Chapter One: The Dolphin
One day there lived a dolphin in warm water off the coast of America. She didn't have a name, because she was a dolphin, but she did have a mother. Still she was lonely and wanted a friend.
Hey, Isaac, let's play a game.
Monopoly! I'll be the giraffe!
No, not that sort of game. Let's make up a story game. They both knew well what she meant, having played similar games (a cross between playing house and acting out a play) many times before.
He was silent, sucking a little on his thumb.
Let's see... which one should we do? Schoolteachers? Bakers? No, those are boring and besides, Mom won't let us in the kitchen. She felt very grownup, calling her mother Mom, far older than her six years.
Now, thinking, she flung herself to the rug in the living room where they had been sitting. It was blue, with horizontal stripes, and had always reminded her of the ocean. Lily was sort of afraid of the ocean. It was large and deep and quiet and sharks lived there. Not to mention small fish which nibbled on your toes when you weren't looking.
Lily liked to attribute her fear of the ocean to the time when she almost drowned. It was three years before, and she had been sitting in the sand of a beach (she forgot which one), right in front of the ocean, tasting the salty spray as it hit her face. Only she sat too close, or maybe she fell, and the next thing she knew she was suffocating, choking on water and thrashing around in the shallow water trying to find air. Her mother had come to rescue her immediately, and picked her up out of the cresting waves, but she was still a little scared. Not a lot scared, but too scared to swim anywhere other than in the safe, clean pool.
Let's play Dolphins, she said now, sitting up on the rug. It had been giving her a feeling of vertigo, lying down on such an ocean-like expanse.
I'm not a dolphin, though, her brother pointed out.
Okay, you can be a boy, Lily said impatiently. But you have to have a reason for being in the ocean with a dolphin.
Isaac shrugged. I don't know.
Lily was frustrated. She wanted to play this game, was really liking the idea now, but Isaac wasn't cooperating and thinking of a realistic character. She knew he would just quit the game if she didn't let him have his way, though.
she said, thinking out loud. You were swimming... no, you were shipwrecked. You were on a Cruise--
What's a Cruise?
It's a boat, said Lily. I read about it in a book. Now shush, I'm trying to make a game here. She paused, and moved off the rug, standing to survey the set of the game. Couch, with useful cushions, blue rug, ottoman, armchair and piano, looming in a corner of the room. On the right, a stairway to the entrance hall.
Okay. You go over there on the couch-- he did so, dangling his legs off the edge.
Is this the boat? he asked, looking down at the blue rug.
No, it's the island where you get shipwrecked... the boat is that ottoman over there. Lily had just changed her mind about that. Her brother obligingly moved to the ottoman and sat down on it cross-legged, pretending to turn a wheel.
What are you doing?
Driving my boat, he replied, squinting into the imaginary wind.
You don't DRIVE a boat, Lily said with a long-suffering sigh. You steer it. And anyway they wouldn't let a little boy steer a boat.
Well, they let me, Isaac proclaimed.
All right, then, Lily said. You were allowed to steer the boat for a minute while the captain went to eat lunch. And you got cramps from eating and fell in! And nobody knew where you were or they would come to get you... come on, let's do it. Yeah, fall-- like this--
her brother wailed as he landed with a thump on the floor. Lily rushed over and hovered uncertainly.
Oh, come on, she said uncomfortably, listening for the sounds of approaching parents. You're fine, quite whining.
Luckily, it turned out he was, and after a minute he was arranged in a suitably frantic state on the blue rug-cum-ocean, thrashing about and trying to look as though he was drowning. In the meantime, the rug got a little rumpled and Lily ran to straighten it before becoming the dolphin, her own character.
Okay, arms at the sides-- they have flippers-- legs together for the tail. Head nodding as she had seen at Sea World in a dolphin show. Little squeaky echolocation sounds (she knew what echolocation was, pretty much). And... jump in the water.
For a moment she stood frozen, squeaking, flapping, jerking and generally approximating dolphinhood. Isaac turned to her, face red from the exertion of drowning, and sat up, slightly indignant. With a deep breath, she lowered herself to her knees, feeling the rough carpet wrinkle. She let out the breath at the touch of it, which began to feel smoother as she belly-crawled over to save Isaac.
This was where the playing ended and the becoming began.
