to the park without paying. If Salina could get away with it, why couldn’t I? Still, it would probably be best to ask Beau first. I hadn’t yet screwed-up in any major way. I needed to give Beau some copies of the photos I’d taken. I could make them at the USF darkroom, which was cleaner and far better equipped than the one at New College. That would be the perfect time to ask him – after I’d given him some pictures. He couldn’t refuse. I settled back in my chair to read. A gentle breeze wafted through the open windows. The night was peaceful, with nothing more to worry about. As I let out a yawn and relaxed, however, the words and letters on the printed page before me lost their subjective meaning and became unintelligible squiggles. Hello! I froze. Here I am! Aren’t you glad to hear me? I sat up and looked around. I couldn’t “hear” anything out of the ordinary. This was not an auditory hallucination; it was a “voice in my head” without any apparent sensory input. I did notice that my room had reacquired that odd, painful angularity, the light that glaring, artificial quality. Apparently “it” was back! Uhhh… yeah. Yeah, I am, I guess… You don’t sound very sincere! I decided to be honest with it. How glad would you be if you had unidentified mental entities visiting you? Doesn’t bother me! Why should it bother you? it replied, cheerful as always. I rubbed my forehead. The entity interpreted this, correctly, as a gesture of

exasperation. You’re really hung up on this need to identify things, aren’t you? Just you. No problems with anything else! Why don’t you ask me who I am? All right! Who are you? No, no! You have to guess! Oh, now it wanted to play games! Well, I could humor it. I wasn’t fit for anything else at the moment. Let’s see, might as well start at the top and work my way down. Are you God? That seemed to confound it. What do you mean by “god?” Great. Bad enough the critter showed up unbidden; now it was engaging me in theological arguments… Don’t “theological argument” me! You started it! You brought up “god!” That startled me! Whatever it was, it really was aware of my thoughts. That, of course, suggested the next most likely alternative… All right, are you a splinter personality, a sign of incipient schizophrenia? Gee, I don’t know what “schizophrenia” is either, but from your attitude it doesn’t sound like fun. What do you think? I was no psych major, but from what I knew about schizophrenia, this was not it… although this might be how it started. I wasn’t hearing voices or seeing things that weren’t there. The mental entity didn’t speak to me, it thought to me. There were no sensory hallucinations, the experience was entirely mental. I was not confused about external reality, simply about my own internal reality, which was confusing enough anyhow. Uhhh, no, I guess not. Try again! I was running short of alternatives. My stock of discorporate entities who might want to drop in was simply rather slim. Then I recalled that my grandmother, who had died years before, had been a “spirit medium.” Perhaps this was similar… Are you, uhhh, some kind of “supernatural being?” Maybe a

relative, trying to contact me from the “Great Beyond?” What do you mean by that? The entity sounded almost as puzzled as I was. Well, you know, a “disembodied spirit” or something. Not the last time I checked, no. I’m quite well. My alternatives were exhausted. I was frustrated, and deeply skeptical. If you keep thinking of me as an “artifact,” we’ll never get anywhere! Why don’t you just accept me as I am? Because I just can’t! The human mind is subject to all kinds of delusions and fantasies, which distort our impressions of reality. Besides, I take drugs! I shot back. How do I know you’re not simply some stoned hallucination? My visitor contemplated that. Good theory, it thought. One problem: whatever “stoned” is, you’re not. It was absolutely right: I wasn’t stoned. I’d been out of dope for a couple of days. You really distrust your own experience, the visitor went on. Your guesses are all wild and scattered! Try using some of that imagination and logic you pride yourself on. Who would want to communicate with you, and have no other way to do it? You must answer the question for yourself: who do you think I am? I lay quite still in the chair, the book long since forgotten. Outside the breeze had died, and the crashing of waves on the beach a mile or two away sounded clearly through the moist night air. It was suddenly very, very important for me to apprehend this phenomenon, whatever it was. It wasn’t going away on its own. It wasn’t just a dope fantasy or a mental aberration. Something very real was going on in my head. I carefully considered the entity’s proposal. Who did I know who would want to contact me but have no other way? Who couldn’t pick up a telephone, scribble a letter, stammer out something in broken English? There was only one idea I could come up with, and it seemed preposterous, even to me. Are you… are you… Ruby, the dolphin? The entity flared with affection, showered me with warmth. Hey! You got it right! You can think!

There was a note of bemused exasperation there too, as if, after hours spent laboriously training a lovable but stupid pet to do some simple trick, it had finally succeeded. Oh great, I thought to myself, as unobtrusively as possible, now I’ve got a dolphin swimming around in my head! And then to her: So you’re Ruby? That’s right! Again that burst of happiness at being recognized. All right, prove it! Don’t you believe me? That gave me pause. No, actually, I don’t. Why not? This is all just a little bit too fortuitous, if you know what I mean! You’re Ruby, the dolphin? And you just happen to be telepathic? How convenient! It fits too well! You have a lot of trouble with the obvious. Okay, think about it for a moment: you are willing to admit the possibility of telepathy? I’d always felt that if telepathy didn’t exist, it should be invented as soon as possible. I’d had what I thought were flashes of it – odd feelings that I knew what another person was thinking, sometimes later confirmed – nothing that would convince Professor Dyne, if he needed convincing. Spoons never bent in my presence unless I used my fingers, and the only way I fogged film was by opening the camera without rewinding it first. Still… I did believe in the possibility of telepathy. Okay, we both know from your “reading” that dolphins’ brains are larger and in some respects more complex than yours, right? That was indisputable. And, if I’m not mistaken, you have suspected for some while that dolphins dwell in an “oceanic state of consciousness,” haven’t you? This was embarrassing! The entity could pluck the lurking thoughts out of my skull and hold them up to me, alive and squirming! Hazy had introduced me to Oriental mysticism in our freshman year. Yoga, meditation and chanting had briefly held for me the same fascination I now felt for dolphins, and were it not for my deeply entrenched cynicism, my utter contempt for all authority figures and my near-total lack of self-discipline, I

would probably still be in thrall to some two-bit self-proclaimed guru. “Oceanic consciousness” was the idea that isolated objects and events are actually linked in subtle, imperceptible ways. You could spend ten years doing yoga in a Buddhist ashram to find that out, or you could take 100 micrograms of LSD-25 and learn it in four very intense hours. Once you figured it out, you didn’t have to be a philosophy major to see that the physical disciplines, or siddhis, which human yogis struggled so hard to acquire and master – pranic breathing, extreme self-awareness, control of brainwaves, thermoregulation and so on – had been bred into the dolphins by the Darwinian struggle for survival! Floating in a world of echoes, thinking about every breath, owning nothing, sharing everything, never sleeping with more than half their brain at a time, dolphins seemed to be pre-adapted for spirituality. “Oceanic consciousness” was their birthright by natural selection! So was it really so odd that they should prove to be telepathic? So this was Ruby, the dolphin, in my head? Hmmmm. Yes, it’s me, she thought cheerily. I’m so glad to finally be recognized! If you’re really Ruby, why don’t you prove it? Is this rampant skepticism a characteristic of your whole species? If so, it’s no wonder we’ve had such a hard time getting through to you! We? You know… us. My people. Why didn’t you just identify yourself the other night, when I was reading The Mind of the Dolphin? It’s important that you figure it out for yourself. Besides, I didn’t have the word “dolphin” in my vocabulary then. I didn’t know what you called us. To us, we’re just… us! That made sense. “Dolphin” was a human construct, after all. There was no reason for Ruby to know what we called her. You still haven’t proven to me that you’re Ruby. She was nonplussed. What can I prove while you’re there and I’m stuck here in this corroding little pen? Give me time to work something out and I’ll give you proof! Meanwhile, how are you going to rationalize the fact that we’re having this conversation?

Such thoughts were difficult to ignore. I was also physically exhausted, even though I hadn’t moved from the chair. Communicating mentally with Ruby was more tiring than an afternoon at Salina’s. It required tremendous concentration to keep my mind from drifting off, and the slightest negative emotion seemed to blur our contact. This “conversation,” in which words were merely the cast-off shells of elemental thoughts, was becoming more difficult minute-by-minute. Look, I can accept you as who you say you are for the time being, as a working hypothesis. But I have a lot of questions about this whole thing. Such as? If you are Ruby, why are you contacting me like this? Because you can’t click or whistle worth shark shit and I can’t “speak” any better. Your pitch is so low I can barely hear you! As to why – what do you know about me? In my imagination – as distinct, apparently, from where this conversation was taking place – I saw Beau delivering his ‘porpoise rap’ from atop a pile of marine biology books and learned papers. He talked faster and faster, spitting out reams of information-covered computer paper that piled up around him until they buried him. In the current context, it all meant nothing. But if what I was experiencing right now was real, then there was a “ghost” in the dolphin machine, and it wanted to communicate with me! Maybe, for once, I was onto something really big. A chance to probe, not merely a dolphin’s brain, but its very mind! I guess I don’t know anything about you, Ruby! And I don’t know anything about you, either. But I need to learn… I must learn! That’s why I keep asking all these questions, which you think are so silly. I know this must seem like a lot to absorb all at once, but you’ll get used to it. You’re just tired, your mind is wandering and getting distorted. You need to do that “sleep” thing, so I’ll take my leave. But I’ll be back… She faded from my mind like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, leaving behind the mental equivalent of a lingering aroma, like the scent of the sea somehow wafted into the mountains. The room resumed its normal degree of

angularity, the squiggles on the page reasserted themselves as letters and words. I was too tired to read. I sat staring at first the page, then the walls, in a state of non-chemically-induced stupefaction. So I was communicating telepathically with Ruby? Well, I’d made a commitment to accept that as a working hypothesis. But as I crawled into bed without brushing my teeth (a bad habit I was to regret a decade later), I couldn’t help but wonder where all this was leading.

Chapter 12 Dream Seas Let us try, for a moment, to enter the dolphin’s kingdom and the dolphin’s body, retaining, at the same time, our human intelligence. – Loren Eisley, “The Long Loneliness,” American Scholar, 1960 This is turning into a nightmare, I thought as I walked back to my dorm room at the University of South Florida. Bob, my roommate, looked up from his dilapidated desk as I stepped in. “What’s up?” he asked. “You look down.” I slumped into one of the uncomfortable chairs, which, with the broken beds and distressed dressers, comprised the room’s furnishings. Where to begin? At the electronic music lab, I explained, a grad student had pointed out the Moog synthesizer’s “on” switch and said, “That’s about all I can show you. Figure it out yourself.” Before that, the cinema professor in the Arts and Humanities Division dismissed my films as “too objective.” And the documentary film professor in the Journalism Division said my films “lacked objectivity!” Bob shook his head in disbelief. “That’s liberal arts for you, man! No wonder you look fucked-up! Stone bummer, but I got something that’ll lift your spirits.” I had imagined I could get away from the elitist attitudes of New College by coming to a state school, but the problem, I was beginning to see, went beyond location. Now I found myself trapped, without wheels, fifty miles from my new girlfriend. I kept trying to call Elaine, and if her father wasn’t home, and I was lucky enough to get through to her, we talked. It broke my heart. “Oh, Zack, I really miss you,” she’d sigh. “Can you come down this weekend?” Unless I could arrange a ride, the problem of hitchhiking from Tampa to Sarasota was somewhat more acute than I had anticipated. I was working parttime in the school’s photo lab, but not earning enough to make car payments and still eat. “Can’t you come up here?” “Oh, I want to, but Dad won’t let me.”

Paradoxically, Elaine’s need for my company had the opposite effect intended. It made me uncomfortable. Elaine would start complaining about school or her girl friends or her parents’ impending divorce, while I sat there plunking quarters into the pay phone in the long, dark hallway outside my room, finding her monologue really… boring. No, I told myself, I wasn’t just interested in Elaine’s body. But I found her far more interesting in person, where her freckles and her blue eyes and her smile could work their magic on me, than at the end of a telephone line, where she sounded just like every other needy, unfulfilled woman. As far away as I was from Elaine, I was even farther away from Ruby. And I missed her, too. A couple of tokes of Bob’s dope did a lot to lift my mood. He was an engineering student. “All my professors seem to know what they’re talking about,” he said. “You can argue with the numbers, you know, but it doesn’t do you any good; the numbers are still the numbers. All the arguing in the world won’t change them.” I was beginning to appreciate that point of view. “Well, I gotta shove off for stat class,” Bob said, handing me the joint. “Then I’m gonna visit Jenny,” his girlfriend, whose room, coincidentally, was on the women’s floor almost directly below us. “Finish that, get a buzz on, it’ll all work out. You’ll see.” I was grateful, but I lacked Bob’s self-assurance. After he left, I locked the door, lit some incense, opened a window and pulled the curtains. This was a state university, after all, and while damn near everybody in the dorm smoked pot, there were none of the tacit agreements that made New College a safe place to expand your consciousness. Fuck it. So things hadn’t worked out the way I planned. What I needed was to get good and stoned and forget about all this shit for a little while! My desk chair was one of those wooden ones that hurt the middle of your back no matter which way you sat. Moving an ashtray close to hand, I lay down carefully on the bed. One of the bed’s folding legs was broken and insecurely supported by a chunk of cinder block. The dormitory was an oppressive concrete silo. I wanted out, and I knew how to get out. My body might be inert on its unstable berth, but my imagination

was unbounded. I could go where I wanted to go, unfettered by gasoline prices or the vagaries of thumb luck… The coast rushed by below me as I skimmed the beaches, heading south toward Sarasota. There – wasn’t that Elaine’s house? Her bedroom window was open! I could drift in, like smoke, through the screen! Amazing! Elaine was asleep in her bed, the bodice-ripper on her chest, where she’d dropped it, rising and falling with her breathing. I could almost make out the title: Love’s (something, something). Damn. I wanted to wake her, but at the same time I didn’t. Her hair was mussed. There was sleep in the corners of her eyes. The blue-green light of the mercury-vapor street lamp outside her window did nothing for her complexion. I drifted out as silently as I had come. Remarkable, what my imagination could do! Now I seemed to be entering some large, dark, forbidding structure. A glimpse of Sarasota’s Main Street out the window told me I was in The Main Street House, Hazy’s commune. I floated upstairs, and at the landing flowed under a wooden door as if I was fog. I was in a small, sparsely furnished room with peeling wallpaper and a dirty floor, the only light a guttering candle. Hazy was in one corner, his body twisted into an impossible position, practicing hatha yoga. Amazing the way his aura brightened and faded with his breathing! Just as I was about to say hi, some force like magnetism dragged me back outside. My imagination certainly was vivid tonight! I visited Howie in his bedroom and located the secret stash of jerk-off magazines hidden under his bed. In his dormitory room at New College, Gilbert had gotten lucky and was fast asleep in the arms of a girl I didn’t know. Something else impelled me; I flew down the coast, heading south again, toward a destination I already knew. And no sooner had I figured out where I was going than I descended into a world without air, where sound traveled farther than light, where the stars overhead warped and danced through the crazy liquid mirror of surface tension… Hello! Did my unannounced arrival surprise her? Hello, I made it under my own power this time! I knew you’d figure it out! Glad you’re here – this little pen gets so lonely…

In the manner of dolphins she wasn’t sleeping, but hanging just below the surface, rising every couple of minutes for a quick breath. The lapping wavelets rocked her gently. This is strange, I thought. I’ve never done this before. It’s like a vivid dream. I checked my body; I was still lying on the mattress, dimly aware of the slight instability in the broken bed leg, the breeze coming through the window, the Guess Who belting out “American Woman” from a stereo down the hall: …Colored lights can hypnotize Sparkle someone else’s eyes… I wasn’t asleep, or even tired. Just inert. I’m gratified, Ruby thought. In some way, you must accept me as “real!” How real are my thoughts? You seem just as real… but you’re a hell of a lot “realer” in person. How come we only communicate like this when we’re apart? Why not when we’re together? Remember our language lesson? When we’re together, I can reach you other ways. I don’t need this. I knew what she meant. Our communication that day had been forceful, unequivocal. Ruby had let me know not only that she was able to communicate, but to formulate and carry out a plan to change my vocalizations. This, by comparison, was ghostly and tenuous; I confronted a phenomenon that challenged my ideas not merely of marine mammalogy but of reality itself. Sometimes I think I’m going nuts… Ruby didn’t understand, so I tried to convey the impression of what it would be like to be in a psychiatric hospital. I’d be confined to a small space, unable to leave, fed and cared for but not really given anything to do, separated from my family and friends, medicated, tested… Sounds like here, she thought. She was right! The only differences between a mental ward and an oceanarium were that the inhabitants of the oceanarium weren’t held responsible for their situation – and, with the sole exception of Ruby, they could never get out.

You would put yourself there just because of what we’re doing now? The idea shocked her. For me, it raised other questions. How come I only get in contact with you? Why not Star or Bimbo or Gator or Trixy? They’re not interested in you. I am. Most of us don’t care about you, until it’s too late and we’re tangled up in one of your nets! Ruby conveyed a series of concepts in bubble-like bursts of thought. Being preoccupied with survival and their social standing in the pod, the majority of dolphins were no more concerned about humans than humans were about them. Even though we shared the same planet, we lived in such different realms that we remained, at best, abstractions to each other. Captivity changed all that, forcing the dolphins into one-on-one interactions with us. They responded as individuals. Some, like Satan, rebelled. Others, like Star, complied and did what we expected of them but weren’t interested in their captors beyond superficial interactions. But more and more, you’re changing our world, Ruby thought, conjuring images of cargo ships and garbage scows and oil spills, of scuba divers and enormous missile-firing submarines, purse-seine trawlers and nuclear tests on Pacific atolls. A few of us think it’s important to try to understand you, to communicate with you. That’s what makes me different. Wait a minute! As the ramifications of what she was ex-plaining sank in, a feeling of awe, mixed with equal parts utter incredulity, overwhelmed me. You… you’re saying you’re a scientist? A dolphin scientist? You could call me that. Within the limitations you’ve imposed on me, I study you. The image that arose in my mind – I don’t know whether she triggered it, or it came up by itself – was of a space probe, hurtling into the uncharted void. That was Ruby, a biological probe, launched from the ocean toward the human world! The void of space and the unfathomable depths of the sea had collided in my mind. Why else should I hang around here? If I wanted to, don’t you think I could leap this fence and be gone in a couple of strokes? At that very moment, everything I thought I knew about dolphins entered a state of flux from which it has yet to emerge. I had always seen Ruby as a victim

of captivity. Even when the storm had washed her out of the pen and she turned up begging handouts at the marina, I assumed years of captivity had eroded her survival skills. Ruby-the-telepathic-dolphin suggested that her captivity was as much voluntary on her part as on Beau’s – perhaps more so, since Beau depended on Ruby for his livelihood. Why else should she forsake the call of wild dolphins, dallying with them only to return to her pen? I opened my eyes; the ceiling of my dorm room was still above me. The incense had burned out, but traces of it lingered in the air – a mysterious and alien sense to Ruby, smell. Down the hall, The Guess Who had been replaced by Jefferson Airplane’s “Crown of Creation:” …In loyalty to their kind They cannot tolerate our minds. In loyalty to our kind We cannot tolerate their obstruction… I couldn’t believe I was in two places at once: here, on my creaking bed, and down there, in the pen with Ruby. Something had to give. Like a soap bubble, one reality or the other would burst. I shut my eyes and focused on Ruby. Of course, these are not the ideal conditions for studying you. I need to get closer, but you’re the only one who’s ever reached out to me! What do you mean? The others… I like them. But I can’t do this with them. I can hear what they say to me, but they don’t let me think to them! Not like this! Not like you do! She took a breath and dove, cruised slowly around the pen. The space was so familiar that she didn’t need to echolocate. Like a prisoner pacing a longaccustomed cell, she could swim it with her eyes closed. I followed her, wondering off-handedly where the mother and daughter dolphins were. You’ve tried to contact them like this? Yes. Can’t do it. They shut me out. Oh, sometimes… once or twice I’ve gotten through to Hank, but he was… There was a complex of

thoughts: lack of balance, blurred vision, muddled thinking. Suddenly I understood: Ruby could communicate with Hank, but only when he was drunk! She sculled along the bottom of her pen, the current from her flukes kicking up little puffs of mud, then wafting them away. …And even then, he won’t listen! I can think to him, but he doesn’t understand! He thinks I’m unreal, like you did, and afterward he doesn’t remember! You’re different. You get here, sometimes with that “smoke,” sometimes by yourself, but… you get here! She didn’t mean the pen, but the state of consciousness we shared. That would explain the overwhelming sensation of gratitude when I had finally recognized her: she had found a cooperative experimental subject! Why’d you play games? Why didn’t you just tell me who you were? She surfaced and blew. Finding a floating mangrove pod, she began to play with it. Would you have believed me? She tossed the pod ahead of her, swam to catch it, tossed it, caught it, tossed it. No, of course not! You have enough trouble believing in me now, don’t you? I had to admit it. So you had to figure that out for yourself! With a final flip of her snout, she tossed the seed pod over the fence, into the Intracoastal Waterway. She was as puzzled with me as I was with her. The day we were speaking to each other, vocalizing, we got so close, and then you swam off! Why? I didn’t understand it myself. The arrival of the tourists had broken what seemed like a spell between us, and I had gone off to do something else. I couldn’t explain it to her. The same thing happened when you tried to mate with me! That brought me up short. She sensed my turmoil. What’s wrong? She truly didn’t understand. She was a dolphin, after all. You’re just inexperienced! It takes practice, but I’m patient. You’d be a lot more comfortable if you understood how it feels. How what feels? To be one of us. To be “dolphin.” I damn near fell off the bed. The possibility had never occurred to me.

Could I? She swam right up to me and stuck her snout into me. Yes, if you want to! This current flows both ways. The impression I got was of a river estuary: on the falling tide, the river flowed to the sea. On the rising tide, the sea flowed inland. Down the hall, it was now Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on the turntable: …Call and they’ll come to you Covered with dew Vegetables dream, Of responding to you… If Ruby could enter my world, why couldn’t I enter hers? Suddenly, I wanted to – very much. How? Show me! She radiated gratitude. First, get rid of those clothes, she suggested. I stripped and lay there, naked, awaiting her instructions. Relax! Next we have to do some work on your body image. You’re built all wrong to be dolphin. With our benthic lifestyle, bipedal locomotion and grasping limbs, the dolphins joked that we resembled soft-shelled crabs. Our body hair and rudimentary streamlining caused them no end of amusement. However, Ruby told me, these obstacles were not insurmountable. Picture my body in your mind, and think how I must feel, she suggested. Let’s see, I was a vertical creature, my axis oriented perpendicular to the surface of the earth, whereas Ruby’s axis ran parallel to it. But I was lying on a bed, my position now similar to hers. I tried rolling over on my stomach, but that didn’t feel right. Then Ruby breathed, and I realized why: she hung with her dorsal side up, suspended by her buoyancy. The surface of the water was an irreducible backstop for her; she could pass through it into the air or descend below it, but she always came back to it dorsal side up so she could breathe. Similarly, the teaching of millions of years of evolution was that nothing in the air would threaten or attack her. Danger came from the deep. As a dolphin, my

senses had to be deployed in front of me, down and around me. So, in my mind, the mattress under me became the water surface. Floating facedown in the pen with Ruby, I was immediately at a disadvantage, because my nostrils were naturally under water, whereas hers were in the air. I wanted a snorkel, but since this was merely a simulation, I didn’t need one. What was really disorienting was that the space above me, reaching up to the dorm room’s rather high ceiling, became down, and the ceiling turned into the mud floor of Ruby’s pen. I felt a momentary twinge of vertigo before things sorted themselves out. The force pressing me so firmly against the mattress wasn’t the earth’s gravity, but my own buoyancy. With that came an interesting realization. That’s right, Ruby agreed. You get “high,” but we get deep. Now let’s work on your body. I needed to change my head, surrender my face. No more fine muscle control there. I felt my eyes migrating to opposite sides of my temples, like a flounder in reverse, where they would perceive two distinct visual fields. No parallax; stereo vision, which was only available in front of me, took an act of will. It was bizarre, like watching two separate movies at once. I imagined I could see almost 180 degrees on each side of me – clear behind me, if I wanted to. That gave me a lot of security. Of course, this being Ruby’s little pen in the middle of the night, there wasn’t a hell of a lot to see, or a lot of light to see it with. Then we changed my jaw and nasal bones, weak and useless in their human state. As they stretched into a fine, strong rostrum (the biologist’s name for a dolphin’s snout), my incisors, cuspids and molars were replaced by a sharp, stylish set of 88 conical canines, suitable for grasping and holding even the slipperiest fish. Not bad! Ruby thought. You’re rather adept at this, for a human. I couldn’t be a dolphin without a blowhole. My nostrils would have to migrate, as they had in the evolution of dolphins, from my nose up over my forehead and onto the back of my neck–although I knew that wasn’t right, because a dolphin’s blowhole is in front of her brain, but behind the oil-filled melon that gives her that sleek, domed forehead. Doesn’t matter, Ruby thought. You can’t always achieve perfection in

these simulations. You’re doing fine! Next came the pectoral fins. Giving up my arms was difficult. They telescoped, wrists and elbows disappearing, until my hands were attached only by the ball-and-socket joints at the shoulder. The bones in the hands fused, but otherwise remained unchanged. As I knew from my readings, every finger and knuckle joint in the human hand was replicated in the dolphin flipper. Working our way down the body, we next came to my cock and balls. This will never do! That looks just like an eel or something. It’s ‘way too tempting of a target for some hungry fish! I had to agree. Even though swimming trunks offered no protection against something that could really hurt me, like a shark, the thought of skinny-dipping in the ocean still provoked a certain amount of castration anxiety. Male dolphins had a much more secure arrangement, with everything internalized and erectable on demand. We fixed that, too. That’s great! Ruby thought. Only a little more to go! We’ve got to do something about those legs. They presented a structural problem. A dolphin’s peduncle – the muscular, laterally flattened body behind the dorsal fin, which bad artists always depict as tubular – has nothing to do with legs. Dolphins lost their hind legs so long ago that their pelvic girdle has dwindled to a scrap of bone. Of their legs, not even vestiges remain. Instead, the peduncle and flukes that powered Ruby through the water were an incredible elaboration of the muscles that had once been the rump, tail or buttocks of her pig-like protodolphin ancestor fifty million years ago. In my case there was nothing there to simulate with except my legs, so I had to make do with them, bones and all: heels together, toes pointing outward like flukes. They welded themselves into a unified mass that could be pumped up and down for propulsion while being swung from side-to-side to vector that thrust for guidance. Ruby swam around me – or around where I seemed to be –surveying the result with her echolocation, which tickled on my newfound naked flanks. Wonderful! That’s really remarkable! You’re quite good at this! You sound great! Check it out. Let’s see: snout, blowhole, eyes, flippers, peduncle, flukes, yes, everything

was in its unaccustomed, unfamiliar place. Wait, something’s missing, the final touch! You can’t be a dolphin without… …That irreplaceable dolphin trademark, the dorsal fin! I felt one sprouting from the middle of my back. It projected through the water surface, that is, the mattress, and into the cool night air. It felt good. It would give me a pivot and a center of pressure underwater, enabling me to make those abrupt dolphin turns I found so graceful or so startling, depending on whether I was watching or in the way. All ready to learn how to swim? Ruby asked. First, you’ve got to loosen up. You can’t swim any better than a sculpin if you’re tense! Your skin won’t ripple right at high speeds and you’ll suffer drag from turbulent flow. There’s nothing to be afraid of, I’ll take care of you. And don’t bother trying to echolocate, you’re not ready for that yet. Take a deep breath, hold it, and relax. I felt a tingling in the joints of my limbs where muscle turned to ligament and met bone. A shudder ran from my pelvis – my human pelvis, that is – up my spine to my head and down again. In my mind’s eye, my flukes flipped. The bed rocked slightly on its cinder block support. I could imagine the ripples spreading across the surface of Ruby’s pen. Very good! Try again. I thrust my pelvis up and down, but it didn’t feel natural. It felt forced. You’re trying too hard! Forget about it – and keep doing it. Tail strokes start at your head and move down your body like a wave. It should be just as natural as walking on those silly “feet” of yours. I took another deep breath and did as she suggested. I was rewarded as the swimming motion became spontaneous and carried down to my legs, which began to slap the bed in a gentle rhythm. The bed’s frame, in turn, tapped the cinder block: fwap-tap, fwap-tap. I’d swum this way with plastic fins in a pool be-fore, but this felt different. Now, take a deep breath, hold it, and remember, we’re going straight ahead! Closing my eyes, I felt the flow of water over my body, the tongues of turbulence licking me. My head was bobbing like a running horse’s, my dorsal fin

cleaving the surface. At the same time I was on my bed in my room, with Zappa’s weasels coming through the walls at me. Ruby was there beside me, a sleek gray presence. Marvelous, isn’t it? Let’s speed it up… The thrusts became more natural, great pulses of rhythm running along by body like the beat of some cosmic heart. Ruby matched me stroke for stroke. I felt an exhilarating, almost palpable, sense of wellbeing. The dorm room seemed somehow less real than the swimming sensations moving me, the water flowing around me. Through my right eye I looked at Ruby, knowing her, knowing her joy. She returned the look, sharing that joy. Go with it, let it reach its own pace and it will carry you along! We seemed to be speeding through the watery depths, propelled by the powerful thrusts of our flukes, guided by the slightest quiver of our fins. Never had I felt such awesome power, or such freedom! It was like flying in a dream – and then the dream took over! I was caught in some titanic current of undulant motion that seemed to originate outside me, outside my body, outside whatever this fantasy was that I’d created for myself. And weren’t we confined to her pen? How could we be do-ing this? In response, Ruby speeded up. Isn’t this great? My body was pounding the bed. The whole room seemed to be rocking, but I no longer knew whether I was a student ly-ing on a bed imagining I was a dolphin or a dolphin out at sea imagining I was a student lying on a bed imagining I was a dol-phin… I love this! Isn’t it wonderful we can share it? Huge waves crashed over me. I zoomed through the deeps. Suddenly something somewhere slipped and I seized up, violently. I felt myself falling and my head struck a hard surface. The pain shattered the bubble that had been Ruby’s world, leaving me on the floor in the dark. A second later, the door was flung open by a figure, silhouetted against the hall lights. “What the fuck?” I got up, wrapping the bed sheet around me abashedly. “You okay?” Bob asked. He sounded almost as embarrassed as I was.

“Yeah. Fine, I guess,” I said, rubbing my head where it had hit the floor. Near my blowhole, I thought ruefully. In the light from the hall, I could see what had happened: my violent undulations had dislodged the fragment of cinder block, and the bed frame’s broken leg had collapsed. A lucky thing, too. I had lost control of the swimming motions; they had been swimming me, not the other way around! Had they continued to intensify, I feared I would have gone into a convulsion or an epileptic seizure. Apparently I wasn’t ready for Ruby’s level of freedom. Being a dolphin, even in my imagination, was still somewhat beyond me. “Sorry to barge in like that,” Bob apologized. “I was downstairs with Jenny, and we heard all that commotion up here and I thought you’d found a honey for the night, but when we heard that crash I thought I better come up and check it out… you sure you’re okay?” A lump was rising on my head. “Yeah, ‘s’awright,” I mumbled, shoving the chunk of cinder block back in place. “I was just jerking off.” No use trying to explain that I’d been swimming with a dolphin! “Bummer. Fuckin’ cheap beds they give us aren’t fit for anything but sleeping on,” Bob griped. “Jenny’s the smart one – she smuggled a water bed into her room, and let me tell you, we have a time on that thing! Nearly made me seasick at first, but once I copped to it, I really got off!” I crawled back under the covers. My arms, legs, face, balls and cock were back; I was human again – very human – on the bed in my room in a dormitory full of other humans. Whether it had been a drug-induced fantasy or something more mysterious, my brief yet vivid excursion in the “astral body” of a dolphin hadn’t changed anything, except for a new lump on my head.

Chapter 13 Warmer Waters A new diver tends to be unsure of himself and somewhat afraid of these large, sleek dolphins swimming around in their tank, which he is entering for the first time. The dolphins seem to sense this, and their own natural fear is apparently replaced by their strong desire to tease. The new man, therefore, sometimes receives a harmless but merciless buffeting by the playful dolphins. –David and Melba Caldwell, The World of the Bottlenose Dolphin For all its melodrama, my encounter with the “astral Ruby” seemed like nothing more than a vivid dope fantasy in the cold light of morning. There was no denying her apparent reality, yet skepticism clung to me like a suckerfish. Wouldn’t it be gratifying to create a fantasy dolphin that would fulfill my unmet needs for companionship and communication? Sure, but it would be unscientific – and self-deluding. Even though I was a liberal arts student, I’d read enough science and science fiction to know about “Occam’s Razor.” First elaborated by the 14th Century English philosopher William of Ockham, this fundamental tenet of modern science states “Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.” Given the choice between two explanations – say, a mild mental disorder on my part or the hitherto-unknown existence of telepathic dolphins – a scientist of any discipline (except, perhaps, parapsychology) would leap to the former explanation. I’d asked Ruby to prove her existence, but she didn’t have to. If she was, indeed, contacting me telepathically, and I wanted to communicate this information to my fellow humans with any degree of authority, then the burden of proof lay not with her, but with me! There had to be some test I could apply. If Ruby-the-astral-dolphin was, in fact, the same dolphin as Ruby-the-wet-dolphin, she should be able to communicate something I could verify – a change in her environment, for instance. I could try to set up such an experiment, or simply hope that such evidence would surface on its own. There was, however, another, academic problem. I had contracted to do an

ISP about dolphins, not a particular dolphin. If Ruby was my only contact at Florida Funland, then my experience with dolphins would be skewed by whatever individual quirks she possessed – and she certainly seemed to possess some… …After all, she’d spent a lot of time in solitary confinement, removed from the intercourse, both social and sexual, which a pod of dolphins would have afforded her. Since she was unlikely to have become sexually fixated on humans in some early bonding period, her attraction to me must be a product of her isolation and the extreme plasticity of dolphin behavior in general, nothing more. Right? These thoughts occupied my mind as I tried to catch a ride to Florida Funland. It was a Saturday in mid-April, a week or so after the last “astral” contact. I had cut Friday’s classes to hitchhike to Sarasota so I could work on the ISP and visit Elaine. What a disappointment to find she was out of town! I’d told her I was coming. How could things have gotten so screwed-up? Arriving just as the park opened, I paid my admission and boarded an early tour-train to the pool. There were no other riders. At the pool I stood there for a minute, taking in the scene. The park was empty, exactly as it had been on my first visit with Salina. The early morning light held a delicate, liquid quality that my photographs never captured. With nobody around, the dolphin pool seemed to be imbued with a near-mystical stillness. One of the dolphins blew, chuff, sending a cloud of vapor into the air. Then another and another blew; then all was quiet for a minute or so, except for the glassy swells they raised racing around the pool or the cawing of a hungry gull. Hank came out of the trainer’s house and walked down to the chickee, where a bucket of fish was thawing. Pulling a knife from the worn butcher block, he began slicing the mackerel with a steady rhythm: ka-chunk as the head came off, thwup-thwup as he divided the body in three. Cold, thin fish blood began to run off the butcher block and drip onto the concrete floor. I went around the long way, so as not to surprise him. “Hey there, Zack, good to see you! Where you been hiding?” “At the university in Tampa. I’ve been doing some off-campus study, but I miss this place. I’d really like to work here this summer, if Beau will hire me. Do you think he would? Where is he this morning?”

Hank was quiet for a while before he answered. “Don’t see why he wouldn’t,” he finally said, pushing the fish chunks into a bucket. “You’re a smart kid, college student and all, he could probably use someone like you around here… it don’t pay much, but it’s good work. I’ll be leaving in a couple of months, so he might need you after all.” He selected one fish head. With bloody fingers he opened a jar of veterinary vitamins, shook out a couple and stuffed one into the gills, then tossed the head into a bucket. “As to where Beau is…” Hank yawned. “He said something about having a meeting with the park’s owners today in town, or something. I guess he’ll be back later on.” “You’re going back to Steel Pier?” “I’m not sure. I just know I’m leaving.” “Why?” I couldn’t imagine anybody wanting to leave Flor-ida Funland. “Well, I’ve got Trixy and Satan mostly trained, or as trained as they’re going to get, anyway. And there’s some stuff going on, not something I’d expect you to know anything about, any-way, but, it kinda…” He sighed, and put down the knife. “You probably ought to wait until Beau gets back and ask him. It isn’t my park, y’know?” Hank looked harried. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his motions with the knife were the jerky movements of a man who has had one too many cups of coffee. “How’s Salina?” I asked. “Salina? Oh, I guess she’s okay. I haven’t been up to see her for a while, and you know she’s not coming down here, what with things being the way they are and all.” Having filled one bucket, he set to work on the next. There were seven of them stacked in a corner, one for each of the performers and two for the mother-daughter pair. “Can I give you a hand?” “Nah, it’s all right. Don’s around here somewhere if I need him.” Weird, the way Hank was becoming as laconic as Beau. What was going on? I tried to put my uncertainty aside as I strolled onto the catwalk beside Ruby’s pen. It appeared empty, smooth and quiet. Then a dolphin blew in the next pen over, and two dorsal fins broke the surface, one smaller, one larger. The mother-daughter pair had been given their own pen. For some reason that

seemed important, but I couldn’t remember why. Where was Ruby? I looked around, but no one was nearby to ask. What had happened? Had she been moved, too? Let out? Put back up in the main pen so she and the boys could… Chuff! I jumped at the explosion of breath in front of me. Ruby was lying on her side, staring up at me out of one soft brown eye. She was giving me the damnedest look! Come here, it said. She lifted her topside pectoral fin. Shake? I was someone special to her! I’d been gone a long time, but she remembered me. Her warmth reached out to me, and it felt good. Yes, I thought, shake… Putting down my camera, I took off my glasses, kneeled on the catwalk and reached out my hand to take her flipper. She was just a millimeter out of reach. If I just stretched a little farther… She was two millimeters out of reach. Behind her half-closed eye she laughed silently, enticing me to join her. The water felt warmer than ever. Warm enough to swim in without a wet suit? She seemed to think so… I took off my T-shirt and old gym shoes and waded into the pen. The water was warm, all right, but the rocks were sharp and my feet were soft. I walked gingerly until the water was deep enough to float, then swam into the center of the pen. Ruby drifted up to me, awesomely huge at arm’s length. The slightest flick of her tail sent her circling around me. I spun, trying to follow her, my feet groping for a bottom they couldn’t reach. She drifted between me and the shore, then lifted her head, spyhopping. Two feet away, she stared at me from halfclosed eyes, and I felt something warm and firm pressing against the sole of my right foot. With great delicacy and restraint, she thrust against me, only her half-closed eyes betraying what was going on underwater, until my big toe slipped between the folds of her vulva. It seemed as if I couldn’t breathe. No woman had ever approached me that way! She gently thrust against me, rocking so that my toe penetrated her, her

awesome strength and desire checked by the tacit acknowledgment that I was only human. We spun slowly, Ruby never taking her eyes off me. I wanted to reach out and embrace her, but that would break our contact under the surface. She was warmer inside. She thrust harder, pulling down on me. My toe rubbed against a small, firm knob. If I moved like this… Her jaws dropped open, her eyes closed. She blew. Then she thrust so vigorously my toe slipped out of her. She rubbed herself up-and-down against the sole of my foot, pushing me through the water. I tried to hold firm against her. Finally her thrusts pushed me on to my back. She came up beside me, blew, and floated. I thought I would explode! Where had my inhibitions, my rationalizations, fled? Tear down the flimsy steel mesh that kept Ruby from her element, let her carry me off into the Gulf of Mexico and I would follow her anywhere, do whatever she wanted, gratify her every urge! Nothing had ever moved me so deeply. But at any moment, Beau or Hank or Don could come strolling down that path, a bucket of fish in hand or, worse yet, a gaggle of tourists from Paducah or Murphysboro. While we were, like icebergs, mostly under water, it would be patently obvious to anyone what was going on; this was not a regular training session, I did not have a whistle and stopwatch, and certainly this was not the kind of Florida dolphin “show” decent mid-western tourists paid to see! My feet found a rock smooth enough to stand on in water chest deep. Ruby hovered beside me. The way she could maneuver in shallow water, and her total indifference to the possibility of getting cut on the barnacle-encrusted rocks, amazed me. But “shoalwater dolphin” was a common name for Tursiops. I could hear Hank on the loudspeakers up at the main pool, conducting the day’s first show. Soon he’d come down to let her out. Ruby was still eyeing me. She blew and submerged. Something like a gentle vice gripped my left ankle. The sensation was astonishing. Ruby’s teeth were tiny pressure points against my skin, but she never came close to my threshold of pain. Instead, she ran her jaws up my leg, opening them wider as she went up my calf so she didn’t pinch me. Those jaws, I knew, could bite a barracuda in half or snap my leg like

a wooden matchstick! With careful movements of her head, she rubbed her teeth back down my leg, up again, down. It almost tickled, but I gasped instead at the most erotic sensation I’d ever felt: dolphin courtship – played out on human terms! Her snout probed the back of my left knee, its skin rough and tingling. Then she moved to my right leg and did the same thing. Ruby’s touch was exquisite. She blew and drifted toward me, holding me with her gaze. Underwater, her snout touched my crotch. With the utmost delicacy, she began to nuzzle me there, watching through half-closed eyes to see how I would react. My reaction was near-instantaneous. Reaching down, I put my hands on Ruby’s melon. Her skin felt loose and flaked away easily under my touch. She let me stroke her all over, starting at her head and working my way down her sleek, wet body, relishing the sensation, allowing me uninhibited access to every part of her. By the time Hank came to let her out for the riverboat ride, we were relaxing in the shallows, her head in my lap. When she heard his footsteps, she slowly removed herself and swam over to the gate. I watched as the riverboat churned away and Ruby appeared at the bow, drawing cries of delight from the passen-gers. As usual, a handful of tourists, usually mothers with small children, had stayed behind, waiting for the riverboat to return with the rest of their families. They clustered by the main pool, oohing and aahing as one of the dolphins – I think it was Star – showed off for them. Don was making sure Star behaved himself, and he seemed reasonably happy to see me. Beau wasn’t back yet, he said, but I was welcome to stay. I found a seat in the sun beside the pen on the south side of the chickee. To all the well-dressed tourists in their wash-and-wear travel clothes, I must’ve looked disreputable: wet, unshaven, barefoot, scraggly haired, wearing old cutoffs and cheap glasses. (I look pretty much the same today, unless I have to deal with suits.) The paying customers probably wondered why the management had let me in. Little did they know that I, with my no-class Fujica 35mm camera, was photographing what would someday become a world-famous dolphin book!

