7 - Summers with Charlie

The Guardian Dolphin

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I remember the way the sun beat down, mornings, on Charlie's back porch. I remember the way old tennis shoes felt, pulled onto bare feet. I remember the sea breeze on my young arms, bare and muscled. They were muscled once, and tanned.

I was sixteen, maybe seventeen, and on my way down to the water during summer vacation.

Charlie called after me from the house.

"Hey, Pup!"

I turned and grinned at the old man standing in the open door. He wore a flowered apron over his army surplus shirt and pants, and had a dishrag in one hand. It dripped on the carpet as he grinned back at me.

"Yeah, Charlie?"

"Bring a fish home for lunch!"

He winked at our little secret, and I would have laughed out loud if my adolescent pride had let me.

"Sure, Charlie."

"A big one!"

"You got it."

Summers were my favorite time, growing up. I never really enjoyed school because I never felt at ease with the other kids. I put on a good enough show, I guess, and I wasn't what you'd call unpopular, but I never really knew what to say, or how to act, and so I felt different, not really part of the group.

They probably thought it was me who rejected them, but I wouldn't have guessed that at the time.

Summers were different.

I didn't have to hang around the others if I didn't want to, and best of all, I could go down to the beach. I loved being in the water, the smell of the sea, the sound of waves crashing, the feel of wet sand on bare feet. I loved lying in the sun, swimming in the surf, and, when no one was watching, slipping under a wave and going deep, along the bottom, out to sea.

I almost never bothered to change back to a dolphin for those swims. I could go far enough out without changing, and the change itself took an awful lot of energy. Besides, Charlie had warned me not to do it unless I really needed to. He was always afraid someone would see me.

That morning I hiked to a secluded beach I knew, where I would be alone. I wasn't going to change, but Charlie had asked for a fish, and it's hard to explain walking out of the surf with a catch in your hand.

I swam out beyond the breakers, and dived into the cool green depths. For a while I just enjoyed myself, drifting along the bottom. I heard a whale call—miles away—and watched an octopus stalk a crab. It pounced suddenly, and drove it's beak through the poor crab's shell, killing it with poison.

I looked up toward the surface light, and saw what I had come for above me—a school of sea bass, waving, like a silver banner, in the current.

I kicked toward them, and, just as they started to shy away, opened my mouth to let out a blast. A blast—that's what Charlie and I called it. It's a dolphin sound, so loud and focused it can stun a fish.

I was young then, and could still do that.

The fish closest to me drifted, stunned, in the current. I moved in, picked the best one of the lot, and left the others to recover.

Then I kicked off toward shore.