© 2000 by Kate Halleron
THE FACE OF THE WATERS
by Kate Halleron
Jewels glistened like fruit on trees tall as houses which swayed in an invisible wind. I floated in darkness full of color beautiful as music and sound bright as flowers.
The vividness of the dream awakened me, and my wife of less than a year turned toward me. “Bad dreams?” she asked, her blond hair falling across her face.
“No, just a very vivid one. Did I wake you?” I brushed the hair back from her eyes.
“Not you,” Dolores smiled.
I placed my hand over her rounded abdomen. “Getting excited in there, are we?”
“They do say that girls are more active in utero.”
“Going in for folklore, Doctor?” I teased. I pause at this juncture to point out that my wife is young, beautiful, and extremely intelligent. My honest opinion is that she’s too good for me. I felt our daughter quieten, and the three of us drifted back to sleep.
I was going over some grant proposals the following morning with Harry - Dr. Harold Jeffers, my boss and Dolores’s collaborator - in their laboratory when Harry’s daughter, Jane, paid us a visit. Harry was once a research assistant for Dolores’s mother,
and the families are so close, I think even they sometimes forget that they’re not really related. Don’t ask me what Harry’s research is about - something to do with mitochondria - but Harry frequently complains about administrative details keeping him from his real work. My job is seeing that the administrative details stay as manageable as possible.
Although it had been only a couple of days since I had seen Jane, I was amazed at the changes in her. At thirteen, she was already taller than either my wife or her mother. She seemed more serious, with that seriousness found only in thirteen-year-olds.
“Hello, Uncle Jack,” she said. “Are you busy?”
“Don’t you have a hello for your poor old father, Janie?” Harry teased. He wrapped a massive arm around her shoulders.
“Hi, Daddy.” She seemed slightly embarrassed. “Can I take Uncle Jack to see the dolphins?”
Harry gave me a look that I didn’t understand until later. “I don’t see why not. Just don’t keep him too long - he has to keep me organized.”
Jane was unusually quiet as we walked toward the Institute’s Marine Research Laboratory. Normally boisterous like her father, she seemed more detached than I’ve ever seen her. I broke the silence. “Well, Jane. So, are you still wanting to be an astronaut?”
She made a face, then asked me, “How far do you think we’ll get by then?”
“In space? I don’t know. Mars. Maybe some of the outer planets.”
“That’s what I think, too. But we won’t find any life out there, will we? We’ll have to go to other stars for that, if there’s any to find. And if we do, it won’t be anything like us.”
I couldn’t answer that, and she lapsed back into silence.
She preserved her silence until we arrived at the cove where the dolphins were kept. They were a pair of bottlenosed dolphins, male and female, that Dr. Banerji was using for her current research project.
The dolphins leaped from the water as we stepped onto the dock that jutted out over the cove. They both made raucous noises that I can only describe as laughter as Jane greeted them. The smaller one even ‘kissed’ her, leaping up and touching Jane’s lips with its beak. Jane introduced them, “The big one is Eli, the other is Judith. Say hello to Uncle Jack.” They both stood on their tails out of the water and danced backward, reminding me of the old TV show, Flipper. Jane tossed some balls to them, which they tossed about, then threw back to her. “Uncle Jack,” she asked in the midst of this game, “why aren’t you happy?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Jane. I’m happy.”
“Not completely. Not like Mother or Daddy, or Aunt Dolores.”
I didn’t know how to answer her - my own happiness was not something I was in the habit of contemplating. Fortunately, she turned her attention back to the dolphins and didn’t seem to require an answer.
Jane entered the water, after removing the shorts she had been wearing over her swimsuit, and she and the dolphins were engaged in a game, the object of which seemed to be a lot of ducking and splashing, when I was joined on the dock by Dr. Banerji. “Quite a sight, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is,” I agreed. Jane’s laughter mixed with that of her companions. “She’s not interfering with your research, is she?”
“Actually, to tell you the truth, she is my research. It’s well known that dolphins sometimes form spontaneous attachments to humans, especially children, but no one knows why. This is a golden opportunity to study it.”
“Does she know you’re studying her?”