In the pen beside me one of the dolphins surfaced, tossed a ball and stared at me provocatively. Bimbo. I should have known. Saki surfaced beside him and they gawked at me like a pair of street punks eyeballing a stranger on their corner. So they wanted to play? Didn’t I need more experience with the other dolphins? I picked up the ball and threw it back. They turned and dove. Would they fight over it like dogs or share, alternating turns? A second later Bimbo grabbed the ball and returned it to me. Dolphin courtesy required that whoever started the game be allowed to continue it without interference. I tried tossing the ball closer to Saki. Bimbo still got it and threw it to me with considerable vehemence and a lot of water, as if to say “No fair! Don’t change the rules!” Dolphins play remorselessly. They will carry on a game, any game, for ‘way past most humans’ threshold of boredom. I know it sounds stupid, getting bored playing with dolphins, but after a while I began to feel like a pitching machine for Bimbo. My interest here was interspecies communications, and I had wrung just about everything information theory would allow from this game of catch. Could I get Bimbo to vocalize, the same way I had with Ruby? When he popped up to toss me the ball for the kazil-lionth time, I withheld it. “Say, ‘Bim-bo’! Biiimmm-bo!” Bimbo stared at me like I’d just asked him to grow wings and fly. You idiot! Just throw the &%*$#@ ball! Telepathy was certainly a startling way to communicate with dolphins! I threw the ball, wondering exactly what ‘&%*$#@’ meant. Obviously, human maledictions didn’t apply. Okay, so Bimbo didn’t want a language lesson. What else could I do with him? Don pondered my request. “The boys can be a little rambunctious,” he finally said, “but I suppose it’s okay, they haven’t killed anyone lately.” In retrospect, the degree of freedom I was offered at Florida Funland was truly astonishing. Or, from another angle, the staff’s disregard for the possibility of lawsuits was truly astonishing. Ball in hand, I slid into the pen with Bimbo and Saki. Now, where were they? Over there, on the far side of the pen, churning around like a couple of

chickens trapped in a hen house with a hungry weasel. That didn’t make any sense at all! Hadn’t we just been playing? Didn’t they recognize me as the same guy who was throwing the ball? In the water they had all the advantage, and I was just some scrawny, maladapted land-ape! Why, then, were they avoiding me? I threw the ball into the middle of the pen. It rolled on the waves, untouched. I swam out and grabbed it, then, defiantly, swam toward Bimbo and Saki. Like magnets resisting the approach of a similar pole, they dove and appeared on the other side of the pen. Their echolocation pulses rasped like a file being pulled across a saw blade. This was no fun at all! If Ruby’s advances were flattering, being ignored by these two was discouraging. Like everyone else who wants to swim with dolphins, I was looking for acceptance and approval. And, being twenty, I had no patience whatsoever. If I put myself in the middle of the pen, I reasoned, I could command the whole area and move in any direction. Surely what was going on here was similar to my first encounter with Ruby. She, too, had been shy that time, and now look at her! Hmmm. That gave me pause. Being strictly hetero, I really had no interest in Bimbo or Saki as anything other than research subjects or innocent playmates. Still, it would pay to control my thoughts! The water at the center of the pen was a little over my head. From that vantage point I could watch Bimbo and Saki’s dorsal fins as they churned around the edges of the pen like sneakers in a washing machine. Chuff, they were up; splash, they were down. I tried reaching, then lunging after them. Always quicker, they dove under me and escaped. I could barely get the briefest touch of their flanks. Their behavior was disappointing, and a little disturbing. I didn’t feel menacing, but they were acting as if I was a tiger shark someone had dumped in with them in a misbegotten effort to see how they’d react. Where were they now? They’d just been… –SSSSSSS! Something rushed past me, very close, underwater. It didn’t touch me, but I could feel the pressure wave on my skin. Whoever made it had been going very

fast. They surfaced to breathe at opposite ends of the pool, then turned and headed for me. This time there were simultaneous pressure waves on either side of me. Feeling distinctly uneasy, I noticed the catwalk had removed itself to a couple of miles away. Where the hell were the dolphins? Suddenly it seemed urgent that I know. But twist and turn as I might, I couldn’t keep my eyes on both of them at once… Chuff! behind me. I whirled around. Nothing. Chuff! be-hind me again – still nothing. Then powerful currents hit my stomach and back simultaneously. GET OUT! Next time, I knew, it would be flukes, and I’d go down. I struck out toward the catwalk, but a dorsal fin cut inches from my face, halting me. No sooner had my feet got a purchase on the pen’s marl bottom than something knocked them out from under me, and I fell face down in the water. Now I was the frightened one! A toy, that’s all I was! They breathed together at the far side of the pen and I lunged for the catwalk. Nobody grabbed my ankles and tried to pull me back as I hoisted myself out. That was apparently not The Dolphin Way. Why, then, did I feel like I’d escaped the jaws of death? Chuff! Bimbo glared at me for a second before diving. His message was unmistakable: …AND STAY OUT! What about the ball? I threw it back in the pen. Could we take up where we’d left off? Bimbo got it and threw it to Saki. Saki threw it to Bimbo. Bimbo threw it to Saki. And so on. Bummer. “How are you getting on with them?” Don was watching from the catwalk with a bemused expression. “Fine, until they tried to kill me!” He chuckled. “If they wanted to kill you, you wouldn’t be talking to me now. What did they do?” I told him what had happened. “Hell, they were just having some fun with you! They’re like that.” Don

didn’t seem to appreciate how narrow my escape had been! He opened their gate to the main pool, and Bimbo shot through it. He surfaced in the middle of the pool, tossed his head to glare at me and circled back. A few seconds later, he did the same thing again, and again. I reached for my camera, heedless of the fact that I was still dripping salt water. When I tried to frame the picture, I realized my hands were shaking. I set a higher shutter speed, told my hands to hold still, took a breath and held it. The next time Bimbo came up, I snapped his picture. Then I caught sight of Beau. He was down by the trainers’ house, talking with Hank. Immediately I forgot everything that had just happened. I had to know, did I have a job here or not? Beau broke off the conversation when he saw me coming. His greeting was a perfunctory “Howdy, Zack.” He seemed preoccupied. “Beau, I was wondering – if I got a hair cut could I work here this summer? I’ll sweep the floors, chop fish, run the concession – anything you want me to do!” Beau just stared at me for a couple of seconds. Hank looked at the ground. “Gee, Zack, that’s a nice offer,” he finally said. “Wish I could help you, but I can’t.” “Why not?” I blurted out. “Oh, it’s got nothin’ to do with you. It’s got nothin’ to do with anybody. Fact is, this park’s closin’ down.” Now it was my turn to stare. “When?” I finally asked. Beau scratched his head. “Don’t rightly know. I don’t own the park, just the dolphins. Owners say they’re losin’ money, and I guess I gotta believe ‘em, what with attendance bein’ like it is. They say they’ve got an offer to turn this place into some kinda housin’ development. Way things are goin’, I don’t even know if I can keep Hank and Don on, and I really need ‘em. I’m sorry,” he said. “Plumb shame you didn’t ask earlier, before all this come up.” “What’s going to happen to the dolphins?” “Don’t rightly know that, either. I’m pretty sure me an’ Klara are gonna hang on to ‘em. We’re lookin’ at movin’ ‘em someplace else. It’ll be another couple of months yet.” He must’ve noticed my stare of disbelief. “Guess nobody told you, did they?”

“No.” “Well, it’s been up in the air for a while, but I just got the last word today. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there it is, an’ I don’t like it any better’n you. Worse, in fact.” He folded his arms across his chest and stared out over the main pool, where Bimbo, Saki and Star were frolicking. “A man spends years buildin’ somethin’ up, an’ people go ‘round behind his back and tear it down. I wish I could tell you what’s gonna happen next, but the fact is I dunno. Everythin’s so confused.” Hitchhiking home would not be any easier than hitchhiking to the park had been. Ruby offered me a mangrove seedpod when I went down to say goodbye, but I didn’t feel like playing.

Chapter 14 Pandemonium in the Porpoise Pen! Unless a female has a calf, she usually does not become very aggressive, but she may even kill a recently introduced animal if she has been permitted exclusive control over one area for several years. –David and Melba Caldwell, Bottlenose Dolphin, ibid. “Oh, this is so exciting!” Elaine cried as we sped south on the Tamiami Trail. “I’ve never swum with a real live dolphin be-fore! What’s it like?” I groped for a word to describe my experiences with Ruby that wouldn’t totally pulverize my relationship with Elaine. “Wet,” I finally said. “Very, very wet.” “Really? Wet? Wow!” As promised, I was taking Elaine to Florida Funland so she could swim with the dolphins. If Beau had at one time been cautious about such experiments, the news that the park was closing must have made him less concerned. You can’t get blood from a turnip, after all. If he thought about liability, he probably figured it would fall as severely on the park’s owners as on him. Or maybe he was trying to be nice to me. A lot of time has passed, and I don’t really know. “Do they ever talk to you?” Elaine asked. These innocent-sounding questions got thornier and thornier. I didn’t know how to explain my telepathic experiences with Ruby, didn’t even know if they were real. We hadn’t communicated since the night I fell off the bed. “The one we’re going swimming with, Ruby, I think she has.” “Really? Tell me about it!” My brief description of our “language lesson” impressed her. “Wow, that’s really cool! I mean, I’d heard they could talk and everything, but I never met anyone who’d talked to one of them before! Do you think she’ll talk to me?” When I picked her up, Elaine had seemed a little aloof, as though she expected our relationship to stay platonic indefinitely but didn’t want to say so. Perhaps things would be different after this swimming expedition. Perhaps she would warm to me, recall some of the exuberance she’d felt the night we met at the juvenile detention center.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I can try to get her to talk…” “That would be so cool!” she went on. “Is she like Flipper?” For the first time, I had an inkling of how marine mammalogists must feel, confronted with uninformed laymen demanding dolphin dictionaries. “Elaine, there’s something you need to understand.” “What?” “Well… the dolphins you see on TV resemble real dolphins about as much as the people you see on TV resemble real people.” That stopped her cold. “What do you mean?” “I mean, it’s not real, none of it! It’s all the product of Hollywood writers and producers and directors and editors and cameramen!” That didn’t help. “Have you noticed real life doesn’t have a plot, never breaks for commercials and doesn’t solve all its problems at the end of thirty minutes?” I asked, realizing I was talking down to her but not knowing what else to say or how to say it. “Well yeah, I had, sort of. I always thought it was a bum-mer, that way.” “It’s like that with the dolphins. They’re not like big, friendly dogs that happen to live in the ocean, Elaine! They’re not even domesticated animals!” “They’re not?” “No! They’re wild animals that have been captured and trained to tolerate humans! They have strong personalities, and, and they, uh, they get along with some people better than others. I went in with a couple the other day, and they sort of roughed me up.” Now Elaine seemed aghast. Great going, Zack! “They wouldn’t hurt a person they didn’t like, would they?” Satan flashed to mind; I could imagine him cheerfully play-ing with a severed limb. “Those were a couple of rowdy ones,” I said. “Ruby, the one we’re going in with, is the gentlest one in the whole place.” “Well that’s good,” she said, relieved. “You had me think-ing they were sharks or something! I don’t know how I’d ex-plain it to my dad if a dolphin bit me. He’d probably say I must’ve bitten it first.” §§§

The dolphin show impressed Elaine the same way it had me the first time I’d seen it, but I noticed some behavioral deterioration. Star was slouching through the hoops, rather than clearing them dead center like he used to. Saki missed his high jump the first time. And the riverboat ride had shut down, permanently. There would be no more frolics in the bay for Ruby. Fogged or not, the photos I had of her jumping were it. I was disappointed that Elaine wouldn’t get to see Ruby perform, but it meant we would get more time with her without interruptions. Perhaps Beau was reconciled to the inevitable. His mood had lifted somewhat from my last visit; he nodded affably as I introduced Elaine and readily agreed when asked if we could swim with Ruby. While Beau prepared for the show, Hank accompanied us to her pen. We strolled along, holding hands. “My dad brought me down here a couple of years ago, but we just sat over there,” she explained, waving at the bleachers. “I never thought I’d get to go backstage!” She gave my hand a squeeze and flashed those blue eyes at me. I loved the way the corners of her mouth dimpled when she smiled. Ruby was spyhopping as we approached the pen. The mother and daughter, who had finally been named Splash and Spray, swam by the back of the pen. Beau seemed to shift them around frequently, I don’t know why. I pulled another foam ball from my pocket. “They must be eating by now, aren’t they?” “Oh yeah, they’re on their feed all right, but we still can’t get them to do anything,” Hank griped. “Then there’s no problem playing catch with Ruby?” “Be my guest.” I handed Elaine the ball and she heaved it into the pool. Ruby swam over lazily, grabbed it, and threw it back – to me. She squawked and nodded and splashed. Elaine frowned. “She’s one playful porpoise today,” Hank remarked. I had to make Ruby understand that she was to play catch with Elaine, not me. “Try again,” I suggested. This time, when the dolphin fetched the ball, I stepped behind Elaine. Ruby stared at me for a second, then threw the girl the

ball. “Oh wow!” Elaine gasped, “this is ‘way too cool!” She tossed the ball back in the pen with a clumsy overhand pitch, and Ruby obediently swam after it. I mentally patted myself on the back. Things were working out fine! I’d fulfilled one of Elaine’s dreams; maybe she could fulfill a few of mine. The two of them played catch for a few minutes before Elaine went to the trainers’ house to change. With no one else around, the dolphin played rather diffidently. Being happy to see her again, I couldn’t imagine she didn’t share my feelings. Elaine came back wearing sandals and a polka dot two-piece swimsuit that was something more than a bikini. It looked good on her anyway. “Let me go in with her first,” I said, wanting to avoid a possibly embarrassing scene. Salina seemed to think anyone would be safe with Ruby, but I knew better. A pair of cheap old sneak-ers made getting in and out of the water a lot easier. As I waded in, Ruby blew noisily, then began to swim agitatedly around the pen’s perimeter, staying away from the shore where Elaine and Hank were standing. “Wow, she’s really big. How long is she?” “About eight feet,” I yelled back. The water was up to my waist. Soon I would be able to float. “How much does she weigh?” Something hard slammed against my legs. Ruby’s snout. I nearly lost my balance but recovered. “Uh, about four hundred pounds.” “She doesn’t bite?” Ruby threw her head up, staring right at me. Then her gaze shifted to the shore behind me. What was she staring at? “Does she bite?” Elaine repeated. HOW COULD YOU? That was odd, for a second there Ruby had made me think she was jealous… splash! Wham! She threw herself down, slammed her snout into my shins, then took off again around the pool. I was thankful she hadn’t targeted me a little higher up. What was the matter with her? “You okay?” Hank yelled.

“She seems agitated,” I yelled back. “It’s nothing,” Hank yelled. “She hasn’t been out with the riverboat for a while, that’s all. She’s just blowing off some steam.” In the center of the pen, I lifted my legs and floated. Ruby drifted up to me, inches from my face, and stared at me – correction, through me. Her expression was unreadable. Her eyes were neither soft nor showing the glitter she had on her runs nor lit with the seductive gaze she had used on me the other day. They were a bit too wide open, as if she was upset about something. Anyway, she’d calmed down. I embraced her and she floated in my arms, breathing occasionally. I waved to Elaine; she waved back. If I was going to make this easy for her I had to move Ruby into the shallows, but she didn’t want to go anywhere. For all the cooperation I was getting, she might as well have been a log. Of course, if this was Ruby-the-Telepathic-Dolphin, then I should be able to communicate with her, shouldn’t I? Hello Ruby, come on, let’s go into the shallows… She didn’t so much as blink. It’s me, you remember me, don’t you? Come on, this is my girlfriend! Dead silence on the etheric circuits. A chunk of coral would have had more to say. I got the odd impression Ruby was receiving my thoughts; she just wasn’t letting anything trickle out of her mind into mine, as if she’d erected some kind of barrier between us. “Can I come in yet?” Elaine yelled impatiently. “Just a minute.” At least Ruby wasn’t trying to take me anywhere! She rolled in my arms, bringing her head up and pushing us further out, so my feet came off the bottom. A second later, I felt her genital slit pressing the waffled soles of my sneakers. But her efforts seemed halfhearted compared to her usual flagrance, as if she found the audience inhibiting. Cut that out! I thought. Ruby was gentle and circumspect, but she wouldn’t stop. She stared blankly, pretending she couldn’t receive me, trying to convince me that humandolphin telepathy was a stupid fantasy I’d dreamed up while getting stoned one night. If I had been an observer instead of a participant, trying to stop a horny

dolphin from rubbing off on my sneakers while my girlfriend watched, I would have burst out laughing. On the shore was Elaine, who professed to like me but wasn’t about to let me so much as cop a feel, while out here was Ruby, who would happily screw my brains out but happened to be the wrong species. There was only one way to get her into the shallows. Feeling idiotic, I frogkicked and paddled with my free arm, slowly moving us landward. Ruby didn’t bat a flipper to help – or resist. It was weird. If I could only get my hands on your mind now, you stupid dolphin! Finally my feet touched bottom, and I dragged Ruby into the shallows. She sank and began to bang her snout lightly, but not particularly gently, against my shins. “Can I come in now?” Elaine yelled. “I guess so…” I had my doubts, but Elaine was a big girl, and she could swim. She should be able to handle herself around Ruby. Goddamn it, behave yourself! Ruby’s gaze was defiant. Elaine approached the dolphin more cautiously than her earlier enthusiasm would have suggested. Up close, Ruby was huge, and she stared at Elaine out of eyes devoid of any recognizable emotion. That was not reassuring. “Hello, Ruby!” Elaine extended a wary hand to touch her flank. Ruby watched intently, but didn’t move. Thinking every-thing was okay, I waded ashore to get my camera. I wanted some pictures of this, and I was sure Elaine would, too. Heedless of the salt water dripping off my hair, I framed them in the viewfinder. I really needed a zoom lens, now, because Elaine was hanging on to Ruby, and Ruby was headed for the far side of the pen. I snapped a picture as the dolphin broke free of Elaine’s hold and dived. The girl spun in the water, trying to keep the dolphin in sight. I barely had time to wind the film before Ruby began pushing Elaine with her snout. “We’re going deeper!” Elaine yelled. “So float!” I yelled back. She tried and burst out laughing. Ruby had discovered something I hadn’t: the insides of Elaine’s knees were very ticklish. “She’s making me laugh!–OOOH! Eeeee-hee! ULP! Glug!” Elaine went down, came up spluttering and began trying to push Ruby away, but Ruby

wouldn’t go. She kept prodding Elaine, ducking her, and Elaine had no idea how to make her behave. Something seemed to be wrong, but Hank was unconcerned. “Ah, she’ll be okay. Swim to shore!” he yelled. “Ruby’s just playing with her. Sometimes they get a little rough when they’re in deep water, but they don’t mean any harm by it.” That didn’t explain why Ruby had pushed Elaine out there to begin with! The dolphin broke off for a moment, and Elaine swam in. I met her in the shallows. She was panting. “Are you okay?” “I think so… let me catch my breath.” “Do you want to get out?” “No. No. Not yet. I’m okay, now.” I had to admire her spunk. Elaine flipped the wet hair out of her eyes, heaved a sigh, and turned to face the dolphin. Ruby drifted in, let the girl grab her dorsal fin and began to tow her around the pen. This time Elaine seemed to take charge. She looked blissful. Being underwater, Ruby’s expression was impossible to see. It would make a great picture! The two most important women in my life, I thought, half-jokingly. I mean, females… but that wasn’t right, either. “Hey Elaine,” I yelled, “over here!” Her smile made me feel like a real man. This was working out great! I took a picture. Completing a circuit, Elaine let go of the dolphin in the shallows. This must be a spiritual event for her! Overwhelmed by the delicacy of the moment, I framed the shot. Gently, tenderly, with a smile of trust and compassion, Elaine extended the hand of friendship. Ruby lifted her head to gaze at the girl, and, with a look of great deliberation, mashed her snout squarely into Elaine’s face.

My finger jerk that snapped the shutter was pure spinal reflex. Before I could move, Ruby was butting and beating Elaine, shoving her down and under. Elaine surfaced looking pale and frightened. She regained her footing and extended one hand toward the dolphin, as one might toward a hostile dog. Ruby blew and sank. “Where is she?” Elaine whirled around apprehensively. “OW! Ouch! She’s butting me! Make her stop!” “Get her out of there,” Hank said, suddenly grim. Ruby broke off the attack, dashed to the far side of the pen and came shooting back, her dorsal fin cleaving water. I gulped. Elaine’s face was a mask of stark, mortal terror. It was a feint – Ruby swerved at the last second – but enough was enough! Dropping my camera, I jumped between them and threw an arm around – Ruby. Instantly, her aggression stopped. She floated passively. Elaine stood, dripping, trembling, staring at me holding the dolphin at bay. “Don’t let her go!” There was more than a note of panic in her voice. I planted my feet firmly on the bottom in case Ruby had other ideas, but she didn’t. She rolled her eyes to stare at me, then nuzzled my ribs. Elaine dragged

herself out and Hank wrapped a towel around her. She was shivering. Ruby blew and sank out of my grasp. I felt her snout nuzzle me gently in the ribs, then in my stomach… …Then in my crotch! It was a classic case of mis-timing. The only urge I felt was an overwhelming desire to bust that dolphin’s chops! This whole little melodrama had been nothing but a calculated ploy to get me in the water with her – and it had worked! Ruby was jealous of my girlfriend! “Get away from me!” I shoved her off and began to wade out. “What’s the matter?” Hank yelled. “She’s too rambunctious! She’s all fucked-up –” Then Ruby, gliding in front of me, knocked me down. I picked myself up and kept wading. Another couple of steps and I was on the rocks where she couldn’t maneuver without cutting herself. She paced me to the shore, almost beaching herself. Hank gave me a hand out. I was wet, cold and furious. Elaine, huddled under her towel, glared at me balefully. “I thought you said she was gentle!” I wanted to crawl under a rock. “I’m sorry,” I said lamely, “she usually is.” “Yeah, right! ‘Gentle,’ my ass! She practically drowned me!” I tried to put an arm around her, but she pulled away. Hank shook his head in bafflement. “Zack’s right, Elaine, she’s usually the best-natured dolphin we’ve got. I’ve never seen her act that way before! I thought she was just playing at first, but she got so ornery that I don’t know what’s come over her!” I did – but how could I explain it to Elaine and Hank? Ruby seemed to think I was her exclusive property! She blew and swam alongside Splash and Spray, who had kept their distance throughout the incident. Doubtless this had been a dolphinesque lesson in something for the little one, I just wasn’t sure what. The perversity of human nature, perhaps? Hank glanced at his watch and asked if we wanted to watch the next show. “Let’s get away from here,” Elaine said, nodding toward the pen. The second show was snappier than the first and ran well. Don somehow kept Star from slouching through the hoops, or maybe the dolphin was just warmed-up. Elaine warmed-up a little, too, snuggling against me as we watched.

She didn’t seem to mind when I slipped my arm around her waist, but she was still cold. As the show ended, I asked if she wanted to play catch with the males. I was desperate for something – anything – that would take the burn off our encounter with the She-Dolphin from Hell. Perhaps the day could be salvaged. “Okay,” she said, managing a wan smile. As we walked out on the dock, Star, Saki and Bimbo bobbed up, tossing scraps of seaweed, ready to resume the never-ending game of catch. But where was the ball? The last place I remembered seeing it was in Ruby’s pen. Leaving Elaine playing with the show dolphins, I trotted back there. Although the ball was bright pink and had been clearly visible against the dark brown water, there was now no sign of it. Perhaps Beau had removed it. I caught up with him by Trixy and Satan’s pen. “Hey, Beau, have you seen a rubber ball around here? We were playing with it a few minutes ago.” “I reckon not.” That seemed to end it until, as I turned to go, he said “You still got it?” “What?” “That ball.” “No. That’s why I was asking you.” “You don’t got it?” “No!” “Where was you playin’ with it?” “In Ruby’s pen.” “With them two new ones?” Splash and Spray had been there for several months, but to Beau they were still “the new ones.” “No, just with Ruby!” Why was this taking so long to put together? Beau ran a hand through his hair. “Sweet mother o’ Jesus,” he said, staring toward Ruby’s pen. Then he took off at a dead run. My stomach took the elevator down. I caught up with him. “What’s the matter?” “You was playin’ with it there?” he said, pointing at the pen. “Yeah! We were playing catch with Ruby!” “And you got it back?” “No! I thought you had it! What’s wrong?”

“You shouldn’t’a had it down there, friend!” “But Hank said it was okay!” I protested. “Hank don’t know everythin’ there is to know about this business,” Beau said. “Those two ain’t been fed since yesterday.” We reached the pen, where three dorsal fins, two large and one small, cleaved the murky water. “What color did you say it was?” Beau asked. “Hot pink.” “Oughta show up real good then, right?” “Yeah.” “You see it anywhere?” “No…” Beau turned away from the pen and gritted his teeth. “I think that little one’s gotten it.” My stomach hit the basement and kept going into the sewers. “Spray? Hank said she was eating!” “Don’t mean nothin’. She ain’t old enough to know the difference ‘tween a fish and a ball. How big was that thing?” I showed him with my fist. “Damn! Just the right size to fit down her gullet.” He shook his head. “Some o’ these damn critters’ll eat ‘most anythin’, ‘specially when they’re young and frisky like that. One trainer I knew had a prime old porpoise die on him, and when they cut him open, he had nearly five dollars o’ change in his stomach! Goddamn it if that stupid porpoise hadn’t been swallerin’ the pennies people was tossin’ in its pool.” “Zack? I’m getting soaked up here!” Elaine yelled. “Have you found the ball yet? What’s going on? Where have you been?” She came trotting down the path. “Uhhh… there’s a little problem, Elaine. Beau thinks the baby dolphin may have, uh, swallowed the ball.” Elaine gaped. “Flipper wouldn’t do that!” I had trouble believing it myself. Surely a dolphin, even a calf, should be able to distinguish between a palatable fish and an indigestible hunk of foam rubber! And if not, what on Earth were mother dolphins for? – assuming that Splash was Spray’s mother, of course. “Couldn’t it have drifted through the fence?” Elaine asked.

“Nope,” Beau said. “Tide’s comin’ in and the wind’s off the water.” “Maybe Hank got it!” she suggested. “Y’all stay here and keep an eye peeled for it. I’ll go find Hank. We’re gonna need him, anyway.” I sat down on the rocks. My stomach now seemed to be in a bathyscaphe, headed for the bottom of the Marianas Trench. “What are you going to do?” Elaine asked. How the hell should I know what to do? Obviously, I wasn’t the dolphin expert around here! “I don’t know. Maybe they can give the dolphin something to make her throw it up.” Beau was shortly back with Hank. I expected him to be angry, but he wasn’t. In all the months I knew him, I never saw Beau lose his temper, but both men looked very grim. They stood by the edge of the pen and surveyed the scene. The dolphins swam around complacently. “It weren’t up in the house, nor in the pool nor in the chickee neither,” Beau reported. “It ain’t nowhere up there.” “It might have gotten lodged between two rocks under water,” Hank suggested, without much conviction. “How could that happen?” Beau asked. “You said it was a floater, didn’t you, Zack?” An odd thought crossed my mind. “Maybe Ruby did it.” “Now why on earth would she do a thing like that?” Beau asked. I couldn’t answer him. It was just a weird hunch. “I could get my tanks and check it out,” Hank suggested. “Don’t bother. I’m plumb certain that little one’s swallered it.” “Couldn’t we just give her a big dose of mineral oil and hope it comes out the other end?” “How big did you say that thing was?” Beau asked me. I made a tight fist. “About that big.” Hank frowned. “Nope, that won’t work, either.” “If she can’t digest it, won’t she throw it up?” I asked. “Maybe… not if it’s past her second stomach.” Oh yeah, now I remembered. Dolphins, like their ruminant ancestors, have four stomachs. Fish scales and bones need a lot of digesting.

Beau and Hank exchanged the look of two GI’s who have just been ordered to take a heavily fortified enemy pillbox. “You know what we gotta do, don’t you?” Beau asked. “I guess I do,” Hank said resignedly. “You get Don and the supplies. I’ll get the net.” Elaine was aghast. I had visions of scalpels and blood. “What are you going to do?” I asked Beau as he headed toward the main pool. “Only one thing we can do, friend. Git it outa her!” “Shouldn’t you call a vet?” “Don’t need no vet for this. Can’t afford one nohow.” “What’ll happen if you can’t get it out of her?” Beau looked at me with an expression that was at once con-doling and condemning, but held no trace of rancor. “She’ll die, friend,” he simply said. When he and Hank returned with Don a few minutes later, they were carrying the net, a cloth stretcher, a couple of old towels, a thick block of foam rubber about six feet long and a bottle of mineral oil. Hank asked me to help. We set the net and, with some difficulty, trapped the little dolphin as Elaine watched. Ruby and Splash didn’t interfere. We wrestled Spray into the shallows, untangled her from the net and slid her into the stretcher. Hank, on one end, and Don, on the other, lifted her out and deposited her gently on the foam-rubber block, her head lower than her tail. The little dolphin didn’t struggle much, but her plaintive, high-pitched distress calls – “whoooEEEP-wooo! whoooEEEP-wooo!” – drew Splash and Ruby’s attention. They began to watch, first lifting their heads from the water as they swam by, then pausing in the shallows to spyhop. Beau gave us our assignments. “Hank, you get her flukes.” Hank grabbed Spray’s tail. “Don, get her head.” Don pinned the dolphin’s head to the mattress. Her whistles increased in volume and frequency. With his fingers, Beau pried open Spray’s jaws. He draped one of the towels over her lower jaw, leaving the ends hanging out the sides of her mouth. “Stand on that,” he commanded me. I put one foot on either side of her head, pinning her lower jaw to the mattress. Facing the pool, I could see Ruby and Splash peering at us intently. They had practically beached themselves to get as close as they could. “Down here!” Beau said, returning my attention to the matter at hand. He

had the other towel in place under the young dolphin’s upper jaw. “Grab them ends and, when I give the word, lift,” he said. “And don’t let go, ‘else we’ll have to get my arm out o’ her.” On the foam mattress, the little dolphin blew every few seconds, rather than twice a minute, as she would have in the pen. She shrieked and tried to thrash, but every part of her body was immobilized. Beau opened the bottle of mineral oil and handed it to Elaine, who was looking rather pale. “When I say ‘go,’ you pour this all over my arm, fast as you can, and Zack, you lift her jaws open. Got it? We ain’t got but one chance here.” Elaine nodded. “All right.” Beau got down on his belly in front of Spray, his right arm, bare to the shoulder, cocked back. He looked around to make sure everything was in place. “Everybody ready?” He took a deep breath. “GO!” The bottle of mineral oil glugged as Elaine upended it over Beau’s arm. I hauled up on Spray’s jaw, exposing her white teeth like rows of needles. The little dolphin shook with terror. Then Beau plunged his arm right down her throat, up to the shoulder. Knowledgeable scientists report that dolphins have no gag reflex; putting a one-inch tube down their throats to sample stomach contents presents no problems, they say. That may be so, but Beau’s arm was all muscle, and twice as big around as mine are now. If Spray wasn’t choking as that mass of welloiled flesh and bone slid down her throat, she was doing a mighty fine imitation. Beau grimaced, grunted, strained. Sweat poured off his brow. The act of mercy looked more like a gang rape than anything else. In the water, Ruby and Splash began an angry-sounding cascade of sound, apparently directed as much at rebuking us as at comforting Spray. The little dolphin’s jaws quivered. I hauled up harder. Her eyes rolled up in their sockets and went white. Then, with a sudden sucking noise, Beau pulled his arm out of her – empty handed. “Damn,” he said softly. “Damn. All right, everybody let go.” Spray thrashed halfheartedly. Beau pulled the towels out of her mouth and used them to wipe the mineral oil and regurgitated gastric juices off his arm. Spray’s stomach acid was quickly turning his hairs dead white. “How far did you get?” Hank asked. “Second stomach. In this short o’ time, it shouldn’t a got no farther than the

first.” He stared at the little dolphin and sighed. “Well, let’s put her back.” As Spray was lowered into the water, Ruby and Splash came up on each side of her. There was a furious exchange of clicks and whistles. When the stretcher was released, all three of them took off for the deep end, as far away from us as they could get. I wanted to roll up in a ball and die. “Hell, Zack,” Hank said, “we all make mistakes. It wasn’t even your fault – you don’t work here! I should’ve known better.” That was cold comfort. “What’s going to happen?” Elaine asked. “I guess she’s going to die.” I sent Elaine back to the trainer’s house to shower and clean up. I couldn’t stand to look at Spray, who had no idea she was doomed to a lingering, painful death, so I went back to the main pool. I’m sure the boys wondered why I wasn’t eager to play catch with them. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. My own ignorance had caught up with me in a very real and inescapable way, but I wasn’t going to pay the ultimate price for it; that innocent little dolphin was. Fate had a way of playing hard tricks on me. If Beau had been outraged, if he had cursed and screamed at me, called me a stupid idiot or any number of other names I so richly deserved, I might actually have felt relieved. But he didn’t even give me a hard look as he left, not a harsh word. This would be my last trip to Florida Funland. To hell with Salina’s book, I couldn’t bear to come here again under this cloud. Elaine came out of the trainers’ house, freshly showered and dressed, and made her way slowly down the path to where I sat by the main pool, watching the boys swimming in circles. “Are you ready to go?” I said. She sighed. “I guess so.” I got up slowly. “All right. Just give me a minute. I want to go say goodbye to Ruby.” And to Spray, who wouldn’t be here in a couple of days. I picked my way slowly down the path to Ruby’s pen. This time, the dark cloud I had seen wrapped around Beau on the day of the catfight seemed to have draped itself over me. The sun was shining, the water sparkled, the sky was crisp and blue, but none of it mattered, and none of it seemed real.

In the pen, three dorsal fins broke the water together. If, as Lilly suggested, dolphins could use their echolocation to sonically “x-ray” each other, Splash and Ruby must now be aware there was something unusual stuck inside little Spray, something that wasn’t going to come out. The economics of the situation didn’t allow Beau the luxury of veterinary surgery, either. From his point of view, it was cheaper to catch another juvenile dolphin and hope no one was stupid enough to throw a rubber ball in her pen when she was hungry. It was a live-and-die kind of world. I stumbled to the edge of the pen, hardly able to see. I wiped my eyes and heard a dolphin blow close by. Ruby was floating in the shallows a few feet away, and rolling pinkly on the dark brown water between us was the foam rubber ball. My inarticulate WHOOP! of sheer delight was heard all across the park. I stared at the ball for a few seconds, like the condemned man on the gallows stares at the governor’s last-minute reprieve, then grabbed it and went racing hell-bent up the path to the main pool. “THE BALL! THE BALL! I GOT THE BALL!” I yelled. Elaine stared at me, then burst into that smile I remembered. Beau came running from the chickee where he’d been preparing for the next show, his hands still smeared with fish blood. Hank and Don trotted over too. “Well I’ll be damned,” Beau said quietly. He looked down at Ruby’s pen, then back at the ball. “Where’d ya find it?” “In Ruby’s pen! I just went down there to say goodbye, and it was floating on the water!” “I’ll be a fucked… uh, pardon me,” Hank said, remembering Elaine. “See, I told you she didn’t swallow it! It must’ve gotten stuck in the rocks somehow!” Don just smiled, turned around, and went back to work. “You keep that thing now,”” Beau said to me. “Don’t be playin’ with it without askin’ me first. You got that?” “Yes, Beau!” I almost saluted him. “All right. You takin’ off? Been nice havin’ you two to-day,” he said to Elaine. “Sorry ‘bout all the trouble.” “Oh, it’s all right,” Elaine said. “It was, uh, exciting.” As we started for the car, I remembered Ruby. Handing Elaine the keys, I

ran back to her pen and threw myself down on the catwalk. Ruby broke off from Splash and Spray and came right up to me, a look I’d never seen before in her eyes. If not actual guilt, there seemed to be a trace of remorse there. I reached out a hand. She let me scratch her lightly for a few seconds, then backed off, still staring at me. “What the fuck are you up to?” I asked. She didn’t answer, but watched me as I got up and walked back to the car. Elaine was mostly silent on the way home. I was exhausted and wanted to process the day’s events with her, to say something that would make it okay, but there was nothing to be said. I pulled into her driveway and she started to get out. “Elaine, can I come in? Just for a minute,” I asked. She grimaced. “I don’t think that would be such a good idea, Zack. I’m really tired, and Dad’s home.” She brightened a little. “But thanks for taking me to see the dolphins. It’s been… it’s been… it’s been a real day,” she finally said, slamming the car’s door.

Chapter 15 Call of the Deep I’m a spy in the house of love I know the dreams that you’re dreaming of I know the words that you long to hear I know your deepest secret fear… –The Doors, “The Spy,” Morrison Hotel, 1970 For my twentieth birthday, my great-uncle and aunt, who lived in Englewood, gave me their 1963 Corvair. It was a rusty, hazardous piece of junk, but as they say, it’s the thought that counts. “Just think, Hazy – it’s freedom, maturity, autonomy – and a place to make out! The back seat is bigger than a Volkswagen’s! When they handed me the keys, the first thing I thought of was to come over and celebrate with you. Well, not exactly. I thought about picking up Elaine, but she’s having her braces adjusted.” “How’s that going?” Hazy asked. I sighed. “I just wish she would just loosen up a bit! That night we met, it was just like, pow! but now she seems… I don’t know… distant.” “What have you done for her?” I asked what he meant. “What have you ever done to make her feel good about being your girlfriend? Put yourself in her shoes – you meet this great guy, and then what happens? He runs off to Tampa! How do you think she feels?” “Elaine knows that was already in the works.” “You’re talking about her rational mind. I’m talking about her feelings,” he said. “Women are different…” “I noticed!” “I mean, emotionally! They interpret actions differently than we do! What have you done to make her feel special?” “Took her to meet the dolphins at Florida Funland.” “How’d it go?” Hazy asked, ‘way too brightly. “Let’s talk about it inside,” I said.

The Main Street House was old Sarasota gone to pot. The massive wooden door opened directly into a foyer between the living and dining rooms. A wide, dark flight of stairs led to the second floor. Glancing at the high ceilings, the rococo pilasters and the pecan-veneer wainscoting, I had the creepy feeling I’d been there before, but never having visited Hazy’s new digs in person, I couldn’t remember when, and that confused me. He led me to a small, sparse second-floor room with peeling wallpaper and a dirty floor. He lit a candle, which guttered momentarily before settling down. “Have a seat,” Hazy said, indicating the beanbag chair, and flopping down himself on a stained mattress. Rummaging in a battered dresser, he pulled out a lid and began loading a water pipe made from an old wine bottle. Hazy confessed he wasn’t as excited by the car as I was. To concentrate on his spiritual development, he had deliberately reduced his material possessions to the bare minimum. For him, it was enough that the Food Stamp office, the library and the local organic food co-op were within easy walking distance. “It may be a rust bucket, but that old Corvair’s going to make my life a lot easier,” I countered. “Now I can get back and forth to the campus and Florida Funland.” “You never told me what happened when you took Elaine to meet the dolphins.” With some reluctance, I told him. “Don’t make me laugh like that!” he said when he’d picked himself off the floor. “I lost that whole toke, and this shit isn’t cheap!” “You weren’t there!” I protested. “It was really frightening for Elaine, and for me, too, just watching her!” “You should have known better,” he said. “Old Chinese symbol for trouble –” he put his hands together – “two women under one roof! Or in this case, in one pool!” “Hey! One of them was a dolphin!” “Two females, then. Same difference. God, that dolphin must be a horny bitch! What are you going to do about it?” “What do you mean, ‘What am I going to do about it?’ I wish to hell that Beau would put a male in with her, or something! That would solve everything.” “Well, you’ve answered my question, then,” Hazy said, “and it’s not

surprising Elaine is acting cool toward you. That little escapade sure backfired, didn’t it?” He was right. But what could I do for Elaine, especially on my limited budget? Take her to the movies, maybe, but that was cliché and besides, nothing playing at the local movie theaters was worth watching. How about… “A dinner!” I said. “I’ll have her over to dinner! Some wine, some candlelight, a nice steak, a walk on the beach, some of your excellent weed… wow, Hazy, that’s a great idea!” “Give me five!” he said, which I did. “And, while you’re at it, how about inviting her best friend, and yours? Shelly’s pretty cute,” he added, winking. §§§ And so my twentieth birthday party was arranged. Elaine really liked the idea of a double date. She and Shelly had been best friends for years, and Shelly’s company made her feel more comfortable around me. Shelly, for her part, was interested in getting to know Hazy, whom she had met at the organic food co-op. It all seemed like yet another example of cosmic synchronicity. My circumstances couldn’t have been better. My mother had rallied, reclaimed her life and was teaching at an alternative school in Philadelphia. Howie went with her, so I had the house to myself. I had my car. With the money I’d earned as a part-time darkroom technician at USF, I bought some wine, steaks, strawberries, whipped cream, a lid of Hazy’s Panama Red and a three-pack of quality condoms. That Friday night, I picked Hazy up from the Main Street House. Together we drove to Shelly’s, where we rendezvoused with her and Elaine. “Ladies!” Hazy said, opening the car’s door with a flourish. I had to hand it to him – he had a lot of style. Elaine sat in the bucket seat beside me. I leaned over to kiss her, and practically impaled myself on the four-on-the-floor stick shift. “Hi, Zack,” she said, flashing me a shy grin. My heart melted. Her coyness never failed to disarm me! I shifted to a more convenient gear and tried again. Elaine kissed me. I decided to overlook the fact

that there wasn’t a whole lot of passion in it. Shelly slid into the back seat and Hazy slipped in next to her. Feeling rather more like a chauffeur than anything else, I drove us back to my house. We made small talk all the way, much of it between Hazy and Shelly. Elaine seemed less voluble than usual. “You heard about what happened when Zack took Elaine down to meet the dolphins?” Shelly asked Hazy. “Did I ever!” Hazy said. “Ruby practically drowned her!” Elaine glared at me. “You didn’t have to tell him about that!” “Hey – you didn’t have to tell Shelly!” “Oh come on you guys, it’s no big deal,” Hazy said, “it was probably nothing personal with you, Elaine – from what Zack’s been telling me, that dolphin’s just a little nuts, that’s all.” “Oh great, you let me go swimming with a psycho dolphin?” Elaine said, half-jokingly. “I said if she ever got invited to the park again, I’d buy her a pair of water wings,” Shelly joked. “The unsinkable kind.” Shortly before sunset we pulled into the driveway. I opened Elaine’s door for her, the way my mother had always taught me a gentleman did. “Let’s go inside,” I said. “I’ve got some great wine in the refrigerator.” Actually, it was cheap sangria, but nobody noticed. Hazy cracked the bottle while I put some Stones on the stereo. We drank and danced in our socks on the lanai, and it was fun. Then I got the steaks going on the grill while Hazy made salad and the girls cleaned the strawberries, all of us joking and goofing around and having a wonderful time. Hazy hit it off big time with Shelly, and Elaine loosened up a lot. At last, she seemed comfortable around me! After the wine took effect, I began to get some decent kisses. Things were working out fine. The meal was one of those fantastic dinners where everything tastes so good you never want to stop eating. The atmosphere was damn near Bacchanalian; more than once our own witticisms reduced us to gales of helpless laughter. I felt frankly giddy at Elaine’s presence. When I got up from the table, my stomach groaned. It must have been the double helpings of steak and strawberry shortcake. I told everybody just to leave the dishes. Then I produced the first joint of Hazy’s excellent weed.

