– Danny’s Song – Fierce Fiction by Alan MacLeod –
The pale-blue sky stretches to the horizon, broken up here and there by tendrils of white scudding along like wispy phantoms. Louisa is deep in conversation with Tom-in-her head as she sprints along the white sand. Why are you out running in the heat of the day? he says, because it feels good, she replies. She sees him down the beach under the only shade tree around, neck constricted, shoulders hunched over some little piece of electronics. He looks like he’s praying to the god of meekness. He’s sporting a Greek fisherman’s cap, and Louisa wonders if it’s the same one their son Danny wore when they took him to the beach. The cap strikes a hipster note in contrast to the conservative greys and whites hanging on his slender frame. There’s a submissiveness in his hunch, though his thumbs are doing a jive dance on the keyboard. In her head she says, Get off the phone. Chase me. Play with me. Help me find myself again!
Through the heat haze she watches him pour from a pitcher of ice water into a glass, and chug the whole thing down. His pale skin is drawn tight across his cheekbones, and abounds with black stubble. He lifts a book from the stand beside him and settles back with it like some penitent child forgiven his sins.
Turning, she heads back up the beach, dodging around the oncoming flood tide. She feels the power of the ocean in motion, and struggles to stay out of its grip in the wet sand. A runner rears up in front of her, cutting diagonally across her path. For a minute she mistakes the long, loping stride for Danny’s, but then shakes her head and hangs on as a wave of grief crashes over her. Her heart is pounding. She pulls up, hands on knees, head hanging down between her legs, long black hair curtaining her face. She breathes deeply. Gradually, she evens out, and the wave subsides. Tom cups his hands, shouting something at her, but the wind drags it away. Just as well.
“Shit,” she groans. Now he’ll think I’m coming apart again. She straightens up, forces a smile, and waves at him. The one place where she didn’t expect this collapse was on her daily beach run. She feels like a drum beaten on to another’s rhythm. Then she falls back into the trot again, and a familiar blankness encroaches. She loves the deletion, the vacancy, that beautiful space. To know that silence is enough right now.
And so she continues. Gradually, some thoughts begin to bubble up unbidden. There’s a clarity to them that hints at deepness. She hates feeling dependent on Tom to manage, on anybody. Living in her world right now sticks her in or out of reliance; running from it or sinking into it like quicksand. I’ve got two selves and they’re fighting for control. She can’t sort it out.
Coming up to that place where she can see the house, her stomach lurches, and she can feel the tears welling up. It’s an ordinary beach house. Grey cedar shingles, smothered with climbing purple wisteria, windows peeking out like children emerging from a forest. She knows that if she gives into tears right now she’ll drown in them. Picking up the pace, she stumbles, rights herself with a curse, and flies on with mincing steps to keep her balance. A part of her wants to march back and pound on the door. Let what happens happen. But, she keeps going, scrambling faster on some path that ruts along in its sameness, not promising anything. Am I actually going anywhere?
She feels the anger building, always her saviour. Gritting her teeth, and indulging, no encouraging, welcoming, the growing hot flame inside her. The familiar images of carnage and destruction burst forth. It’s obsessive, but she needs something she can bash around, wrestle with, do some damage to. A release of sorts. It stops that feeling of naked rawness that she is so intimate with. It’s making me crazy though, this war, this awful bloody battle. I need to get well. She grimaces with the pain in her guts, but combats it. Then comes a hollowness, a feeling of being spooned out by someone, like a melon. She flops down on the sand, numb and disgusted with herself. There she is sitting on the sand like some rejected lover, longing for her son, whom she knows won’t be coming.
She’s looking but not seeing. It’s a familiar cycle. She focuses on her thumping heart, her breathing, trying to ground herself, stop the abyss from eating her up. My heart knows how to slow the beat.
She begins to drift in and out of herself, her body swaying. Random thoughts and pictures jump in and out with her. If I were smart, she thinks, I would have done lots differently. Then the image of Danny and Tom running through the surf, laughing and splashing, joy hanging out lightly on their upturned faces. I want that again. She rides along with them for a minute, a half smile turning up the corners of her mouth. But then she feels tense. This is not a story about delight. A shiver shoots up her spine. It’s complicated. And it makes her sick where her guts meet her head. She forces herself up onto her feet, fighting the lethargy, and stamping in frustration, trying to dislodge the malady.
A flash of reflected light down the beach grabs her attention. She feels a flutter within, a bit of traction, direction, takes her. She struggles and wobbles into a disjointed jog. As she closes in, she can see a grey shape floundering in the shallows, scattering sand and water everywhere. Something starts to scream in her chest, bouncing around her belly, and back up. It feels like there’s a beast inside of her sleeping with one eye open, and too easily prodded into action. But, she knows she needs it.
