Sunday, Short Story by James Strauss
Short Story By J. Strauss
The boy sat on the sand atop the low rocks, staring down into clear lapping water. He carefully lowered his small hand down until it was just beneath the surface. He waited. There it was again. A solid thrumming vibration. It lasted for a few seconds before it was gone. The boy pulled his hand out, and then gently wiped it on his “T” shirt. The shirt had been a gift from his grandfather on his eighth birthday. In big red letters on the front it said ‘NEVER ON SUNDAY,” which only made sense because of his name. When he’d been a child, the boy and his twin had been called ‘two scoops of an ice cream Sundae,’ by someone. His brother had been called Ice Cream for a while after, and he’d been Sundae.
Nobody called his brother Ice Cream anymore, but the Sundae nickname had never gone away. He hand signed to people that his name was Peter, but they called him Sunday in spite of his communications. The confectionery spelling of the word had somehow changed to the day of the week, over time.
He watched a dark shape flow through the beautiful lagoon. It swam underwater most of the way. Occasionally there would be a flourish at the surface, and then the shape would continue moving back and forth across the lagoon, just beneath the surface, only a slight undulating swell indicating there was anything under the water at all.
Peter was not afraid. He knew they would come back for him. It was his own fault, being left on the island. The boat had been crammed with families, with kids all over the place, and his father had been in suite while his mother had been in another. The vacation plan had been made that way because his parents were getting a divorce. Peter stayed in his Dad’s cabin, but not really. It was too hard to not cry about what was happening to his family, and most of the other kids aboard played and slept all over the boat, anyway. Plus he was a twin. He could understand how his family hadn’t missed him. He was used to it, being both a twin and deaf. He lived in his own world his mother said, in spite of her having taught him to read lips and use sign language years before.
His brother hadn’t gotten sick when he was a baby so he could hear just fine, whatever hearing really was. Peter understood hearing, just as he could remember never having ‘heard’ anything, but he couldn’t understand what it really might be like. People could feel vibrations with their ears like Peter could see with his eyes. He knew that it must be really neat to ‘hear’ but he also didn’t feel bad about being deaf. Peter noticed things other people didn’t, like the vibrations in the water. The dark moving shape in the lagoon was talking to Peter. He knew it. He just didn’t know what the animal was or what it was saying.
The sun wasn’t very hot and he had a tan, so he stayed by the lagoon. He wasn’t going to make the mistake of crawling into the thick undergrowth that ran like band across the length of Green Island. Exploring the bracken up from the beach had caused him to be left behind. Peter knew the boat would come back. He was just afraid none aboard would remember what island they’d left him on. The boat had made many stops the day before. It was on a special excursion up into the unexplored northern islands of the Hawaiian chain.
The night hadn’t been so bad. Peter loved Hawaii. It was warm and the soft winds and rough sand were wonderful. The water was so clean it made him feel like he could drink it. But he knew better. Being thirsty was no excuse for drinking seawater his Dad had repeated to him when he’d tasted it a couple of times. But there was no fresh water on Green Island, not that Peter had found, and he wouldn’t go back into the bushes, unless it was just near the edge to relieve himself. He knew he needed water.
He was hungry, but his Dad had once told him that a survivor of a shipwreck, left not too far from the island Peter was on, had gone over a month without anything to eat. The boat would be back long before a month went by, Peter just knew. He stuck his hand back in the water. The moving animal ‘talked’ to him right away. Peter signaled hello back by folding his right thumb into his palm and then waving outward under the water. He pulled his hand out quickly when the thing swam toward him. It was so big. Peter cringed away from the water, wondering if the sea animal might come up onto the sand and get him. But it didn’t.
It finally came close enough for Peter to glimpse it clearly as it passed. It was a dolphin. He’d seen them on television many times and once in real life at Sea Life Park when they were on the island of Oahu. It was bigger than he thought it should be, but then he’d never seen one so close. The dolphin slowed and stuck its head out of the water, half of its body really, and then vibrated wildly at Peter. It backed up and sank as it vibrated. It did the same thing, over and over again, as if waiting for Peter to understand some mysterious message.
“What do you want?” Peter signed, using both hands, but the dolphin didn’t change what it was doing, or the vibration it was sending.
“I don’t understand,” he signed in resignation. After awhile the animal left to swim in circles before returning.
The afternoon came and went. Peter grew thirstier. He knew the sun and wind were drying him out but he didn’t know what to do about it. He felt so alone and tired. The dolphin was all he had. At the park people had been swimming with the dolphins. They had all looked so happy, but his Dad said he was too young when he’d asked to try it. Before the sun began to set Peter made a decision. Waving hello with his right hand under the water, he moved off the rocks to stand in the lagoon. The water was only up to his waist. He shivered out of fear, as the dolphin approached. Then he lurched backward in near terror when it brushed against his right knee.
Peter slapped the surface of the water. The dolphin swam quickly to the other side of the lagoon where it could not be seen. Peter watched for many minutes, but the animal didn’t come up for air. Peter began to worry that it might somehow be gone, although the lagoon was closed in by a reef and didn’t seem to have any way out. He wondered how the dolphin got into it in the first place.