“Oh wow!” Shelly said, after her first toke. “Watch out, Elaine – this is great shit! Not like that dirt weed the guys at school have!” She gave Hazy a sly grin. “For you, nothing but the best!” he said, with another flourish. Elaine accepted the joint rather hesitantly, as if unsure what to do with it, and took a little puff. She burst out coughing. “God, that’s strong!” she gasped. “I haven’t had any like that before!” She took a couple more tokes. When the rush hit her, she nearly fell off her chair, and we all cracked up. “This is really unbelievable!” she whispered. When I asked if she was ready for the beach, she gave me a smile the size of a whale. Even though driving under the influence of any mind-altering substance is a stupid and dangerous act, the beach was so close, and the roads so empty, that I had total confidence in my ability to get us there and home again safely. Besides, I was still young and immortal, remember? And on the way, Hazy pulled out another joint. No cops at Crescent Beach that evening; in fact, if there was another car in the parking lot, I don’t remember it. A beautiful night, with a fresh breeze from the north, stars twinkling above, and far out over the western horizon, a row of thunderheads, crackling and grumbling to each other in flashes of lightning. We strolled across the dunes, Hazy with Shelly and me with Elaine, so wasted we had to hold each other up. After a while, I noticed Hazy and Shelly had fallen behind. Looking back, I saw them intertwined, silhouetted against the lights of one of the new high-rise condominiums. They sank out of sight. Elaine smiled. Lightning flashed behind her, edging her hair with fire. I pulled her to me. In the cool breeze she felt warm and soft and yielding. She pressed closer and put her arms around me. How good it felt, to be this near a woman! How right! Elaine’s embrace, her femininity, made me feel like such a man… such a human! I stared into her half-closed blue eyes. Even by starlight, the veins stood out clearly. “Gee,” she whispered softly, “am I ever fucked-up.” We clung to each other, leaning into the shifting wind, and the moment stretched out. Then she slumped in my arms. “Let’s lie down. Did you bring a blanket?” I felt so stupid! There was the condom in my pocket – but a blanket? She slid out of my grasp and sprawled on the sand. “Wow, that feels good!”

“You’ll get all sandy,” I objected, imagining what her father would say when I brought her home. “I don’t care.” “Here, at least…” I spread my windbreaker under our heads and lay down beside her. In a hollow of the dunes the sand was comfortable. We were out of the wind, which was blowing colder and harder. Looking up at the stars, I felt that dizzying sense of infinity pass over me again, and I pulled Elaine closer. “When you look up at the stars at night, do you ever feel… very small?” I asked her. “They’re pretty,” she said. She did not resist when I put my arms around her. She curved against my angles, eyes half-shut, lips half-open. I put mine to them, felt their warmth, put my tongue between them, felt her tongue respond. My fingers found the buttons of her blouse, and with some fumbling undid them one by one. Elaine’s hands were in my hair, down my back, under my shirt. The wind was blowing harder now, coming off the sea, and the intermittent flashes of lightning illuminated odd moments, an expression here, a strand of hair blowing there, a careless movement, frozen in purple on the retina as if in a strobe’s flash, snapshots of human courtship. I fumbled for the hooks to Elaine’s bra, found them, undid them, and slid my hands underneath the cups. Touching a woman’s breasts is a strange drug for a man, at the same time soothing and exciting. As I felt her nipples our tongues went running for each other like two serpents, head-on. Would this be the night? Would we make love out here in the sand on the dunes with lightning flashing all around us? I wanted so very much to believe it. There were no sounds but the wind blowing, the thunder growling and the waves pounding the beach as they had for millions of years. Alone in the darkness, we might as well have been two nameless sea-creatures who had crawled up on a beach to mate… once our urges were spent, would we turn and swim off on separate ways, never to see each other again? …That fathomless desire rises in me, that longing for something I have never known and never will, a tranquility sublime, the call of the deep, free from petty human struggles…

And then that feeling shattered like the false, fragile thing it was, and I knew that what I really wanted more than anything was not cold isolation, not anonymous copulation, but love. Unconditional love, love without preconceptions, love without expectations that I would ever become anything other than what or who I was. I opened my eyes, sat up and looked at Elaine, who was looking at me with a dazed expression, half-accepting, half-fearing whatever was to come next. She shut her eyes and opened her lips. I wanted to love Elaine, I had tried to love Elaine, I had wanted Elaine to love me, and what had I done? Unless she wanted what I wanted, and wanted it as much as I did, whatever passed between us tonight wouldn’t be right, wouldn’t be fair. I had drugged her; now, was I about to take advantage of her? The condom in my pocket might assuage my guilt and keep her from getting pregnant, but it wouldn’t heal any emotional wounds between us. “Elaine…” I whispered, “Elaine…” “Yes?” “Do you want to… make love?” The question hung on the wind for what seemed like an hour. “Yes… no… Oh God, Zack, I don’t know,” she said, and grabbed me, toppling us to the sand. I felt my world collapse. The wind blew Elaine’s hair into my eyes. Hair… eyes… Odd, how out-of-place her hair seemed, as if those long brown tresses growing from her head didn’t belong there. “Why do you have to ask?” In the wind, Elaine’s hair swirled and clung like fronds of kelp, like the tentacles of some sea anemone. How it glinted when the lightning flashed! …Ruby has no hair… No! I pushed the thought back. Something was tugging my mind out toward the dark, roiling waters. “Why do men always have to ask?” Elaine asked, and buried her tongue in my mouth, her lips moist against mine. …Ruby has no lips… Did Elaine want to make love? I was becoming confused. The sound of the waves was rising above the wind, drowned out momentarily by a crack of

thunder surprisingly close-by. Elaine didn’t even flinch. She rolled on top of me and I ran my hands under her bra; her nipples were warm but still soft. I cupped her breasts in my hands, wanting to throw off our clothes, wanting to throw off everything, and screw her naked on the beach, just wild, impassioned animals, heedless of any consequences… …Ruby’s breasts are on either side of her genital slit, not as big and round as Elaine’s, perhaps, but consider her arrangement: breasts and cunt, clitoris and anus, all packed together! What a sensual nexus! How good it must feel when you stroke her there, touching everything with a single touch! This wasn’t right: the wrong time and worst place to be thinking these terrible thoughts! …No wonder she rolls her eyes and thrusts so hard against you! Ruby wants you! Elaine was a warm weight pressing me into the sand. “Can’t we just lie here and be with each other?” she murmured, her words almost drowned-out by the waves and the wind. Something wet rolled down her cheek onto mine: salt water. She buried her head in my shoulder. And she wants you out there! Lightning flashed. Yes, out there, in the dark, cool waters! She’s jumped the fence, she’s out there now, by the sandbar, waiting for you! No, it was Elaine who wanted me, Elaine who was beside me, her tongue in my mouth… Ruby has no conflicts, no inhibitions! Ruby doesn’t give mixed messages! Ruby knows what she wants and she knows how to get it! Ruby doesn’t care that you’re a man and she’s a dolphin! Elaine! She had hands, pulling my hands to her breasts! She had legs, entwining me! She had hair, blowing in my face! Elaine was warm and soft and – human! She doesn’t care! Between the howling wind and the crashing waves, the roar-ing thunder and the flickering lightning, I tumbled back and forth, sucked out into the deep wet blackness, dragged back to the shore, pulled between the reality of the woman

beside me and the fantasy – was it a fantasy? – of the sea-creature waiting for me out there. Elaine! Ruby. No, Elaine!! RUBY! ELAINE!! PLEASE, ELAINE! RUBY!! In a blue-white flash lightning, Elaine suddenly sat bolt upright, a wild, startled look in her eyes. “Did you just ask me a question?” I’d been wrong about the girl. In her own fashion, she was telepathic. “Yes,” I said, looking away, “yes, I did…” “What was it?” “I can’t tell you.” Elaine turned from me and stared out to where the waves crashed on the beach. Something cold and wet stung my skin. I groped for words, but all that came out was “Elaine… please, Elaine…” Voices reached us, nearby but muted by the wind. “Zack! Are you out there?” Hazy yelled. Oh yeah, I was out there, all right. They came stumbling over the dunes. Elaine stood up, and I started to brush the sand off her. She didn’t seem to care, but I didn’t want it in the car. “We’ve got to get back,” Hazy said. “Yeah, it’s going to rain any minute,” Shelly added. Then she caught sight of her friend, staring blankly out to sea. “Hey – you okay?” Elaine could have said anything: that I had hit her, tried to rape her, ignored her. It wouldn’t have been true, of course, but I almost felt like I deserved it. “Yeah,” she said, “I’m okay.” More drops hit us, cold and hard. “We better run for it,” Hazy said. Stumbling, tripping, falling, the rain spattering around us in spastic patches, we ran for the lights of the parking lot, for the shelter of the car, the wind at our backs, lightning and thunder chasing us all the way. The moment we shut the car doors the squall line hit, pouring buckets, bending the trees. I revved the engine and turned the heat full on. Hazy and Shelly shared body warmth in the back

seat; Elaine sat in the bucket seat beside me, shivering miserably. “What time do you have to be back?” I asked her. “Eleven-thirty,” Shelly said. “What time is it now?” Hazy asked. I looked at my luminescent watch. “About ten.” It seemed later, much later. Shelly sighed. “We can’t go home like this. I’m all sandy. I don’t know about you, Elaine, but my dad would kill me.” Elaine nodded in mute agreement. “We’ve got time,” Hazy suggested. “Why don’t we go back to Zack’s place? You two can clean up. We’ll have some hot tea, then we’ll take you home.” When we got back, we found the storm had knocked out the power. There would be no hot tea for anyone. I lit some candles and gave one to the girls, who went to freshen up in the bathroom. Nobody thought of drinking the rest of the wine or rolling another joint. The sink was still full of dishes, as it had been when we left. I shook my head. “What a fucked-up evening,” I mumbled to Hazy. “It hasn’t been so bad,” he countered. Elaine came out, looking subdued, and sat on the couch beside me. Shelly settled in with Hazy on a little ottoman under the front window. Elaine said nothing. Gradually she leaned back against me. I put my arms around her and held her; she felt warm, but limp, as if what had happened on the beach had sucked every ounce of passion and vitality from her. I wanted to say something, anything, but I felt like a colossal idiot with nothing left to say. The sharp corners of the condom’s foil packet poked me through my pants pocket, a mocking reminder of my forlorn hopes. We sat there in the dark, staring at the back door, watching the storm recede, not saying anything, and gradually I became aware of gentle lapping sounds coming from where Hazy and Shelly had settled onto the car-peted floor beside the ottoman. Elaine didn’t seem to notice. Hazy, you lucky fucking dog, I thought. After a while the lapping noises stopped, and then there was the zip of a zipper. A little more time passed. Then Hazy stood up, a little uncertainly. “Zack,” he said, “I think we better take these girls home.”

Nobody spoke on the drive. Even though her house was closer, Shelly insisted we take Elaine home first. When we got there, a light was on in the kitchen. I started to get out to open the door for her, but Elaine just got out by herself. “It’s okay,” she said. “But I ought to…” “I don’t think so.” She started to walk away. “Elaine!” She turned slowly, leaned back in the open window of the passenger door. “Uh, thanks for dinner,” she said. “Good night, Zack.” Shelly walked her to the door. I was furious, more at myself than anyone else, but I said nothing. When we got to Shelly’s, Hazy got out and they spent a long moment on the sidewalk before he walked her to her door. In the porch light I could see her smile. She gave him a long, deep kiss before disappearing inside. Hazy got in beside me. His obvious success had put about three miles between us, but he was still my friend and I still owed him a ride home. “What happened with Elaine?” he eventually asked. “I don’t know. I think she got a little too high.” It was the most truthful answer I could give. “Too bad.” “Well, at least you and Shelly hit it off.” I couldn’t hide the hint of resentment in my voice, as if Hazy’s success somehow increased my failure. “You two were really getting it on.” Hazy stared at me. “What do you mean?” “On the floor! You were balling her, weren’t you?” He laughed. “Nah. I was just eating her out! I thought it would be nice for her. Is that what you thought – we were balling? Shee-it, if I’d been balling her we’d have made a lot more noise than that!” Candles flickered in the windows at the Main Street House. I pulled over to the curb. “Thanks for the party,” Hazy said. “Sorry you’re so bummed-out, Zack. I had fun.” “Yeah, well,” I said. “I’m glad somebody did” “For Chrissakes, quit feeling so sorry for yourself!” he growled. “You had the same chance I did!” And he got out and shut the door and went inside.

Chapter 16 A Sticky Situation Thus, the circle closes. A society such as ours, which is trying to profess one kind of sex code but live by another, cannot help but breed confusion and emotional upset. – Drs. Phyllis & Eberhard Kronhausen, Sex Histories of American College Men, 1960 By the eleventh ring, when the phone was finally picked up and a familiar voice said “Hello?” I was flipping out. “Elaine, is that you?” “Who is this?” she asked, warily. She’d forgotten the sound of my voice! “It’s Zack! I haven’t been able to get hold of you for days! We need to talk!” “So talk,” she said. I pressed the phone closer to my ear. This wasn’t what I’d expected. “I mean, in person! We can’t talk like this.” An extended silence on the other end of the line… “Can we?” …followed by a deep sigh. “Look, I still lo –” I quickly stopped myself. I’d gotten in trouble using the “L” word before. Besides, I wasn’t really sure I meant it. Elaine was a nice girl, if anything too nice a girl, but I wasn’t in love with her. She was simply all I had in the way of human female companionship at that time, and I wasn’t about to cut her loose, or let her cut me loose, without a struggle. “– like you,” I quickly corrected, “and you still like me, don’t you?” Another long silence. It was the same trouble I always had talking to Elaine on the phone: all that metal and plastic between us made her an abstraction. If I could persuade her to let me come over, the almost-foolproof physical attraction between us would work its magic. I was sure we could patch this up. If only she would let me come over! “Yeah, I guess,” she finally said. “I guess so, Zack.” “Well all right, then! We can talk about it, can’t we? Is your dad at home?”

“No.” “Is anybody else over there?” “Just Shelly.” “She doesn’t mind if I come over, does she?” There was a moment of muffled conversation. “She doesn’t think it’s such a great idea.” “Well, what do you think?” She sighed. “It’s okay, I guess.” “I’ll be over in five minutes!” “Don’t rush.” It seemed ironic that this was the first time I’d been invited into her house. It was in an older but upscale development on what was probably a backfilled peninsula jutting into Sarasota Bay just south of the Siesta Drive bridge. Another good salt marsh ruined, I thought. I parked in the street, quite aware of how out of place my rusty Corvair seemed amidst the Cadillacs and Lincolns in that neighborhood. Everything looked yellow that evening. The sunset; her house, yellow stucco with a red tile roof; even the porch light, one of those yellow anti-bug lights. Shelly opened the door. “Oh, hi,” she said, as if my arrival were unanticipated. She turned and yelled into the house, “He’s here!” I didn’t like being a pronoun, but I tried not to let it show. Shelly stepped away from the door as Elaine stepped up. She was smiling shyly, almost embarrassedly, holding her hands in the air. They were covered with dough. Her hair was dusted with flour, and her glasses were so fingerprinted with margarine that her world must look like a cheap psychedelic effect in a Roger Corman movie. A stained kitchen apron covered most of her front. She was barefoot. “Oh, gee,” she said, as if my arrival had taken her unawares. “Hi, Zack.” I was suddenly aware that my clothes – ragged cutoffs and a ratty tank top – weren’t really romantic. The day had been hot; I probably didn’t smell too great. I hadn’t shaved for a couple of days, either. Part of me wanted to sweep Elaine off her feet, gather her in my arms, press my lips against hers until her resistance yielded to the force of my passion, and, as if in some Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedy, she would embrace me and heedlessly smear dough

through my hair. But the music didn’t come up, and I just sort of stared at her. Under the apron she was wearing an orange and black Sarasota High School Sailors tee shirt and brown shorts. It was early June, but she looked autumnal. That was confusing. “We were, uh, baking cookies,” she said, “and we kind of made a mess, I guess. Want some dough?” She giggled and held out her hand. I could seize Elaine’s hand and nibble the dough off it, passionately licking clean her pale smooth skin, working my way up to the elbow, up to the shoulder, up to her mouth, press my lips against hers until her resistance yielded to the force of my desire, and, as if in some kinky Fellini art-house flick, I’d carry her to the kitchen table and we’d consummate our passion there while Shelly watched. But the fact is, I can’t eat raw cookie dough. It gives me gas. “Uh, maybe just a taste,” I said, scraping a bit off her hand with my finger. Chocolate chip. Very sweet. “Come on in,” she said, leading me to the kitchen. “We’ll be done in a couple of minutes, won’t we, Shelly?” “Uh-huh.” With two spoons she was dropping wads of raw dough onto a properly greased cookie sheet. Not a microgram of dough on her. “Hi Shelly, how’s Hazy?” “Dunno, haven’t seen him.” A partial wall divided the kitchen from the rest of the house. In the living room sat a floral-patterned couch, positioned so that if you looked to your right you could see into the kitchen, and if you looked ahead you could see the TV, which was running some stupid game show with the sound turned down. There was no air-conditioning. Although the patio doors stood open, waves of heat from the oven congested the still air. The house smelled of hot metal, sugar, and a recently cooked supper: fried onions, among other things. Suddenly I was hungry. In my rush, I hadn’t eaten dinner. My mouth started to water. “Nice of you to come over, and so fast, too!” Elaine said, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “What was it you wanted to talk about?” That stunned me. “Well, you! Me! Us!” “Oh. Well, okay, talk.” “Well, do you… I mean, do you still want to…” Suddenly I didn’t know

what to say. “Elaine, what’s happened?” “Excuse me one second.” As Shelly dropped the last lump of dough, Elaine picked up the cookie sheet and carried it to the oven. A rush of hot air escaped when she opened the door, and sweat beaded my brow. Elaine slid the cookie sheet in, shut the door with a thump and twisted the knob on the timer. Returning to the table, she began to grease the next cookie sheet. Shelly rested her spoons, sipped a diet pop and stared at me. I found it unnerving. “Yeah! So. You were saying?” “What’s happened to us?” Elaine paused for a second, staring at the margarine wrapper. “Well, nothing, I guess.” “That’s exactly it! Nothing’s happened! I’ve been trying to see you for almost two weeks, but every time I call it seems like you’re busy or you’re not here or you can’t come to the phone! Our relationship is like sand, slipping through my fingers, Elaine!” “I really didn’t mean to make you feel that bad.” She finished the cookie sheet and handed it to Shelly, who set down her pop to drop dough again. “Oh gosh!” Elaine slapped her forehead with her palm, leaving a shiny spot. “Am I forgetting my manners or what? Would you like a drink?” “Yes. Please. Very much.” “Pop’s in the ‘fridge. Help yourself. Sorry.” Don’t apologize, I thought, but I didn’t say anything. The smell of baking cookies now filling the room ravished me, and my throat was parched. All the pops in the refrigerator were diet, and none of them were flavors I liked. I figured the beers belonged to Elaine’s dad and were off-limits. I settled on diet cola. As I walked over to the trash can to throw away the pull tab, the smell of the cookies finally overwhelmed me. My stomach growled. Someone hadn’t cleaned off the range after fixing din-ner. There were still some scraps of halfcooked potatoes and onions clustered around the burner where they’d fallen out of a frying pan. Without a second thought I scooped them up and threw them in my mouth, washing them down with a big slug of the diet pop. When I turned around, Elaine was staring at me as if I’d just eaten dog shit. “Oooh, gross!” she squealed. “I can’t believe you just did that! Shelly, did

you see that? He just ate some garbage off the stove!” Shelly giggled. That steamed me. “What are you talking about?” I said. “That was perfectly good food! You just cooked it yourself! There was nothing wrong with it, and I’m starving!” “But it was just lying around on top of the stove! It was cold and disgusting! I was going to clean it up and throw it away when we got done baking! Why didn’t you stop and get something to eat on the way over here?” Elaine asked, getting up to check on the cookies. “Because I’m broke!” “Yeah, well,” Shelly said. “Look, I’m sorry I ate the food or garbage or whatever you thought it was, but what’s the point of my coming over here? To discuss my eating habits or to talk about what’s happening between us?” “Do these look done to you?” Elaine asked, pulling a sheet of half-baked lumps out of the oven and holding it out to me. “They look done to me,” Shelly said. “Put them back in, they’re only half-baked,” I said. Elaine frowned. “How can you tell?” “They should be crispy and brown on top! Look, the chocolate chips are hardly melted!” “How would you know?” Shelly asked defiantly. “I bake stuff at home! I bake bread and pies and cookies! My mother taught me how!” “You do?” Elaine said. “How come you never baked any for me?” “What do you mean? I fixed a whole dinner the other night!” “Oh yeah. I’d forgotten about that. Well, I guess I’ll have to throw these away,” she said, looking sadly at the would-be cookies. Such a waste of good food! “No, don’t!” I said, trying to ignore Shelly’s belligerent glare. “Just stick them back in the oven! You probably set the temperature too low. Check the dial.” She slid the cookies back in the oven, then straightened up, brows knitted. “What were we just talking about?” she said. “You. Me. Us!” “Oh yeah. Right. Gee, I dunno, Zack… what can I say? I mean, like you

said, I still like you and all, and you still like me, right? So where did you want this to go, after all?” The three-letter answer stuck in my throat. I should have said something like “I want us to go back to where we were that night we first met at the Juvenile Detention Center, Elaine. There was such a sense of excitement about our relationship, then, that I was hoping we could bring it back and enjoy each others’ company like we used to.” But the fact was, here was a girl who had grown up so sheltered, so protected, she couldn’t even deal with me scarfing a few leftovers off her stovetop. Suddenly the heat threatened to overwhelm me. Stepping out of the kitchen, I flopped down on the couch and stared at the TV set. The game-show contestant, a woman with a beehive hairdo, was shrieking with joy, tears streaking her mascara. She had just won a new Chrysler. Something inside me, bent to the breaking point, snapped, and I said the one thing you should never, ever say to a woman: “I was hoping you’d fuck me.” For a few seconds, nobody said anything. I am sure Elaine, who was mixing up another batch of dough, couldn’t believe what she’d heard. She lifted her head to look at me as if I’d said I’d seen a cat fly by. “What?” “I said, ‘I was hoping you’d fuck me.’ Why do I have to repeat myself?” Elaine continued to stare at me. Shelly turned purple, trying to laugh through a mouthful of pop. “Gawd, I can’t believe you’d even say something like that!” Elaine said. “When?” “The other night, when Hazy came over and we went down to the beach? Well, we were celebrating my birthday, and I was hoping…” Given the current situation it sounded idiotic, even to me, now. “…it would be like a birthday present, y’know? From you.” Elaine shook her head, as if unable to comprehend the raw nature of my lust, or my stupidity in expressing it so bluntly. “How could you even think a thing like that?” she asked, incredulous. “I’d get pregnant! My dad won’t even let me get on the pill!” “Christ, Elaine, what kind of a guy do you think I am? I had a condom with me! I just never told you, that’s all.”

“You did?” she asked, as if she’d just learned I’d been car-rying a concealed weapon. “Do you still have it?” “Well, yeah, I do. Like the Boy Scouts say, ‘Be prepared,’ you know? Huh.” As a joke, it fell flatter than Shelly’s pop. Elaine wiped her hands on a dishtowel, took off the apron, walked over and stood in front of me. “Show me,” she said. “Why?” “I’ve never seen one before! I just want to see it!” she said, holding out her hand. So I pulled my wallet out of my hip pocket. The condom was still where I’d put it, a circular bulge under the worn leather. I opened the wallet, expecting little moths to fly out like they do in the comics, and handed it to her. “That’s it?” she said, staring at the rectangle of foil. “Well, you have to open it,” I explained, wondering how she could be so dense. She handed it back to me. “Do it! I want to see it!” I started to tear the foil, then paused. “Hey, Shelly, do you want to see this thing?” I asked her. “No thanks, no need,” she said. I ripped open the foil and pulled out the gooey ring of white latex. The fact was, I’d never seen one either. This being the pre-AIDS, pre-chlamydia, pregenital herpes, pre-antibiotic-resistant-strains-of-gonorrhea days, you didn’t need one as much. Lorraine had used an IUD, as did many other women at the time. Elaine stared. “That’s all?” she said. “Well, you’ve got to unroll them,” I said. “Like this…” Under my fingers, the gooey ring became a long, flaccid tube of slimy latex. It was just a standard lubricated U.S.-made three-for-a-dollar-and-a-quarter condom I’d bought at the local pharmacy, nothing fancy or exotic. It smelled like an operating room. Its color was unappealing. The lubricant was all over my fingers like the dough on Elaine’s hands. It was, altogether, the most unsexy, unerotic thing I’d ever seen. I thought Elaine was going to toss her cookies. “That’s disgusting,” she said. “Put it away.”

I got up and headed for the garbage can. “No, don’t throw it out!” “Why not?” “Can’t just roll it up again and stick it back in the pouch?” “No, you can’t! I’ve got to throw it away!” “Well gee, I wouldn’t have made you take it out if I’d known that! But don’t throw it in there – if my dad found it, he’d kill me!” I could understand that. And the truthful explanation wouldn’t make any sense to an irate father, either. “Why don’t you flush it down the toilet?” Shelly suggested helpfully. You idiot, I thought. “You can’t do that, they’re rubber! They clog up the plumbing! I’ll take it outside. Will that be okay?” “I guess so,” Elaine gulped. What a relief to step out of that sweltering house! I tossed the condom and its wrapper in the trash can, but when I stepped back inside, the air was thick with smoke. Elaine and Shelly were staring at a sheet of charred cookies. “What happened?” Shelly glared at me. “I dunno, maybe the oven was too hot?” “You don’t blame me for that, do you?” “I remember now,” Elaine muttered. “Dad said it runs hot.” “But you set the timer! I watched you!” As if on cue, it went off. Shelly got up and struggled with it until it stopped buzzing. “You know, at the end of the summer, I’m going to the state university in Gainesville,” Elaine said. “At least, that’s where Dad wants me to go. He says it’ll be pretty cheap to send me there. Where are you going?” “I’ve still got two years to finish at New College.” “Gainesville’s even farther away than Tampa.” “I know.” “What are you doing this summer?” “I don’t know,” I said, scuffing my feet on the stained linoleum floor. “I need a job, but I haven’t been able to find anything around here. I was, uh, I was thinking about, maybe, looking out of town.” “Uh-huh.”

So many unspoken words hung in the air between us that I found it hard to breathe. But maybe it was just the heat from the oven. “Elaine,” Shelly finally said, “we better get this mess cleaned up. You’re dad’s going to be home in a little while, and he’ll kill us if he finds the place like this.” “I don’t think this is working out, Zack,” Elaine said quietly, staring at the burnt cookies. “And I don’t think it ever will. I can’t give you what you want. So you better go now.” As I reached for the door, she stopped me. “Oh wait, I’m forgetting my manners! Do you want a cookie?” She held out the cookie sheet, an expectant look on her face. I tried to take one, but the damn thing might as well have been welded down. I wrestled with it and finally broke off a chunk. “Thanks,” I growled. “You’re welcome,” she said. “Take it easy…” I walked back to my Corvair. The sun had set. The sky was the melancholy blue of early twilight. The house now looked a drab, pallid green, the roof a dirty shade of ochre. How could I have been so wrong? The engine started when I turned the key, and drove I off. The last I ever saw of Elaine, she was standing on her porch, staring after me in the Corvair’s rear-view mirror.

Chapter 17 The Fury of a Dolphin Scorned After making several errors in a taxing laboratory experiment, one dolphin became so emotionally upset that it grabbed a plastic pipe in its jaws and broke the test apparatus with it. –Stephanie Morgan, “The Sagacious Dolphin,” Natural History, AugustSeptember 1968 The light was hard and bright that June afternoon. When I drove out of the shade of the scrub palmettos, the glitter off the main pool hit me smack in the eyes. The pelicans, circling for fish over Little Sarasota Bay, were nothing more than black dots against the glare. I winced. The Corvair shuddered and died as I parked in the shade of the bleachers. The timing was off, and it needed a tune-up. It also needed an oil change, oil pan gaskets, a muffler, four new tires, some hoses, a valve job, rings, and current tags most of all, but one thing at a time! I was a student filmmaker, not a shadetree mechanic, and the repairs would have to wait until some money fell my way. One of the dolphins in the main pool bobbed curiously, sticking its head out of water. With the light in my eyes I couldn’t tell which one it was. Then I spotted Hank, headed my way. “Well how-deee, Zack! Haven’t seen you for the god-damndest long time! Where you been hiding yourself?” “In the dark room. I had some work to finish for the end of term. That and looking for a summer job,” I said hopefully. But I was speaking to the wrong person, and I knew it. We strolled back to the chickee. Something was different about the park, but I couldn’t put my finger on what. Nothing was missing – the buildings, the props, the apparatus of the dolphin show were all in their places. One dolphin was still observing us, swimming rapidly around the main pool, lifting its head every few seconds as if agitated or excited but not making a sound. “Photos, huh? Yeah, the ones you did for Salina were pretty good, for a college student. Got any extras?” The shade of the chickee was cool and the smell, of course, always the

same. Beau was stretched out in a deck chair, his feet propped on the wireless transmitter, reading a pulp maga-zine. I’d never seen him at rest before. He was always doing something – chopping fish, fixing broken equipment, training dolphins, running the show, or, in what I now thought of as “the good old days,” flirting with Salina. To see him relaxed was unsettling. “Look what the tide washed in!” Hank said. Beau waved a hand at me. “Care for a beer, Zack? Git him one from the cooler, Hank, and git me another one while yer at it.” Hank opened the dilapidated fridge, which kept the buckets of fish cold between shows, and handed out three cheap beers. Beau popped his tab and tossed it on the floor, which was littered with tabs. He took a long, stiff pull off the can. Hank joined him. “Really heatin’ up around here, huh?” Beau said to no one in particular. “Gettin’ to be summer. Tourists all gone now. Ain’t done shit fer business, last two weeks.” “It’s just as well, the way these dolphins have all been fuckin’ off,” Hank groused. Following their lead, I pulled the tab on my can and threw it on the floor. I tried to take a long pull on the beer and almost gagged. I would have preferred a soft drink. “That’s great,” I said, wiping my lips with the back of my hand. “Thanks.” The unaccustomed alcohol made me feel woozy and unfocused, but I wasn’t about to turn down Beau’s hospitality. Hank drained his can and tossed it on a pile of cans overflowing a cardboard box next to the door. From there, a movement in the sunlight drew my eyes outside. A dolphin was bobbing up and down at the end of the concrete apron, alternately peering into the recesses of the chickee, then turning and splashing water on the concrete as if trying to attract someone’s attention. I thought it odd behavior, and made a mental note to check it out after I went to say hello to Ruby. A tour train pulled up. Half a dozen humidity-soaked tour-ists got out and arranged themselves in a bedraggled clump on the bleachers. One of the dolphins tossed a tendril of seaweed on the apron. The tourists gabbled and pointed and aimed their tinny cameras as if that were something

unusual. Beau didn’t seem to notice. I felt uneasy, and it wasn’t just the beer. I had figured out what was different, now: the dolphin show had lost its drive. Beau no longer cared what happened, and the shiftless, run-down atmosphere was infectious. Although the sun was hot and bright, a cloud of lethargy loomed over the park like a thunderhead. “What’s the matter with the dolphins, Beau?” He put down the magazine, cracked his knuckles and stretched like a cat. His gaze passed over the pool, above the audience, and into blue space. “I think they know, friend,” “That the park is closing down?” “They sure as hell know somethin’s goin” on. All of ‘em been actin’ real… strange, lately. Sorta distant, I s’poze you’d say. Course, not havin’ any crowds to play up to doesn’t help ‘em… me neither. It’s plumb discouragin’. ‘Twasn’t like this last summer, not this bad. It’s been downhill for some time now, just seems like it’s gotten steeper, lately.” “What’s going to happen to the dolphins when this place closes?” Beau sat up and rubbed his chin. “I’m thinkin’ of various ways to dispose of ‘em. We got an offer from a place in the Bahamas to take three… then again, we might be sendin’ some to a place in Mississippi… but it’s too early to tell, Zack. Everythin’s up in the air.” Out on the bleachers, the tourists were getting restless. The sun was relentless, and there were no concessions nearby. Beau checked his watch, stood up, chugged the dregs of his beer and tossed the can on the pile. “Time to git to work, I s’pose,” he muttered. He strapped on the wireless microphone, grabbed a bucket of fish from the fridge, stepped out of the chickee and into the glare. He knelt on the catwalk, penned the dolphin that had been making such a fuss, then stood up and stared at the nearly vacant bleachers. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I want to welcome you to the Florida Funland porpoise show…” Under Beau, the dolphins performed in a competent but un-exciting manner, not slouching as much as they had under Hank. I watched the show from inside the chickee, unmotivated even to shoot pictures. I felt obliged to go down and visit Ruby, but for some reason I was in no rush to do that, either. After all,

where could she go? She would probably just try to rub off on me anyway, and I was done with that. The tour train was late returning, and the tourists were still hanging around. One pimply punk in an Ed “Big Daddy” Roth monster tee shirt was bending over the pens, snapping his fin-gers and yelling “Here, Flipper! C’mere, Flipper! Aw, c’mon, you big dumb fish!” Since he was an unfamiliar object in their environment, the dolphins were ignoring him. As I stepped up to the edge of the pool he turned and asked me, “Hey mister, how do you get these dumb fish to let you pet them?” It was a little flattering to be mistaken for somebody who actually knew something about dolphins, so I forgave the punk his crudeness. “For starters, it helps if you call them by name.” “They got names?” “Sure. You do, don’t you? Look, it’s real easy to tell them apart, you just have to look closely. That one in the pen over there with the healed-up scar on her snout, that’s Trixy. Now that one over there with the underslung brownish snout, he’s Gator. The pink chin on that one belongs to Bimbo, it’s healing up, but even you can see there’s not a scratch on him. Whereas that scratched-up old mama in the pen with Trixy, that’s obvi-ously Ruby. And that mean son-ofa…” Wait a minute! Ruby? Ruby! She lifted her head and stared at me, miffed at hav-ing been ignored for so long. I was thunderstruck. How could I have not recognized her? My hunch had been right after all. She’d been the one peering at me as I drove up, splashing and throwing seaweed! None of the males greeted me that eagerly! So Beau had heeded my advice! With riverboat gone, there’d be no more long days in that lonely little pen for Ruby, just a soft life with the boys in the main pool! The thought brought a grin to my face, not to mention a certain sense of relief. “Roo-bee?” the punk stuttered. “C’mere, Roo-bee! C’mere, ya big dumb fish! Is she a girl, too?” “Yes.” “I still don’t see how you can tell…”

“Experience. Now beat it, punk, I need to talk to her!” He left fast, staring over his shoulder. It was odd that a few minutes before, I should have felt so indifferent about seeing her that I waited out the show; now that she was up here, I was delighted, even excited. I couldn’t explain it. I waded into the pen up to my knees, my hand extended to her. She lay on her left side, staring at me, occasionally righting herself to breathe. “Ruby! Good to see you up here, old girl! I bet you’re hav-ing a wild time with the boys, huh?” I said, talking to her like an idiot, heedless of what anyone within earshot might think. “Come on over for a stroking!” She glared at me reproachfully. I kept staring at her as if my gaze alone could entreat her to move within reach, but Ruby wouldn’t come near me. I found Beau back in the chickee, slicing fish for the next show, if there was one. “Why didn’t you tell me you’d moved Ruby up here?” “Hm? Oh. I guess it just kinda slipped my mind, Zack. She been up here a couple o’ weeks now.” “I bet she and the males really got it on, huh?” Beau grinned. “Yeah, when I first put her in, they went at it for a couple o' days straight.” “Why’d you move her?” “Well, I sold the mother and daughter, and there weren’t nothin’ for her to do down there with the riverboat gone an’ all. Wouldn’t do to have her git bored.” “You’re not fixing on moving her back, are you?” “Sure hope not. It’s a pain in the ass.” “Can I go in with her?” “Who’s in the pen with her?” “Just Trixy.” “Well, I guess so… dunno how she’ll behave with another porpoise around, but you can try.” I waded back into the pen, but Ruby still wouldn’t come near me. Exercising patience, I swam into deep water and floated, head up. Ruby swam over, glanced at me, and then submerged. Something soft pushed against my

foot. Her head broke the water, and she glared at me. Ruby was masturbating on the waffled soles of my sneak-ers. Until that moment, my responses to Ruby’s advances had been based on the observation that she was in sexual isolation. Knowing that, I had been willing to play the role of “surrogate male dolphin” and let her rub off on me, and that was okay, as long as no other humans were watching. But here she was, carrying on the same behavior in a big pool with no less than six other dolphins, five of whom were males ranging in temperament from sweet to nasty, a situation which should provide a female dolphin with the opportunity for any sexual experience she could imagine. Ruby thrust harder against my shoe and threw her head back, nodding, obviously enjoying herself. Me? You could have sunk me with a BB. We floundered in the water, and I was floundering inside. My carefully constructed rationale for my role as Ruby’s animated scratching post was crumbling like damp sugar cubes. Perhaps my “observations” were simply rationalizations. Perhaps my sympathies were misplaced, or, worse yet, unnecessary. And the hardest thought of all: perhaps Ruby wasn’t doing this because she needed sex, but because she wanted sex – with me! Why, then, was she behaving so distantly? I reached out to her; she threw herself aside. I tried to embrace her; she slipped away without losing contact with my foot! She would not let me touch her anywhere except at the crucial spot, which she determined. So what if I wasn’t barefoot, she thrust and rubbed her cunt against my sneaker with greater abandon than before! She so far outstripped me in the water that I was at her mercy, and her eyes looked cold and remote. Of the erotic, seductive behavior she had employed earlier there was none. I felt like a puppet, like Ruby’s dildo. When I tried to stroke her with my hands she took off, only to return to my feet. She insisted that I be totally passive, and I couldn’t stand it. Obviously she was mad as hell because I hadn’t recognized her when I arrived, but how was I to know? I hadn’t expected her to be in the main pool! I tucked my knees against my chest and floated. Ruby circled slowly, whistling. That position put my face under water, and she knew I had to come up

for air. But she had no intention of waiting! She thrust her snout in back of my legs, trying to force them down, and when that failed she nudged me in the ribs, at first tickling, and then so hard I nearly sucked water into my lungs. I straightened out, gasping. Ruby pushed me to the wire fence that separated the pens. With my back to the wall, I grabbed the wire and jammed the toes of my sneakers into the wide mesh holes, hanging spread-eagle with my head out of the water and all my extremities either occupied or covered. Ruby hovered close and surveyed me. Her echolocation ran like electric currents up my spine, making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. If I ducked my head, I could hear her click-ing and whistling simultaneously. To Trixy, who had so far stayed out of the game? To herself? To me, uselessly? Didn’t matter, now, did it? I thought I had her licked. I had regained control of the situation, and I would keep it this way! But I had underestimated her again. She wedged her snout into the gap between my back and the fence and began to wig-gle. Determined to cling, I tightened my grip. She pushed harder, splashing, battering at my ribs. I let go with one hand to push her away. That was a mistake: there was nothing I could do, and she redoubled her efforts. Damn it, that hurts! I let go abruptly and tried to deliver a slap across her blow-hole that would tell her No! I don’t want any part of this! but my blow only raised a splash. Ruby surfaced in front of me and resumed masturbating on my sneaker. So much for that little experiment! There was no eroticism here, only bestial lust, lust heedless of its partner’s pleasure or pain, lust focused only on its own extinction. No, this wasn’t lust, it was raw dominance behavior! I felt used. As we spun slowly in the water, I began to consider whether Ruby’s years in isolation might not have been too much for her, whether she might not have gone off the deep end, lost all her marbles. Was she simply confused? Or was I the one who was confused? The idea that she might be enjoying this, whatever her motives, didn’t occur to me, because I wasn’t. Perhaps I could communicate telepathically… This isn’t the way we do it, not when we feel love and af-fection for our partners! We share! It’s mutual! If you would just let me touch you, I could make you feel a whole lot better than my goddamn sneaker!

