24 - The Return

The Guardian Dolphin

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Picture this. As far as the eye can see. Driving rain. Black clouds tinged with light. The crash of the waves, the taste of salt in your throat.

And an endless, hopeless aching in your lungs.

I made it pretty far out, but I just couldn't change. It was the first time I'd tried in—oh, years and years, and the first time—I'm pretty sure of this—the first time I couldn't do it. I kept trying, but it wasn't going to happen, and I began to realize how old I was—how tired I was getting.

I could feel it calling to me, pulling me down-back into the thick green spaces, back among the fish and the coral and the sounds. Only I couldn't hear them. And it didn't feel like home, this time. For a moment I was confused, caught between my yearning for those very reaches, and my fear of them.

I remembered a nine-year-old, surprised to find that water was suddenly his enemy.

I panicked.

Then I was struggling frantically, the urgency in my lungs driving me, every muscle, every sinew, straining for the sand, the safe and solid land. I fastened on it with my mind, and tried to drag it toward me.

But I was disoriented. And, after a time, I had to admit it. For all I knew, I was headed out to sea.

I tried to conserve my energy, then, to watch for some hint of land light, or of a ship.

The water was so cold.

I drifted for hours.

* * * * *

Finally, I was gasping and choking, and swallowing water. I had nothing left in me, and was thinking of just giving up, of letting myself sink, slowly, into that endless deep, when I heard it.

Funny that it should have been a sound.

I heard the breakers, crashing on the sand. I managed to paddle blindly toward them. I picked up speed. My head was out of the water, and I was moving again, breathing.

I began to relax.

Then I felt myself lifted upward. I looked over my shoulder. There was an enormous wall of water, coming right toward me.

I screamed as it hit.

It hurled me toward shore, tumbling this way and that, with sand in my mouth and foam in my eyes. It threw me against the bottom and spun me around, filling my throat with brine and hurting my ears and just when I thought it was going to kill me, it flung me onto the beach.

The water drained away from the wet sand in front of my eyes, and I lay there, naked, shivering with the cold and the shock and the fear. After the longest time, I managed to turn my head so I could see the beach by the light of the storm, stretching out forever…