All of a sudden, seemingly from nowhere, the dolphin swam rapidly by the boy, leaped through the air and landed on the sand near the rocks. It vibrated rapidly, bobbing its head up and down while craning around to stare at the boy with one big eye. A sizable fish fell from its mouth, flopping onto the sand. With a few twisting shifts of its great bulk the dolphin jerked itself off the sand and bounced with a huge splash back into the lagoon, where it disappeared with a multi-colored flashing of reflected light.
Peter climbed to where the fish lay, still moving, as if it was trying to imitate the dolphin’s escape maneuver. The fish was bitten almost in half. Peter’s salivary glands filled his mouth with liquid. He was terribly hungry. The meat of the fish looked just like the sushi his Dad had introduced him to at Nick’s Fish Market on Oahu. The chef there had really liked Peter. He’d liked him even better when Peter kept asking for more of his small chunks of wrapped Ahi and raw crab bits.
Peter waited for the fish to stop moving. Then he poked it several times. Satisfied, he grasped the back part of the fish, separated it from the front, and then washed it thoroughly in the water of the lagoon. Finally, and very gingerly, he held it up in both hands. He took a bite of its flesh. Then another bite. Once he began eating it he couldn’t stop. He chewed, clawed, and then scraped pieces of the flesh free of skin, bone and other stuff on the inside.
He didn’t sit down until he was done. His little stomach swooped outward like a beach ball when he finally lay down to watch the sun set. Peter made sure the few edible remains of the head of the fish were near his feet when he closed his eyes, but his last thoughts before sleep took him were about the dolphin. It had given him a fish to eat and it had provided him with company. His last thought was about how he might be able to teach the dolphin sign language, even though the animal had only flippers, instead of hands and fingers like a human being.
Another day passed. Another fish was provided by the dolphin. During the long daylight hours Peter learned to swim with the rapidly moving animal. Actually, he didn’t swim. He held onto the dolphin by grasping one fin firmly with both of his small hands. The dolphin took him around the lagoon many times. Somehow it knew just how fast it could go without Peter being forced from it by the pressure generated by the speed. Peter’s face hurt from grinning while he was gliding around on the rides. In spite of his tan he was sunburned, but he was no longer dehydrated or hungry. Somehow, he realized, the fish the dolphin provided had enough water in it to keep him from being too thirsty.
The lagoon was a closed in body of water. Riding on the dolphin had proved that. Peter finally realized that the animal was trapped inside the lagoon. There was no way out. A storm must have somehow thrown the it high enough to go over the reef.
“Maybe you got left behind like me,” Peter signed, when he was once more sitting in the sand by the side of the pool. The dolphin floated contentedly nearby, poking its head out of the water every once and awhile. Peter liked signing underwater. He’d never done that before becoming friends with the dolphin.
The helicopter came on the morning of the third day. There was no warning, except the dolphin raced away for no reason and disappeared into the deepest part of the lagoon. He felt the awful presence of the machine before he saw it. Peter’s whole universe shook wildly, and then the sand around him formed a tornado and spun madly about him. Peter cowered, wrapping his arms about his body, burying himself in what was left of the beach.
He peeked out under his arm when the pain and shaking began to subside. The big monster of a helicopter filled his field of vision between the lagoon and the thick band of vegetation. The giant rotor on top of the thing continued to spin, but generated no more wind. A man in a helmet and rough looking green uniform walked out from the helicopter.
He held out one hand to Peter.
“You must be Sunday,” he said, confidently. Peter read his lips easily, and then nodded, thinking that it was not a good time to correct the man about his name.
The man motioned with one hand for Peter to approach. Peter shook his head. He stood and pointed at the lagoon. The man said something back toward the helicopter but Peter couldn’t read his lips. He turned to face the boy again.
“I know you can’t hear me,” he mouthed the words, slowly. “We know about the dolphin. We could see it from the air. We’ll come back and get it out of the lagoon after you come with us.” The big smiling man held out his hand.
Peter shook his head as before, and pointed at the lagoon, as before.
The big uniformed man seem to think for a moment, the lower part of his forehead, revealed under his green helmet, wrinkling into a deep frown.
“I’m an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Have you heard of the Marine Corps?” the big man asked, leaning down so Peter could see his lips more clearly.
Peter nodded his head, smiling up at the man for the first time.
“I promise you, on the word of an officer of the United States Marine Corps, that we’ll come back and get your dolphin out. Is that good enough?”
Peter thought for a few moments before taking the man’s hand with his own. With his right he signed with a bent thumb toward the lagoon to say goodbye, then patted his mouth and gestured outward to thank the animal for all it had given him.
From the door of the departing helicopter Peter looked down upon the lagoon. The dolphin was a visible blur near its center. Instinctively, the boy looked at the side of the pilot’s helmet. Without looking back, the pilot raised his fist, then let his thumb slowly rise up into the air. Peter smiled down toward the swimming dolphin as the helicopter flew him away.
Somehow he knew he’d meet the dolphin again.
“My name is Peter,” Peter thought to himself. “I’ll call you Sunday.
Sunday the dolphin.”