She stopped rubbing herself on my foot and stared at me, eyes wide. I was too upset to be surprised. I grabbed her dorsal fin, and with my other hand reached down and stroked her genital slit. It was flushed, warm and rubbery. No hair, no stubble; the women in Playboy weren’t that smooth. If you’re going to be a bitch about getting your rocks off, we might as well do it this way, I thought. Almost as if in response, I felt her muscles con-tract. A hot liquid flowed over my hand. Ruby was pissing on me. As a student of animal behavior, I knew it was important not to make snap judgments based on my acculturation. Living in a limitless fluid environment, dolphins do not share human prejudices against bodily wastes. Indeed, Lilly had gone so far as to suggest that the taste of dolphin shit might serve as a form of non-vocal communication, a way for dolphins to monitor each other’s health or emotional states. For all I knew, pissing on your lover might be considered the height of dolphin eroticism. But it sure didn’t seem that way at the time. More startled than disgusted, I let go of Ruby, who returned to what she’d been doing. I wondered what the offspring of a dolphin and a sneaker would look like. I would have given a lot to know what was on her mind at that moment, but there was nothing, not a whisper of telepathic contact, just this remote and exploitative sexual behavior. I swam to the shallows and squatted with my feet tucked under me, neckdeep, trying to figure it out. Ruby went to the other side of the pool and sulked. Trixy stayed away from both of us, as she had all through the massage session. I didn’t understand any of it, and I was nowhere near understanding. “Loooo-EEEP-loooo!” Ruby made a plaintive-sounding call in the air – for the benefit of my ears, then – and made it again, “Loooo-EEEP-loooo!” It was a rising-falling slash call with a lisp in the middle, rather, I thought, like Lilly’s description of the purported “distress call.” Under the circumstances… “Loooo-EEEP-loooo!” …that might be understandable. What… “Loooo-EEEP-loooo!” …would happen if I imitated that call, as I’d done so successfully before? “Loooo-EEEP-loooo!”

I sounded terrible. I might as well have tried to whistle a bird’s song. But Ruby immediately left the far side of the pool and raced by me, two feet away, rolling out of reach when I tried to touch her. Again she approached; again we missed each other. “Loooo-EEEP-loooo, ORK!” That new sound at the end was like a groan. Of disgust? Don’t be so anthropomorphic, I scolded myself. But at this point, everything – logic, science, even telepathy – had failed me. While we sat there, deadlocked, Beau came over. I hadn’t given him or anyone else who might be watching us a second thought, but if he had any idea what was going on, he didn’t show it. “I’m gonna let Trixy out and put Bimbo in there, Zack. Trixy’s goin’ in with Satan.” The pens and the main pool were connected through a series of gates, sturdy wooden frames with wire-mesh panels in them, hinged so they swung under the catwalk, wide enough to pass a couple of dolphins at once. On the side gates connecting the pens, the wire mesh ran all the way to the top of the frame, but on the gates to the main pool there was an empty rectangle a couple of feet high between the water line and the bottom of the catwalk. It seems like a minor detail, but Ruby and I would be very grateful for that gap later on. Beau unlatched the side gate, motioned Trixy through with a wave of his hand and closed it. Then he let Bimbo in from the main pool. Instantly, the situation changed! Ruby ceased her plaintive whistling, swam up to me and laid her head in my lap! Even though I should have been used to such abrupt mood swings by now, I was astonished. I stroked her head for a few moments before she rolled, presenting her genital slit. Her vulva appeared flushed and hot pink. She was monomaniacal. I felt dismal. “Go on, get away from me, you stupid dolphin! Move!” I shouted, shoving at her flukes, splashing water in her face and generally making it known I didn’t want her. Reluctantly, she swam to the far side of the pen. Bimbo decided to have some fun. He turned toward me, picking up speed as he came across the pen. He was trying to scare me, but he wouldn’t hurt me. I cancelled my cringe reflex and at the last possible second, a foot from a dead-

on shot into my solar plexus, he veered aside. All I felt was the eerie slip-stream over my skin, a shadow of the power that had passed me. Then they both swam up to me, begging to be touched. Now that Bimbo’s in here, why doesn’t she make it with him? I wondered. Suddenly, Ruby smashed him violently with her flukes. The message was unequivocally “Get lost, buster!” Bimbo took it… …And she lunged on me! I threw up one arm to ward her off but she slid over it, bat-tering my face with her snout. She forced me backwards, un-derwater, all four hundred pounds of her on top of me! I rolled out from under her, but that didn’t deter her. She lunged again, battering me harder this time. Having a four-hundred-pound dolphin trying to lie on you is no joke, especially one as angry as Ruby seemed to be. This could no longer be mistaken for pas-sion, however selfish; it was rage. Her bony snout slammed into my left temple, and I saw stars. That really hurt! “Goddamnit, Ruby!” I shoved her off and smacked her flank as hard as I could. Eyeing me balefully, she retreated to the center of the pool. We sat for a while staring at each other. I was thinking very hard. What I did next sounds a little crazy, but I was trying to exercise a scientific point of view. The reasons for Ruby’s be-havior, while obscure to me, seemed perfectly clear to her. Therefore, this breakdown in communications was my fault and had been since I’d arrived that day. So was this violence born of sexual frustration or some other cause? I felt as if I had to give her one more chance. I didn’t feel like the experience was over. I got up and waded into the middle of the pool. She swam up to me and bumped briefly against my foot before she fell on me. I didn’t try to defend myself, didn’t even move. I just caught my breath a moment before the water closed over my mouth and everything went murky. I felt my ears pop as she pushed me down, down, into the sediment at the bottom of the pool. In an oddly detached way, I wondered if she meant to hold me there until I ran out of breath. She did, but she didn’t stop me from getting to the surface. Apparently she’d made her point. Gasping, I headed back for the shallows, but as my feet touched the bottom

Ruby threw herself on me again. As I went under, a welter of conflicting emotions crowded my brain – fear, anger, pain, rejection, confusion most of all. Would I let anybody else abuse me this way? Of course not! So why was I putting up with all this shit from a goddamn dolphin? Fresh strength surged through me. Planting my feet on the bottom I stood up to my full human height, throwing her aside. “GET OFF!” I roared, punching at her rubbery flesh wherever I could, surprised at my own outburst. She slid onto the rocks in the shallows, cutting herself on the barnacles, turned and swam away. I dragged myself out of the pen and sat for a long while with my head in my hands. A rumble made me look up. A tour train had arrived and was discharging nine sweat-soaked passengers. Ruby lay placidly at my feet, awaiting my acknowledgment. Beau was fixing one of the hoops, taping a new loop of rope to replace the old, frayed one that Star had broken by slouching. He looked up at me as I stepped into the chickee. “What the hell happened to you?” “What?” “That!” He pressed a finger against my left temple, producing a dull ache. “Hit yer head on somethin’?” “Ruby did it.” “What? Yer kiddin’! You musta been playin’ rough with her!” He grinned – most inappropriately, I thought. “There didn’t seem to be very much play involved, Beau.” “Well, sometimes, friend, they’ll get rough, you know, and you gotta be ready for it.” He tore a strip of duct tape with his teeth. “How do you think I got all these scars? Shootin’ narcot-ics? Nope, them porpoises done this to me! They don’t seem to understand we ain’t as tough as they are, even if we are smarter.” “She pushed me to the bottom and held me there. What does that mean?” “Mean?” The question seemed to puzzle him. “Don’t mean nothin’, in so far as I know! You sure are a great looker-for-meanin’s, Zack. I ‘spect you find ‘em under most any rock! Quit askin’ me what it means when they do this or that! I dunno, I’m just a dang porpoise trainer! Like I told you, if you got to ask

somebody, ask her! It’s just her way of playin’ with ya. She done it to me, sometimes.” I didn’t like being dismissed. Forgetting that I was Beau’s guest and owed him a great deal, I got pissed. “I don’t know shit about your goddamn dolphins, but I’m pretty damn sure Ruby wasn’t playing with me when she did this!” I said, jabbing a finger at my aching temple. “She was too violent for play!” I realized immediately I’d made a mistake. Beau laid down the ring and the tape and turned to face me. “Well all right, friend, you can believe anythin’ you want to, but that don’t mean it’s so, and it don’t mean you got go pestering’ me about it! You think you’re so all-fired important? I got fifteen mouths to feed, seven porpoise and eight people, and lately my kids ain’t been eatin’ half so good nor so regular as them porpoises, what with business slackin’ off! So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to my work!” Crushed and humiliated, I turned to go. “Do take a look at yerself, though,” Beau said gently as I stepped out. “That’s a nasty bruise she gave ya.” The mirror in the bathroom of the trainer’s house revealed that the skin was black and blue, but not broken. Ruby was nothing if not judicious: she never hurt anyone more than she had to do get her point across. I watched that afternoon’s dolphin show, then went back to see that silly dolphin. Trixy was in with her, but only Ruby swam up to me and hovered below the catwalk, in easy reach. I put out my hand, but she backed off. I collapsed inside. Now that the adrenalin was wearing off, my temple began to throb and all the pain and puzzlement I was feeling surfaced. At that moment Ruby lifted her head. A softer look had re-placed the glare in her eyes. She approached, took my hand in her jaws and gently mouthed it, looking at me. I’m sorry, she seemed to say. I’m sorry… My anthropomorphism was ludicrous, but so what? “It’s all right, Ruby, it’s all right,” I said, scratching her tongue. She rolled away from me and swam to the far end of the pen, by Trixy. I took off my sodden sneakers and dangled my toes in the water, hoping

she would return, but it was Trixy who came over instead. She opened her mouth to bite my foot. I pulled it out. She waited. Another test? I put my foot back in the water. She took my toes in her jaws and began to squeeze, at first gently, then harder and harder. When it hurt, I kicked her in the chops with my other foot. I’d fallen for that trick with Satan, and a dolphin that can’t come up with a new trick is dull indeed.

Chapter 18 My Dinner with Salina (and Hank) People who do not get along very well with other people claim a magical ability to make contact with a different species. We teach our pets to imitate what we cannot express in ourselves, and dogs are made to sit up and beg by owners who would never say please to an equal. –P.S. Feibleman, “Mike Nichols Tries To Make A ‘Talkie’ with Dolphins,” Atlantic, January 1974 Hank caught up with me on my way back to the car. “Hey, mind if I grab a ride? There’s a dinner in it for you!” I didn’t feel much like company. “Who’s buying?” “Salina. I was just on the phone to her, and she invited me. My truck’s broken, but when I told her I could get a ride with you, she said to drag you along.” It sounded better than whatever I’d be able to scrounge at home. On the dirt road, the sun shining through the palmettos cast spears of light in the dust we raised. The Corvair might not be much, but here was Hank, working a paying job and still unable to fix his truck. Whatever I had must be going around. Hank smacked his lips. “I can’t wait for some home cooking! It’s been a while since Salina’s had me up to eat – too damn long! Y’know, in spite of her being so highbrow and all, that woman makes the best damn fried chicken and hush puppies.” “Does she?” I turned north on the Tamiami Trail. Perhaps sometime, somewhere, I would uncover something Salina couldn’t do: bend steel bars with her teeth, solve quadratic equations in her head, recite the chronology of the emperors of China backward in Mandarin. So far she seemed to be able to do anything, and everything, and do it effortlessly; whereas I couldn’t seem to do anything right, no matter how hard I tried. “How’s the book coming?” I asked. “The book?” Hank sounded puzzled. “The one I’m supposed to be taking pictures for!” “Oh, that book! It went under a long time ago.”

“What?” Of course, I would be the last to know. “Don’t get all bent out of shape,” Hank continued. “Me and Salina were discussing it a while ago, and we couldn’t see any sense to doing another kids’ book like Please, Mr. Porpoise! The market just isn’t there, she says. So, we’ve changed the whole idea around. Now we’re working on a handbook – 'The Official Dolphin Trainers' Manual' or something.” “Funny, she never mentioned it to me…” But for that matter, I hadn’t heard from Salina in weeks. She had only recently returned from a vacation. Where one went for a vacation from Sarasota I didn’t know. “It’s going to be a book for people who gotta work with the damn critters, y’know?” Hank went on. “We figure there ought to be a pretty big popular market for it too, seeing as how we’re going to make it scientifically accurate and filled with amusing antidotes. Salina’s going to write that part, and I’m going to write about training techniques – optimal conditioning, behavioral modulation, the whole psychological end of it, which is a pretty big end if you think about it. And I’m not surprised she hasn’t told you – this just came up recently. And yeah, we’ll still need your damn photos,” he said, grinning. “Who’s going to write about interspecies communications?” “What, Lilly’s stuff?” He chuckled. “Oh, yeah, I guess we’ll have to do a chapter on that, it being such a popular misreception and all. But I don’t know what we’ll say. I’ve trained horses, dogs, and chimps, y’know, and I’ll admit that dolphins are smarter… but not that much smarter.” When we arrived at Salina’s we were engrossed in a discussion of the finer points of Lilly’s work, which we terminated by mutual agreement at her door. There were the customary drinks before dinner. The Asian maid being conspicuous by her absence, Salina served them herself. Apparently “bartender” was another one of those skills she had effortlessly acquired. I was glad for Hank’s presence. Being such a stud, he absorbed almost all of Salina’s excess libido. Sitting in his blast shadow was far more comfortable than the full glare of her estrogenic alpha-bitchiness. She demanded an in-depth debriefing from him. She’d heard that the park would be closing, and now she wanted to know everything from the closest source she could get. I kept mostly silent while he told her what he knew. It wasn’t much; some huge real estate developer had offered the park’s owners

more money for the land than the park was bringing in. It was that simple. Beau was trying to find new homes for the dolphins, but it seemed impossible to keep the show together. So they would be parted out, but everything else was up in the air – in short, nothing more than I already knew. Afterward, Salina had the downcast appearance of a woman who realizes a long love affair is finally over. She let a cigarette fume in her fingers while she stared moodily at some books and papers scattered on a coffee table. The silence was awkward. I decided to break it. “Ruby was doing something real strange today.” “Oh? And what was that?” Salina asked, stirring from her reverie. “It was almost like she wanted to drown me!” I described Ruby’s behavior – what I thought appropriate, and felt comfortable describing, that is. “…And finally, she held me down on the bottom of the pen! Beau said it was just in play,” I concluded, “but it sure didn’t seem playful to me, and we argued about it.” Hank laughed. “It’s no use arguing with Beau about dolphins! When he knows something, he by-god knows it, until he figures out he was wrong!” “And what do you think, Mr. Dolphin Expert?” “Oh, I’ll go with Beau on this one. She was probably just playing rough with him.” Salina snorted and ground out her cigarette in an ashtray of onyx and Mexican silver. “Shows how much you know! Spoken just like a man – the only way you can relate to others is through aggression! Why, you probably think she wanted Zack to screw her, don’t you?” I practically choked on my drink. Hank just laughed. Fortunately I had a good tan at that point, so neither of them noticed me blush. I recovered just as she turned to me. “You should be proud of yourself, Zack,” she said. “In Ruby’s mind, you’ve crossed the line. She’s adopted you.” That was Hank’s signal to choke. “If that isn’t the most pathetic piece of hogwash I’ve ever heard! She’s a dolphin, Salina not a frat house or an orphanage, for chrissakes! How the hell can she adopt him? Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t sign the papers!” Salina just glared. “You may be a trainer, Hank, but you’re no ethologist.

The behavior of holding another dolphin on the bottom of the tank is directed, quite specifically, against misbehaving juvenile dolphins! The Caldwells, a couple of people who really know dolphins, make that quite clear…” She picked up a marked-up copy of "The World of the Bottlenose Dolphin," flipped the pages until she found the right one and read: “There have been times when severely tried mothers have punished calves by biting them or even forcibly holding them on the bottom of the tank for a few seconds.” For me, that was a revelation! But Hank burst out laughing. “You’re saying… hah! You mean to say… hah-hah! Ruby… hahahaha!… has gotten Zack mixed up with… hee-hee!… a dolphin calf?” Salina’s sneer would have withered a billygoat’s balls, but when she turned to me she was smiling. “Pay no attention to him, Zack. What you’ve achieved is really quite significant – more so than anything Lilly’s done, in my opinion. You understand, don’t you?” I had no idea what she meant. “I think so,” I said, hoping that would be enough; one didn’t trifle with Salina. But her expectant look forced me to think harder about what had happened in Ruby’s pen that afternoon. “What she was doing to me… pushing me down and holding me on the bottom… that’s something they do with each other, with other dolphins?” Salina nodded encouragingly. “So you’re saying that, even if she’s not responding to me like I was a calf, she’s treating me like… a juvenile dolphin?” “You’ve got it,” she said, flicking the heavy silver lighter to ignite another cigarette. “Because to her, that’s exactly what you must seem to be – a juvenile dolphin, and a pretty lame one at that.” Hank had stopped chuckling and now listened more attentively, sipping his drink, perhaps because Salina’s attention was focused on me. “Consider,” she continued, “in the water with her, you’re as helpless as an infant – even more so! You can’t swim worth a damn, your breathing apparatus is fatally awkward and you have no echolocation. You can’t catch fish or take part in other group-bonding experiences. Worst of all, you have no idea of the various social signals and their meanings. You might as well be blind, deaf and dumb. But somehow you’ve managed to get past all that and get her to start treating you as another dolphin. It’s a remarkable achievement! How did you

accomplish it?” “I have no idea.” That was a bald-faced lie, of course; I had a very clear idea, especially if what Salina said about the importance of sex to dolphins was true. “No offense, but a dolphin would have to be pretty stupid to mistake Zack for her calf,” Hank said. “Quite the opposite,” Salina said. “She’d have to be pretty smart.” Hank shook his head. “How’s that?” “Only very intelligent animals with a high degree of behavioral plasticity can make that kind of ‘mistake,’” she explained. “What’s plastic got to do with this?” “Not plastic – plasticity, you dolt! The ability to change one’s behavior according to environmental circumstances, to adapt! Look at this phylogenetically,” she continued, bypassing Hank’s polysyallabic confusion. “Take a fish or a lizard. Their brains are rudimentary, their behavior instinctual, so their learning ability is severely limited. Can you imagine a lizard mistaking Zack for another lizard?” “Of course not! He hasn’t got the scales for it.” It felt weird to hear myself spoken about in the third person, but I didn’t interrupt Salina. To that extent, at least, she had me trained. “Well, then! How about a wolf, a creature that’s vastly more sophisticated than a lizard? Can you imagine a wolf mistaking Zack for another wolf?” She made the analogy to rare cases of human children raised by wolves, who had apparently learned the wolf pack’s social signals well enough to be accepted as a wolf, albeit a very strange, deformed wolf. Both the wolves and the human children could accomplish this because of the plasticity of their behaviors, although the children were permanently crippled by it. They never learned to walk upright or speak a human language, and died a few years after being brought back to civilization. “Ruby’s starting to treat him like another dolphin because of her plasticity and Zack’s ability to respond to her on her own level, an ability not everyone possesses,” she said, smiling at me encouragingly. “Keep it up, Zack, and you’ll make a name for yourself. Of course, you must beware of the opposite corollary – it would be anthropomorphic to think of Ruby as a woman.”

So much approval from Salina left me speechless. Hank, however, was unimpressed. “Well, the day one of those critters mistakes me for a dolphin is the day I go back to training dogs,” he declared. “Now there’s a creature that knows its place! And if Salina’s right,” he said to me with a smirk, “you better watch out for old Ruby – next thing you know, she’ll have you eating raw fish! Ha!” “Just time for another round of drinks before the veal is done,” Salina said, gathering our glasses and going to her liquor cabinet. The concepts that Salina raised churned in my brain. Me… A dolphin? In Ruby’s mind, at least… but… how twisted was that mind? Had her long captivity left her permanently warped? I felt liked I was stoned, but I hadn’t smoked anything for several days. “I sure am glad Beau put her back up in the main pool with the males.” “Umm, yesss,” Salina purred, hoisting a seltzer dispenser. “We all need a good screw now and then…” The frothy mixer spurted into our glasses. “… don’t we?” “She better get it while she can,” Hank said. “Beau’s thinking of letting her go.” “You’re kidding!” They both turned to stare at my outburst. “I’m afraid Hank’s right,” Salina continued. “I heard about this a while ago, from Ivan, I mean, Dr. Shuvoff.” Coming from Salina, his name took me by surprise. “His project’s finished, which is another way of saying his funding ran out. He plans to tag the dolphin he’s been training and release him into the bay, and he suggested that Beau tag Ruby and release them together.” “Since when did Beau start doing what some scientist tells him to do?” Salina furrowed her brow, as if I’d said something mildly stupid, and handed me my drink, which was strong. She rummaged among the folders on the cluttered coffee table. “I don’t know how you can call yourself a student if you don’t know how to do basic research,” she carped. “It’s true the local paper is a reactionary fish wrapper, but that shouldn’t make you disdain it as a source of information. If you paid more attention, you’d know about things like this,” she said, pulling a clipping from a folder. "Local Lab Tags Porpoises," the headline read, but my eyes were drawn to

the photo below. Two men in wet suits were standing in waist-deep open water, grappling with a dolphin that had a numbered tag the size of a saucer stuck on its dorsal fin. One of them was Shuvoff, the other was Beau. The article was dated from mid-November 1970, eight months before, about the time I’d met Salina and first started visiting Florida Funland. It seemed like a million years ago. The reporter described how Shuvoff tagged wild dolphins so he could follow their movements. They were netted and secured in a cloth stretcher. While one of the men – the article didn’t say which one – took the “porpoise’s” measurements, the other man heated a thin metal spike with a blowtorch. When the spike was red-hot, they sprayed the dolphin’s dorsal fin with a topical anesthetic and pushed the spike through, creating a cauterized hole for a metal bolt that secured the identification plates. Several dolphins had already been tagged this way. The dolphins held still for the operation, which didn’t seem to cause them any pain, the reporter said. But he also referred to them as “fish.” Shuvoff lavished praise on Beau, who had furnished the boat and the catching expertise. He was quoted as saying that only Beau had mastered “porpoise” training to the extent of being able to release a “porpoise” into open water and get it to return on command. He was referring to Ruby. Since she was the only dolphin Beau would risk losing, it seemed like all praise in this case went to the trainer, and none to the dolphin. The tagging was being carried out under the auspices of Trident Marine Lab. Shuvoff had enlisted the aid of every boat owner and fisherman on the Suncoast to be on the lookout for his tagged porpoises, which, the reporter joked, were now wearing “Florida vanity plates.” I didn’t find it funny. The imagined smell of burning blubber made me want to puke. Let him do that to Ruby? I could see myself doing it to a couple of pieces of his anatomy! Instead of shredding the clipping, which was what I really wanted to do, I tossed it back down on the coffee table. “That’s disgusting,” I said. “It’s inhumane. He’s a sadist. The SPCA ought to shut him down.” “You’re overly sentimental,” Salina replied. “It doesn’t hurt them, the article said so!” I was so upset that I forgot my resolution not to argue with Salina.

“Yeah, and you believe everything you read in the papers? Like we’re really winning in Vietnam? How the hell could it not hurt them, Salina? He’s shoving a red-hot iron through their fins! Last I heard, that kind of thing was called ‘torture’ under the Geneva Convention!” She glared at me, then looked away. “There’s no comparison. Their dorsal fin is nothing but cartilage, there’s no nerves in it.” “Then why does he have to anaesthetize it?” “If he wasn’t humane, he wouldn’t bother with that, would he?” “The tags will rip out of their fins!” “No they don’t, either. They don’t hurt the dolphins at all. After a while the bolt rusts through, the tag falls off and the hole heals up by itself.” “Since when did you start supporting people who mutilate dolphins?” “Let’s just say that, over the past few months, my views on the subject have matured,” Salina said, implying that mine remained immature. “He’s doing good science, trying to train dolphins to protect divers from sharks. The Navy recognizes that, they funded him.” “When did you become a cheerleader for the military-industrial complex?” Suddenly there was fire in Salina’s eyes. “Since one of my nephews got sent to that goddamn Asian hellhole!” she yelled, pointing to a photo on her mantle of a handsome young Marine in dress uniform. Her composure returned quickly. “Don’t get me wrong, Zack, it’s a stupid fucking war, but one of my boys is over there now! If Shuvoff’s research saves even one human life, it might be my nephew’s, and that would make it all worth-while.” Well, that explained her about-face on the military research! Salina had always struck me as a loner, like myself; for the first time I had to put her in a larger context, with family responsibilities to uphold. Human blood, it seemed, was thicker than seawater. She slumped in her chair and sipped her drink. Hank, who had been observing all this with a smirk, now spoke up. “It’s surprising you never read that story, Zack, it was in the paper quite some while ago,” he said. I wanted to leave, but the smell coming from the kitchen was mouth-watering, and I was famished. I didn’t have a lot of money to eat on in those days, and keeping up with Ruby took a hell of a lot of calories. Deal-ing with Salina’s outbursts took more still. “Nobody knows if Ruby’s going to be released or not. Beau hasn’t made up his mind. Salina here doesn’t think

she could go back into the wild.” “Why not?” “Her throat muscles,” Salina said limply. “You must know, they squeegee the salt water off fish when they swallow them, so they don’t get dehydrated. But Ruby’s been fed nothing but cut fish for years. Her throat muscles will have weakened in captivity. Even if she was able to catch her own fish, she wouldn’t be able to swallow them.” I wanted to shake my head in disbelief at this woman. Apparently she had forgotten that I’d seen her, hanging on to a strut on the riverboat, holding whole fish for Ruby. “That’s a bunch of bull,” Hank rebutted. “There’s nothing wrong with her throat muscles. If Beau was to release her tomorrow, old Ruby could take care of herself just fine.” “And I suppose you’d be willing to let her starve to death to prove you’re right?” Salina shot back. “Why was she begging at the marina after she washed out in that storm? Isn’t it obvious? She needs us, Hank! She’s become conditioned to human care, and now she can’t live without it! None of them can!” I doubted we were that important in the dolphins’ scheme of things; under that doggish exterior beat the heart of a cat. But I kept my mouth shut. It was Hank’s turn to argue, now. “Don’t go getting all riled up!” he replied. “Odds are, Beau won’t just cast her off! Not if he can make an honest buck selling her to somebody.” “Selling them all,” Salina muttered. “Making an honest buck… that’s what it’s all about to you, isn’t it? Your pound of dolphin flesh.” “Aw, come off it, Salina! I’m not the one who’s selling them! For that matter, I’m not the one closing the park, either. Hell, if I had my druthers, and the bucks, I’d fix up that rinky-dink place and turn it into a decent dolphin show, like the one they got over in Miami. But you and I both know there isn’t a rat’sass chance that’ll happen.” Something in what he said seemed to stir Salina. She got up and stared out the window for a minute, watching her children playing in the back yard, and sipped her drink. Then, abruptly, she turned to me. “You need a summer job, don’t you?” she asked.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Bending over the coffee table, she grabbed a pen and scribbled something on a scrap of paper. “I’m writing down the names and private phone numbers of several people you must meet. They all work for major oceanariums in this state, and they are all my friends. You don’t need to stay in this town, Zack. Better things await you elsewhere. Give them a call – no, better yet, go see them in person. Tell them about your work with Ruby. Use my name. I’m positive that at least one of them will be able to help you. Do it soon, before all the summer jobs are filled.” She thrust the paper at me with a look that brooked no argument. I took it. “Uhh… thanks, Salina. Thanks a lot. Really!” “It’s the best I can do for you. Make it work.” Her words sounded bizarre, almost surreal. Nobody handed me jobs like that, and if they did, I was too stupid to take them. I looked to Hank for reinforcement. He shrugged. “Might as well give it a try, Zack. With the park closing, you got nothing to lose.” In the kitchen, a buzzer went off. “Ah, the veal parmigiana’s ready,” Salina said. She led us through the dining room, where the table stood already set, and into the kitchen. Turning off the timer, she pulled a small, bub-bling pan, redolent with warm, ripe odors, from the oven. “Mmm… Well, it ain’t fried chicken, but it sure smells good,” Hank conceded. “Sorry, I was low on shortening,” Salina explained. Seeing the size of the pan, I asked “Will that feed us and the kids too?” “Are you kidding?” Salina snapped. “They don’t appreciate my cooking! Let them eat hot dogs.”

Chapter 19 Outside the Fence No death, no doom, no anguish can arouse the surpassing despair which flows from a loss of identity. – H.P. Lovecraft, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” Weird Tales, 1934 A couple of nights later, I figured it was time to pull a rabbit out of my hat for Professor Dyne. The end-of-trimester evaluation was rushing at me, and while my grades had been transferred from the university, I still had that dolphin contract to fulfill. With its plants and lizards, the lanai was much more conducive to speculative biology than my bedroom. I pushed open the sliding glass doors and aimed the cheap stereo’s speakers that way. With my mother and brother gone, I could sit out there and write my paper while I listened to my favorite albums: The Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Doors and, of course, Hendrix, who had died just a few months earlier, choking on his own vomit from an overdose of barbiturates. My research materials covered the picnic table like a scholastic salad bar: photocopies of the scientific papers I’d found at the university library, the few books, including Lilly’s, that I’d read, the photos and my pathetic field notes from Florida Funland. My academic dilemma: how to pull it all together? How to make sense out of this jumble of unrelated information and write something that would get me a decent evaluation from a benthic ecologist? I made several false starts, each worse than the one before. The paper should open with a clear, concise statement about the controversy surrounding the scientific evaluation of dolphin intelligence, then move to an appraisal of the various attempts to do so, but my mind kept drifting away… What went wrong with Elaine? Why did Ruby beat me up? Would Salina ever finish her damn book and pay me? Would Ruby be released when the park closed down?

I caught myself, and returned to the paper. What my problem really boiled down to was cognitive dissonance. I had two models of the dolphins, and I couldn’t fit them together. In the scientific articles, the dolphins were abstractions from which scientists pried information by application of the Scientific Method, whether the dolphins wanted to give it up or not. The dolphins contributed little to the process except whatever latent qualities they possessed. They were subjects to be trained, manipulated, tested and analyzed. But the dolphins at Florida Funland were personalities whom I encountered on their own terms. They might be working for cut fish, but they ran the show at least as much as Beau did. Even in that artificial environment, they were formidable creatures with minds and designs of their own. As my last encounter with Ruby had demonstrated, you pissed them off at your peril. If they wanted to cooperate with you, great; if not, you were sunk – literally! How to synthesize these disparate points of view in such a way that even a clam-digger like Wilbur would understand? After mulling it over for a while and getting nowhere, I decided to smoke a joint and see if that gave me any insight. It was an utterly hedonistic self-indulgence and the notion that it would stimulate intellectual effort was a gratuitous self-deception. But it was probably worth a try… …So here are these two apparently irreconcilable dolphin paradigms to be reckoned-with, I thought, blowing smoke at an anole lizard dozing on a leaf. But, with one of those rare glimpses of insight the weed occasionally delivers, I realized there was a third paradigm lurking here, an occult paradigm in the sense that it was hidden from view, although Lilly hinted at it in his later works. That was the existence of the subspecies I had idiomatically dubbed Tursiops truncatus telepathicus – Ruby, the telepathic bottlenose dolphin. She pointed to the possibility that dolphins (or at least some dolphins) had routine access (or at least better access) to realms of consciousness that lay outside human experience (at least, most humans’ experience). In spite of our repeated contacts, this telepathic “Ruby” still existed, for me, largely in a state of suspended disbelief. I simply could not convince myself that the intermittent entity was what it claimed to be – a bona-fide projection of

Ruby’s consciousness into mine. On the other hand, I couldn’t convince myself it wasn’t. The experiences were so vivid, her voice so evocative and self-assured! But wait a minute! I was a film student! This whole independent study project on the dolphins was just a big diversion! Like most of my projects, it had started out small and cute… and grown into a monster! Panic gripped me. What did I have to show for eight months spent fooling around at Florida Funland? A bunch of salvaged photos, which might never get used for anything! I regarded my scribbled notes with disgust. Did I really know anything more about dolphins now than I did when I started? Well, yes: they were very big, very strong, irascible – and very horny. And at least one of them might be telepathic. Why worry about this stupid paper? Why not get righteously stoned? And, while I was at it, why not conduct a conjoint experiment that might help answer the question? If Ruby-the-telepathic-dolphin was indeed nothing more than a mental artifact, I should be able to willfully contact her. That would go a long way toward proving that these “telepathic” experiences were self-deceptions, delusions, maybe even hallucinations. On the other hand, if I couldn’t summon Ruby at will, that was evidence she existed beyond me. My access to her might be under her control or subject to forces beyond either of us. Thus armed with an intellectual razor, I put on Axis: Bold As Love, relaxed in a deck chair and smoked the rest of the joint in deep, long-held tokes. That still seemed to be the best way to get hold of her. Hendrix, bless him, had a way of summing things up: I just want to talk to you, I won’t do you no harm I just want to know about your different lives On this here people farm… As I felt the rush building in my temples I focused all my at-tention on her, squeezing it down to a coherent, laser-like beam, slamming my thoughts, whatever thoughts were, at her: Ruby… RUBY… RUBY! Where are you? Talk to me! Internally there was no response, and externally there was only Hendrix,

jiving on the stereo. Dead silence on the etheric circuits. Very well; perhaps I was trying too hard. Perhaps the way to contact Ruby was not to push myself on her but to open up to her, to let her seep into my awareness, to immerse myself in the ocean of consciousness and allow the currents to swirl us together. Melting into the deck chair, I stilled my thoughts and flung my mind wide-open. I just want to know about The rooms behind your minds Do I see a vacuum there Or am I going blind? Anybody out there? I scanned my mental horizons for a glimpse of anything remotely resembling Ruby, something to amplify and home in on, a gleam, a spark, the faintest glim-mer… Nothing. There was nothing but Hendrix mocking me from beyond the grave and the echo of my own dope-amplified thoughts. I wanted to get up, shut off the album and do something productive, but the pot had me so laid-back I couldn’t move from the deck chair. I lay there through the rest of the music, wondering at the cool air that occasionally wafted over me. Finally the tone arm lifted from the record. I slowly sat up and realized I’d forgotten to turn off the air conditioning when I’d opened the lanai doors. There’d be hell to pay when Jo, who was still out of town, got the electric bill. My failure to contact Ruby proved nothing. If Ruby-the-telepathic-dolphin was a truly unconscious artifact, what assurance did I have that I would be able to evoke her? Wasn’t it exactly the nature of such delusions that they resisted volitional attempts to elicit them? In fact, this whole business with Ruby was absurd. I had a real dolphin down at Florida Funland who desperately wanted to screw me. Why had I invented a mental replica of her with which to tease myself? But I didn’t invent her, I thought annoyedly. Now I was arguing with myself! She just showed up one night, out of the blue, or rather, the black… Getting up and moving around made me realize how hot and sticky I was. I

would take a shower, fix some food, then get back to work on that damn term paper. And it was there, in the shower, with the cool water spraying on my head and running down my naked body like a slipstream, that she came to me, unbidden. This feels almost normal! For a moment, I was delighted to have her back. Then I remembered I was mad at her. Back off, dolphin! What’s the matter? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you beat the shit out of me the other day, could it? You’re still mad about that? I thought we got it all straightened out at the end, and I certainly thought you’d learned your lesson! And with sudden clarity, I saw it from her point of view: From the moment you arrived, you ignored me, mistook me for one of the others! How could I not feel hurt? Later on, I realized you weren’t wholly to blame; you didn’t expect to find me in the big pool. You wanted me to be there, but at the same time you didn’t – something I’ll never understand about you. You wanted me there because you thought it would “take me off your hands,” sexually, and at the same time you didn’t, because, somewhere deep inside, you really are attracted to me, really do want to mate with me – don’t you? Her question jolted me. Who was I afraid to admit it to, Ruby or myself? Yes… I guess I am, Ruby. And I guess I do. She was forthright, as usual. I’ve never tried to hide my desire for you! At first it was just a game some of us play with humans, to see how far you’ll go. Most of you don’t go anywhere. But you were different. You accepted me, lust and all, and after a while I began to see you wanted to com-municate. You thought you might have something to learn, as well as to teach me! That was when I fell in love with you, in spite of myself. Her thoughts were a slap in the face, a lover’s caress. I was stunned. Could I really be making all this up? What for? Why? I pushed those thoughts back, refocused on Ruby. I know what’s going to happen. There are fewer and fewer of you

watching us, and the feedings are getting ir-regular! You’re all moping around, quarreling, and your performance is losing its edge! Beau’s mind may not be the open book yours is, but I can catch echoes of what he’s thinking… “Open book…” Now that was a curious choice of words for a dolphin, wasn’t it? Doubt weaseled into my thoughts. It’s a metaphor, she thought impatiently. You explained books to me, remember? And I asked why you didn’t just remember things. These words, these thoughts, are just flotsam in your mind! Why does it bother you if I grab them and play with them? Your problem is that you think you know everything. It’s a delusion! I paused, hands on the taps. Her tone implied she meant both me, and my species in general. What do you mean? I stepped out of the bathtub and dried off, which she found amusing. Looking in the mirror, I saw only myself, no ectoplasmic dolphins hovering nearby like a cheap special effect. I reached for the doorknob and she stopped me cold. You don’t even know what’s on the other side of that barrier! she thought vexatiously. I was astonished that she would even broach the idea, and we began to argue about it. You don’t know! she thought. You remember what was there when you got in the shower, and you have an expectation of what you’ll see when you get out! But right now, at this very instant, the barrier itself obscures your senses! You have absolutely no way of knowing what you’ll find when you open it! I explained that beyond the door there were other rooms with furniture and objects in them. And beyond that? The rest of the world – houses, land, oceans… wherever you are… How do you know? she repeated. It hit me, quite suddenly, that I didn’t know. Ruby was absolutely right; my senses were confined to the bathroom, a space of about 350 cubic feet. Everything else was either memory or anticipation. I regarded the door, a perfectly commonplace and innocuous object, with

an abrupt and inexplicable twinge of fear. How could I be sure what lay on the other side of it? Suppose it opened into space, or another world, or some unimaginable vista? But those were childish imaginings. If the door opened into a hard vacuum, the air pressure inside the bathroom would blow it off its hinges and blast me into the void. And since the lights were still on, the bathroom remained connected to the power grid, and was still in its proper time-space continuum. But what else could lie beyond the door, beyond my experience of the moment? An intruder could have quietly vandalized the house. A fire could be smoldering in some unseen place. A car could have crashed through the front window, although I probably would have heard the noise. In an unlikely but notimpossible scenario, a meteor could be streaking toward me from outer space. Almost certainly, memory had failed me. Could I name all the books on the shelves? Did I know how much change had fallen behind the cushions on the couch, or what lay fifty feet underground? This seemed a bit like what Tuna, the philosophy major, meant when he talked about phenomenology. I had tried to understand it, even going so far as to read a couple of Colin Wilson’s bad novels, but to no avail. Ruby regarded this thought train patiently, silently. All right, I finally confessed, I don’t know what’s on the other side of the door! And yet, you insist on regarding what lies beyond that barrier as “real,” even though you admit you don’t really know what’s out there, while me, with whom you are conversing at this very moment, you label “unreal.” Holding the towel around my waist – although there was no need for modesty – I opened the door. It led into the short corridor between the living room, on my right, and my mother’s and Howie’s bedrooms, on the left. I was unable to stop a sigh of relief. The rest of the house, just the way I knew it would be! The way you assumed it would be, she corrected me. Big deal. It is a big deal! I put on some clothes, then threw together a sandwich and wolfed it down.