“Of course not, that would prejudice the experiment. She formed this attachment on her own, and I’d like it to continue unhindered. Harry knows, of course. He gave his approval both as Head of Research and as Janie’s father.”
I said, “They’re probably lonely - the dolphins, I mean. Being in captivity.”
Dr. Banerji shook her head and smiled. “You’re wrong there, Mr. Murphy. They’re as free to come and go as you and I.” I looked toward the mouth of the cove; she was right - there were no barriers holding them in.
“You mean they’re wild?”
“Well, they’re not captive. We’ve queried the Navy and other Marine facilities, but no one’s lost a pair of dolphins. We’re quite fortunate that they seem to have chosen to remain here for a while - one doesn’t often get the chance to study cetaceans in their natural environment. We don’t really know a lot about them.”
We stood and watched Jane for few minutes more, then Dr. Banerji returned to her laboratory and I returned to my office.
* * * * * * * * *
I must have been unusually quiet, too, that evening, for my wife asked if anything were wrong.
“No, I’m just puzzling over something Jane asked me this morning.”
“She asked why I wasn’t happy.”
“Well, why aren’t you?”
That startled me. “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life!” I protested.
“That may be,” she said, seating herself on the sofa in our half-furnished living room, “but it’s not hard to see that you’re missing something. Why don’t you write anymore?”
The problem with intelligent women as that they often see things you don’t want them to see. I shrugged. “A new life, new responsibilities. I’m not an old bachelor anymore.”
“Do you want to go back to journalism?”
I shook my head.
Her deep blue eyes met mine with a steady gaze as though reading my soul, and uncomfortable as I was, I recalled the reason I had abandoned my long solitude to marry her in the first place. “I didn’t marry you to chain you down, Jack,” she said.
I winced “You don’t, believe me, you don’t. It’s not that.”
That steady gaze again. “I keep tripping over a large boxed manuscript in the bottom of our closet.”
Actually, it was the top of the closet, but I knew what she meant. “My unpublishable novel.”
“Unpublishable? Now how do you know that?”
“Because I could finish papering this room with the rejection slips I got on it.”
“So, write another. First novels seldom get published, anyway.”
It wasn’t that simple, but I didn’t know how to tell her that. “I’ll think about it, all right?”
* * * * * * * * *
I was surprised to find Harry waiting for me in my office the following morning. His dark bearded face was abnormally somber, reminding me of Jane. “I want to talk to you about Janie,” he said without preamble.
“What’s the problem?”
“I don’t know. She’s been very withdrawn lately - she barely speaks to her mother or me.”
“Sure it’s not just being thirteen?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
“You’re asking me?”
“Sometimes a friend sees more than a parent. How did she act with you yesterday?”
“Fine. She was pretty quiet at first, but then she played with the dolphins and seemed perfectly normal - except she asked some strange questions.”
I told him.
“Well, why aren’t you?”
I groaned. “Oh, not you, too.”
He grinned. There’s a decided mischievous streak in Dr. Jeffers. “Anything I can help with?”
I shook my head. How does a middle-aged man explain to these highly successful people that he still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up? “We were talking about Jane.”
His brow furrowed. I’ve never seen Harry look so worried before. “She spends all her time with those dolphins.”
“You could always terminate the project.”
“I couldn’t do that. I’d be taking away the only thing she cares about.”
“I don’t have any advice for you, Harry.”
He sighed. “I’m not really asking for any. Just, if you get the chance, look out for her, will you?”
“You can count on it.”
* * * * * * * * *
In the ensuing weeks, I continued to have extremely strange and vivid dreams. I might have found them troubling, if they hadn’t been so wondrous. In them, I inhabited a world more fantastic and beautiful than any I had been able to imagine for myself. I found myself going over them in my mind during the day, for these dreams did not fade upon waking.