The dolphin swam up to the thrashing boy.
Are you all right? she spoke in a half-whistle, nudging him with her nose.
No, I'm drowning! he cried, gulping at the air, through some miracle able to understand and communicate with the dolphin.
Oh my goodness. I'll save you, said the dolphin, tucking him under one flipper.
They swam for a time, and eventually made it to a convenient island. The sand was white and on top was a single tree. The boy dragged himself up the steep beach and lay down the sleep, and the dolphin went off to hunt for some fish.
The ocean was deep and dark and cold, but the dolphin was unafraid. Boldly she charged into the murky depths of the sea, hunting the small delicious fish buried like treasure under the dark blue water.
The water was very, very dark, and very, very deep. And the boy was sleeping in complete silence.
cried Lily, surfacing.
She had been frightened for a moment, feeling herself truly alone under the dark waves, alone and bereft. Her brother had not spoken a word or moved and it had scared her, the silence, the solitude.
Isaac asked sleepily, lifted his head from the pillow on which it had been resting and extricating his thumb from his mouth.
Um, I just wanted to know if you were asleep, Lily told him hastily.
Well, I was asleep, until you woke me up, he said, settling down to suck his thumb again.
It's babyish. You're just a big baby, Lily said. And how could you fall asleep? The boy has to wake up again to eat the fish, and you didn't. You didn't wake up.
I did wake up. Isaac looked at her, eyes wide. I did!
Well, you weren't supposed to fall asleep, not really, Lily told him.
I thought the boy was s'posed to fall asleep though, Isaac said from around his thumb.
Well, you shouldn't have done it really.
I thought this was real, said Isaac.
It is, it's just-- just-- oh, how can I explain this to you! Lily gestured in a motion she thought constituted throwing up one's hands.
They were silent for a few moments.
Isaac, Lily! Dinner! came the call from their mother, in the kitchen.
Coming, Mom, Lily said.
She turned to Isaac, eyes wide and mischievous.
Race you to the kitchen!
She started off immediately, leaving Isaac to scramble off the couch and follow at a slower, but no less frenzied, pace. His yells of It's not fair! You got a head start! bothered her not in the slightest.
Lily said brightly, hopping up onto one of the comfortable wicker kitchen chairs.
So what? asked her father, looking at her over his magazine.
Just so. Lily shrugged, and he smiled, waiting.
she said, sighing at a world in which fathers insisted on knowing what one did at playtime, we were playing.
her father prompted.
Isaac rushed in.
She cheated! he proclaimed, pointing to Lily.
Cheated at what? asked their mother, turning from the stove.
he puffed, sticking his thumb into his mouth.
their mother said warningly.
You should be nice to your brother, Lily. He's younger than you are.
Well, he's never gonna be OLDER, Lily muttered. It isn't fair.
Isaac, snuffling and sucking his thumb, walked over to their mother and hugged her legs.
said Lily, snorting. Talk about not fair!
You know, said their father, leaning forward across the table to look at her, life isn't fair. he settled back in his chair with the air of one who has just imparted some vital knowledge to an eager student. Lily was unimpressed.
Well, that sucks, then! she said.
Their mother looked shocked.
Sucks isn't a bad word! Lily put her hands on her hips.
Their mother sighed. She looked down at Isaac, still wrapped around her leg. Gently, she pried him off.
You all just sit down, and I'll have the food in a minute, okay? she said, wiping a sweaty tendril of hair off her forehead.
Isaac walked to his place and the table and inched his way up onto the high seat, not saying a word. Lily winked at him, and he smiled, trying to wink back but managing only a slight squint. There was a truce, for the moment.
Their mother delivered the food-- mozzarella sticks and broccoli-- and they ate in silence for a few contented minutes. Then,
He had more mozzarella sticks than me! Lily was outraged.
No I don't!
Yes you do! There were thirteen and you got seven.
No I didn't!
Yes you did!
Okay, okay, their father said soothingly. Here, we'll just take one from Isaac and give it to Lily, all right?
their mother said admonishingly.
Look, can you live with only six mozzarella sticks? The mother turned to look at Lily, one brow raised.
Fine. But next time, I want one more than him.
That's not fair! Isaac cried.
Life isn't fair, their father put in for the second time, ending the discussion.