The whole process, of course, intrigued her: knives, bread, mayonnaise, luncheon meat, cheese, lettuce, refrigerators, etc. Dinner finished, I sat on the couch and rolled another joint. If one had made me feel this good, another, I reasoned, would make me feel even better! As usual, Ruby watched with fascination. She could comprehend fire in an intellectual sense, although she tended to think of it as some strange kind of animal. But emotionally she couldn’t relate to it the way we humans, dependent on it for half a million years, do. The first toke intensified the sensation of being in contact with her. Her presence was so tangible I half-expected to find water on the floor. But there was a wistfulness about her I didn’t understand. Why are you afraid? Afraid of what? Mating with me. That brought me up short! With us, when a female wants to mate, the male of her choice refuses at his own risk – as you found out! When you’re in the water with me, your desire is obvious, even under your artificial skin. When I approach you, you think about it, you respond to me – but you won’t do it! There’s another barrier there, a barrier of fear I can’t breach. You’ll go so far, and then no farther. So I’m asking you: what are you afraid of? Her question was plaintive, almost heartbreaking. How to answer her? How could a dolphin even begin to imagine, much less comprehend, the maze of prohibitions, fear and shame sur-rounding our sexuality? How could I explain the mystery and embarrassment that enshroud human reproduction? Concepts of modesty and privacy, the social contracts of marriage, fidelity, and the nuclear family? Morality, chastity, adultery? These were more meaningless in her world than echolocation was in mine. Sometimes I’ve been rough with you, and I’m sorry! I just assumed you did it the way we do. Now I realize I was wrong, you have your own ways… What would Ruby make of diaphragms, the Pill, or that first time you have to ask for condoms at the drug store? Wouldn’t she wonder why, in many cultures, children were punished for masturbating? Did dolphins have any

concepts of impotence, rape, frigidity, or premature ejaculation? How could I explain the horror of child molestation to a creature that made tender love to her own offspring? …Is it my size that frightens you? My teeth? I won’t hurt you, I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise! What would happen if I had sex with Ruby? If anyone found out, they would label me a “degenerate,” “pervert,” “bestialist,” and other bad names. Were there any laws on the books against what she was proposing? What would happen emotionally? How would I feel about her afterward? About myself? Wouldn’t it be tantamount to admitting I was socially inept; I was unattractive to women; I was taking a cheap substitute? Afterwards, would I feel guilty and unclean, like I had after mounting the apricot bitch? None of these were her concerns. Her desire seemed pure in a way that mine might never be. I could flip the question over. If Ruby were a human woman for whom I felt the same affection and respect, would I have had a second’s worth of second thoughts? Hell no! Given her native intelligence and her obvious passion, should species be any more a repugnant barrier than race? Wasn’t the foundation of all racism the abhorrent fallacy that the despised human group was, in fact, a different, inferior sub-species? As these thoughts played themselves out, Ruby seemed to hover in the background, aware that I was processing something important, if not understanding exactly what it was. Even in telepathy, it seemed, a certain amount of privacy was possible. Ruby had exposed me to dolphin sexuality, and as a result I understood her world a little better than I had before. She would never understand my world, and my reluctance to engage in the most sensual and intimate of acts with her, unless I exposed her to human sexuality. It might be cruel, but there could be no going halfway, no sugar coating here; I would have to show her the whole thing, as I understood it. Well, Ruby, I began, it’s like this. Compared to you, we are rather hung-up about sex, for reasons I don’t pretend to understand. It’s not just me, it’s an almost species-wide characteristic. Consider… And as I conjured up that awesome, terrifying mental spec-tacle, she

recoiled in horror. All the painful and punishing puberty rites of past and present times paraded before our minds’ mutual eye in a spasm of agony and uncomprehending disgust. We heard the shrieking of boy babies and saw a mountain of bleeding, severed foreskins that reached to the sky. We observed the tender lips of little girls’ labia pulled open by callous hands and the clitoris sliced out with tools ranging from sharp flints to modern steel scalpels. We saw a penis split open lengthwise in the aboriginal rite of subincision. We felt a young woman get slapped across the face for her first menstrual period. We watched laboring women strapped down, terrified, trying to give birth uphill, screaming for drugs to deaden their pain. We saw the nurturing breast wither, deprived of its chance to give, replaced by plastic nipples filled with the septic pus of corporate greed. In the stiff arms of flash-frozen mothers, love lost out to efficiency and authority. Helpless babies squirmed and screamed, only to become withdrawn and frozen themselves, while in the background a chorus of white-robed priests, their faces veiled by surgical masks, chanted “Newborns cannot see! Newborns feel no pain! Tabula rasa, tabula rasa, rah, rah, rah!” In that hellish hallucination we saw girls beaten for promiscuity, women branded for adultery and wives burned alive on their husbands’ funeral pyres. The smoke stank of human flesh, which Ruby, being a dolphin, could not smell. But more horrible than the wounds and the physical pain were the guilt and shame inflicted by my species on itself, on its innocent sons and daughters, in this relentless war to subdue its deepest biological drive. It was a war that could never be won, a conflict the dolphins had never known. If Ruby had been frightened by the panorama of human dominion I’d revealed to her that first night, this vision rendered her thoughtless, mute, too terrified even to flee. You… you don’t carry that with you all the time, do you? she thought as the vision faded. Of course not! I had to exert myself a bit to conjure it up. It’s so

dreadful most of us refuse to think about it. I suspect that’s why it’s there. And do you know what the most awful thing of all is? We’re proud of all that! We call it our morality. It’s one of those cherished human institutions that distinguishes us from brute beasts – such as you. I never knew, couldn’t have guessed… that explains everything… I’m sorry, I’m so sorry… she brooded silently for a while, trying to assimilate what I had shown her. You’d be taking a big risk with me, wouldn’t you? she finally thought. Only if we got caught. Only if other people found out. What would happen to you? There was no thought what-ever for her own safety, something I have just realized as I write this, a quarter of a century later. I don’t know. That would depend on a lot of things… too many to predict. I don’t think they’d do anything really awful to me. My culture is supposed to be one of the more sexually liberated ones. There was a mounting sense of restlessness, of frustration about her, as if she had finally comprehended the true nature of the beast she was confronting. That suddenly broke, and she was lucid and clear, with a glint of mischief in mind. You could come out here! Out where? Out here, with me! Beyond the fence! Leave all that human misery behind! It was not a physical rendezvous she was proposing, I realized, but another one “out on the astral,” as Hazy would have put it. Can I? Sure you can! You almost did it once before, remember? Indeed, I had. But now I was under optimal conditions of privacy and quiet. I dimmed the lights and lit one of the small paraffin candles we kept for emergencies, making sure it wasn’t likely to ignite anything if I forgot to extinguish it. Finding the hemostat that served as my roach clip, I consumed the rest of the joint, then lay down on my back on the couch, consciously willing myself to relax. Once again there was that odd shift of directionality, where the space above me became depth and the couch beneath me became surface. I seemed to be floating face down in a quiet, dark, endless liquid space. Very good!

Ruby’s thoughts startled me, for they produced the impression of a brilliant, flickering light, emanating from a point in front of me. They had never done that before, and I was disturbed until I realized, a moment later, that to an animal possessed of echolocation, sound was the analog of light – or so my still-human brain would have it. From her melon, that bulbous dome on her forehead, ripples of three-dimensional sound flickered a thousand times a second. The water being dark, of Ruby herself I could perceive nothing… of course! To “see” her, I’d have to use my echolocation! Slow down! You need to get your dolphin body in shape! I let myself melt into the dolphin form as I had done before, flippers replacing folded arms, peduncle and flukes replacing legs and feet, snout extruding from my face, nostrils migrating to the back of my head. The light source swung around me like a spotlight, surveying me from different sides. Very, very good! Now, if I were a dolphin, my echolocation would originate here and feel like this… I was rewarded with a brief flash of Ruby lying at the surface, facing me, but I immediately realized something was wrong; I could “see” her surface, her scars. It was like a visual image. Things don’t look this way to echolocation, I thought confusedly, that’s how my eyes would hear her… She intercepted those thoughts. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted! Lower your frequencies. Try again! It is impossible to describe how I could experience these things, one-quarter of my mind aware of the air conditioner cycling on and off, the fabric of the couch underneath me, the candlelight flickering through my closed eyelids, and the rest of it out there, trying to fit into a skull never designed for it. An image from Hazy’s deck of Tarot cards came to me: the major arcana card Temperance, an angel pouring water from jug to jug, one foot on the land and one in the sea; but surely I was Temperance perturbed, ebbing and flowing uneasily between the two worlds. I tried to put those thoughts out of mind and concentrate on Ruby. Lowering my echolocation frequencies seemed to involve relaxing a muscle in my sinus sacs, analogous to lowering one’s voice. I aimed another burst of sound at her

and was rewarded with the impression to two bright splotches concealed in a darker mass – her lungs. They flickered, and I realized she’d breathed. The wicker of her rib cage, her wrought-iron vertebrae, her concave skull and the filigree of bones inside her flippers, so like the bones of my hands, stood out sharply as she closed with me, an animated skeleton, an agglomeration of living light. Amazing! Did I detect a trace of pride in her thoughts? You’re one of the best students we’ve ever had! Huh? She didn’t explain that. Try your echolocation again. Where we’re going, you’re going to need it! Astonishing what I, who had fumbled through that electronic music class, could suddenly do with a whole Moog synthesizer in my head! The concave surface of my skull buzzed and bounced the sound, like a mirror, through my melon, which shifted size and shape to focus it like a lens. Echolocation was a long, tenuous finger of sound reaching out from me. But the texture of what I “touched” was felt not at the end of that finger, but in the center of my head, where the returning echoes beat against the outbound sound waves. Ruby swept the bottom, a few feet below us, with her echo-location. Things lit up as if she had fired off a strobe light. It was mostly scraggly weeds growing from rippled mud. Try it yourself, she suggested. Craning my neck down as only a bottlenose dolphin can, I aimed a burst of low frequency pulses at the bottom. The mud was very absorbent – acoustically almost dead – but embedded in it I could perceive the most amazing things: shells, tube worms, crabs, a very nervous flounder, pop tops, beer cans, more crabs, a small stingray which flapped off as my sound-beam zapped it, bottles, change, a lost set of keys – and to one side an odd, ringing something that stood in the water like a curtain, reaching from the bottom to the surface. With a scull of my flukes I coasted to the object, braking with my flippers just before I reached it. For its size it had a very low echo profile but a curiously strong resonance. I could squirt beams of sound right through its web-like structure without hitting it… it was, I suddenly realized, the galvanized wire mesh fence that enclosed the sea-level pens. We must be in Ruby’s pen.

Something about that realization bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on what – not that I had any fingers at that moment. On the couch, my human body twitched nervously. I scratched an itch on my knee. Ruby did not let me dwell on my uncertainties, however. We’re going over that. Outside the fence. Did you say over? Follow me, she thought; then, sculling strongly with her flukes, she made a fast circuit of the pen, rocketed straight over the barrier, and slipped into the open water on the other side with scarcely a splash. I sat there staring stupidly through the mesh at Ruby, who was cruising in circles, waiting for me. I’d always wondered why she never left her pen; now, I realized, she just left it when no one was around to see! Come on, you can do it! Of course, I didn’t really have a dolphin body… did I? What would have prevented me from slipping through the mesh, exactly as I had slipped through walls that night I visited Elaine and Hazy? But I was so caught up in the whole scenario that I didn’t remember that. On the couch, my body undulated with the rhythms of dolphin locomotion. Blasting everything with my echolocation, I zoomed around the pen, headed straight for the wire mesh wall, dove, and, at the last instant before collision, threw my head up as Ruby had done. I shot clumsily up and over the barrier, hung for a second in the cool night air, and then crashed down on the other side in a rib-buckling belly flop that knocked the wind out of me. Ruby was beside me immediately. Are you all right? I surfaced for a quick breath. She scanned me. It takes a while to get used to this, you’re doing fine… no, really! Come on. We swam away from the pen, the bottom receding as we went. The night was dark, and I soon lost all sense of direction. Lifting my head, I looked backward; the shore lights were tiny and remote, almost pathetic. The ocean was vast and alive with sounds, some of which I could actually identify: the roar and hiss of waves, the snapping of shrimp, the drone of a distant freighter’s engines. But most of them were eerie and unguessable, like astronomers’ recordings of noise from outer space. Ruby

was a comforting presence at my side. Where are we going? You’ll hear! I’m taking you out among my kind, away from all that! She tossed her head scornfully back the way we had come, then dove. I followed her down. The water suddenly grew colder; we had passed through a shallow thermocline. Below the surface we could cruise effortlessly, without being buffeted by waves and the offshore breeze. Ruby led me with quiet determination, reminding me by rising to the surface when to breathe. How much distance we covered, or how long it took us, I cannot say. There were no yardsticks or watches in her world. How do you know which way we’re going? I asked. We always know which way north is, she replied. When I looked back a second time, I could no longer distinguish the land lights from the stars rising on the eastern horizon. When I tried to locate the bottom, my echoes were faint and seemed to take forever to come back. We were in the deeps. Anything could happen out here… bull sharks. Orcas. Sperm whales. Giant squid. And there was the faint but relentlessly gnawing uncertainty that something was fundamentally wrong with this whole scenario. Ruby, where are you taking me? Be patient! Even as she thought that, a sound began to separate itself from the background noise. It was not so much a single sound as a cacophony – moans, groans, gnashings, splashes, squawks, whistles, clicks – and Ruby grew excited as we apprehended it. Come on! We’re almost there! She caught a breath, redoubled her speed and rushed toward the noise, which was at a considerable distance ahead of us. I had no choice but to follow; her sense of anticipation was extreme, but it left me puzzled and uncertain. With an effort I closed with her and swam by her right side, our flippers almost touching. Suddenly something, or two somethings, separated from the general babble and shot toward us. We were blasted with powerful echolocation pulses, Doppler-shifted to the high notes, like the whistle of an approaching train. There was something in those pulses that haunts me as I think about it today, not words, not a melody, but something that nevertheless conveyed ebullient

greetings and a strange, wild joy. Ruby raced ahead of me toward one of the oncoming sounds, and in another instant I realized I was about to collide headon with an enormous dolphin. Before I could react, its sleek, firm body brushed by me in a gesture of inhuman sensuality. My flank tingled from a fleeting impact like an electric shock, and I almost gulped. The pair of dolphins executed a synchronous u-turn so sharp the water cracked behind them, then settled into formation beside us. Rhombopteryx here! the one beside me announced. Annapexamas here! whistled the one to Ruby’s left. Who are you? Were they thinking or in some way speaking? I was confused, not just between sight and sound, but between thought and speech. And what weird names the dolphins had! Rubinessitas here! Ruby thought congenially. So glad we could make it! So glad you could come! the pair whistled in harmony. Who’s your friend? the one next to me asked Ruby. While he seemed amiable, he was a foot longer than I, and swimming so close that, had there been any light, I could have seen myself reflected in his eyeball. Make up a signature whistle for yourself! Ruby urged. Uhhh… uhhh… The catfish must’ve got my tongue, because I blurted out the first thing that came to mind: Mackerel! Our escorts practically drowned for laughing. What a joker! said the one on Ruby’s flank. Very well! We’ll call you ‘Big Mackerel,’ the one on my right chortled. You taste of shoal waters, said Ruby’s escort. Where are you from? Back there, Ruby said, indicating the way we’d come. The shallows. And Mackerel here, he’s just visiting. Our escorts clapped their jaws in surprise. Oh, really? thought Rhombopteryx. Wow! One of those! We don’t get many of your kind in these parts any more, said Annapexamas, a wicked chuckle in his whistle. Not since the guys in the dugout canoes vanished! Enjoy yourselves, things are just warming up! They fell back into what I realized was some kind of patrol circuit; they were guards or sentinels. For we were now so close to the source of the noise that it was swirling all around us.

We were swimming at the fringes of an enormous gathering of dolphins. At the time I couldn’t count, and I couldn’t guess distance, but thinking back there might have been a thousand or more, occupying a square mile of ocean, swimming slowly counterclockwise in a huge, vertiginous funnel, surfacing to breathe and diving in dizzying confusion. The water trembled with strange calls, whistles and cries, and it was thick with the taste of bodily fluids. For almost all the dolphins around us were engaged in some form of sexual play. From near-newborns to battle-scarred veterans, they were making love in every way their huge, convoluted brains could imagine: with fins and flippers and the natural organs, gay and straight with apparently instantaneous flip-flops; couples, triples and larger groups, in every position physically accessible to them. Dolphins were splashing heads-up on the surface, swimming belly-to-belly with their tails threshing in sync, and plunging into the depths, the males pushing the females from behind. How can I describe it? Orgy is a distinctly human word with decadent connotations, but there was nothing repulsive or ugly about that scene. The atmosphere felt more like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, but without that jittery edge, or maybe what I’ve heard Woodstock was like when the sun came out. If I told you it was a family reunion, you’d be disgusted. If I said it had the friendly ambiance of a church social, you’d accuse me of blasphemy. What, then, would you say if I told you the dolphins were a huge congregation, engaged in the most devout and pious worship they knew? While the adolescents were rough from sheer exuberance, there was no force or coercion, because anyone could find what he or she wanted with someone, somewhere. There were oddities like some juveniles playing with a confused sea-turtle, a small pod of spinner dolphins, joyfully copulating with each other and their bottlenose cousins, and what I tentatively identified, much to my surprise, as a pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps, whom I wanted to interview – they’re extremely rare – but never got the chance, because suddenly Ruby’s sleek, smooth body slid alongside mine. This is why I brought you here! This is how we make love among ourselves! Floating in front of me, she curled into a sinuous shape, snout and peduncle

lifted, flukes tilted down, clearly exposing her genital slit. I recognized it from the literature as the S-curve, the ultimate dolphin come-on. She’d never postured like that to me before – but then, how could I have known it if we weren’t both underwater? She trembled with desire, her thoughts storm-driven breakers smashing on the beaches of my mind: You’re free now! I’ve taken you away from all that human pain and guilt and suffering! Abandon yourself, give up your human inhibitions! She swam underneath me, pressed her warm belly against mine in the cool water, locking her pectoral fins behind mine for thrust, but how could she be doing this? My erection was beginning to slide out of my body, but did I really have a body? Was I really a dolphin, here in the deeps with her, outside the fence? The worrisome sense of wrongness that had plagued me since the beginning of this journey finally bored its way into my consciousness, where it exploded like a bomb. Wait a minute! We can’t be out here! You were never in the sealevel pen to begin with! Beau moved you up to the main pool! With a burgeoning sense of alarm I recalled that the main pool’s only connection to open water was through an electric pump and sixty feet of grated, six-inch pipe. There was no way for anything bigger than a minnow to get in – and absolutely no way for Ruby to get out! That’s irrelevant! Don’t worry about it, lover! How we got here makes no difference, now that we’re here! Give in to the moment! Let yourself go! Let’s make love while we have the chance! But I couldn’t, for I had also realized that we hadn’t breathed for too long – far longer than I now knew dolphins could hold their breath. This is all a hallucination, isn’t it? I raged. You’re not here, and neither am I! You’re stuck up in that goddamn pool and you know it! And I’m lying here on the couch, stoned out of my gourd! She seemed to shrink away from me. Lover, please! Don’t think these thoughts! You’re hurting yourself, you’re hurting me! The fantastic sexual congregation wavered on the edge of my apprehension, then started to collapse on itself. You tricked me! I roared. WHO are you? WHAT are you? I just did what I thought was best for both of us! For once in your life,

don’t question, don’t analyze, just let go! But it was too late. I could no longer reach the surface, nor plumb the bottom of things. The cacophony of dolphin voices around me degenerated in a wall of roaring noise, the images of oceanic lovemaking broke up into swirling, spreading hexagons. For a moment I seemed to be falling, and then with a jolt I sat bolt upright on the couch, fully human once again. The fading thoughts of Ruby – or whatever called itself Ruby – echoed briefly in my mind: …Lover… you shouldn’t have… I only wanted to… Wait! I screamed after her. Don’t go! You’ve got to explain – WHAT JUST HAPPENED TO ME? There was no answer. I was alone in the dark, silent and inescapably angular living room, with the candle flame guttering in the last of the wax.

Chapter 20 Departures and Other Distractions Dolphins are extremely responsive to humans and show so much individuality in their behavior that it is often impossible even for people who use them as experimental subjects to remain aloof. Such behavior on the part of the dolphins, along with their intelligence, soon tends to lead the unsuspecting or non-cautious observer astray, and before he knows it he may tend to think of them as people. –David & Melba As things turned out, Beau decided not to release Ruby. If he had, I might not be writing these words. She would have swum away to a fate unknown, and my experience with her would have remained a tantalizing, if superficial, glimpse into certain obscure aspects of cetacean behavior, instead of becoming the defining point of my life. Salina, for one, was grateful. “It was a pretty dumb idea to begin with,” she said, “but I suppose we’re each allowed one of those now and then.” Since Salina never asked anyone for their opinion unless she knew what she was going to hear, I nodded concordantly. This visit was entirely impromptu. Finding myself on the south end of Siesta Key that afternoon, I had stopped by on impulse, without forewarning or an invitation. Fortunately, she seemed to be in a sociable mood and had invited me in for a drink. “I could use some company,” she said, “there’s no one to talk to.” Nikki and Cassie were attending summer camp in the Adirondacks while Fergus was visiting his grandmother in Glen’s Falls. Although the children usually kept out of our hair when I visited, the house seemed deserted without them. “I want to get things out of the way early this summer because we’re going down to the Keys. The kids are just dying to see their friends, but of course we can’t go back to the park again.” Her tone carried more than a trace of rancor. “Fortunately, Hank landed a job on Grassy Key with Rappaccini. It won’t be like old times, but at least they can see some dolphins.” “Rappa who?” I couldn’t recall her mentioning his name. “E. Z. Rappaccini, Beau’s teacher. But he wasn’t such a great student.” Now that she couldn’t have him, it was just like Salina to belittle Beau while

building up his former mentor. What real or imagined crimes against “dolphinity” would he now be accused of? She described how “Rap” used his dolphins’ fear of the catching net to control them. “They’re terrified of it. He just waves it at them, and they shape up! Not like Beau’s dolphins. Those damn animals boss him around and he won’t do a thing about it. No, this is better for Hank’s career, I think, much better. Rap keeps dolphins for lots of different people. Hank will get a broader experience there than he would working for Beau. It will also help us develop some new themes for the book.” “So that’s still on?” “Of course it’s still on! My agent told me several publishers are interested. Big publishers! They want to see something right away! This may be a vacation for the kids, but while I’m down there, Hank and I will be writing ‘round the clock, let me assure you. And I want you to take pictures.” “You do?” She stared at me. “You can handle that, can’t you?” “Of course! I was, uh, going to be around there anyhow.” “Very good. Here’s Rap’s phone number and the dates we plan to be there.” She scribbled a note. “Hank will put you up. I’ll get you some money very soon for all the wonderful work you’ve done. And speaking of that, how’s your research project with Professor What’s-his-name coming?” Her obnoxious associations aside, the question took me by surprise. At my end-of-trimester evaluation a few days earlier, Wilbur had stared at me for a long time when I told him the paper wasn’t finished. “What’s the problem, Zack?” he had finally asked in a brotherly tone of voice. I’d had difficulty coming up with an answer. I had acquired neither the mental discipline nor the physical resources necessary to organize and conduct anything so meaningful as an actual scientific experiment with the dolphins. But even as a liberal arts student, I was unable to extract a coherent theme from my experiences with Ruby and the others – not one I was willing to commit to paper, anyhow. My experience “outside the fence” hadn’t helped. I was left with a welter of confused impressions, and nothing would gel. I couldn’t even bring myself to

mention it to Wilbur. I didn’t know what he’d say if I did, but I knew what he’d be thinking: There he goes! Another liberal arts student bites the dust. Great minds plunging into deep holes… Fortunately, Wilbur was sympathetic. “I’m sure you’ve done the work, but I can’t evaluate it if you don’t turn it in,” he’d explained. “You’re into film, aren’t you? Okay, I’ll make this easy for you! Go down to this amusement park, or whatever it is, and shoot some film of the dolphins. Splice it together, make a little documentary, write up something – anything! – and show it to me. It may not win an Oscar, but at least I’ll be able to give you an evaluation! Just get to it whenever you can.” I’d nodded, wondering how I was going to afford the film. “You seem kind of frustrated, trying to study filmmaking here,” Wilbur had added. “Why don’t you check out another college I heard about the other day? They’re trying to recruit faculty, and they sent me this,” he said, handing me a brochure from some place called Evergreen State College. I glanced at it. The college, which was supposed to open that fall, was at the opposite end of the country in Washington State. I wasn’t interested and was about to drop the brochure back on his desk when my eye caught a description of the planned media program. The college was offering a year-long course on 16mm sound film production with state-of-the-art equipment, taught by faculty drawn from the ranks of working Hollywood professionals! There would also be fully equipped darkrooms, video and sound studios. Suddenly I was interested and asked Wilbur for a pencil to jot down the address. “Oh, keep the brochure,” he said, smiling. “I’m too close to finishing my thesis to think about leaving this place, but Evergreen sounds just right for you. Don’t they have killer whales up there in Puget Sound? If you don’t get anywhere with the dolphins, they might be willing to talk to you!” He had smiled and patted me on the back as I went out the door, a little condescendingly, I thought, but perhaps he was just being comradely. “The project? It’s coming along, about as well as the book is,” I told Salina. “Wonderful. There’s something else I need to make you aware of,” she said, pointing at the coffee table. “Hand me that paper, there… no, not that one, the one under it…” I gingerly pulled it out of the pile, the accumulation of research notes for her book, and handed it to her. She squinted at it for a second

before giving it back to me. “Yes, that’s the one! Have a look at it.” I stared at the paper, a photocopy of a news magazine article. “I’ve seen it,” I said. “I read it when it came out last week.” “Then why the hell aren’t you doing anything?” she grumbled. The story was one of the first public revelations about how thousands of dolphins were being killed each year in tuna nets. It had come as a deep shock to me; I’d eaten tuna all my life and enjoyed it. Wasn’t “Flipper” sponsored by a tuna company? Now I felt like a cannibal. I’d never eat chunk light tuna again. “Instead of protesting the goddamn war, which you can’t stop anyway, you and your radical friends ought to be down at the federal building right now, picketing about this,” Salina said, jabbing a finger at the article. “If you don’t get off your asses and do something about it, there won’t be any dolphins left!” “Salina, I tried,” I muttered. “What do you mean, ‘You tried?’” She scowled. “I thought I’d start at New College, that people there might listen to me, they’re more politically conscious. The snack bar serves tuna fish sandwiches, and it’s run by a student committee. So I went to talk to the manager. I showed him the article and asked him if he would stop selling tuna fish sandwiches because dolphins were getting killed.” “And?” “He said, ‘What about the tuna? Aren’t they endangered, too?’ I said, ‘No, they’re just fish, and they’re not endangered, but the dolphins are mammals, with feelings, like us.’ He said, ‘That’s a very one-sided opinion’ and threw me out.” Salina snorted. “You didn’t give up, did you?” “No. I drew up a petition asking the snack bar to stop serving tuna fish sandwiches because dolphins were getting killed. I figured if I could get enough students to sign it, the manager would change his mind.” “So?” It took a moment to collect myself. The memory was still pretty raw. “I went up to a table in the snack bar where some students were talking politics and showed them the petition. One of them got very angry and began shouting at me. She said, ‘Tuna is a primary source of cheap protein for lowincome minorities! If we stop catching tuna to protect a bunch of stupid dolphins, ghetto children will be even more malnourished than they already are!’ She…”

Through the smoke of her cigarette, Salina squinted at me. “…She said I must be a racist, to be more concerned about the lives of a bunch of dumb animals than about the health of black children,” I said, feeling my bile rise again at the thought. “Me, a racist, can you believe it? When I was a kid, my folks brought black kids from Harlem to spend the summer with us! I wanted to tell her that, but she didn’t give me the chance. And then they all started yelling at me.” “And your pretty little petition?” “I tossed it. Nobody would sign it, anyway.” “Your generation,” she sneered, “so proud of your temper tantrums! You talk about ending the war, but all you do is incite riots that get innocent people killed. You want to save the world, but you don’t even know what the world is, or what you’re saving it from! You want to dismantle ‘The System,’ as you call it, but what have you got to replace it? Nothing! What a bunch of fucking hypocrites,” she said, grinding her cigarette in the onyx ashtray. I wanted to leap to my feet and scream at her “Don’t blame me, I tried, didn’t I?” when it suddenly hit me: she was drunk. She was holding it very well, but there was no doubt about it. Her speech wasn’t slurred, but her choice of words was altered, the usual precision and force of her language blunted. She was a big woman and I wondered how many gin-and-tonics she’d put away to get to that point. She must be missing her kids more than she let on, and bitter about the loss of Beau and the dolphins she so loved. I would have offered to smoke a joint with her, but I didn’t have anything on me. “Why don’t we both go down to the federal building and picket?” I suggested. “I’ll make up some placards: ‘Save The Dolphins–Boycott Tuna!’ If people saw us together, they’d understand this issue transcends class. Maybe we just need to do a little consciousness-raising, that’s all.” Halfway to lighting a new cigarette, Salina froze. She turned slowly and stared at me. “Are you making fun of me?” she asked, razors in her voice. “I was just joking,” I quickly said. “You think I’m drunk, don’t you?” she asked, glaring at me from under knitted brows. The glare was a little unfocused, but still formidable. “You’ve been sitting here, listening to me talk all this time, drinking my good gin, which I

prepared for you with my very own hands, thinking I’m drunk. Haven’t you?” I didn’t know what to say. There was nothing to prevent me from getting up at that moment and leaving, but I didn’t. If it wasn’t fear holding me back, I can’t say what it was. But what was I afraid of? “We were talking about dolphins,” I said, “and tuna fishing…” “Don’t try and change the subject!” Salina yelled, “that’s the oldest trick in the book! Who do you think you are, my goddamn shrink? How humiliating! How insulting!” She stood up and loomed over me. “You’re patronizing me! Who do you think I am, anyhow? Who do you think I am?” I couldn’t let the situation escalate. I pushed myself up and out of the chair, forcing her to take a step back. My feet were a bit unsteady; she had made my gin-and-tonic strong. I hated the woozy, unfocused feeling that came with an alcohol high. “What are you angry at me for?” “You’re playing games with me,” she accused. “That’s all you’ve ever done, every time you’ve come over here, is sit there and play games with me! Run your fucking mind-trips! You don’t care about me, the only reason you even come over here is to see those dolphins.” “That’s not true,” I said, although it was pretty damn close. “I can go see the dolphins any time I want. I don’t need you for that any more. You’re the one who hired me to take the photos for your book, remember? And isn’t that exactly what I’ve done?” That caused her to stop for a second and think. I had a strange feeling of the tables suddenly turning and pressed my advantage. “Isn’t that what you wanted me to do? Take the photos for your book? You asked me to do this, I didn’t ask you! Now, is there anything else you want out of me, Salina?” She shook her head, as if to clear it. I stood there, waiting for her to say or do something. “No,” she finally said, “I guess not. Nothing else.” “I came over because I was in the neighborhood. I just wanted to stop by and talk.” She said nothing, just stared moodily at me, the forgotten cigarette in her fingers curling smoke around her face, then sat back down heavily in her chair.

For a moment I could almost believe that it was still that first afternoon, nine months ago, when I’d sat there and listened to her talk with such force and authority about the things she loved the most, after her children; but the sun had shifted higher in the sky and further north and no longer back-lit her mane with blazing glory. Now, she looked older, and very, very tired. “I think you better go. I need a nap.” “Thanks for the drink,” I muttered, heading for the door, my muscles still trembling from unused adrenalin. She didn’t say “You’re welcome,” but as I stepped out she called after me, “Don’t forget! Rappaccini’s! Grassy Key! You promised you’d be there!” I got on my bike and pumped hard. I wanted to get away from there as fast as possible, to put Salina and her gin and her troubles behind me. I wanted that poison out of my system. There was no traffic to speak of on Midnight Pass Road. I raced heedlessly through the intersections with Sanderling and Point of Rocks, slowing, but not stopping, for the red light at Stickney Point Road. The beaches to my left were still primal and open, not covered with high-rise condominiums as they are now. Wild sea oats waved on the dunes that were the land’s last line of defense against the ocean. The keys have no hills, the roads are flat. I pumped and pumped, working up speed, working up a lather, feeling the gin oozing out of my pores with the sweat. I didn’t want to think about anything, I just wanted the pure esthetic rush of my young body whipping along with the wind in my face, blissful, ecstatic. At the fork with Beach Road I turned right, staying on Midnight Pass. The only elevation on the whole damn key was a little bridge that arched over a canal, just before Midnight Pass intersected Higel Avenue. I would take that hill as fast as I could go. I wanted to fly, to leave the planet and soar into space, but if I couldn’t fly I could at least achieve the momentary illusion, going over that hill. The asphalt was a blur under my wheels. I had no idea how fast I was going, maybe ten or fifteen miles per hour, the gears on my cheap ten-speed run all the way out, when suddenly the thought came to me that this is how it must feel to her, this effortless speed, this wild abandon, this threshing locomotion. As a human, this was as close as I could come to a dolphin swim-ming at top speed.

She was, of course, astonished. My human sense of balance on two wheels awed her. As the bridge loomed closer, my breath came in deep gulps. Centrifugal force and angular momentum were concepts I found difficult to understand, much less explain to a dolphin; but I pictured her doing a flip in my mind, the water shooting off her body at right angles like the vectored forces that kept me upright. She was along for the ride, experiencing my senses and abilities much as I’d experienced hers – but with a lot less distress, it seemed. The bridge rose in front of us. Without thinking I threw the derailleur into a lower gear and pumped furiously, flying up the shallow slope. In a moment above the canal’s glittering surface, I caught flashes of the activity on the water below me: a small motorboat putting along, a blue heron flapping lazily, a mullet dappling the water. Then I shot down the opposite slope, the wind in my teeth. I let go of the handlebars and sat up, guiding the bike with pure body English. She was thrilled! Midnight Pass Road entered Higel Avenue at an acute an-gle. Just before the intersection was a dirt cut-off that formed a triangle. I always took it. As I leaned into the left turn, an old red car emerged from the cut-off directly into my path. There was no time to think, only to react. A twitch of my arms sent the bike curving around the chrome front bumper. I hit the brakes, the rear a splitsecond before the front so I wouldn’t flip. But the tires lost their traction in some loose dirt and I went down. I got up, a little scraped and sore. The driver, a white-haired old man, rolled down his window. His wife, beside him, stared at me bug-eyed. “You okay, sonny?” he asked, frightened that I might not be. “Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing broken, I think…” I picked up the bike. The handlebars were crooked but rims weren’t bent; it was ridable. “I didn’t see you coming around that corner,” he jabbered. “You scared the crap out of me! I was looking both ways, but I didn’t see you! Maybe you should wear some brighter colors or something… you sure you’re okay?” “I’m fine. Don’t worry about it. It was an accident,” I said, wrenching the handlebars straight again. I got on the bike and rode away on Higel. Not bad, Ruby thought. You handled that well! You’re tougher than I thought! Pretty nimble, too… It’s the ape genes. Millions of years swinging in trees, you learn to

take a fall, even if you’re on two feet… or two wheels. She stayed with me as I rode home, quiet, appreciative, and still marveling at my ability to balance on four square inches of rolling rubber. She understood washing off the scrapes – that seemed natural, to her – and she was fascinated when I doused them with bubbling hydrogen peroxide. What’s that for? Kills germs. What are “germs?” Tiny living things you can’t see that make you sick. How do you know? We build machines to see them! You’re amazing! It was probably stupid of me, I reflected, to have ridden so fast on a couple of Salina’s gin-and-tonics. At least there weren’t any penalties for Bicycling While Intoxicated. But the near-accident had shaken me up a bit. Look, there’s something I’ve got to tell you, I thought exhaustedly. You won’t be seeing me for a while. I’m going out of town, I have to look for a job. What’s that? Something we do instead of catching fish. Oh. You’ll come back… won’t you? Yes. I promise I will. I’ll follow you! There’s no space between us, so I can follow you wherever you go! You don’t mind, do you? No, Ruby, I don’t, I thought as she slipped silently away. You’re better company than most of the other people around here…

Chapter 21 The Last Porpoise Show I think they realize there is no malevolence on our part. I’m not going to speculate exactly how but they realize that what we’re doing has a purpose and whatever we do we’re not trying to be sadistic in any sense and thus they accept it. – Veterinarian Dr. David Taylor, quoted in Robin Brown’s The Lure of the Dolphin, 1979 TWO WEEKS AND 1,000 MILES LATER… The sound of the Bolex pulling down sixty-four frames a second was a reassuring whine in my ear. Through the viewfinder the three dolphins arced up in formation, making their ranging jump. In my mind I could already see it the way the film saw it, in slow motion, the drops of water streaming off their bodies hanging like jewels in mid-air. Beau stood atop the jumping tower, fish ready. I zoomed in and panned to center him, wondering if the camera’s spring-driven motor would run to the end of the jump. Up they shot, Saki in the middle, Bimbo and Gator flanking him like wingmen – and they blew it. Beau gave them the fish anyway. I tilted down to catch the splash, and just as it subsided the camera stopped. “In the can,” as they said in Hollywood. Maybe I really was a filmmaker after all! The dozen or so people in the bleachers applauded feebly. “…And that concludes our porpoise show,” Beau announced. “I want to thank y’all for comin’ to Florida Funland. Drive safely goin’ home, we want ya to come back to Florida, some day.” There was a certain wistfulness to the way he said it. It was pointless, now, asking them to come back to the park; there wouldn’t be a Florida Funland to come back to. Beau was busy in the chickee. Short-handed, I guess, but he had time to look up and smile as I came in. “Hey, Zack. Was that you over there, shootin’ movies?” “Yeah. No problem, is there?” “Not by me! Gonna be closin’ soon,” he added.

“When?” “‘Bout two weeks ‘fore we ship the last of ‘em out.” Two weeks. In three weeks I would be leaving for Evergreen State College. The acceptance notice had been waiting in the mailbox when I’d gotten home from my abortive little odyssey. My flight was booked, everything was set. “Are the dolphins all taken care of?” “Yup. Got ‘em all sold.” “Who’s buying them?” “Well, let’s see, some big place in Ohio wants Star and Saki. A park down in the Bahamas is takin’ Gator and Trixy, and I made ‘em take Satan as part o’ the deal. They said they were gonna re-name him – not that it will do any good.” “What about Ruby? And Bimbo?” I quickly added. “Oh, they’ll be the last to go. I’m takin’ ‘em with me.” “You found another job?” “Yeah, got lucky I guess. Place in Mississippi, ‘round Gulfport, looks like a pretty good setup. We should do okay down there… how ‘bout you? Find yourself a job?” “No.” Beau chuckled. “It’s a hard business to break into, Zack. Most people are mighty particular about who works their porpoises, y’know?” “I found that out.” The hard way. “You run into Salina?” “Yeah.” As planned, we’d met under Hank’s roof at Rappaccini’s Porpoise University in the Keys, the last stop on my star-crossed job hunt. It had been for me a mercifully short visit, but not a sweet one. Before Rappaccini had thrown me out on my ear for being a long-haired hippie, I’d witnessed Hank and Salina’s relationship implode under their irreconcilable differences in social status, education and intellect… but who was I to talk about “irreconcilable differences?” “How’s she doin’?” I thought about that, then gave him the answer he really wanted to hear. “She’s okay.” “Uh-huh.” It was an acknowledgement that might have meant anything, or nothing at all. “She ever gonna get that book done?”

“I don’t know. You don’t mind if I go down and say hi to everybody, do you?” “Go ahead.” Chuff! As I approached Ruby’s pen, I had to restrain the urge to run. With every step, the need to see her again, to touch her firm, wet skin, to look into that deep brown eye, grew more overwhelming. How much I’d missed her! How stupid that whole trip had been! Why hadn’t I just stayed here, gotten some scut job and helped Beau? Here was where I belonged. She was spyhopping expectantly. The cadence of my stride, the timbre of my footsteps carried down the catwalk, through pilings and into the water tipped her off that I was back. For me, there was now no doubt, no uncertainty. When my shadow fell across her, she rolled on her side and stared at me out of one eye. I could fall into that eye forever. As I reached out to touch her my reflection reached out to me, a human mirrored in a dolphin’s eye. She barely moved as I ran my fingers along her flank, flaking off old skin. It had been weeks since anyone had really rubbed her. Her eye closed, her mouth opened slightly. A most restrained greeting, I thought, a moment before she lunged forward and somersaulted, drenching me. “Hey! How’d you git her to do that?” Beau yelled at me from the chickee. I’d forgotten he was there. “Do what?” “That flip,” he said, leaning over the low thatched wall. “Taught her that years ago, but ain’t had cause to use it, her bein’ out with the boat and all…” I just shrugged, clueless. “Next show’s not for a while yet. I’m goin’ for lunch. Get you somethin’?” It was generous of him to ask, but I just smiled and shook my head. “Don’t let her drown you,” he said, and a minute later I heard his truck rattle down the access road. Ruby waited patiently for this inter-human vocal exchange to end. She rolled on her side again, and I scratched her softly until an irresistible impulse made me dig my fingers into the soft skin under her pectoral fin, where she was most ticklish. With a startled splash she shot away and returned a moment later. We grinned at each other. Turnabout, I figured, was fair play. She took my hand in

her jaws, and very gently, ran her teeth up my arm, her touch so indescribably delicate I shivered. Something was going on here that I had never experienced with anyone before. Without words, without anything more substantial than a look and a touch, a covenant had been established between us, and I tacitly knew Ruby would never abuse or threaten me again. Was it the impact of our separation, or had we finally just accepted each other? There was a blow across the pen, and another dorsal fin rolled towards us. Bimbo surfaced beside Ruby and tried to shove his way between us. The sudden change in Ruby’s expression told me Bimbo was in trouble. She slammed him with her flukes so hard I felt it through the catwalk! They went shooting around the pen like a couple of jets dogfighting in a box canyon. It was hard to tell who was who, but Ruby seemed to be on Bimbo’s tail. He may have been the male, but it was obvious she had dominance. There was another explosion, like a depth charge, then Ruby drifted back to me as if nothing had happened. A fresh tooth-mark raked along her flank was oozing blubber, but I presumed she gave worse than she got. Bimbo surfaced on the far side of the pen and began to swim back-andforth near the gate to the main pool. I considered letting him out, then discarded the idea. That was Beau’s job. Ruby lifted her head from the water and squawked at me in a concise burst of sound, staring right at me, throwing her chin back. Her message was unmistakable: Come in! It’s all right. I can protect you. Could I trust her? Did I have any reason not to trust her? I looked around; Beau wasn’t back, but he had never objected to me getting in the water with either Ruby or Bimbo. I pulled off my T-shirt and slid into the pen. Immediately she was alongside me like a life preserver. I put my arm around her; she looked at me, and I immediately understood what she was offering. Grabbing her dorsal fin with both hands, I held on as Ruby blew and dove, pulling me down. With gentle but powerful strokes of her flukes she propelled us to the bottom of the pen. My ears ached, and I could see only her gray blurred form undulating in front of me. Then she hauled back to the surface and towed me around the perimeter of the pen. Clinging to her fin was like riding a powerful horse, but far more intimate:

when did a horse ever invite you to ride it? Ruby’s self-assurance made me so fearless I totally forgot Bimbo. She pulled me into the shallows, where I could touch bottom, and pressed her vulva against me. I wanted more than anything else to simply reciprocate, to make her happy, to pleasure her the way she wanted me to. Reaching a hand down, I stroked her, not knowing what to expect. Her eyes slitted in delight, her jaw trembled, but she didn’t try to mash me. Her composure was surprising. We had indeed adapted to each other’s style of lovemaking! I acknowledged Ruby’s desires and was wondering how to fulfill them. She, in turn, realized I was not a male dolphin, could not sustain the exuberance of typical dolphin foreplay. She acknowledged my human weaknesses and accepted me in spite of them. Her teeth lightly raked my calves, and I gasped. Gentleness made her overtures a thousand times more erotic than the brute force she had employed before. I now knew with a certainty beyond words that what Ruby wanted wasn’t merely sex – it was me. I was still hung up on why, but I would figure that out some other day. Beau came back, and a few minutes later a tour train with seven people on it arrived. Ruby let me get out of her pen and I retrieved the Bolex from my car. When the show started, I began filming close-ups and cutaways, hand-held, from under the jumping tower. Wilbur had said I could shoot a film for my evaluation, but it wasn’t going to be the scientific documentary he envisioned. He had no concept of how difficult that would be with no budget, sound or crew! I had something different in mind. I discovered whole new ways of getting wet. I got wet when Star would casually thrash his flukes while handing Beau a prop. I got wet when I lay on my back, shooting upward to catch Saki jumping against the sky, and I got wet rolling over to protect the camera the instant before he hit the water. But mostly I got wet because every time any dolphin did something – anything at all – Ruby turned a somersault! I’d never seen her act like that before. Was it me? As Beau got ready for the multiple jumps I heard the click that meant the one-hundred-foot roll of film, my last, had run through the Bolex. That happens quickly when filming in slow motion. I moved away from the performance area so I could watch the rest of the show without soaking the equipment.