I also “looked out for” Jane, spending time with her, usually at the dolphins’ cove. Her relationship with them was growing almost to the point of preoccupation. I was coming to understand Harry’s concern, but I was also coming to understand Jane’s fascination. “Did you know that dolphins once lived on land, just as we do?” She told me once. “They returned to the sea millions of years ago.” It seems that Eli and Judith were unusual in several ways, aside from apparently having left their pod in order to cohabitate with humans. Dolphins rarely form associations with members of the opposite sex, except for mating, in the wild. Perhaps if I had known more about dolphins in general, I might have noticed other ways in which they were unusual.
* * * * * * * * *
I dance with my love in exquisite darkness - unbound by gravity, around, under, through. I hear her sweet voice in my mind, and feel the gentle touch of her skin next to mine. Sweetly we sing together. . . I walk into the kitchen where Dolores is helping her brother tidy up after supper. David leaves, and I reach behind her and untie her apron, then take her in my arms and kiss her, slowly and thoughtfully, for the very first time. She is wearing a dress of midnight blue that matches her eyes, and I think that I have never seen anything so beautiful. “I’ve been wanting to do that ever since you walked in here this afternoon,” I told her.
She smiled. “If that’s the affect it has on you, I’ll wear this dress every day for the rest of my life.”
“It’s not that, although you do look lovely. It’s that for the first time, I felt you were looking at me instead of some phantom.” Then, not subscribing to the dictum that the first time is always the best, I kiss her again. “Hm,” I remark, “if I had known the evening was going to end up this way, I wouldn’t have made garlic bread.”
She giggles, and suddenly the memory was gone, as though it had never happened. I sat up in bed, shouting, “You give that back!” Dolores was gone, and I had a moment of panic before I felt a sense of apology and the memory returned. Dolores returned a few moments later.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yeah, now. I woke up and you were gone.”
“Sorry, I was hungry.” She removed her slippers and got back into bed. “Is it the dreams again?”
I wrapped my arms around her. “I dreamed that I lost something very precious.” Then I kissed her, slowly and thoughtfully, just like the first time. “Hm, garlic. Just like old times.”
She laughed, and what followed is no one’s business but our own.
* * * * * * * * *
I found Jane at the cove that morning. She was sitting on the dock, watching the dolphins, who seemed unusually subdued. I joined her in the silence for a moment.
“It’s the dolphins, isn’t it?” I asked. “The dreams?”
She nodded. “But they’re not dreams. They happen while I’m asleep, but they’re not dreams.”
I let that pass for now. “So what do I have to do with this?”
“I was scared. I didn’t want to be there alone.”
“But why me, Jane?”
A slight smile played around her lips. “You’re the only one who calls me Jane.”
The ocean breeze whipped her dark, cropped hair around her face. I’d always thought Jane resembled her father, but now, as she stared out across the cove, I caught an expression on her face that I had sometimes seen on her mother’s face as she danced. If someone had told me just then that Jane was a fairy princess stolen from the sea, I just might have believed them. “Jane, I nearly lost something very important to me last night. They nearly took it away from me.”
“They gave it back, didn’t they?”
“Yes, but I’m afraid they don’t understand us any better than we understand them.”
She didn’t answer. I sat beside her, swinging my feet off the end of the dock. Eli lifted his head out of the water, and looked me in the eye. What is going on here? I wondered. Are we taking things from their minds the way he’d nearly taken my memory of Dolores? Whatever it was, I could not help but feel that we’d shared something last night.
“And what are they offering you, Jane?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I don’t even know if it’s possible.”
I was frightened for her. I gave her the only thing I had. “Jane, I’m forty-three years old. I’m not sure you can understand this, but if someone had told me even a year ago that I’d be married and an expectant father, frankly, I’d have questioned their sanity. There are certain. . . discomforts that I have to work out for myself, but I am happy. Happiness doesn’t always mean getting what you want.”
She finally looked at me. “Do you mean I shouldn’t try to get what I want?”
“I’m saying you should think very seriously about it first.”
“All right, Uncle Jack,” she said, turning back to the dolphins. “I’ll think about it.”
I left her there, gazing out to sea.
* * * * * * * * *
Jane didn’t wake up the next morning. Dolores and I went to her in answer to Harry and Susan’s summons. Jane lay in her bed, unresponsive. Harry pricked her toe - she didn’t even flinch. Dolores pried open one eyelid, “Did you see this Harry? It looks like she’s in REM sleep. Has she been like this the entire time?”
