20 - Bedrooms

The Guardian Dolphin

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Bedrooms are full of memories. People used to be born in bedrooms. Some still are. Most of us are conceived in bedrooms—most of you, anyway. We sleep in bedrooms, dream in bedrooms, and a great many of us die in a bedroom.

I was young man; handsome, smart, and full of myself. I already had a little goatee, and I had just begun to learn my trade. With Charlie's guidance, I was getting to be pretty good, too.

I came back from a particularly successful job that night, well past midnight. I eased the kitchen door open, lifting it by the knob a little so it wouldn't squeak, and eased it shut again behind me. I didn't notice the sour smell of age and sickness in the house. It had been that way too long.

There were still dishes in the sink from morning, but I didn't want to risk the noise. I slipped into the living room and down the hall, the noble half of me hoping that Charlie was asleep.

As I passed his room, I saw that the lamp on his night stand, throwing its little pool of light around a water glass smudged with fingerprints in a jumble of pill bottles and used tissues.

It was hot. Stifling.

I waited for a moment in the doorway, listening to his ragged breathing, then tip-toed across the room to turn off the light.

"Pup?"

His voice was hoarse.

"How you feeling, Charlie?"

"How'd it go?"

I sat on the edge of the bed.

"You'll love this one, Charlie."

"Tell me, Pup."

That was what I wanted to hear. I dived into my story.

"The grand-daughter invited me onto the boat," I said. "When I got a chance to talk to the old man, the guy in charge, all I did was listen—just like you told me."

Charlie gave a raw chuckle.

"You've got the touch, all right."

"The first thing you know, he changed his mind. It was incredible."

"And the son—the greedy one?"

"He was furious. But his wife was on my side, so while they argued I slipped into the water!"

"Wasn't that dangerous? How far out were you?"

"Charlie! I just changed… I mean, I… it wasn't that far."

"That dolphin nonsense. I'm sorry I ever played that game with you."

"Let me take you down to the sea, put you in the water. It might help."

"You can't live in fantasies, Pup."

"You just don't remember, because of the virus."

"It isn't healthy."

"There's got to be a cure, Charlie, a way for you to go back…"

"Stop it! I'm too old and too sick to be worrying about your sanity."

"Sorry."

"Just promise me you'll follow your vocation. Be a Traveling Angel, Pup, like Dudley in the movie, that's what you're good at, what they need…"

"Of course."

Charlie closed his eyes, but his hoarse whisper continued.

"I couldn't, because of my leg. But you can, you're young—and strong."

I shivered.

"Sure, Charlie."

"Promise you won't let anything—anything—stand in your way."

"I promise."

His breath began to rattle. I honestly didn't see it coming.

What did I know? I was twenty-four years old.