I expected Beau to wrap the show after the triple jumps the way he always did. Instead he ran down the ladder and released Satan into the main pool. A mistake? No, he picked up a long plastic pipe with four spring-loaded clips on it and carried it up the jumping platform. He clipped four fish onto it, then held it out in front of him. To my amazement, all four dolphins made the orientation leap, their moves perfectly synchronized, then shot straight up to grab the fish. In all the oceanariums I’d visited, I’d never seen anything like it. When they hit the water, the splash almost drenched me, and the mist blew across the tourists in the bleachers. They applauded politely, not realizing they had seen something no other dolphin trainer had accomplished. Beau stood for a moment, waiting for the waves to subside. Then he reached behind his neck, unclasped the wireless microphone and laid it carefully on the platform. With one hand he flicked the hair out of his eyes, then hopped onto the platform’s railing. “HO! SAKI! BIMBO!” he yelled. The two dolphins obediently appeared in the water below him. Beau straightened to his full height, extended his arms to the sides, and sprang into a perfect swan dive. He knifed into the water and surfaced a second later, a dolphin under either hand. With a single, fluid motion he hoisted himself up and stood perfectly balanced, one foot on each dolphin’s back. Their flukes churned foam as they carried him back to the dock, where he leaped nimbly ashore. The empty Bolex dangled uselessly in my hand. I’d just witnessed the most astonishing stunt anywhere, unrecorded even in Salina’s book, and, of course, I was out of film. “That’s it, folks!” Beau yelled. “Y’all drive home safely, and God bless ya!” I caught up with him inside the chickee, as he was toweling off. “Beau, that was incredible! When did you teach Saki and Bimbo that trick?” Beau stared at me for a second, then resumed drying his hair. “Couple o’ years ago.” “Really? How come I never saw it?” “Never felt like it, I guess.” He picked up a pocket comb and with a couple of strokes put his hair back in place. “You get it?” “Huh?”

“With that,” he said, pointing to the Bolex. “Uhhh… I ran out of film. If you’d warned me, I could have…” “Huh.” Beau smiled wanly. “Figgers. Well, you seen it, friend.” “Seen what?” “The last porpoise show. That’s it. Ain’t no more. Not here, leastwise. Not ‘til I git ‘em all moved.” “Really?” “Uh-huh.” He slipped on a tee shirt. “Hey, do me a favor? Run up the tower and git that microphone.” I was only too happy to oblige. The jumping tower swayed under my footsteps. I’d never been up it before. From the top, I could take in the whole pool at a glance and see deep into the water. Off to the east, some thunderheads were building in the late summer heat. Behind me, the bay sparkled in the westering sunlight. So this is what Beau sees… Or rather, saw. I picked up the microphone and trotted down the tower. When I got back to the chickee, he was filling out some paperwork. “Thank ya, Zack. Much obliged.” He paused for a moment, as if considering something. “You doin’ anythin’ Saturday?” “No, why?” “We’re gonna ship out Gator, Satan and Trixy. I got some help lined up with the others, but I reckon I might be a little short-handed come Saturday. Can’t pay you nothin,” he quickly added. “No problem, I’ll be glad to help… wait a minute.” His re-quest jogged my memory. I ran back to the car, stowed the Bolex in the trunk and got out the prints. “These are for you,” I said, handing him the box. He looked puzzled. It was an old photographic paper box; the yellow label read Do not open in the light. I assured him it was okay. The top shot was of Saki and Gator jumping, from below. Beau grinned. “Why, thank ya, Zack, thank ya very much… don’t think I’ve seen these before, have I? That one’s right nice. Good angle an’ all.” The next one was a shot of Ruby, taking a fish from his hand on the riverboat ride. “Wow! You got her just right!” He thumbed through the dozen or so 8x10’s, laying them aside in the lid of the box. His praise wasn’t lavish, but it was apt. He knew nothing

about composition, lighting or technique, but his comments showed he implicitly understood what made each photo unique, and he appreciated my vision of his world. He lifted out the next-to-last photo and stared at the one I had deliberately placed at the bottom of the stack. “Wait a minute,” he mumbled, “that looks like Bimbo, but…” The photo was one of those inspirations that come to photography students around three o’clock in the morning, when no one else is in the darkroom and you can be sure the chemicals are pure. Wandering through my proof sheets, almost hallucinating from fatigue, I’d suddenly realized I could merge three negatives into a single print: Bimbo staring at the camera shortly after he’d tried to drown me, the moon, and an ocean sunset I’d shot the year before. It had taken a couple of dozen sheets of enlarging paper to get the alignment and tonalities just right, but when I was done the illusion was almost flawless: Bimbo, head thrown out of the water, stared at the camera as he swam a boundless ocean toward an astronomically impossible sunset. The effect, however, was subtle and didn’t reveal the techniques used to create it. Beau just stared and stared at the picture. “You ain’t never been out catching with me, have you?” I shook my head. “Then how in the world did you get this?” Now it was my turn to grin. “Oh, just a little… darkroom magic.” Beau smiled. There were some things not even head trainers got to know. “Well, I thank you, Zack, I really do,” he said, carefully gathering up the pictures. He lingered for a moment, staring at the last one, then laid the others on top of it, closed the box and set it carefully aside. “There’s an extra set there for the riverboat captain. What time do you want me out here on Saturday?” “Seven o’clock too early?” I shook my head. “Not for dolphins!” “Okay. See you then.” With a nod, he returned to his paperwork. Kneeling on the catwalk, stroking Ruby’s flank before leaving, I had a strange feeling that we were swimming at the edges of a whirlpool, a vortex of circumstance drawing us toward a clearly defined center. What lay beyond that

was not merely unknown, but unknowable. We could, if we chose, turn now, and swim away from that vortex; and if one of us abandoned that course, the other was compelled, as if by physics, to do so. But I didn’t want to leave. The center of that whirlpool was more than irresistible; it was where I wanted to be. From the look in Ruby’s eye, I could tell she felt the same way.

Chapter 22 Rapture of the Deep Was it love Or was it the idea of being in love? Or was it the Hand of Fate That seemed to fit just like a glove? – Pink Floyd, “One Slip,” A Momentary Lapse of Reason, 1987 The sun never sparkled on the water like it did that afternoon. The ripples in your wake cast diamonds in my eyes as you swam to me. There was not a breath of wind. The park seemed dipped in liquid stillness. Chuff! You drifted to the shore of the main pool and floated before me, calm, expectant, your gaze inviting. You were in no hurry, and neither was I. We both knew we were going to get what we had wanted for so long. We met in the shallows. I caressed your head with a human lover’s touch, awed by your sleekness, your strength, your self-restraint. Come in, you thought, but I hesitated. Something wasn’t right, I didn’t know what. My eyes and ears took in everything, trying to fathom what was making me wary. The park appeared deserted. The aluminum skiff was anchored a few feet from shore on the north side of the pool. Another dorsal fin knifed through the water – Bimbo. We weren’t worried about him, so it must have been something else. Without knowing why, I felt the need to wait. Without knowing how, I communicated that to you. Bimbo tried to grab my attention more respectfully than last time, wary, perhaps, of your jealousy. Did he have any inkling what we were up to? You’d deal with him if he interfered. Maybe a game of catch would divert him and give me time to figure out why I was hanging back. After we’d played for a few minutes, I looked up to see two men in overalls, one tall, one short, staring at us from the far side of the pool. Must be park maintenance workers. “Hi!” I said, smiling. “Whatchya doing here?” the short one asked.

They were glass; I knew exactly what to say. A current swept out from me and enveloped them. “I’m a New College student.” My words ring true. “I’m finishing a photography project.” You see my camera, sitting on the shore behind me. “Beau said it’s okay with him.” For a moment, they looked confused. “Uh, okay,” the short one said. They turned to leave. “Anyone else around?” I asked. “Nah,” the tall one said. “Won’t be anyone here ‘till they let the dogs out, around sunset.” Their truck’s engine sputtered to life, and a dust cloud rose over the access road. You surfaced beside the skiff and called to me. Just the three of us, then. The water was warm on my legs, cool on my crotch, and when it reached my diaphragm, your echolocation tickled! My feet could no longer touch the bottom. Floating in your element, I waited for you to come, but so did you. Unsure what to do next, we were both reduced to virgins, with everything to learn from each other. I struck out for the skiff, but just as I got there you dove, your echoes ghostly clicks swirling around me. Then I felt your labia pressing on my foot, and your glistening domed head broke the water in front of me. Your eyes no longer blazed with lust, but glowed with more tender desires, which my eyes mirrored back to you. As in those visions you imparted, I saw through skin and blubber, muscle and bone, into your heart, as you could literally “see” into mine. And in our hearts, you were not “dolphin,” and I was not “human.” We were simply a pair of lovers about to enact the oldest dance of all. You were the ocean in my arms – sleek wet power. Your buoyancy supported us. You breathed explosively but made no other sound as my fingers caressed the subtle curves of your breasts. Then, as I found your vulva, you suddenly thrust forward, pushing against my fingers, pushing me inside you, spinning us like a top in the water. We toppled over, and I grabbed your dorsal fin and hung on. As you towed me, the fingers of my other hand worked them-selves deeper and deeper, until with every thrust they brushed against your unseen clitoris. You bucked like a

feisty mare, threw me, and leaped in joy. I felt the buzz of angry bees as another fin raced at me. The gunwale of the boat was under my hand, and I appreciated your genius in plotting this rendezvous: if need be I could jump in the boat, out of harm’s way. The water in front of me boiled furiously where you intercepted Bimbo. Something whizzed by my legs so close the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Another splash, and flukes smacked the surface. Yours? His? Could you subdue him? Through the water came a thump not so much heard as felt, and a fin retreated to the far side of the pool. A moment later you surfaced in front of me as if nothing had happened, except for the fresh tooth marks oozing blubber behind your eye. Just a scratch. Come on! I grabbed you and we plunged to the bottom of the pool. My ears ached, and only the air trickling from my nostrils kept the water out. There, twelve feet below the surface, you broke free and thrust your snout between my legs, rubbing as you pushed me upward, and at your touch I got hard, very hard. I grabbed a breath and dove again, embraced you, thrust against your genital slit, my penis warm and stiff between us in the undulation of love. Sparks flew. We broke apart, reunited, shifted and merged like sandbars, unafraid to touch anywhere and everywhere, unhampered by prying human eyes. As we floated belly-to-belly, like whales, your eyes told me you were ready. Trying to enter you, I discovered new and challenging differences between our species. Water, a near-frictionless medium, lubricated every surface, and there was nothing to thrust against, nothing to grasp. Trying to make love with you confirmed Newton’s Third Law of Motion: every action on my part precipitated an equal and opposite reaction on yours. We spun like dervishes but didn’t get anywhere except hornier and hornier. Sometimes it’s like this with young dolphins, too… You were patient with my ineptitude but I was not. Trying to gain some leverage, trying to merge our bodies, I wrapped my arms and legs around you. You exhaled and water swirled around us. Lungs empty, we sank, entwined, immobile and helpless, toward the pool’s silt bottom. I penetrated you only an inch or so. Finally it dawned on me that you could not move your flukes with my

legs wrapped around them. We hit the bottom tail-first, raising a cloud of silt. I planted my feet and clasped your peduncle, trying to gain some purchase, something to react against, but just as I did my lungs gave out. How frustrating, to have a lover who can’t hold his breath as long as you! I broke the surface, gasping for air. Where were you? I whirled around but you were nowhere in sight. A bulge formed in the water, and a wave that never quite broke raced across the pool and abruptly veered in my direction. Somebody set off a depth charge. Through the spray I glimpsed flying fins, caught a burst of an angry squawk, “ARRARRARRARR!” Jealous bastard! What did Bimbo have against me? He had you all to himself for weeks, and now he was begrudging us this one time together? I swam to the gated fence that separated the main pool from the pens and clung to the catwalk, ready to haul out at a moment’s notice. No time now for experiments in interspecies communications! I didn’t trust Bimbo’s good will and I wouldn’t give him the chance to dismember me. In my state, he couldn’t miss! Splash! A swirl of slipstream brushed my legs. Agitated whistles and clicks resounded around me, and my neck-hairs rose as my erection fell. You had just placed yourself between Bimbo and his intended target – me! You took the hit, or at least deflected it. I couldn’t take the tension any longer and hauled out on the catwalk, exhausted. Bimbo was insane with jealousy, and en-dangering both of us. Better to give up than risk… Smack! went your flukes. Bimbo took off, and you surfaced in front of me, chirped softly. But I wouldn’t get back in that pool with Bimbo. “What now, Ruby?” In answer, you turned and swam to the latched gate of the pen adjoining yours, then did something that totally floored me: exhaling so your rib cage collapsed, you turned on your side and swam through the narrow opening between the top of the wire mesh and the gate’s frame! For one awful moment you seemed to be stuck, and my breath caught in my throat; there would be nothing for me to do except try to rip the gate apart with my bare hands. Then you were through, in the privacy of the pen, where we both knew Bimbo would not follow! Let him have the satisfaction of chasing me out of his territory. You

could have me all to yourself! You lifted your head and squawked triumphantly as I gaped in awe. The performing animal and the mental entity had finally merged into one iridescent creature, a wet goddess beckoning me to enter your world, and you with it. I dove and surfaced, rubbing against you. You squealed with delight, nuzzled me between the legs, then lifted your snout and peduncle in the erotic Scurve. Back in the main pool, Bimbo cruised agitatedly, throwing his head up every now and then to see what we were doing. I recalled how the resonating metal fence made hash out of echolocation. Oh, to hell with him! No need to rush or hurry now. Plenty of time to play! You turned your flukes toward me, and I realized what you were offering. Straddling you just behind your dorsal fin, I rode you slowly around the pen, like the little Greek boys on the dolphin statues. I didn’t think it could be done, but you were out to convince me that between us, anything was possible. After a couple of circuits you shook me off by the fence and pushed me gently against it. With your snout inches from my crotch, you echolocated. That was my turn to gasp! My erect cock resonated like a tuning fork, the harmonics shooting up my spine to my skull. Without even touching me, you sent me into shuddering ecstasy. We finally figured out how this must be done. Not your way or mine; we had to invent a new way, compatible with our different anatomies. The surface became our mattress. Floating head-up in the water, I moved to your right side, my fingers groping for the right spot. Holding you behind your dorsal fin, I tried to guide myself into you, but I could only penetrate you halfway. A tough elastic sphincter, your pseudocervix, stopped me. My finger could penetrate it, but my cock just butted it uselessly. Male dolphins are stiffer. Although the water was warm, after an hour I had begun to get chilled. My skin was wrinkling, and I realized with a growing sense of frustration that I could not sustain an erection much longer. If we were to fulfill these longings, we must do so now. I rallied. Everything we had thought, felt and done over the past nine months led up to that moment. Your desires, which I fought for so long, your advances

which I spurned, the embarrassment I felt, the self-doubt I wrestled with – why? Why did I resist you so long, Ruby? What did it buy me? As I surrendered to your love, I felt the lifting of a great weight. A newfound rush of ardor buoyed me. Thrusting harder, I felt something stir in you like a subtle electric current, as if my realization had liberated you as well. You began to undulate, matching the strokes of your flukes to the rhythm of my thrusts, carrying us slowly forward through the water. How strange, how beautifully strange to be swimming while we make love! The current inside you wrapped itself around me, suffused me, as if to tug me in. My hips began to move on their own as the current surged into me, then shot back into you, oscillating, scintillating, engulfing us. We moved as one creature with one mind. Neither of us knew where we left off and the other began. As we swam, clutching, thrusting, glowing, I looked up and saw you were heading for the gate to your pen. Open or closed? Wide enough for the two of us, or would you in your passion unthinkingly rake me against the rusty metal spines as we passed through? No matter what happened I would not withdraw, would not break the rhythm of our sacred dance, would not ground the plasma surging inside us. We passed, un-scathed, into your pen. Back and forth the current swept between us, intensifying with each stroke, feeding on our passion. How strange you feel inside me, strange but oh, so good! You blew and I knew what was coming, caught my breath and clung tightly to you. With a flip of your head you pulled us down. My eyes stung, and everything turned green and shim-mering. Our bodies, two magnets, clutched each other, pulled away and clutched again. In the writhing moments before climax I thrust into you and you, my dolphin goddess, groaned in ecstasy. I thrust again oh! And again OH! And as we slowly explode I want to open my mouth

And cry out with you OOOHHHHH! But we are under water… For an endless moment there was only one creature in that pen, half dolphin, half human, sharing the astonishing sensation of my hot semen displacing cool sea-water in your cunt, leaving us both quivering and shapeless. …and this is not my world. It slowly dawned on me that I was six feet down and couldn’t breathe. The sensation became increasingly unbearable until I withdrew from your warmth and swam for the surface, lungs bursting. I came up in a corner of the pen and grabbed onto the mesh, gasping, still feeling your electricity sizzling through my body as a series of aftershocks. You surfaced in front of me and stared at me out of that deep brown eye. After our climax I thought nothing you could do would ever amaze me again, but you proved me wrong. You swam to me, laid your snout on my shoulder, and, with your left eye just inches from mine, you embraced me with your flippers. We are mates, now! Nothing changes this! The rush of love I felt for you, so long displaced, ignored, withheld, tumbled me like a storm-driven wave and I threw my arms around you. That single, simple gesture touched me as deeply as our lovemaking, for it seemed so human, yet so far beyond merely human that I no longer knew what species I was or what you were. You cradled me in your flippers, and staring into your beautiful brown eye I saw something gazing out at me, something deep, vast, ancient, mysterious yet tender, the unfathomable Goddess incarnated in you, and I knew then that love was not invented by humans, nor will it die with us should we vanish from the Earth. My tears were of such deep joy I couldn’t explain them to myself, much less to you. “Ruby, you’re beautiful, I love you!” I sobbed, pulling you closer. It’s all right, lover. It’s all right. My lips kissed your bony shark-smacking snout, your lipid-filled melon, your delicate blowhole. I wiped the stinging salt water from my eyes and we rocked on the wavelets. Finally we let go. Finding a spot where I could stand, I rubbed you from head to tail, and you loved it.

If I was on the edge of exhaustion before, I was now totally depleted and chilly, with barely enough strength left to haul myself onto the apron. The rough concrete chafed my sodden, wrinkled skin. We lay there for a long while without speaking, gazing at each other as lovers will. The sun was lowering, and a breeze with a hint of autumn on it picked up off the bay. You turned belly-up and presented me with your vulva again for stroking. I sighed. You were a dolphin, after all, indefatigable in love, whereas I was merely human. You were ready to begin all over again. “Sorry,” I told you, softly. “I’d love to, but I have to save some strength to drive home.” You seemed to understand that, turned, and swam to the gate of the pen where you tugged at the ropes with your jaws until I shuffled over and opened it for you. You swept into the main pool, brushing my hand as you went. Splash! You leaped proudly, raced past a befuddled Bimbo – I had quite forgotten Bimbo – and paused before me to chatter, “EEEErrrAAARRR! ArrrEEEEP!” before diving. On a hunch, I stuck my head underwater. Even my impedance-mismatched ears could pick up that conversation! Braggadocio? Lovers’ quarrel? Domestic dispute? Simple sonic interchange to redefine social rank in a pod of two? Oh, yeah, that would really fit! Good grief, what were you doing, swirling from one end of the pool to the other? I couldn’t see you under water. I pulled on my shorts and tee shirt. Following you and Bimbo was easier from atop the jumping tower, but your chase didn’t make any more sense. Figure-eights, turns, barrel rolls, sometimes you seemed to be chasing him, sometimes he was chasing you, but neither of you paid me any attention. Was Bimbo getting his for interfering? One moment it looked like tag, the next like fight or flight, the next like courtship. Your sounds were so loud I could hear them faintly even up there, conducted from the water up the metal stairs into my skull. I was confounded. And we had just been this close! Well, if you wanted to play the inscrutable marine mammal, I would let you. I knew you better than that, and I loved you anyway. I raised my camera. Always wanted this shot. You swam slowly under me,

rolled on your side and gazed up at me. Snap! Sorry, it’s a human thing, this need to freeze reality… The sun was sinking. I descended from the tower and stepped onto one of the small floating docks that used to hold the jumping hoops. You and Bimbo crowded up to me. Well, he deserved some strokes too, I guess, and I petted him for a minute, then you. That seemed to calm things down, although I had no idea why. Then you backed off and hovered just an inch beyond the reach of my fingertips, a mischievous look in your eye. It broke my heart. “Sorry, Ruby, I can’t stay, really.” You returned to your circuits of the pool. Guess I won’t get a chance to say goodbye to you. I can’t be here when they let the dogs out, that could get nasty. But again, in my typically human way, I’d underestimated you. Gathering my possessions, I was walking the catwalk when you swam up to me, lifted your head from the water, fixed me with your gaze and began to speak. I don’t know what else to call it, that precise and eloquent string of phonations that emerged from your blowhole. You made every sound it seemed a dolphin could make and some I’d never heard before and never will again: clicks, whistles, squeals, blats, squawks, chirps, trills, rusty hinges, harmonies and melodies, points and counterpoints, beats and backbeats, all delivered as you stared into my eyes. Awed, I dropped to my knees on the catwalk, and it slowly sank into my brain what you were doing: Saying goodbye. Saying you love me, that of all the humans who have flowed through your life here I am the most special. Saying that you understand the inevitability of our separation, acknowledge our mutual regret, our helplessness – for I will not steal you, even if I could – and you accept it. Asking me only to remember you, to find you and come back to you when this separation has ended, so we can share our love and our passion again. Thirty million years of divergent evolution dissolved as I listened. After a minute or two you simmered into silence, but your gaze remained unbroken. “Ruby,” I said, reaching out to stroke you, “I love you, and I’ll always love

you. I wanted you to know that, to tell you while I feel it, because in the future, it may be very hard for me to tell you, or even admit it to myself.” Knowing there was no one else around save Bimbo, I spoke loudly, to make sure you could hear me, but I think you would have understood me just as well if I had whispered, or maybe even said nothing at all. “Listen, I want you to be happy with Bimbo, wherever you’re going. I’m going to be gone for…” How to convey time to you? “…a while, a long while, but wherever I go, whatever I do, I won’t forget you! I can’t forget you, we’re like this now, aren’t we?” I said, holding up the two fingers twined in the classic human gesture. “And wherever you go, I’ll find you.” I felt so acutely aware that I was the one with freedom, the one with a Bill of Rights, the one who was not a commodity. “I’ll come to you, okay? That’s a promise! And when I find you again…” I wiped the tears from my face. “…I’ll get a job, a good job, earn some money, I’ll do what-ever I have to, and then…” I was babbling like an idiot. What I said next sounded absurd, even to me: “…I’ll buy you, okay? Buy you from Beau and give you back your freedom! I’ll put you back in the bay and let you go! No more pens, no more pools, no more shows, no more dead fish, no more goddamn fences penning you up!” You stared at me, stared into me, and it was impossible to believe that you did not somehow understand me. “And then… if you want to hang around… that’s your business, okay?” I was blubbering so hard I wasn’t sure which of us was wetter. Leaning over the water, I held you in my arms, hugged you, and let you go. You left, and Bimbo joined you. The two of you swam placidly around the pool, surfacing together, flippers almost touching. As I got back to the car I realized I’d left something – a belt, a lens cap, some inconsequential thing – on the dock. I retrieved it, but you seemed to pay me no attention. I knew better. You didn’t like long, drawn-out goodbyes any more than I do. I got in the car, cranked the engine and pulled onto the access road. The

last I saw of you was your breath, a flash of silver vapor, rising like fog in my rearview mirror.

Chapter 23 Nightmare Now wakes the owl, now sleeps the swan Behold the dream, the dream is gone… – Pink Floyd, “A Pillow of Winds,” Meddle, 1971 One moment, oblivion; the next – Waking yanked me bolt-upright, heart pounding, lungs gasping, drenched in cold sweat, and for one terrible, endless moment, I knew I was dying. Then my heartbeat subsided, my lungs emptied and refilled, leaving behind only disorientation and an eddy of terror. Where was I? Sitting on a mattress in a small, ill-furnished bedroom. Morning sunlight streamed through a curtained window, incongruous against the darkness still roiling inside me. What had happened? The bedclothes were at my feet, where they’d landed when I’d thrown them off. Then the dream, in all its revolting detail, rushed back to me: The rock-hewn stairway I descended, its crumbling stones covered with niter and dripping lichen… the dim glow of the orange lights in the ceiling of the vault… and all around me, row upon row of low, oblong wooden boxes… dozens… hundreds… like coffins, only lined with… aluminum foil? Hazy stood behind the closest box, a helpless look on his face. “They can’t get out,” he said, pointing to the box, “and they’re dying.” Then the thing in the box lifted its head, and dread fled before horror. Only the thing’s eye, the pleading look in its brown eye, revealed that it was really a dolphin. The rest of it looked like an enormous slab of raw, rotting liver. My heart seized, fear stole my breath. The dolphin-in-a-coffin was quite dead, yet it moved, its eye begging me to release it from this awful stony hell. Overcoming my disgust, I wrapped my arms around it and tried to lift it out, to drag it up the stairs and away, but it was too heavy, too decayed, too slimy. It slipped from my grasp, leaving me covered with rotting flesh.

Got to get them out of here! I thought, and I wanted to scream but I could not, GOT TO GET THEM – And then I woke up. The dream’s immediacy receded before the morning light. The repulsion and the clinging sense of horror it left in me were not so easily shaken. I stood up, trembling, and staggered to the bathroom down the hall, but even hot water and soap couldn’t wash away the memory of the dream. I’d never woken up asphyxiating before. Glenda Borland smiled at me when I stumbled into her kitchen. “Good morning, Zack,” she chirped, “have some coffee?” She pushed a mug of black across the counter. I mumbled thanks and flopped down on a stool at the breakfast bar. Byron Borland, professor of communications at The Evergreen State College, glanced at me over the top of the Daily Olympian. “Rough night?” he asked. “Just woke up,” I muttered. Byron snorted and went back to his paper. “You look tired,” Glenda noted, leaning over the bar and sipping her coffee. A plump, cheerful woman, she had a genuine concern for the students who roomed with her, one of the reasons I stayed there. “Are you okay? You seem kind of down, lately.” “I just had a bad dream,” I said, letting it hang. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Glenda apologized, as if she might have inadvertently done something to provoke it. “Anything you want to talk about?” I shook my head. The dream’s horror might have been ephemeral, but mere words couldn’t describe it. The normalcy of that kitchen, those people, that cup of coffee, was infinitely reassuring. Just a dream, I told myself. Just a fucking dream… Born, no doubt, of smoking too much Lovecraft and reading too much dope. Byron laid the paper aside. “If I give you a ride to the campus this morning, and we go by the bank, can you take care of the rent? You’re two weeks behind, you know.” He was nothing if not subtle. I nodded. “Sure.” Maybe I had it by now; maybe not. “Oh, Zack, you got some mail,” Glenda remembered, rummaging through a

decoupaged box on the counter. “I’d have given it to you last night, but it was so late when you came in.” She handed me two envelopes and a postcard. I looked at the postcard first. It was a view of San Francisco’s Chinatown Gate. I flipped it over and recognized Hazy’s chunky italic print. Zack, it read, Haight very FU’d, all junkies and speed freaks. Gil and I hitching to ashram in B.C., arriving mid-month. Can we crash with you for a night? Stay high, Hazy. “What day is this?” I asked. “Friday,” Byron said, buttering the onion bagel he’d just taken out of the toaster oven. “No, I mean, what date?” Byron and Glenda both exchanged one of those looks. “It’s right there, Zack,” he said, pointing to the Daily Olympian. I glanced at the masthead, but my eyes had trouble focusing. June 16, 1972. Oh shit. Hazy was going to arrive any day now – maybe even today! I’d deal with that later, after I paid the rent. The second envelope bore a Sarasota postmark. That, in itself, was unusual; almost nobody from Sarasota wrote to me, except, of course, my mother. But this wasn’t her handwriting. It seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it until I looked at the return address: Midnight Pass Road. Salina! Why was she writing to me? Was I finally going to get paid? I ripped open the envelope, and a tiny scrap of paper fluttered to the floor. I climbed off the stool and retrieved it. It was a cutout classified ad, with type small enough to make me squint. While the original and the exact text have escaped me over the years, it read something like this: GRAD STUDENTS, COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS, TRIPSTERS, PRANKSTERS & METAPHYSICIANS: Interested in sensory isolation/consciousness expansion, tripping without drugs, transpersonal experiences, human biocomputer programming & metaprogramming, interspecies communications? Write to John C. Lilly, M.D., P.O. Box XXXXX, Los Angeles, Calif. 90034. Slightly stunned, I opened the envelope further, extracted the note inside,

unfolded it and read: Zack, Leo saw this in the classifieds of the “Last Supplement to the Last Whole Earth Catalogue” and thought you might be interested. Let me know if you find him. Best, Salina. Astonishing! Not only had I located the elusive Dr. Lilly, but his nemesis had referred me! In the nine months since Ruby and I made love, the need to share the experience with someone – anyone – had become overwhelming. People who knew me at that time say I was obsessed with dolphins, and, from the way I talked, my acquaintanceship with them obviously ran deeper than casual. But even among my new friends and classmates in Evergreen’s grotesquely misnamed Communications and Intelligence Program, I didn’t trust anyone enough to share my secret. Alone in a new environment, I didn’t want to face the all-too-likely possibility of rejection, derision and isolation. People thought I was weird anyway. Why risk it? The whole experience of falling in love with Ruby had been too far outside the realm of shared human experience to cogently describe. While making love, it seemed like we had merged on some unexpectedly fundamental level. Although I’d thought about her constantly, four months passed before I recorded our mating in my journal. At odd hours my thoughts were interrupted by unanswerable questions: Where was she? How was she doing? When would we see each other again? Yet because of the distance I had placed between us, my poverty and a determination to pursue my studies, I never seriously considered quitting school to go see her. She wasn’t going anywhere, was she? There was no rational reason to believe anything was wrong with her. She was a dolphin, and so much stronger than I! And Beau was nothing if not conscientious; hell, she probably ate better than I did! Still, the questions remained, with no way to answer them. Distance didn’t seem to affect our telepathy, but attention did. As mine had been diverted by the challenges of a new environment, Ruby herself – the vivid mental dolphin – had faded somewhat. When I’d first reached Washington State, our contacts had been frequent, but in the past few months they had taken on a stylized, repetitive quality, rather like a distress call. Where are you? she would ask.

I would try to answer her in literal terms: I’m on a thickly wooded peninsula at 47 degrees north latitude, 122.8 degrees west longitude. No, where are you? Well, I’m up in the mountains or There’s a lot of tall trees here or In a big ugly concrete building with bad lighting… but those answers meant nothing to her. Where are you? she would ask again, and I would try to explain, or project the mental image of the Cascades or a grove of Douglas firs or the college’s library, where all the classes were held in lieu of the classrooms, which were still under construction. In answer, what I got back was Where are you? Of Ruby’s own situation I could discern but little. Wherever she was, it was wet and confined, but not unreasonably so. I wasn’t aware of any other dolphins around, but that was not unusual for her. I felt deeply frustrated at not being able to reestablish the vivid experience of going outside the fence with her, but there was no way to confirm or validate any impressions I picked up. We were physically too far apart for that. Something seemed to have corrupted our psychic link, and I regretted that, but I had so often questioned the reality of those experiences. Now I was preoccupied with many other essential things that would, I thought, shape my life and future career. Where are you? I was beginning to wonder if the question wasn’t rhetorical. The only person who might be able to give me some insight was Dr. John C. Lilly. In the years since he’d closed the Communications Research Institute, Lilly had become notoriously reclusive. Rumor had it he was involved with the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, where the nascent Human Potential Movement was blossoming, but my half-hearted attempts to locate him had proven futile. Like an electron, nobody could pinpoint both his location and his momentum simultaneously. Now, this bolt from the blue, and Salina, of all people, had dumped Lilly in my lap! I resolved at that moment to find him, wherever he was, and tell him my story. No doubt he would think it very interesting. “So how soon are you ready to go?” Byron asked. “Just let me finish the coffee,” I said, swilling it down.

§§§ Hazy and Gilbert showed up later that afternoon, having hitchhiked all the way from San Francisco. I was so overjoyed I irresponsibly deserted my student job as a darkroom technician. We went out to the woods and dropped some acid – well, Gil and I did, anyway. Hazy was trying to stay pure for his visit to the ashram. There was a lot to catch up on: who was still at New College, who had dropped out, who was sleeping with whom. Hazy and Gilbert wanted to hear about my Evergreen education. “It’s been a totally screwed-up year,” I complained, and recounted the petty constraints that a bunch of anal-retentive academicians had imposed on a dynamic, creative media-arts program. Still, I had decided not to do my usual thing of running off; I was sticking it out until the end of the school year, which was only another week or so away. “Have you made any films?” Hazy asked. “Yeah, I finished the one about the dolphins. Ought to make Professor Dyne happy when I get back.” “What dolphins?” Gilbert asked. “They have dolphins up here? I thought the killer whales ate them or something.” “The ones at Florida Funland,” I explained. “How did that go?” Hazy asked. “Whatever happened with you and that female dolphin… what was her name?” I stared at him for a long minute. He stared back at first puzzled, but slowly a grin spread over his face. I felt utterly transparent. “You didn’t!” he said. “When?” “Didn’t what?” Gilbert asked. “Sit down,” I said, pointing to a fallen log, “and I’ll tell you…” When I finished, Hazy’s response was a simple “Far-out!” “That's incredible,” Gil said. “I didn't think you could do it with a dolphin or something, but, uh, I guess I don't really know what I'm talking about, do I?” I realized I had been holding my breath and let out a long sigh. Not until that moment had I realized exactly how desperately I needed to share that

experience, how much the approval of my peers meant to me. If Hazy and Gil had condemned me, it would not have changed my feelings about Ruby and what we had done, but I would have become bitter and withdrawn. “So have you seen her since then?” Hazy asked. For some reason the answer caught in my throat. “No, I’ve been stuck here,” I said. “I haven’t made enough money to travel or buy a car, and I haven’t found any work out-side this part-time darkroom job. The local economy’s in bad shape, and nobody wants to hire an out-oftowner. I wrote Beau once and asked about Ruby, but he never wrote back. I don’t know, maybe I had the wrong address. But what am I supposed to do? Send her a tape? Call Beau and tell him to throw the phone in her tank so we can talk? Wouldn’t he think that was kind of weird? That would be a dead giveaway, wouldn’t it?” They were both rolling on the ground laughing, but I realized, with that terrible clarity acid sometimes brings, that the questions weren’t as silly or as stupid as they seemed. “It’s weird that you showed up today,” I told them, “because just last night I had this dream…” They both listened gravely as I described the horror that had awakened me. Afterward, Gil gulped, and Hazy shook his head. “Sounds like you’re stressed out,” he said. “You said it’s been a rough year, didn’t you?” “Yeah. I think it has a lot to do with frustration, and my need to get back to someplace nicer. I can’t imagine anybody keeping dolphins in a dungeon, let alone Beau.” “When are you going back?” Gil asked. “I’m not sure. I’ve got an offer of a summer job on campus that sounds pretty good, and a couple of other students asked me to shoot a movie for them in the fall. They don’t have any more money than I do, but it would look great on my resumé. ‘Director of Cinematography’ before I’m twenty-four! If I pass it up, I’ll kick myself. This is what I intend to do with my life, I might as well get started. I’m sure Ruby will be there when I get back.” “But what are you going to do with her?” Gil asked. “She’s still in an aquarium, isn’t she?” “I’ll get a job, work construction if I have to, live cheap, put the money

aside and save enough until I can buy her.” “Buy her?” Gil looked incredulous. “Yeah. She’s chattel, Gil! I can’t just expect Beau to give her to me, can I? But if I buy her, then I can set her free.” “That’s weird, having to buy her freedom,” Gil mused. “Sort of like the old slave days, or something.” “Weird,” Hazy agreed, “but very romantic!”

Chapter 24 At The Lillys’ Pad Dr. John C. Lilly, a fascinating combination of characteristics, had the mind of a scientist, the heart of a mystic, and the vision of a genius. Unfortunately it never really came together. – Ric O’Barry, Behind the Dolphin Smile, 1988 Hazy and Gilbert headed north the next day, and I didn’t hear a thing from either of them for months. I got the job designing equipment instruction manuals for the college audio-visual department. It didn’t pay a lot, but it was a summer job and I was fairly good at it. The nightmare slipped into the back of my mind. I thought about Ruby a lot, often fantasizing we were making love when I masturbated. Our mental contacts continued to diminish, but I knew that would change once we got together again. I was out there, doing my own thing, and I needed the space. Our relationship had, frankly, been too weird, too in-tense, and I was giving myself a breather. It just lasted some-what longer than I’d expected. I met a couple of interesting women, but we didn’t hit it off. In the fall, I shot the feature film with a couple of whiz kids from the Seattle suburb of Belleview. It never got finished, but that’s another story. Afterward I headed south to visit my uncle in Glendale before returning to Florida and New College. That also afforded me the chance to look up Dr. Lilly. I prepared the groundwork carefully. First I wrote to him at the address in the classified ad, stating that I was a college student and long-time admirer of his work who wanted to discuss human-dolphin communications. A couple of weeks later, I got back a brief but friendly note from his wife, Toni OshmanLilly, thanking me for my interest and giving me their street address and unlisted phone number. I was welcome to come by as long as I called first, she said. I took off for Los Angeles, hitchhiking. When I arrived, I crashed with my uncle and called Lilly that night. “John’s doing an interview for Penthouse tomorrow morning, but we might get a chance to talk afterward,” Toni said. “You’re welcome to come over, as long as you don’t have any expectations.”

I thought that an odd precondition, but I couldn’t argue. From the outside, Lilly’s pad appeared to be a bungalow like all the others on Beverlywood Street north of Culver City, except for a motor home parked out front. When I knocked, the door was opened by a tall, matronly woman with a mop of gray hair, calm green eyes and a beaked nose, who somehow gave the overall impression of an imposing, if friendly, mother owl. “Jules?” she asked. “No, I’m Zack,” I said. “Oh, the student! I’m Toni, come in. We’re expecting this guy from Penthouse, and I thought you were him.” The bungalow’s interior reminded me of the type of places my contemporaries favored: a lot of old furniture crowded into a small living room. It was not elaborate, nothing even overtly dolphinic about, a far cry from Salina’s ostentation. The walls were lined with books, too many to even begin to read the titles. Toni showed me to the couch and told me John would be a few minutes longer; he was finishing his “mentations,” whatever those were. Shortly there came a knock at the front door, rather more forceful than mine, and Toni opened it to let in a tall man with burning eyes and fiery hair – or was it the other way around? In his suede jacket and tight jeans, the guy would have been more at home behind the barricades at Berkeley than behind a typewriter; he had one of those intense faces that warn the dominant paradigm it had better get out of town, now! But he looked puzzled as he stepped toward me with a hand extended. Assuming he was just being polite, I stood up and shook his hand, the regular, not the power, handshake. “Somehow I expected you to look older,” he said. “I’m twenty-one,” I said, “isn’t that old enough?” “You’re not Dr. Lilly!” “I never said I was!” We both looked in surprise at Toni. “Oh, silly me!” she exclaimed. “Jules, this is Zack, he’s a student from some college up north.” “What’s he doing here?” Jules groused, dropping my hand like I had typhus. “He wants to talk with John about the dolphins, after you get done,” Toni

explained. “You don’t mind, do you?” At that moment a bedroom door opened and a very thin man about my height stepped out. He was dressed in a blue jump suit; its pants legs stopped inches above the sneakers on his feet. His curly dark hair was shot with gray around the temples and combed, apparently, at right angles to his skull. His sleepy blue eyes seemed to peer right through you but gave the simultaneous impression that, whatever they saw, he didn’t really care. He looked back and forth from me to Jules, then stepped toward me and stuck out a hand. “Jules,” he said. “Good to meet you at last!” “I’m Jules,” Jules said, obviously miffed. “Oh. Then who are you?” Lilly asked, still shaking my hand. “That’s Zack, the student who wrote to you about the dolphins, remember, honey?” Toni reminded him. “No,” Lilly said. “Are you into computers?” “I don’t know a thing about computers,” I confessed. “The only way to adequately analyze the multivalent signal properties of dolphin-dolphin acoustic interlock in their own aquatic domain is with a mainframe, probably something like a DEC-10 or a PDP-11,” Lilly explained. “Otherwise, we just don’t have the cranial hardware to keep up with them. Learn COBOL or at least BASIC. Game theory and classical acoustics wouldn’t hurt, either,” he added, letting go of my hand. “Dr. Lilly?” Jules interjected. “The interview? For Penthouse? Can we get started?” “Outside,” Lilly said, heading for the door. “All three of us. Toni’s housekeeping this morning.” The motor home’s license plate read DOLFIN. “I wanted the ‘PH’, but the Department of Motor Vehicles said that was too many letters,” Lilly explained. Inside, it was improbably quieter. Lilly sat on one side of the passenger compartment, Jules on the other, a folding table between them, and I settled into a privileged position on a little daybed in back where I could watch them both. Jules set up a microphone and a cassette tape recorder that looked like it had cost everything I’d earned on the summer job. He logged the tape, then launched right into the interview by asking Lilly why, as a scientist, was he so out-spoken? “It’s just my mission, a role in life I’ve been assigned.”