Harry nodded. “Since Sue tried to wake her this morning. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“What’s REM sleep?” I asked.
“Dream sleep,” Dolores answered. “It usually only last a few minutes, but Jane’s apparently been in it for hours.” She turned to Harry. “I think we’d better get her to a hospital.”
I put in my two cents worth. “I don’t think that will make any difference.”
“Do you know what’s going on here, Jack?” Harry asked me with hope on his dark face. It’s still a surprise the way these people accept me.
“I’m not sure, but I’d like to try something, if you can give me a few hours. I hope it won’t take that long.”
It must have seemed awfully strange to them when all I did was go home and go to bed.
Have you ever tried to go to sleep? Then you know how difficult it is. I tossed and turned for what seemed like hours before falling into a fitful doze.
As I hoped, a dream came, accompanied by a surer presence than I had felt before. Impatiently, I demanded of it, “You let her go!” only to find the contact broken and myself awake again.
I pounded the mattress in frustration, and Dolores came to me. “It’s the dreams, isn’t it?” She brushed the hair back from my forehead. “Janie’s been having them, too.”
I put my arms around her. I could feel our child kicking fiercely. “I only hope I can help her.”
“Can I come with you?”
I touched her face. “I don’t think so. But thank you.”
I fell asleep in my wife’s embrace. Have I told you that I love her very much?
* * * * * * * * *
The contact was gentler this time, and I was calmer. The images were brighter and stronger than any I had yet experienced, and I was afraid that I was going to wake up again. As I felt the same sure presence, I grabbed onto it as firmly as I could. I sensed pain, and loosened my hold somewhat. “Eli?” I asked.
I felt a plea for help, a sense of desperation and an almost unbearable loneliness. We sped seaward, and the experience was incredible. I felt the sea slide over our skin like silk as we moved smoother and swifter than the sleekest sports car. We came upon Judith and Jane far out to sea. Judith was barely floating - she seemed to have difficulty breathing, and when Eli joined us together, she was a constant scream of pain in my mind. Eli emitted shrill cries as we circled her, supporting her in the water. The force of his love for her was as nothing I had ever shared before.
“Uncle Jack,” Jane said, her mind joining ours, “help us!”
“You have to let go, Jane,” I said. “You’re hurting Judith.”
She whimpered, “I want to stay here.”
I’ve never been known for my patience, and I lost it now. “You’re acting like a child, Jane. You’ll kill Judith if you don’t let go. Is that what you want?”
She recoiled from me as though I had slapped her. With a parting cry of pain and regret, we were three; gratitude, and I was alone.
Dolores held me as I wept - without questions, which was good, as I’m not sure I could have explained my tears. When Eli and Judith parted from me, they left behind something - a memory, a glimpse of what their life was. Always alone, unique among their kind, they had come to us looking for an understanding we could not give them. Yet they were not without joy, that precious thing that Jane had felt and longed to possess. I hope they find what they’re looking for.
* * * * * * * * *
The cove was empty. Jane stood on the dock, staring out to sea, just as I had last seen her. Harry and Susan stood a small distance away, watching her, and I went to them first.
Susan embraced me. “I don’t know what you did, but thank you.”
I noticed for the first time several gray hairs among the dark. “If Jane doesn’t tell you, I will.” I went to Jane and put my arm around her shoulder.
“Oh, Uncle Jack, I’ve messed up so bad.” She turned and wept into my jacket.
“We all make mistakes, Jane,” I said, sounding trite, even to myself.
“They’re gone. They left because I hurt them.”
“No. They left because they were hurting you.”
She looked up into my face as though to check the veracity of my assertion. Her tears ceased.
“There’ll be others,” I said, although whether I meant dolphins or dreams, even I wasn’t sure.
She turned back to the cove. “It won’t be the same.”
I followed her gaze. I was going to miss them, too. “No. It won’t. Maybe it will be better.” She took my hand and I returned her to her parents, then I went home and began writing this story.
For my own daughter, I hope. I’m not sure what I hope for, maybe just hope.