Jules looked skeptical. “Assigned? By who? You mean, assigned by ‘God?’” “Not ‘God’ in the way you’re talking about God,” Lilly said. “How do you know how I’m talking about God?” Jules shot back. “Because your previous question indicates you’re talking about God in the consensus-reality model, which assumes that God is some kind of authoritarian father-figure who’s laying this trip on us all, programming us as obedient robots at the subroutine level, when in reality it’s not that way at all.” “How would you know?” Jules groused. I was beginning to enjoy this. Jules had inadvertently adopted an unproductive confrontational interviewing technique. Like most leftist political radicals, he was a devout materialist who, having no concept of the spiritual dimension, grew flustered when the conversation turned that way. Lilly was quiet for several seconds. Finally he said, slowly, “I’ve… been… there.” “You talk to God?” Jules asked, a sneer in his voice. Lilly smiled, a sweet, disarming smile and shook his head slightly, as if Jules were a stupid child in need of adult guidance. “No. Been God.” Jules stared at him, slack-jawed. “Really?” “Well, it’s apparently my biocomputer simulating one of the higher-level metaprogrammatic entities that control coincidences in these local space-time ordinates, not Absolute God, because there’s only so much you can do with the human hardware and still come back and talk about it intelligently, like we’re doing here. But for all practical intents and purposes, yeah, I’ve been God, and I can tell you, It’s not a personality, It’s a consensual process. We’re all here not because somebody put us here, but because we agreed to be here.” “But what about the poor?” Jules asked. “The victims of oppression, evil and injustice? If human existence is consensual, what does that say about them?” “I’ve kind of wondered about that myself,” Lilly mused, stroking his graying goatee. “Certainly those would seem to be socially undesirable roles, yet they appear with great regularity and consistency in human society and have done so, as far as we can tell, since the origin of record-keeping in Mesopotamia about 6,000 years ago. I don’t know, what do you think?”

Jules had no answer. The tape rolled. “How do you, John C. Lilly, a human being from St. Paul, Minnesota, become God?” he finally asked. “Well, there are several ways,” Lilly began. “There’s nothing secret about it, the information has been common currency in other cultures for thousands of years. The Bhagavad-Gita lists seven ways, I think, of attaining atman while still in the physical body. But in my case I have mainly used moksha, that is, LSD, and the sensory isolation tank. And, of course, sex,” he added. “Sex is a great way of becoming God. The copulatory dyad, merging two bodies. Very transcendental, personally speaking.” “I see,” Jules said. “Perhaps we can come back to this a little later on. Hasn’t the U.S. military used your work to train killer dolphins for Vietnam?” “My work? Heavens, I don’t think so,” Lilly exclaimed. “I got out of the dolphin business so they wouldn’t! The Navy was going to give me a lot of money, you know, but I turned them down. The catch was I wouldn’t own anything I found out about dolphins, they would. I wouldn’t be able to publish anything without getting security clearance first, which meant I wouldn’t be able to publish anything, and we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation we’re having now. So I didn’t get into that.” Jules scrawled something in a black leather notebook, then tucked it back inside his jacket. “So you oppose the war in Vietnam?” “Not really.” “You don’t?” Jules practically fell out of his seat. “Then you support it?” “No, not that either,” Lilly said, a note of indignation beginning to creep into his voice. “That’s faulty, polarized logic! It just strikes me as an unfortunate misplacement of our resources when we could be doing better things with them.” “Like what?” “Like raising our consciousness as a species. I suppose I could get a placard and a bullhorn and go out there and march around with the young people and get tear gassed and jailed and think I’d made some kind of a point, but one of the things you learn if you study the martial arts is, you don’t want to give energy to your opponent! He’ll just turn it against you. That’s the lesson of jiujitsu. I’ve already told the government I won’t train any dolphins to kill people, and that’s my protest.” Jules looked shell-shocked. This was obviously not the typical liberal-

humanist-leftist rhetoric he had been expecting! My admiration for Lilly, on the other hand, was growing by leaps and bounds. The guy was really, truly cosmic – almost frighteningly cosmic! Jules paused the tape recorder for several seconds while he stared blankly into space, struggling to find another question, then switched it back on again. “What about the danger of superpower confrontation over hotspots like Vietnam? Surely you’re concerned about the possibility of a thermonuclear exchange, World War III, the destruction of all life on Earth?” Lilly rocked back and cupped his hands around one knee. He transfixed Jules with those blue eyes of his, which suddenly seemed to have grown rather cold. “You’re making an awful lot of assumptions. You’re assuming I think the survival of all life on Earth is a good thing. Maybe our having a nuclear war and blowing ourselves up and killing all the other life forms on this planet is part of the cosmic plan! Maybe we’re supposed to do it, that’s why we’ve been allowed to develop nuclear weapons. Maybe the energies from this planet are needed in some other part of the Universe, you see?” Jules did not see. He was practically frothing at the mouth. “How can you possibly say such things? I thought you were a humanitarian! Where are your ethics, your morals?” Both men abruptly stood up face-to-face, the air between them practically congealing. “Do you want this interview, or don’t you? If you do, you have absolutely no business speaking to me this way on my own property! This interview will be conducted on my terms or not at all! Call Toni tomorrow morning and we’ll continue – IF I feel like it! Now get out of here!” Lilly flung one arm dramatically toward the door. Jules picked up his tape recorder and slunk out. Through the windows of the mobile home, we watched him drive away. Lilly turned to me with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “My father told me something very useful: you should never lose your temper with anyone, but you should always be able to make it look like you have! Come on inside,” he said, leading the way out of the mobile home, “what did you say your name was?”

“What happened to Jules?” Toni asked once we were back inside the bungalow. “All he wanted to talk about was The War,” Lilly said. “I got bored and sent him away. He might come back tomorrow, though.” “Oh well. One thing about life with John, Zack, it’s never boring, or at least not for long! Would you like some tea?” she asked, heading for the kitchen. “Zack? That’s your name?” Lilly asked. “Well, Zack, we have some things to attend to and it may be a little while before I can give you my full attention. You don’t mind, do you?” I shook my head, and Toni handed me a small cup of ruby-colored tea. I took a sip. Hibiscus flowers. Not bad. §§§ My recollections of that afternoon are rather vague, and my remaining journal entries, imprecise. Over the next few hours the Lillys appeared, disappeared and reappeared as a number of guests, friends and mere acquaintances wandered through their bungalow. I was cordially introduced to all of them and have forgotten every one except Lilly’s son, John Jr., who described a 16mm film he was shooting about the peyote ceremonies of the Huichol Indians of northern Mexico. At times, Lilly would get a few moments to talk to me. Since I didn’t want to get halfway involved in my story only to have to stop it, I was forced to stall his curiosity until we had some privacy. In the late afternoon the place cleared out, and Lilly settled into a large plush armchair next to the couch. “In NASA terminology, this is what they do when a reconnaissance satellite passes over a tracking station: they say the satellite is dumping, and the ground station is gulping. You dump, and I’ll gulp.” So I told him about myself: about New College, Evergreen and trying to be a student filmmaker. My love for dolphins and how I’d read about him as a kid. Meeting Salina and Beau and being introduced to Ruby. Our “language lesson.” That caught his attention. He nodded knowingly and smiled as I described how Ruby had turned the tables on me. Then he encouraged me to write it up for “one of the journals,” but he didn’t suggest which one.

I said I felt frustrated because, as a mere film student, I found it difficult to get scientists take me seriously. Lilly chuckled. “You’re lucky you don’t have any scientific background,” he reassured me, “otherwise you’d be working for Dr. Shuvoff. This way, you can be open to all sorts of experiences you’d have to otherwise ignore.” “Where’s Ruby now?” Toni asked. “She got sold to an oceanarium in Mississippi, but I’m going to look her up when I get back,” I explained. “Quite frankly, I envy your experience with her,” Toni said. “I just met John about a year ago, so all this is new to me. He keeps promising to introduce me to some dolphins, but we haven’t had the chance yet. But just from what you’ve said, it sounds to me like you had a really intense dyadic relationship going on with Ruby.” “What do you mean, a ‘dyadic relationship?’” “The male-female thing,” Toni explained. “It’s what John and I have started using to explore higher realms of consciousness now instead of psychedelics. Isn’t it, John?” They smiled at each other, the way lovers do. “Your experience also sounds a lot like what my research assistant Margaret Howe had going with Peter Dolphin in our lab down in the Bahamas,” John said. “You mean the stuff you wrote up in Man and Dolphin?” He nodded. “I always thought that was so remarkable, to get as close to a non-human intelligence as she did!” I could have told them, then, about making love with Ruby, but caution stopped me. Lilly was unquestionably brilliant, but he wasn’t a particularly warm person. Toni seemed warmer, but she knew nothing about dolphins. Our contact had so far been superficial; the emotional risks were unequal and weighted in their favor. Much as I wanted to, much as I had planned to, as close as we had come to the subject, I simply couldn’t bring myself to launch into that story. Instead I asked a question that I hoped might lead us there, one I’d wondered about for a long time. “Did Margaret ever have sex with Peter?” “You mean, the normal way? His penis in her vagina? No, I don’t think so. Margaret used to jerk him off when he got horny, she wrote about that in the

book. I think she understood his needs but saw them as an impediment to the research.” “Whatever happened to Margaret? I tried writing to her in the Bahamas, but I never got an answer.” Lilly sighed. “Yes, it’s very frustrating. Margaret refuses to discuss that experience with anyone. Afterward, she married the photographer who worked for the lab. They bought the building and lived in it for a few years before they sold it and moved to New York. I’ve gotten inquiries from a couple of writers who wanted to interview her and sent them on, but she doesn’t write to anybody, not even me.” “And Peter Dolphin?” I asked. “What happened to him? I heard you let him go.’ “Unfortunately, no,” Lilly said, sounding a bit wistful. “That was rather sad. Peter and Margaret lived together for ten weeks, you know, and at the end of that time she just had to get away for a while. Too much isolation from human companion-ship. I should have foreseen the results. She and Peter had bonded on some very deep kind of level. A few days after she left, he began to pine for her. He stopped eating, wouldn’t work with anyone else. If I’d been at the lab I would’ve known how to handle it, but I was off doing fund-raising, which occupied a lot of my time back then. By the time I heard about what was happening and got back to the lab, it was too late.” There was a note of resignation, but even after all those years, still a certain exasperation in his voice. “Peter died. He basically starved himself to death. I didn’t know where to reach Margaret. When I finally got hold of her, she was devastated. She never spoke to me again.”

Chapter 25 A Corner In Time I never knew there were corners in time ‘Till I was told to STAND IN ONE! –Jefferson Starship, Hyperdrive, 1974 My first day back at New College was warm for December, with a premature hint of spring in the air. The orange trees blooming in nearby groves made walking to the student center like swimming through a sea of their sweet, evocative scent. I never thought I’d say it, but after a year at Evergreen it felt good to be back at New College. Whatever I was facing couldn’t be any worse than the mess I’d left behind me, the broken dreams and false promises of an education gone awry. I was looking for familiar faces and not seeing very many. Those that I recognized I often couldn’t put names to, so I just waved at them as they hurried by. It was as if fifteen months in the Pacific Northwest had wiped my slate clean, and I had to start all over again. The campus bulletin board held the usual mix of radical screeds, personal messages and non-sequitur cartoons clipped from underground newspapers. At least that hadn’t changed! I was looking for something meaningful when a familiar face flashed past me. “Leo!” I yelled after him. “Leo Baer! Wait up!” Halfway across the student lounge, Salina’s nephew paused and looked back. “Oh, hi, Zack,” he said as I trotted up. “Haven’t seen you for a while. Where you been hanging out?” I had to stand close to hear him above the din of the student lounge. “Did a year’s off-campus study at Evergreen State College, but it’s great to be back!” “Huh. Yeah, I think Salina mentioned something about that…” Leo rubbed his chin and shifted his weight impatiently. “…Isn’t that out in Oregon someplace?” “Washington State,” I corrected him. “How is Salina, anyway?” “The same as always, I guess.” Leo stared at something over my shoulder.

“And her kids, how are they?” “Nikki’s off at prep school, Colleen and Fergus are fine. Listen, Zack…” “How are the dolphins?” I asked, finally getting around to what I really wanted to know. “Did they get moved okay?” Leo heaved a little sigh. “Yeah,” he said, “they did.” “Where are they?” “Well, let’s see, Star and Saki are up at Sea World, Gator, Trixy and Satan are down in the Bahamas, and Bimbo’s at some place in Mississippi.” “What about Ruby?” I asked, my anticipation nearly overcoming me. Leo hesitated a second, a puzzled look on his face, then said, matter-offactly, “Ruby? She died.” Ruby? She… Leo stood stiff as a mannequin, staring at me with unblinking eyes, the people behind him oddly frozen mid-step. Caught between breaths, I couldn’t take my eyes off Leo’s face, but if I could have raised them to the clock on the wall above his head, the sweep hand wouldn’t be moving. Everything was paused between heartbeats, like a freeze-frame. …And then the film, stuck in the glare of the projector’s lamp, wrinkles, blackens and bursts into flame. Out of the flames comes a question: DO YOU WANT TO BREAK DOWN NOW, OR LATER? That required some consideration. My body wanted to fall down, but I was standing on a hard tile floor and might injure myself if I collapsed. Furthermore, I was in a public place, surrounded by people who would be startled, perhaps even frightened, if I collapsed without warning. It would be a very rude thing to do and would bring unwanted attention from the authorities. It would also tell Leo something I didn’t want him to know. Well, that kind of settled it, didn’t it? LATER Sound returned, everyone started moving again, the clock above us was ticking, my heart was pounding, Leo was staring at me and the world had just ended. “That’s… too bad,” I stuttered. Years later, Leo would recall how I blanched. “You okay?” he asked. “You

look pale.” “Yeah, I’m… just… sorry to hear that,” I mumbled. “I was… really… fond of her. What happened?” “I don’t know. Salina knows, go ask her. Look, Zack, I hate to cut you off but I’m late for class… are you sure you’re okay?” One thing I knew about Leo: he was not the kind of guy who often got things wrong. “No, I’m not,” I said, stumbling out the door and back into that cloying, nauseating smell.

Chapter 26 Ruby’s Return And no one showed us to the land And no one knows the wheres or whys But something stares and something tries And starts to climb towards the light… – Pink Floyd, “Echoes,” Meddle, 1971 When I woke up the next morning, I was okay –– for about five seconds. Then somebody dropped a 500-pound lead slab on me. I sat up slowly, feeling every inch of the fifteen miles of Earth’s atmosphere pressing down. My sense of loss hadn’t lifted, hadn’t even shifted since Leo had unwittingly uttered those three terrible words the day before. Ruby? She died. It didn’t take atomic war or deadly diseases to destroy my world; all it took were three words, spoken casually, on the run, between classes. No, my world had actually ended days, weeks or months be-fore Leo spoke, I’d just been too stupid to know it. How long had I spent at Evergreen, jerking my cinematic dick? What an idiot I was! Now my mind felt like a shipwreck. Bits of flotsam kept washing up, but full thoughts wouldn’t form. How could I…? Why did…? What if…? My mother’s house was small, but it seemed very empty right then. I was grateful nobody was around to see my sorrow, my shame. Maybe it had nothing to do with you, some inner voice tried to reassure me. Maybe it was a disease, or an unavoidable accident… Whatever it was, I had to know. Whatever it cost me, I would find out how Ruby died, and why. That resolution gave me just enough energy to get out of bed. I pulled on some clothes and stumbled into the kitchen, where I made myself a cup of instant coffee and sat, letting it stare me down.

I needed something, anything, to distract myself from this misery, but I couldn’t eat. Maybe some music would do it. I turned on the stereo, which I left tuned to a local rock station. Some inconsequential song was just ending. I collapsed on the couch. The deejay jabbered for a moment, then announced he was going to play some Stones. Good, that would get my mind off her. With the first notes of Jagger’s lilting lyrics, so unlike the rest of the Stones’ repertory, I knew I was in big trouble: She would never say where she came from. Yesterday don’t matter, if it’s gone; While the sun is bright Or in the darkest night No one knows She comes and goes… And then the chorus hammered me: Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday Who could hang a name on you? When you changed with every new day Still I’m gonna miss you… No! NO, I wanted to scream! Jagger wasn’t singing about her, was he? Was he? I sat, helpless to get up and change the station or even turn down the volume. As Jagger crooned the last verse to that lilting, plunging flute accompaniment, sobs wracked me. I struggled up and shut off the stereo. Not since childhood had I cried like that, sobbing, sobbing all the way down. I collapsed on the couch. LATER was now, and it all came home, the feelings I had postponed when the bad news hit: the loss that was eternal, the grief, the rage, the guilt, my abject helplessness and worst of all, my own damn stupidity at ever having left her, even for a moment, much less for over a year. But how was I to know? my rationality whimpered under the lash of my conscience, She was a wild-born dolphin, a survivor! She was so much

stronger than I! The sobs wouldn’t stop. I didn’t know I had that much wa-ter in me. I was dissolving in an ocean of tears, and that itself frightened me; was there no end? I had to do something before this sorrow drowned me. After I’d left the student center, mad with grief, I’d stopped by Tuna’s room and confessed the whole story to him. It hadn’t come as much of a surprise. Taking pity on me, he had fronted me a lid with his deepest condolences. It was hard to roll a joint with those tears streaming down my cheeks, but I managed it without getting the paper wet. I lit up, and the comforting sensa-tion began to dull my pain. The tears slowed, the sobs eased, then subsided. I sat back on the couch in the empty living room, letting the marijuana high supplant the grief that had threatened to drown me. I had regained control of my body, but now my thoughts wouldn’t stop. No wonder she faded out of my mind… I should have known better… There had been that terrible nightmare. I should have done something, but what? I should have gone to see her. I could just have left school, left the job, hitchhiked out there… On the basis of a dream? What kind of sense does that make? Suddenly I was awash in bitter doubts. Had I ever really been in contact with Ruby? Hadn’t I just been deluding myself that we were carrying on a telepathic, as well as a physical relationship? It had all just been a stoned fantasy, hadn’t it? A stupid, fucked-up fantasy, that’s all it ever was! I had to stop this. I didn’t know how I was going to get through the next fifteen minutes, much less the rest of my life. What happened next was like a very rapid sunrise. First, things are dark and you can’t see anything. Then you begin to make out tones. Then forms. Then shades, then colors and suddenly everything is awash in light, you can see the landscape clearly and it’s like the night was never there. Hello! I blinked, blinded by the glare. Is it you? Of course! Who else?

For a few moments I couldn’t think and wasn’t even sure what I was feeling. Ruby’s thoughts had a different texture. Where are you? Where I’ve always been – in your mind! I might have been stoned, but I wasn’t stupid. Communicating telepathically with a dolphin might stretch my credulity, but communicating with a dead dolphin – well, that was impossible! Hey – what’s the matter? Aren’t you glad I’m back? Now that I don’t have a body to worry about, we can be together all the time! She just couldn’t understand why I didn’t find that a happy thought. I don’t get it, she groused. You had a terrible time accepting my reality when I was alive, and now that I’m dead, it doesn’t seem to be any easier! I just thought you’d be glad that I’m still here! I put my head in my hands, a gesture which Ruby – if this was, indeed, still the same “Ruby” – correctly interpreted as one of exasperation and exhaustion. She seemed to require some kind of acknowledgment, some kind of explanation for my less-than-hospitable behavior. Sitting up, I tried to come to terms with what was happening, even though I had no idea what it was. I realized, then, that my grief had been displaced by other emotions: astonishment, skepticism, perplexity, confusion. At least I wasn’t hurting any more. Look, can we compromise? I asked her. This is the best I can do: for right now, I can’t unqualifiedly accept your existence yet. This is too weird, and for all I know, it may not happen again… Oh, I doubt that! She seemed to be in a better position to know than I was. All right! Until I know better, I’m going to have to regard you as an unknown. I agree to tentatively accept your existence in this, uh… new form, until… until I get some conclusive evidence, one way or another. Is that okay? There was the soundless equivalent of a sigh. I suppose it will have to do, she thought. You know, you’re a pain in the flukes to deal with, but I love you any-way… I’ll be back… When? Hey, when? Ruby?

She was gone. Just as when she was still alive, the communication had ended when she decided to leave. I sat, staring at the half-smoked joint, which had long since gone out. Oh, this is fucking great, I thought. Now I’ve got a dead dolphin swimming around in my head!

Chapter 27 Dead Reckoning I was determined to have done with conjecture and discover the truth, even if, as I believed it would, the truth proved incomprehensible. – Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, 1961 Being unable to live with things as they were, it was necessary for me to see Salina. I was still naive enough to think she might have some answers, and I had one last thing to give her. If Salina was delighted to hear from her yet-unpaid photographer, she hid it well. Stepping into her house for the first time in over a year, I felt I was there merely to achieve some kind of reckoning, to bring a sense of closure to this long and ultimately abortive relationship. It was after dinner, and she curtly dismissed the children so we could talk. Her figure was still remarkable, but there were dark circles under her eyes, and she was pallid under the ever-present tan. It was hard to imagine her on riverboat, the wind tossing her hair, watching Ruby and Beau perform. Had it only been two years? “Just a plain soda,” I answered her question. “Thanks for sending me Lilly’s address.” “I presume you found him,” she said, sitting down and lighting up. “Yes. He seemed sort of spacey, but a nice enough guy…” “He had you fooled, then.” “If you didn’t want me to meet him, why’d you send me his address?” “I thought if you met him, you might recognize the truth.” “Come off it, Salina, he’s not a monster! I’ve met him and you haven’t.” “I don’t need to meet him to know what kind of man he is,” she fumed, “anymore than I need to meet Hitler! Anyone who kills dozens of dolphins to prove a scientific point ought to be locked up! Anyone who gives LSD to his dolphins and then runs…” As she raved on and on, I decided that, no matter what, I would never come back here, never speak to Salina again, never ask her what happened to the book or whether I would ever get paid. The only thing this woman could give

me now, I realized, was grief. When she finished chastising Lilly and quieted down, I handed her the manila envelope. “I gave one of these to Beau, so I figured you deserved one too,” I said. She removed the photo and examined it, squinting, then holding it at arm’s length. After a minute, she said, “That’s a trick, isn’t it?” I nodded. “Still, it’s a good photo of Ruby,” she mused. “It’s not Ruby, it’s Bimbo.” “No it isn’t, it’s Ruby! I know those dolphins like I know my own children,” she insisted, tapping the image with her finger, “and this is Ruby.” Her effrontery astonished me! But perhaps she was mistaking it for one of the pictures I’d taken from the riverboat. “I was the one who took the picture, and that is Bimbo in his pen beside the main pool. The background was added in the darkroom,” I explained. “I remember it very clearly because he had just tried to –” “I know all about your little photographic tricks!” she interrupted. “You’re just wrong, that dolphin is Ruby!” “All right, if you say it’s Ruby, it’s Ruby! What happened to her, anyway? Leo told me she died.” Salina curled up in her chair the way she used to, but now she seemed to be looking in, not out. “She went crazy,” she muttered. “What do you mean, ‘She went crazy?’” “I mean she was psychotic! She got into drowning things!” “You told me she was the gentlest of all the dolphins!” “I was wrong. She had me fooled. She had us all fooled.” “You’d better explain yourself.” Salina glared at me, then took another drag off her cigarette. Perhaps the argument simply wasn’t worth it any more. “The last time I saw them at the park was late August a year ago, just before Beau shipped them out,” she began. That surprised me. She must have gone to Florida Funland about the same time I had. Fortunately, we’d missed each other.

“I went there by myself, just to say goodbye to Bimbo. He always was my favorite, you know, and Ruby was being so aggressive toward him! When I got down on the dock to say goodbye, she got between us and wouldn’t let him near me. Then she beat the crap out of him.” That seemed odd. On my last visit, Bimbo had been the aggressor! “I was afraid to get in the water, for fear of what she might do! There was no one else around, you know, and if she had knocked me unconscious, that would have been it. “Some time after that, Beau shipped them off to Gulfport and put them in a community tank. Well, Bimbo managed to get Ruby’s head straightened out, because when I went to see them a year ago, she was back to her old sweet self again. She and Bimbo were mates.” As she spoke, Salina stared out the window, into the December darkness, as if seeing therein a history of days gone by. I had to resist the urge to turn around and look. She sighed from the soles of her shoes, and her gaze shifted to the carpet. She sipped her drink, dragged on her cigarette, and continued. “Bimbo was fine in their new home. He got along with everybody, but Ruby, for some reason, wouldn’t socialize with the others. When Bimbo played with them, she would swim by herself until he came back.” The thought struck me: Afterward, did she feel as strange as I did? Making love with Ruby had pushed me outside the realm of human experience, but up until that moment, I had never thought about what effect it might have had on her. I shifted uneasily in my seat. Lost in her memories, Salina didn’t notice my discomfort. “But in Beau’s eyes, Bimbo was a show dolphin. No riverboat down there, so there was nothing for Ruby to do. Beau had to have dolphins that could perform, but when Bimbo tried to perform with the others, Ruby interfered. So Beau stuck her in a tank with a bunch of strangers, and she stopped eating and died.” The silence grew and grew. “That’s it?” I finally said. “What happened? Did the other dolphins drown her?” “I don’t know,” she said, grinding the butt of her cigarette in the onyx ashtray. “She just… died, all right? She just died.”

“When?” She looked up sharply. “What does it matter to you?” “I just want to know! When did she die, Salina?” “I don’t know! I wasn’t there.” “Beau must have told you! You must have heard something!” “I never hear from Beau any more. That was the last time I saw him. But I think… it was September. Not that it makes any difference,” she said, tossing back the last of her drink. “She’s dead, and good riddance.” The hackles on my neck began to rise. “What do you mean, ‘good riddance?’” “Like I said, she was crazy! Weren’t you listening?” If Salina had told me Ruby was neurotic, she would not have gotten any argument from me, although given what we now know about dolphins I don’t think she was as neurotic as I thought back then. But Ruby psychotic? “Into drowning things?” Recollections of little Spray and the foam rubber ball flashed through my mind. If Ruby had wanted to drown anybody it would have been Elaine. And there was my moment of panic when she had pushed me to the bottom of the pool, only to let me up. “I don’t believe you,” I said. Salina looked up sharply. “She had her moments, but she wasn’t crazy, and she wasn’t into drowning things either.” “She was so!” Salina shot back. “She tried to drown Beau and his kids! Hell, she nearly drowned me!” “When?” “On my last visit to the park!” “I thought you said you didn’t get in with them!” “I said I was afraid to, and she proved me right! I was lucky to escape with my life! And she drowned that sick little baby dolphin Beau put in with her!” “What the hell are you talking about?” I yelled. “Spray,” she said, lighting another cigarette. “MOMMEEE,” came a muffled cry from back in the bedrooms. I hadn’t realized we had been shouting. Around Salina it just came naturally. “Now look what you’ve done!” she said crossly. “Little Fergus has developed a sleep disorder, and you woke him up! I think you better go, now.” So I departed Salina’s house for the last time with her eyes drilling holes in

my back. It didn’t occur to me then, but now, decades later, it seems as plain as the lines on my face why she was so upset with Ruby, so condemning and so bitter. Perhaps, in her own way, Salina loved dolphins every bit as much as I did… but unlike Ruby, Bimbo wouldn’t swim through tight spaces to gain a little privacy.

Chapter 28 Reconciliation Sometimes All I need is the air that I breathe And to love you… –The Hollies, “The Air That I Breathe,” The Hollies, 1974 Ruby is dead. No, she’s alive! She’s a delusion. But she seems so real! I was going nuts. No, I’m not! I’m not crazy! So began a long period of anguish, turmoil and instability in my life. Rubythe-ghost behaved maddeningly like Ruby-the-telepathic-dolphin, showing up when she wanted to and leaving when she felt like it. Attempts to summon her under the influence of lysergic acid, which could be regarded as well-intentioned if poorly controlled psychology experiments, failed. Amateur Gestalt therapy conducted by a sympathetic friend failed. I needed professional help, but I didn’t try to find it; I figured nobody could understand me. She was just a dolphin, right? When she showed up, there could be anything from moments to minutes of bliss as I basked in communion with her. Then the pain would all come back. What’s the matter? she would innocently ask when I started bawling my

eyes out. You’re dead! I’d wail. And in response, I always got an answer like But I’m still here! We can still communicate! Doesn’t that mean anything to you? My pain was something she just couldn’t comprehend. I tried to inquire of Ruby how she died. All I got were vague impressions of sadness and isolation and gray, swirling waters. My life, which hadn’t gotten far uphill, went down. My mother found some renters who could actually pay rent and threw me out. I shacked-up in the Main Street House with one of Hazy’s old girlfriends for a while, then, when that turned sour, moved into a truly terrible “commune,” and when that collapsed I boarded with a friend of my mother’s. I passed through a succession of lowlevel jobs that did nothing to raise either my bank account or my self-esteem. I had weird nightmares in which relatives and friends turned into demons and tried to kill me. My journals from that period are wracked with self-pity and desperate attempts to self-medicate. Before, I had smoked dope because I wanted to get high; now, I smoked dope because I had to get high. Without it, life seemed too bleak to be worth living. I wanted to grieve, I just didn’t know how. My loftier goals were not totally abandoned; I just couldn’t understand why they seemed so far out of reach. One of them was to graduate from New College. To do that I had to complete the independent study project on dolphins, which I had started with such vigor and optimism two years before. Of course, that meant I had to visit Professor Wilbur Dyne. It was midMarch by the time I got around to making an ap-pointment. “How was Evergreen?” he asked. “Disillusioning,” I muttered. “Too bad,” he said, examining my academic folder, which was still very, very thin. “With a few more credits you’re up for graduation at the end of spring trimester. What do you want to do about your dolphin ISP?” “I was hoping you’d tell me.” “You ought to finish it! You’ve put all that work into it. Say, whatever happened to that park, anyway? I heard it closed down or something.”

I nodded. “Well, you have some field notes, don’t you?” I nodded again. “And I remember you were working on a film, weren’t you? When will it be ready?” I shrugged. Wilbur suddenly looked grave. Although we were alone in his office, he leaned over his desk for confidentiality. “Zack, I hope I’m not out of line, but… is something wrong? You don’t seem quite as… enthusiastic about this project as you once did.” “I don’t know, Wilbur, it’s just that… one of the dolphins down there, I’d grown rather, uh, fond of her, and I found out a while ago that she, uh, died.” “Sorry to hear that,” he said, with all the compassion that a benthic marine biologist can muster for a lost research subject. “Well, look, I’ve got another consult coming in any minute. Write up those field notes for me.” “When do you need them?” Wilbur consulted a calendar on his desk. “Oh… let’s see… by Wednesday.” This was a Friday. “Oh God.” “Too soon?” “Very. I’m working, Wilbur!” “Well, get started, anyway. You can petition the ISP committee to hand it in late, but it will go better for you if they know you’ve already started. Just get something down on paper and we’ll go from there. And if you get the film done, let me know, that would be great.” “Okay, Wilbur.” I slunk out the door. So I started furiously typing my notes. They were nothing like the field notes a real biologist would have made, and I didn’t see any point in trying to embellish them. I was, after all, only a liberal arts student. Perhaps because it had ended badly, or perhaps because it hadn’t really ended at all, I could not come to terms with my relationship with Ruby. Hazy and Gil’s validation had been insufficient, it seemed, and I hadn’t gotten around to asking for Lilly’s. So I kept looking for it in all the wrong places, that is, outside myself.

As I collected my notes, I decided right from the get-go that since Wilbur had been decent enough to sponsor this whole misbegotten ISP, I would be honest with him and describe my love affair with Ruby exactly as it happened. Perhaps he would find some relevance in that or perhaps not. Ruby’s fate gnawed at me. I had to know exactly what had happened to her, when it had happened, and if it was related to the nightmare I’d had in Washington. It sounds strange, but I also wanted to see Bimbo again. I felt the need to apologize to him, although I didn’t know why. When I left for Evergreen I had given Howie the Corvair, and he had wrapped it around a telephone pole. So aside from a secondhand ten-speed bike, I had no vehicle and no way to get to the oceanarium in Mississippi where she had died. Then, in June, an opportunity presented itself. My sister in Philadelphia wanted to sell her 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, and she was willing to let me make payments. Although I had no idea how I would manage that – my take-home pay as a delivery driver for a construction supply company was about $75 a week – the offer was too good to pass up. I figured I could hitchhike up to Philadelphia, pick up the Volkswagen, and on my way back, take a detour to Gulfport, Mississippi, where Beau and Bimbo were working. It was only 500 miles out of the way… §§§ From the outside, the place where Ruby died did not appear chintzy, like Florida Funland. Bucking modern entertainment trends it was an oceanarium by the sea, plain and simple. My back was knotted from a night spent dozing on the Volkswagen’s rear seat at a truck stop, my belly was grumbling about the bad coffee and greasy grits I’d eaten in a local diner, but I was glad to be there all the same. The ticket taker was just opening her window as I walked up. My long hair and scrubby beard had no effect on her congeniality. “Our first customer of the day!” she chortled as I handed her my money. “And all that way from Pennsylvania, too!” she added, glancing at the plates on the only car in the parking lot. “Is Beau around?”

“Oh, you know Beau?” To my astonishment, she handed the money back. “If you’re a friend of Beau’s, go right on in! Take the ramp to the right, he’s up there getting ready for the first show.” I hadn’t gone more than a few feet when I caught the distant sound of a familiar rhythm: ka-chunk! Swish, ka-chunk! Swish, ka-chunk! Swish. The sound came from a small shed adjoining the oceanarium’s office. The door was open, so I peeped in. Beau was humming quietly as he chopped the fish on a well-worn butcher block and pushed the pieces into a half-dozen plastic buckets. He wore warmup pants and a nylon windbreaker emblazoned with the oceanarium’s patch, a dolphin jumping through a rainbow. As my shadow crossed the doorframe he looked up, saw me, and did a double take. “Hey! Zack! Goddamn! Long time, boy!” He put down the knife and stuck out a hand to shake mine. We both stared; it was covered with blood and fish scales. Then, laughing, I grabbed it and pumped it. “What brings you to this neck o’ the woods?” “Just passing through. I picked up a car in Philly and I fig-ured, as long as I was headed back to Sarasota, I might as well stop by and see you.” “Philadelphia, Pee-Aye? You sure took the long way home! Hey honey!” he yelled into the office, “Look what the tide washed in!” I was startled when Klara came around the door, but our former unpleasantness was apparently forgotten. “Good t’see you, Zack, I remember you now!” She smiled. “You lost some weight, haven’t you? Those photos you gave Beau sure were beautiful!” I felt an unaccustomed blush creep up my cheeks. “Thanks.” Beau rinsed his hands under a cold water spigot, dried them on paper towels and invited me to do the same. “Got a while yet before the first show, let us show you ‘round!” We ambled up a ramp toward a large tank where some dolphins circled behind the plate glass windows. I wondered if one of them was Bimbo, and if so, which one. After all this time, I could not recognize him. A ferroconcrete dome broken on four sides by wide arches shaded the tank. To the south, a flight of step-like wooden bleachers led down to a smaller stage performance area, separated into rectangular pens like those at Florida Funland. Mississippi Sound served as the stage’s natural background, and the

breeze off the water smelled wonderful. “This place sure is a step up from Florida Funland.” Klara giggled. “Gawd, ain’t it, though?” Beau drawled. “Didn’t realize what a rinky-dink setup that was ‘till I come here. Took me the longest while to get used to not havin’ to do everythin’ myself, didn’t it, honey?” Klara nodded. “You deserve the grand tour, Zack, but we both got a lot to do today, so would you settle for a quickie?” I smiled. “Sure.” “Well, we got two porpoise shows, one up here and one down there,” Beau said, pointing down the bleachers to the smaller pens, “and this here’s the community tank, as I guess you can tell.” It was about seventy feet in diameter by twenty deep, a substantial home for eight dolphins who were pushing a hapless sea turtle around on their snouts. The turtle struggled feebly to es-cape, but its Jurassic hydrodynamics were no match for the dolphins’ speed. “You wanna meet an ol’ friend?” Beau winked at me, then stepped onto an elevated platform. “Hey Bimbo!” he yelled. One sleek dolphin broke formation and glided over to him, rolled on its side and stared up at him. Beau reached down and scratched its flank. “Here he is, Zack.” Bimbo was maturing as a dolphin. A few more scars mottled his hide, but he still had that friendly-imperious gaze. He stared right at me, but if he recognized me from our last encounter, I couldn’t tell. So we’re the survivors, I thought. I reached out to touch him, but Bimbo backed away. I stuck my hand in the water and felt him echolocate on it. Could he remember me from the signature echo of the bones in one hand? It seemed a lot to ask, even of a dolphin. “You want some coffee?” Beau asked. “It’s fresh! Honey, go get a cup for Zack, here, and get me another one while yer at it.” “No, that’s okay, I…” “Oh, it’s no trouble!” Klara said, hurrying off. “Bimbo looks great,” I said as he returned to pushing the turtle. “Yeah, he’s doin’ all right,” Beau agreed.

“I heard Ruby died, though.” “How’d you hear that?” “From…” I turned to look, but Klara was already out of ear-shot. “… Salina.” “Um. How’s she doin’?” “The same as always.” Beau chuckled softly. “Figgers. Yeah, it’s too bad about ol’ Ruby. I was sorry to lose her. She was a pretty good porpoise, even if she was kinda dumb. Good with kids and all, y’know?” I nodded. The dolphins gave up on the turtle and resumed circling the tank. “What happened to her?” “Don’t rightly know. One day she just up an’ died on me. Figured she was sick, ‘cause she’d been mopin’ more’n usual and she’d been off her feed for a couple o’ weeks. This was after I moved her out of the community tank. Had her down there –” he swung an arm toward the staged area at the foot of the bleachers, “– in the performance pool. ‘Side from Bimbo, she didn’t get along too well with any o’ the others, so I had to stick her in a pen by herself, ‘cept durin’ shows, o’course, when I let her out to do tricks. Well, when she didn’t eat for a week, I got downright worried, and the local vet come to check her out. He couldn’t find nothin’ wrong with her and gave her some vitamin shots to perk up her appetite. That seemed to restore her pretty good; she took a few fish, and I thought she was rallyin’ for a comeback. Then one mornin’ I just walked out here and found her layin’ dead on the bottom o’ the pen. Vet said she drowned, but there wasn’t nobody in with her… I dunno, it’s downright puzzlin’. Looked like she’d just… given up.” “Here’s your coffee, Zack!” Klara returned with two steaming paper cups. Beau sipped his and nodded appreciatively. Klara left us and a few moments later the sound of fish being chopped resumed. “Why’d you move her?” I asked. “Huh? Oh, you mean Ruby? She kept messin’ with Bimbo.” “Attacking him?” “What? Hell no! They got along fine, them two. Almost like sweethearts,” Beau said, with a glance back at the shed, where Klara could be seen slicing fish through the open door. “Y’know, Zack, when a man finally wises-up, he figgers

out that things ain’t what they seem to be. Some things that look all fancy and gussied-up ain’t worth that much when you come down to it, but plain and ordinary things, they abide with ya, know what I mean?” “What about Ruby? And Bimbo?” I asked impatiently. “I was gettin’ ‘round to that,” he said, returning his attention to me and the community tank. “They’d swim around with their flippers touchin’, ‘most like they was holdin’ hands. That was the problem – they was too close! She wouldn’t let him perform! If he went to jump, she’d wait right underneath! He done that once and wouldn’t do it again! Didn’t want to fall on her, I guess, but one of ‘em had to earn their keep, and there ain’t no riverboat here. Not even a dock for one. Didn’t count on her dyin’ like that when I moved her outa his tank. No sir.” He checked his watch, now a brand too nice to be used as a prop. “The first show’s startin’ in a few minutes, hope you won’t think it rude if I go git ready?” He grinned. “You’re welcome to stay and watch. Take some pictures, if you want.” “Thanks.” The show was vintage Beau, with the ham factor toned down a little. It made me nostalgic for my early days at Florida Funland, before everything had gotten so serious and so weird. Only about a dozen people watched, but the day was still young. I would have liked to take some pictures, but even with high speed slide film in the camera, there wasn’t enough light under that big ferroconcrete dome. It shaded the community tank completely except when the sun was very low in the morning and the evening, and the handful of highintensity fluorescent lights glaring down from the dome’s apex didn’t do much except throw a greenish cast into the shadows. Even if I pushed the film, I still couldn’t use a shutter speed fast enough to stop the dolphins, and I didn’t have a flash. So I watched the show through the underwater windows, where I lingered after the audience thinned out. Two dolphins, a male with a scarred fin and a sleek young female, started getting romantic. They nuzzled and stroked each other and played zigzag games of tag through water made effervescent by the jumps and splashes. I went topside and watched as they slithered over the hapless sea turtle, rubbing their genital slits on its horny carapace, then dove. The waves distorted their pressed bodies into a shimmering blob.

A dolphin swam up to me and lifted its head out of the water – Bimbo. Hoping to jog his memory, I held my hand out in what should have been a familiar gesture. He pushed his snout into my cupped palm, and in a moment we were “yo-yoing,” just like the first time he’d let me touch a dolphin. A terrible need seized me to say something, anything. Do you remember? I thought, pushing down against his upward thrust. Do you remember me, do you remember her? What happened to her? Why, Bimbo? Why? He stared at me intently, and for a second I could have sworn he remembered me, the third and most unlikely member of our uneasy lovers’ triangle. Who was she? I demanded. What was she like? Why did she want me so much? She must have told you, you have to know! You were her lover, too! Bimbo flipped his nose out of my palm and swam away with a splash. He was either not telepathic or simply unwilling to answer the human who had cuckolded him. At that moment, I realized a lot of my questions were never going to be answered. Awash in melancholy, I walked down the aisle between the bleachers to the staged area. In front was a rectangular pool with a half-dozen dolphins in as many pens, separated with wire mesh. Being farther from the lights, this area was even darker than the community tank, and it was silhouetted against the brilliant sound. The dolphins swam quietly or played with floating toys. I stepped up onto the stage and looked down at them. From here, the bleachers resembled a broad flight of stairs leading up toward the relative brightness of the community tank. That bothered me, but I couldn’t figure out why. So this was where the end had come for her, in one of these little boxy mesh-lined pens, maybe even the one at my feet. Succumbing to her misery, she had sunk to the bottom, refused to surface, and when her breath ran out there was blackness and convulsions… How does death come for dolphins? Surely not as a robed, leering skeleton bearing a scythe; that’s a human conceit. As a great white

shark? A phosphorescent giant squid? A leering killer whale? I sighed. I’d hoped to avoid these feelings, to be a little more objective. The oceanarium appeared to be a decent, well-kept place, not the hellhole my dream had suggested. Was there nothing to it, then? No hidden meanings here? I shook free of the melancholy and took the steps two at a time. I’d seen what I’d come to see, and a long drive lay ahead of me. There were just a couple of more questions I needed to ask Beau. I found him in an unusual setting, behind a desk in the oceanarium’s office, doing paperwork. “That little dolphin, Spray – what happened to her?” “She come down with pneumonia after I sold Splash. Would’ve liked to sell ‘em as a pair, but that didn’t work out. Put her in the pen with Ruby so she could keep an eye on her, but the young-un died anyway. Why?” “Somebody told me Ruby drowned her.” Beau snorted. “Shit no! When she died, Ruby was holdin’ her up like she was still alive! Who told you that?” “You know who.” He shook his head. “What happens to the dolphins that die here?” “Oh, we bury ‘em in the local landfill. After a few months, some guys from the university come down and dig ‘em up. They clean the bones, put ‘em back together and sell them to other colleges.” Great, for enough money I could own the skeleton of my late dolphin lover! “Just one more question, Beau, then I’ve got to be going. Do you remember exactly when Ruby died?” He stared at me for several seconds, and I began to grow uncomfortable. “What’s it to ya?” he finally asked. “I’ll tell you if you tell me.” He wrinkled his brow. “Well, let’s see… it’s been a while… near as I can reckon it was June, sometime around the end of June last year. O’ course, she’d been going down hill for a couple of weeks before that.” “You don’t have any paperwork or anything?” There had to be some document that would establish the date with certainty. “Well, we probably do, friend, but I wouldn’t know where to look for it,”

he replied, sweeping his arm at several file cabinets lining the office walls. I was back to being “friend” again. “How come it’s so important to ya?” “Right about that time you said she was going downhill – the middle of June – I had a nightmare about dolphins dying in some awful kind of dungeon, and I just wanted to know if there was any, uh, connection. But this place,” I quickly added, “doesn’t look like a dungeon to me.” Beau’s expression didn’t change one bit. If I had been a kid coming home late from a date, I wouldn’t have known if he was going to thrash me or just tell me to go to bed. “What do you think of that?” I asked him. A faint smile crept into the corners of his eyes. “I think you dream too much, friend,” he said. Minutes later, the oceanarium was dwindling in my rearview mirror. §§§ I sat on the couch in my mother’s living room and stared out the picture window at the Volkswagen parked in the driveway. The renters had come and gone, I had mended some bridges and regained my room. I was trying to figure things out, but the excursion to Gulfport had left me fifty bucks poorer and none the wiser. What did I have to show for it? An extra one thousand miles on my Volkswagen’s odometer, which would not have been there had I cruised straight down I-95. More than discouraged, I felt unsure of myself. How far was I going to pursue this? At what cost? The whole experience had been dubious from the start, and it was getting more so as time went on. There was simply no way to prove that my “telepathic” communication Ruby – and now my “mediumistic” contacts with her ghost – were anything more than a mental aberration, a neurosis, a delusion. The Gulfport oceanarium bore no resemblance to the disgusting dream-cellar. Things in the real world needed to be done. I had to shop, wash my clothes and find a job to pay my sister for the car. Standing up suddenly, I experienced a twinge of vertigo, and in that instant, the images of the dream-cellar and the Gulfport oceanarium, as seen from the performance stage, overlapped and

merged. The ferroconcrete dome became the dripping stone walls while the darkness and the useless, glaring lights remained unchanged. The wooden bleachers became the steps leading from Bimbo’s tank down to the coffin-like pens divided with wire mesh, which to the dolphins’ echolocation gleamed like aluminum foil – Everything vanished in a swirling field of gray. I pitched forward and hit the floor. For a few minutes, all I could do was lie there, gasping. My dream had been Ruby’s last-ditch effort to contact me. She had projected a vivid, detailed picture of her immediate environment, colored by her deteriorating mental state. In my mind it had become the necrotic images of stairway, the dark cellar and the decomposing dolphins in their “coffins.” In her final attempt to communicate with me as a living, breathing dolphin, Ruby had given me what I had been demanding from her all along: proof that we really were in telepathic contact! She had died trying to get through, hoping that somehow, someway, I would rescue her. Knowing that with a certainty that went beyond mere words, or any theoretical proof, I burst into wracking sobs where I lay. What’s the matter, lover? Ruby thought, intruding on my grief. I told you I was real, didn’t I?

Chapter 29 Undertow The dolphin is portrayed in Christian art more frequently than any other fish. Generally, it has come to symbolize resurrection and salvation. Considered to be the strongest and swiftest of fishes, it is often shown bearing the souls of the dead across the waters to the world beyond. – George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art, 1954 The realization that Ruby had successfully communicated with me, that I had just been too stoned, or too stupid, to pay attention, inflicted a new scourge on me: guilt. From what Salina had said and Beau confirmed, it was evident that Ruby had effectively committed suicide, holding her breath until she went unconscious. With no other dolphins in the pen to revive or support her, she suffocated. I felt partly to blame for that. Although Lilly had hinted at it, I never could have imagined that dolphins were so emotionally vulnerable. But guilt brought an unwanted companion: anger. How could you? I railed at her. You killed yourself! How could you do this to me? What do you mean, ‘How could I do this to you?’ she raged back. How could you swim off and leave me alone like that? You have no idea what it was like! Where were you when I needed you? I collapsed inside, wounded to the bone. Immediately, she was contrite. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. “I deserve it,” I sobbed aloud. No you don’t. You’re human, you don’t understand. You didn’t kill me, I killed myself. That was my fault, my own stupidity, she confessed. I could have withstood losing you if I’d had Bimbo, or I could have withstood losing Bimbo if I’d had you. But losing both of you was more than I could bear! I kept trying to clamber out of the slough of depression, only to sink back. As if my sorrow was some kind of pus that could be squeezed out of a wound, I would play certain songs over and over, breaking into fresh tears each time I

heard them. Emotionally, I just wanted to curl up and die, but Ruby’s suicide had convinced me that was a stupid idea. As a mistake it was, after all, uncorrectable. Reality kept impinging, and sometimes I actually managed to accomplish something. I finished the paper for Professor Dyne and handed it in, a month overdue. A week later he phoned. “I’ve got your evaluation, if you want to come by my office and pick it up,” he said. “I’d like the chance to talk with you.” I thought that was an unusual request, as evaluations usually went into our student mailboxes. Perhaps my frankness or the unusual aspects of my experience with Ruby had piqued his curiosity. Perhaps we would have a serious discussion about cetacean intelligence and human-dolphin communication. At his office the next day Wilbur was, of course, frighteningly busy – end of term and all that – but he handed me my copy of the multi-part evaluation form with a wry smile. I read: “For this Independent Study Project, Zack read popular and scientific literature on dolphins and made arrangements to work with a dolphin trainer in a local oceanarium. His close, day-to-day contact with the dolphins over a period of months enabled him to make a number of significant observations, which he recorded in a journal. His entries recount several experiences that gave him unique personal insights into dolphin behavior, communications and intelligence. I would recommend that any student who wishes to study dolphins contact Zack before doing so.” I stared at the words, a masterpiece of academic euphemism. If Wilbur had been flipped-out by my love affair with Ruby, this evaluation betrayed no trace of it. If Wilbur thought I had achieved a scientific breakthrough, it didn’t reflect that either. The buzzwords “significant behavioral observations” were there, but so were “unique personal insights.” What else could he say? I didn’t have any numbers to give him. It was as if there was something he wanted me to read between the lines. “You wanted to talk?” He glanced at his watch. “Well… I’ve got another appointment in a couple

of minutes. Why don’t you come over to the Natural Sciences center later on this evening? We’re having a weenie roast down on the beach, we can talk about it then.” I found some way to kill a few hours and returned for the weenie roast. It was getting dark, and a good-sized bonfire lit the beach behind the Natural Sciences Center, where Wilbur stood chatting with a bunch of his students. I didn’t know any of them, but that wasn’t unusual; I hardly knew anybody on campus anymore. Every one of my friends seemed to have taken off or dropped out. Wilber greeted me warmly, but it was fifteen or twenty minutes before I could get him to myself. “So, what did you really think of my paper?” I asked. He stared at the flames for a long time, as if choosing his words carefully. Finally he said, “I thought it was anthropomorphic.” There was nothing left to say. I stayed just long enough not to be excruciatingly rude, then left as quickly as I could. §§§ My sense of time from that period is very distorted, and many of those journals have disappeared. I don’t remember whether it was days or weeks later that Gilbert Dorfman drifted back to the campus after more than a year on the West Coast. When asked, he would begin to relate disquieting stories about his brief stay at the ashram in British Columbia but would always stop, stare into space, shake his head and say, “That place creeped me out, that’s all,” without concluding his narrative. From him I did learn, however, that Hazy had married, returned to Florida and was living with two stepchildren on an organic truck farm near Rushton, a small farming community midway between Sarasota and Tampa. When I pulled into the dirt driveway fronting Hazy’s ramshackle farmhouse he looked the same as ever, shoulder length blond hair framing a familiar grin. An overly friendly German Shepherd bounded excitedly beside him. “A Beetle? What happened to the Corvair?” he asked after we had hugged. “My brother crashed it after I went to Evergreen. Nothing wounded but his pride and his insurance rates, Hazy.”

“Zack, I go by Larry, now. It’s my given name.” A glint of silver in the open neck of his shirt caught my eye. It was a chain, bearing a small cross. Hazy’s – Larry’s –eyes flickered down, as if suddenly remembering it was there, then back up again. His voice was still warm, but his grin seemed to have faded slightly. “Come inside,” he said, “we’ve got a lot to catch up on.” He introduced Paulette, a pretty woman with curly brown hair and a welcoming smile. “Larry has told me so much about you!” she said, offering me a cup of herbal tea. Two little mopheads stared at me, wide-eyed. “If you want to do a bowl,” I said, reaching into my jacket, “I brought some…” Hazy shook his head. “Sure? For old times’ sake?” “I’m not into that any more,” he said. “It’s just another one of those things that leads you away from The Truth, you know?” Because I suspected I already knew the answer to the ques-tion, I refrained from asking him exactly which “truth” he meant. Instead, I asked how he and Paulette had met. She blushed. “At the ashram,” he explained. “I got there right after Paulette had arrived, and at first, I thought it was exactly what I’d been looking for…” The ashram offered a strict regimen: five hours of grueling ashtanga yoga and meditation each day, vegetarian food, no drugs, spartan barracks segregated by sex and lots of hard physical labor. The guru was a mahasiddhiyana, an adept of fantastic personal power, but, unfortunately, morally bankrupt. “We didn’t find that out until the guru took us into his inner circle,” Hazy went on. “And what we saw there…” He shuddered. “He was practicing black magic,” Paulette explained after sending the kids outside to play, “enslaving the people who came to him looking for enlightenment. With us, he almost succeeded.” I listened, dumbfounded, as she revealed in intimate detail the Tantric practices that had allowed the guru to suck her vaginal secretions through his urethra and convey them up his spinal chord to his pituitary gland, where they became the source of his supernatural powers. “He did it to all the women there, stealing their life-force,” Hazy revealed. “We were almost too frightened to leave.” When they finally escaped, the evil guru had sent entities Hazy called

“hungry ghosts” after them. “They terrorized us night and day,” Paulette recounted. “We tried desperately to free ourselves, but his power was too great. The only thing that worked – ” “ – Was this,” Hazy said, pointing to the cross around his neck. “A greater power. At the exact moment we accepted God, the guru suffered a brain aneurysm that put him in the hospital.” Paulette nodded. “God has a way of drawing good out of the greatest evil. Oh, your cup’s half empty! More tea?” I nodded, mulling that over. If Hazy – no, Larry – wanted to believe a Jewish carpenter dead 2,000 years had rescued him and this woman from some two-bit swami, who was I to argue? So he wanted to be a Christian, that was no skin off my nose, was it? It had brought him a wife, a family, and some measure of stability. I might have lost a smoking buddy, but we were still friends, weren’t we? “I’m glad for you both,” I said, reaching for the refilled cup. “It sounds like a horrifying ordeal.” They both nodded gravely, and we chatted about old times for a few minutes before Hazy asked, “Whatever happened with you and Ruby?” “Was that the dolphin?” Paulette asked him. I nearly dropped the teacup. Hazy looked uncertainly at Paulette. “Larry told me you were in love with one,” she explained, soothingly. “I can understand that. They’re such beautiful… animals.” “She died,” I said, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. Larry – Hazy? – sensed it. “Sorry to hear that,” he said. “I know she meant a lot to you… but there’s, uh, something I need to tell you…” “It was an abomination, wasn’t it?” Hazy looked pained. Paulette stared at the floor. “I can’t quote chapter and verse, but it was, wasn’t it?” He sighed. “Leviticus 18:23,” he said. “But that was the Old Testament. It’s not for us to judge you, Zack, as Christians we’re commanded not to. That’s between you and God.” That suited me just fine. Any god who’d damn me for having made love with Ruby was not a god I could worship or respect.

“But didn’t you tell me, once, that it seemed like she was contacting you telepathically?” Hazy asked. “Yeah, I did,” I admitted, feeling relieved by his refusal to condemn me. “And you know what’s weird, Hazy? Even though she died, that hasn’t stopped! She still communicates with me, and I don’t know what the heck’s going on. Sometimes I think I’m going nuts! You know all about this kind of stuff – how do you figure it?” Hazy and Paulette both exchanged a long, silent look. Now they seemed to feel as uncomfortable as I had just been. Hazy sat back and stared at his feet. “Do you know what a ‘familiar spirit’ is?” Paulette asked. I shook my head. “It’s like the spirit the witch of Endor conjured for Saul before his last battle with the Philistines,” Hazy explained. “First Samuel 28. Saul thought it was the spirit of the prophet Samuel, but it was really a demon impersonating Samuel’s ghost to deceive Saul and lead him astray.” I stared at him, unable to believe what I was hearing. This wasn’t Hazy, this was somebody I didn’t know. “You’re telling me it’s a demon impersonating Ruby?” “It couldn’t be your dolphin lover,” Paulette said. “Maybe it was before, but not since she died. Animals don’t have souls, Zack. There’s no afterlife for them.” “Please understand, we’re concerned for you!” Larry pleaded. “If this… ‘presence’ is bothering you, and you say it is, perhaps you need to accept God into your life, like we did! You could be free! Will you at least consider the possibility?” “Sure. Sure I will…” There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The world seemed to be fleeing me. “I have to go.” “Zack, I’m sorry, we haven’t offended you, have we? It’s just that, since I found Jesus I’ve known such peace, I want to share it with everybody!” Larry said, jumping up. “It’s pretty obvious this thing is upsetting you, and I just thought…” “Thanks for the tea, Paulette,” I said, pushing out my chair. “Nice meeting you.” “Wait! Are you still in Sarasota? How can I get hold of you?” Larry asked.

“Don’t bother,” I said, heading for the door. §§§ “Hey! I know you, don’t I?” somebody shouted. I looked up from the joint I was rolling. Across the dorm room, a figure had emerged from the crush of swaying bodies. The smoke obscured his features, and it was hard to hear his words over the pounding Motown beat, but he looked vaguely familiar. He pushed his way unsteadily into my corner and handed me a beer. I nodded my thanks. “You used to come down to Florida Funland! You was studyin’ the porpoises or somethin’, wasn’t you?” “Yeah, but… who are you?” I asked, wracking my brains to remember. “Otto! Otto Coleridge, Beau’s bro’!” Oh yeah. Although his hair was shorter, he still looked the same. If I’d seen him at Florida Funland, I’d have recognized him instantly. But Florida Funland didn’t exist any more. The bulldozers had moved in and started remodeling. “And you were the guy who was always takin’ pictures, weren’t you?” he asked. We exchanged a grip. I lit the joint and offered it to him, but he just waved it away. “Oh, no thanks, man, I don’t do that stuff no more.” I shrugged, toked, passed the joint into the crowd, popped the beer and took a long pull. “How you doing?” I asked. “Pretty good, pretty good! I’m gettin’ my associate’s degree in engineering from the junior college. Beau’s offered me a job workin’ with him when I graduate.” Lucky bastard. It was who you knew, after all. “Weren’t you into cars?” I asked, starting another joint, sur-prised I could remember that far back. “Well, I was, but I got to thinkin’ about it after the park closed down and all, and I really missed bein’ around them porpoises, y’know?” Did I ever. “Yeah, me and ol’ what’s-his-name, Gator, we got to be pretty good buds… I could get him to do all kinds of tricks. How ‘bout you? You were

down there so much, I figure you must’ve got tight with some of ‘em!” “Just Ruby,” I said, “But yeah, we were tight…” Watertight. “Ruby?” Otto couldn’t hide his astonishment. “Wasn’t she the one Beau let out with the riverboat?” I nodded, wondering what he found so amazing. “Yeah,” I said, “What about it?” “That ol’ whore? She was a total cunt, man!” I stared at him, frozen. He didn’t notice. “Yeah! A regular she-porpoise slut! Every time I went down there, she’d come on to me! She even let me stick my finger in her pussy, man!” he said, holding up his middle finger. “Shit, I probably could’ve screwed her, exceptin’ it would’ve been too embarrassin’, y’know? Like a fuckin’ a cow or somethin’, ‘cept she’d have probably drowned me when she came… hey! Hey! Where you goin’? You ain’t finished your beer!” I shoved my way to the door, drawing stares from everyone who wasn’t too blitzed to notice. I had to throw up, I had to run, I had to punch Otto until his face was a bloody mass of torn flesh and broken bone, I had to scream, I had to throw myself in front of the largest truck roaring down Highway 41, and I knew that if I didn’t get out of that room immediately, I was going to do at least one or several of those things before the night was over. I ran. When I stopped, gasping, I was by the bay. The lights of St. Armand’s Key glittered across the dark waters. Is it true? I shrieked at her. Yes, of course it’s true, she answered quietly. I was a dolphin, and that’s how we started, isn’t it? Just a game to pass the time, to see how far some of you would go. I told you that, didn’t I? You weren’t the only player, but you were the only winner… human winner, that is. It doesn’t change the fact that I love you, does it?

Chapter 30 Waverider And I must learn to live without you now As I cannot learn to give only part of me somehow… –Steven Stills, “So Begins The Task,” Manassas, 1972 Emotional pain is no different from a physical wound: give it time and rest and a scab will form, and underneath the scab the wound will heal. Each time Ruby re-emerged into my consciousness, impossibly still extant, she brought with her a rush of joy. In its back-wash came a flood of the profoundest grief: I would never see her, never touch her, never communicate vocally with her, much less make love with her, again. The freshly formed scab left from her last visit would crack and break, and my emotional wound would start to bleed anew. I couldn’t heal, because Ruby didn’t fill one very important cri-terion for being “dead:” she wasn’t totally gone. At the odd and unpredictable moments when she re-appeared, she was as immediate, tangible and real as my own thoughts. Everything was there… except her body. But death, as we all know, is final and absolute. There are no degrees of fatality, no shadings of mortality. To think otherwise was either superstition or mental illness. Whether they are human or not, the dead cannot carry on conversations with the living, should not try to console them in their sorrow, offer them advice or make observations on aspects of their lives. Ruby did all of those, and she simply could not understand why it upset me so. What often called her up were the same sort of things that had inspired her curiosity and admiration when she was alive: feats of balance, like riding a bicycle, or of manual dexterity, like tying my shoelaces or carving a piece of wood with my pocketknife. What’s the matter, lover? Don’t you want me here? she would ask when I started to sob. Yes, of course! Then why are you sad all the time? Because… because…

The cycle repeated itself for months: scab-crack-bleed. Joy-loss-grief. My world was withering away to nothing. I was staying at my mother’s house, but not on her charity. I don’t remember how I paid the rent or the bills. I lived hand-to-mouth. One night I tried something suggested by a fellow student who fancied himself a counselor. It was a Gestalt Therapy technique called “dialoguing.” You set up two chairs, facing each other. In the absence of the party that is the focus of your conflicts, you act the part yourself, first speaking directly to the empty chair, then, switching seats, responding to the statement or answering the question you’ve just asked as if you were the other party. Instead of two chairs, I set up a small wooden bench oppo-site the couch. Turning out the lights, I lit a single candle. Sitting on the couch, I addressed the empty bench, which wasn’t big enough to have held Ruby when she was alive. “I can’t take this any more!” I shouted. “I still love you, I’ll always love you, but if this goes on any longer I feel like I’m going to die!” As I moved to the bench, words sprang into my head. “Don’t do that! Now that I’m dead, you’re the only existence I have!” Startled by the immediacy of the process, I moved back to the couch. “What do you mean?” From the bench: “I don’t have a body any more! I only exist in your mind! If you die, where does that leave me? I’m sorry I killed myself, it was a stupid idea! I never would have even thought about it if I hadn’t been overcome by self-pity! Don’t make the same mistake, for both our sakes!” Verbalizing these thoughts was even weirder and more dissociative than our “normal” process of communication – if you could call it that. Bursting into sobs, I stumbled back to the couch. “But I miss you!” I wailed. “You’re the only person who’s ever loved me! I can’t go on! Isn’t there some way I can see you again, even just for a little while? There has to be some way I can get to where you are!” When I returned to the bench, there was an odd silence for a minute or so. When Ruby finally “spoke,” it was with what seemed like great reluctance. “There is a way,” I heard myself saying, “but it’s very dangerous. You must be very, very careful…” Sit down on the floor. At this point, her internalized voice took over. I moved the wooden bench back a couple of feet so I had

room and sat down in front of it, facing the couch in a half-lotus position. Calm yourself. Breathe deeply. You’re going to need everything you’ve got… Under her direction I gradually let the raging emotions drain away. I concentrated on the glowing candle flame. Close your eyes. Are you ready? Yes! I thought, with great expectation and not a little fear. Would we meet in some dreamlike, shamanic otherworld? Then let your body go limp! I did so, and experienced a fleeting sensation of falling backwards before my head exploded. For a second I couldn’t see and didn’t know where I was or what had happened. The only awareness was terrible, intense pain and the stars reeling before my eyes. Then I realized I was curled up in a ball on the carpet, my hands clutching a rising goose egg on the back of my head. When Ruby told me to go limp, I had fallen backwards, but I hadn’t moved the wooden bench far enough away. The back of my head had struck the edge of the seat with tremendous force. Staring up at the bench, I felt a sudden cold fear. If I had struck the bench a few inches lower – on my cervical vertebrae instead of my cranium – I could have broken my neck, and would now be lying there either dead or paralyzed. The words I had just spoken echoed mockingly: “There has to be some way I can get to where you are!” Ruby was dead. The only way to get to where she was – was to die! Anger roared up in me. You just tried to kill me! That’s not true, she railed, I’d never hurt you, I love you! Don’t blame me for your incompetence! I didn’t put the bench there, you did! I’m not in your reality any more, how am I supposed to know what’s happening? I can’t control what goes on there! That’s up to you! My head throbbed, and I was confused and stunned from the impact. Ruby was right… in my pathetic sorrow, I had overlooked the location of the bench… but I still might be dead by now, or worse, lying on the floor, conscious but unable to move from the neck down, for having acted on her suggestion. The realization began to sink in: I could stay on this path, but if my grief

didn’t kill me, something else might, maybe my own stupidity. My postmortem contact with Ruby suddenly assumed new and threatening undertones. Please go now, I thought. Are you all right? I don’t know. I think so. I stumbled into the bathroom, flipped on the light and looked in a mirror. My pupils were both the same size and narrowed when I shined a flashlight in them. Somehow I had managed to avoid a concussion; just hard-headed, I guess. Are you sure? Ruby’s concern was relentless, almost as if she understood we had crossed some kind of boundary in this weird relationship and there was no way back. “Yes!” I said, speaking to the empty air. “I’ll be all right! I just need some rest! Now will you please, please go away?” She slipped away with scarcely a ripple, just like when she was alive, but leaving a rueful slick in her wake. §§§ On an afternoon when Teonancatl sang in my blood and a vast lowpressure system swirled over the Gulf of Mexico, I rode the wind’s teeth down to the water. The beach was deserted, and huge, gray breakers rolled ashore like waves of molten lead. Chaining my bike to a tree, I was surprised to notice such a trivial detail as the waves when the world was melting and re-forming every instant. Heedless of the offshore wind throwing sand in my eyes, I kicked off my sandals and ran down the beach. As the water hit my ankles, I plunged into the sea’s cool caress. That day I felt no fear: not of sharks nor of drowning, not of dying nor of living. I could hold my breath forever but I didn’t need to. Stroking strongly, I reached the shark channel and looked west, watching the waves on the last leg of their long journey. There came one… not right, it passed under me. Another, still not the one I wanted. Finally I saw a swelling in the metallic gray surface that promised just the right hydrodynamics. Turning shoreward, I felt the pressure lift

me, and I started swimming like a madman. The wave caught me from behind. There was only time to snatch a lungful of air and throw my arms in front of me before I was flying, flying through the water, hurled at incredible speed down a wall of fluid force. I was a dolphin rushing joyously through my home waters, and Ruby was with me. The pressure changed, and without thinking I tucked and rolled. The wave broke in a kaleidoscopic rush of centrifugal force, threw me in all directions at once and spat me on the sand. I lay gasping, stunned by the sudden stillness, the firmness of the beach under me, the coldness of the wind on my back. Sand trickled through my fingers, and the wind blew it away. I couldn’t do it like that, she thought. I’d have to turn before I hit the beach. If I ended up like you are now, I’d… die. The salt water in my eyes was suddenly warm. If by some miracle of love you were to come back to me in the body I once knew, I would not send you away, I would not let what happened happen again. Ruby, you must believe me! She was silent and sad, almost as if she knew what was to come. I would welcome you and cherish you and never leave your side. In time, we would learn to speak to each other, and then we could go forward as we were meant to and make the seas safe for your kind. But Ruby… I can’t go on like this. There was a long pause before she replied. I know. I’ve watched you drowning. Each time I try to help, I end up pushing you under instead. I didn’t want it to be this way, but my presence is drowning you, isn’t it? I nodded, my tears falling in the sand. I’m sorry. Our currents split long ago, seeking different channels. I should have heard that. I didn’t know what kind of creature you were. You seemed a lot stronger than you are. So did you! She laughed sadly. Then we’ve both learned something, haven’t we? Yes. And now you’ve got to go. I know… but if you ever need me again, just call, and I’ll be here.

I love you, Ruby… Rather than diminishing, her presence seemed to be retreating to an infinite distance. I love you, lover. Goodbye… For a moment, there was only the sound of the wind rearranging the sand and sighing through the dune grass. Then a raucous squawk startled me. Blinking, I stared into the beady eye of a seagull, which stood a yard away, wondering if I was dead enough to eat. I sat up. The gull spread its wings and let the wind hurl it into the sky where it joined the rest of the flock. For a moment, the sun broke through the clouds and drew water, making the deep sparkle with light. A gust of wind tossed a lone Australian pine at the end of a nearby jetty. The beauty of the scene stole my breath. Rising on my human legs, I pounded down the beach and threw myself in, swam with clumsy, overhanded strokes, kicking furiously, turning my head to breathe, until my lungs ached. Between the realms of Zeus and his brother Poseidon I caught another wave that shot me shoreward and threw me, gasping, onto the sand. Yes, Ruby is dead, but I am alive! Alive, damn it, alive! No one answered me. No one questioned me. I was grateful, but also strangely alone. And slowly… …very slowly… …I began to heal.

Epilogue: A Walk On The Beach Christmas, 1995 Think about… Think about how many times I have fallen Spirits are using me, larger voices calling What heaven brought you and me

Cannot be forgotten… –Crosby, Stills and Nash, “Southern Cross,” Daylight Again, 1982 “Honey, have you seen my wallet?” Midway through loading the dishwasher, Edie paused, finger to her lips. “In your pocket?” she suggested brightly. My left hand whipped back to check. Empty. “No, I already looked there.” “Well, where did you have it last?” “Uhh… in the car? Which car were we driving this afternoon, Gregory’s or Jo’s?” “Gregory’s, wasn’t it?” I suddenly recalled the wallet sitting on the Oldsmobile’s dashboard, exposed and vulnerable. I’d pulled it out of my back pocket because the car’s collapsed seat cushions made it uncomfortable to sit on, and tossed it there without thinking. Barring ill fortune, it was probably still there. A quick call to my cousin Gregory confirmed it. I explained the situation and a minute later he was back on the phone, his Yorkshire brogue a little breathless from having run up and down two flights of stairs. “Yeah, I’ve got it, Zack,” he panted. “Let’s see, there’s your driver’s license, New Mexico, is it? You didn’t have any cash, did you?” No, I didn’t. One of the disadvantages of raising a family. I thanked Gregory and told him I would be over soon. As I hung up, Jo called to me from her easy chair in the living room. “Did you find your wallet, love?” “Yeah, it was in Gregory’s car, like I thought.” “What did you say, Zack?” My mother cupped a hand around one ear. “I can’t hear…” “Hey, kids, turn down the TV!” Three heads, two blond (Edies’), one brunette (mine), swiveled around, then Andy, my thirteen-year-old stepson, punched the remote, and Ren & Stimpy dropped to a dull roar. Edie stepped out of the kitchenette, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Was it there?” “Yeah. Can I borrow your car, Jo?” “Of course, Zack,” she said, fishing for the keys in her purse. “Oh, damn,

now where did I put them?” “They’re over here,” Edie said, handing them to me from the windowsill basket where my mother always left them. “Will you be gone long?” “Not too long.” “Well, I may be in bed by the time you come back,” Jo said, wincing as she levered herself upright with the aid of her cane. “These old bones ain’t what they used to be, you know! Edie, thanks for doing the dishes.” “No problem, Jo. Thanks for dinner.” “Oh, you’re welcome, dearie! I love your visits.” My mother’s voice quavered with gratitude. “Having my family around is the nicest Christmas present anyone could give me! Have I told you how much I appreciate what you’ve done for my boy?” she asked, taking in her twisted, arthritic hand one of Edie’s. “Not today you haven’t.” Edie winked mischievously at me, the lights from the Christmas tree catching in her eyes. “Zack was a pretty wild one, you know, until you came along,” my mother said, rising painfully from the chair. “Yes, he’s told me all about it… well,” Edie quipped, with a sly glance at me, “maybe not all about it.” “You’ve really helped him get his feet back on the ground!” Jo exclaimed, then, turning to me, “You’ve got a real pearl here, Zack. Don’t take her for granted, the way your father did with me!” For an angry second I didn’t know what to say. Then Edie leaped into the verbal gap. “Oh, don’t worry, Jo, I won’t let him!” We laughed. There was a quick, bony hug from my mother – the kids wouldn’t come unglued from TV – and at the door, a lingering kiss from Edie, her tongue suggesting unexplored possibilities. “Want to go for a walk on the beach?” She smiled sweetly and shook her head. “I’ll just stay here and make sure the kids get to bed.” She leaned closer and whispered confidentially: “I don’t think we can leave Jo alone with them!” Gregory’s high-rise was just a few minutes away, one of the jumble now crowding the beaches of Siesta Key. I parked and trotted up to the third floor

where he met me at his apartment door, wallet in hand. He offered me a beer, which I accepted. A man in his 50’s, my cousin was a career teacher, pro soccer coach and confirmed bachelor. Soft-spoken and kindly, with a dry wit, he would seem to be a prime catch, and I often wondered why he never married; he certainly wasn’t gay. His idea of a good time was to watch the World Cup at the local soccer bar while downing a few pints of Guiness. Not wishing to be rude, we chatted for a few minutes before I reminded him that Edie was waiting for me, and took my leave. On my way back to Jo’s condo, I unaccountably slowed down. The night was dark and for December, warm. I was alone. The sea was nearby. Some impulse, long dormant, stirred restlessly. Another driver honked impatiently, then cut around me. Yielding, I changed lanes and a hundred yards down Midnight Pass Road, I turned toward the Gulf of Mexico. Two minutes later, the cool sand of Turtle Beach was sliding between my bare toes. A cloudy night with no moon, a night like a black cat’s fur. The nearby condominiums seemed almost deserted, and the few dim lights spilling over their balconies didn’t even reflect on the waves. I helped build some of those condos. They were anchored in sand. The first good hurricane to hit Siesta Key would cut a new pass right where I was walking, send them and their moneyed occupants tumbling into the sea. Turning away from them, I strolled toward the ocean until my feet splashed into the surf. Home. Your home… …So here we are again, and not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about you, Ruby. Sometimes with remorse, sometimes with joy, always with longing for a different outcome, a chance to re-write our personal history. If I had died and you had lived, would you remember me the way I remember you? If Beau had turned you loose afterward, would you be out there now, whistling some sad, haunted song for your lost human lover, patrolling the shore in vain hope of catching sight of me again? Ruby didn’t answer. Good dolphin!

The Sarasota I knew didn’t exist any more. Sometime in the 1980’s it got “discovered,” and the sleepy little fishing village underwent a malignant transformation. Along the beach, high-rises sprouted like the magic mushrooms that once grew in the cow pastures now buried under tacky developments. Traffic was backed up on the Tamiami Trail from one end of town to the other, the air above the highway rank with oily fumes. Once-quiet Siesta Village had morphed into a gawky, neon-lit tourist trap, its dignity dissolved in a wash of dollars. And dolphins were everywhere. Dolphin fountains in public plazas, incongruously spouting fresh water. Dolphins in the windows of chic shops on St. Armand’s Key, extolling overpriced merchandise for the overly rich. Dolphin postcards and toys and key chains in the drugstores, dolphin motifs in the restaurants and bars. Dolphin jewelry and dolphin doorknobs and dolphin window stickers and dolphin shower curtains. Dolphins dolphins dolphins. The civic symbol of the town. I paused, staring seaward, and let the surf wash around my knees. The night was so opaque I couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the sky began. …What do I know about you? Nothing more than I did a quartercentury ago, when you rose up from the deep to stare at me out of that soft brown eye. Who were you? Where did you come from? Are your children out there now? Probably… Others had saved the dolphins and the whales, people who could lobby the Japanese or ram pirate whaling ships or smuggle video cameras onto tuna boats. Oh, I’d done my little bit: an article here, some photos for Greenpeace there. But my grief and the very weirdness of my experience with Ruby had overwhelmed my love for her and stifled my voice. After she died, I stumbled through years of what now seemed like borderline mental illness, a self-marginalizing character with no job, no resources and no credibility before clawing my way, an inch at a time, back to a semblance of wholeness. I wasn’t so far-out after all, was I? Lilly may have blown it, but Dr. Louis Hermann proved your language-acquisition skills are second only to ours, and we both know there’s more to you the scientists haven’t figured out yet… The wind off the sea brought the scent of salt, and with it, a hint of that old

cosmic longing rose in me again. If at that mo-ment some dolphins had swum by unseen in the darkness, it would have been so poetic just to hear their blows in the dis-tance… but they didn’t answer my human need for symmetry. Inside or out, I didn’t command them, after all. If by some miracle you should return to me now and place your snout between my feet, what would I tell you? “I found meaning as a reporter, working among the Navajo, but I miss the smell of the sea” – would you understand? That I’m happily married and raising three children with a wonderfully human woman who knows about you and loves me anyway? That’s what life is all about, isn’t it, Ruby? Finding a mate, raising offspring, passing on our genes and our love and wisdom to the next generation, so the spark is carried on? What could I say to you, Ruby? That I survived? That I somehow recovered my soul? “All acts of love and pleasure are rituals to the Goddess.” From the moment I’d heard those words, my had life changed: I’d embraced Wicca. It was the only religion I’d found that provided a context where our love not only fit, but was cherished. Goddesses die and are forgotten, but like long-dormant seeds they can revive and sprout anew. I couldn’t bring Ruby back to life, but if it ever got published, the book I was writing might, in some odd sense, make her immortal… …The old gods don’t condemn us, Ruby. When they make love, they don’t quibble over their lover’s form. They became us, acted through us to heal the wounds between our worlds, to bridge the gap that has separated our species. You did your part; now the rest is up to me… The waves surged around my calves. The tide might be coming in. She would have known… if I could’ve asked her. Oh, I had such great plans! That year, or the next or maybe the year after that I’d return to college, do it right at last, master the math and science I was never any good at, conquer ethology without losing my spirituality or cashiering my soul, find some way to start working with them again, and at last I’d get the numbers for Professor Dyne, and the tapes and the videos and the computer printouts that would conclusively prove dolphins were as intelligent as I already knew they were!

…And what good will that do? a cold voice inside me muttered. We speak with other humans, and don’t we still kill them? We’re breeding ourselves into oblivion and ravaging the seas as we go, devouring everything in our path like some mindless killing machine. Fish stocks crashing world-wide, drift nets drowning everything they touch… how long until we’ve eaten all the fish in the sea and they’re starving, begging us for a handout? How long after that until we can no longer afford the luxury of a dolphin smile, the cost of oceanariums, and in our desperate, ravenous hunger we turn on them, the only other species to ever offer us “friendship for no advantage?” “No,” I whispered, forcing back that inner horror, “No! It doesn’t have to be like that! I make my own future, and that is not the world I or my children or my children’s children will live in!” It could be different. It could be a world we share and cherish, understanding, communicating, learning from and loving each other. There is so much you could teach us, both about your world and about ourselves. So much… too goddamn much to throw away! The land beckoned. Edie tugged at my heart. I had to go. “I’ll come back!” I cried to the dark, rolling waters. “You dolphins out there, listen to me, hear my words! As a man and a human being, I’m talking to you! You her lovers! You her brothers and sisters! You her children! I can’t see you, but I know you’re out there! I loved her too, do you hear me? I loved her as you did! And someday, gods willing, I’ll come back! I’ll finish what I started! I’ll learn to speak with you, and then, and then…” I choked, the words torn from my throat by a gust of sea wind. “And then it’s up to you,” I whispered. “I won’t have to speak for you any longer, because you’ll be able to speak for yourselves.” I turned from the ocean and retraced my steps to the car. The hour was growing late, and back at my mother’s apartment, Edie was waiting for me. ###

Notes on the Photography The photos for this book were all taken by the author, with the exception of the photographs of the author, which were obviously taken by somebody else, that being the person on whom the character “Hank” was based. Except for a few shots taken (as mentioned in the text) with a borrowed Nikonos, the rest were shot with my Fujica V2 35mm rangefinder camera with a fixed, 50mm f1.8 Fujinon lens. The films were Kodak Plus-X and Tri-X developed in D-76 by time and temperature (which, BTW, doesn’t work) and printed on whatever kind of paper I could afford, usually Kodak Polycontrast. For this book, some of the negatives were directly scanned on a Canon 8400F flatbed scanner. My greatest inspirations were Jerry Uelsman and Henri Cartier-Bresson. About the Author Malcolm J. Brenner was born in New Jersey in 1951. He attended public and private schools there and in Pennsylvania before entering New College of Florida in 1969, where some of the events on which this story is based took place. Brenner has worked many jobs, including wilderness tour guide, photo lab owner and public relations officer. During the 1990’s he covered the Navajo Nation and Zuni Pueblo as a reporter for border town newspapers in New Mexico. His hard-hitting investigative reporting, news photos and satirical columns won several regional awards. Now a freelance writer and photographer, Brenner lives in Punta Gorda, Florida with his dog. He is completing Growing Up In The Orgone Box, an autobiography about the destructive effects of a pseudo-scientific cult on his

parents’ family.