She lumbers up onto the beach in front of the creature, exhausted and confused. She stares helplessly, trying to make sense of what she’s seeing. Then it hits her. It’s a dolphin, alone and beached. This was Danny’s favourite animal; he spent hours reading about, and studying them. He loved them. She gasps, raising her hand to her mouth, with her stomach lurching and threatening to rise up. She quickly scans the beach in both directions- nobody in sight. Not knowing what to do, she quietly says, “Hello.” The watery struggle continues, unabated. Louder this time, “Hello, please stop, I’ll help you!” She wants to say, I’ll do whatever it takes to get you out of this, just hold on, don’t give up, till I figure this out. The way she wanted someone to do for her when she was drowning, sinking, and flailing in her heartbreak. She can’t quite bring herself to talk out loud like this.
She takes a hesitant step into the water. It’s almost too much. She needs the purpose of the rescue, but is in way over her head. The flurry worsens as she takes another small step and waits, hands-on-hips, for something else to happen. Strange, she thinks, my chest is loosening, I’m not so scared. She pulls herself together a bit more, and steadies her gaze on the dolphin. A bit of curiosity breaks through her distress, and she focuses it on the creature. Maybe she needs to just try and be with her for awhile. She starts to hum, then sing the first tune that comes into her head. It strikes her that it’s a tune she and Danny used to sing together driving along in the car. Very comforting.
The dolphin eases a bit, then suddenly, her muscles ripple and spasm. Louisa spooks and jumps back triggering another round of struggle in the animal, this time accompanied by clicks and whistles. Louisa looks down the beach to remind herself that she’s safe and still near to her old familiar world. This convinces her, and she again begins to hum and sing to the dolphin. After several moments an odd thing happens. The dolphin stills, raises her head, and meets Louisa’s eyes with a soft, but penetrating gaze. Louisa startles at the intelligence she sees there. Something else registers and passes between them.
At first she is uncertain and confused about what this is. Some sort of code is happening. She lowers herself down into the water, and holds the dolphin’s stare. A very interesting and compelling secret is being telegraphed through those alert, but strangely compassionate eyes. Louisa lets her mind clear, and her head fall. Then she looks again. There’s a calming, mind-to-mind energy transfer going on. No, it’s in her heart too. Louisa feels the shock of it hitting there. A very private communication, meant only for her. It’s as if she is being filled back up, made whole again. This is mystifying and wonderful. She’ll leave it for another day to figure it out.
Right now there’s a task at hand. Suddenly, she’s swamped with a terrible deja-vu; she remembers almost drowning as a child. The more she fought the worse it got. She looks at the dolphin, and thinks, we can’t force this. There’s that shiver up her spine again. Be careful, she thinks. Her mind is chattering. She notices that the sea is rolling in like some monster turning over. She’s up to her knees in it now, and sees that the dolphin is moving differently with the tide. There’s a slackening of the muscles, followed by beautiful, whole body undulations and twists. Almost like some different creature has taken over the helm. Louisa leans back out of the way, yet throws out her hand at the same time. The dolphin swivels her head around to see her, like some animated, muscular corkscrew. Now, now, go! Louisa thinks, just as she is blindsided and tossed by another marauding breaker.
She’s upside down, sputtering, and choking. Then she loses any sense of orientation and can feel herself grabbed and tossed by the undertow. She’s panicking, and blindly fighting a losing battle with a swirling, smashing chaos. Like before, the more she brawls and opposes, the worse it gets. She can’t help herself; she won’t go down easy. Part of her can’t believe that it’s come to this: her final moments squandered in an unforgiving, hostile hellhole. Another part is aware of her mind unspooling and spewing forth the pictures of her life. Childhood, youth, motherhood, all flashing past, with Danny coming clear to her in a way he never has before. His essence startles her as his separateness hits home to her. He was and is his own person, his own man. He has that smile that he gets when she needs to be reassured that he’s okay. Thank God, tumbles through her brain. She feels the relief, and then it’s like a door closes. She’s back into the drowning, and with her final breathe, surrenders.
An awareness of being pushed, prodded and lifted comes, followed by the feeling of strong hands grasping and tugging at her. She hears shocked voices coming in snatches. “Did you see what I saw?….dolphin lifting and pushing her in…where did it go?” In and out she goes, sliding and climbing up. She pulls herself back in from wherever she’s been. It’s like she was really gone. She convulses. She’s on the sand, gasping and coughing, Tom pumping her chest. She throws up an awful sour mess. What happened? blasts through her mind. Yet, even in the midst of her great confusion and distress, she feels that something has been set in motion.
She turns her head to the sea. Is she imagining it? Maybe. At least in her minds eye, she sees the dolphin hovering on the horizon with those wise eyes trained on her. “You’re going to be okay,” they seem to be saying. “You’re back on your path.” She believes it. She believes it because she has given of herself and been given to in return. She believes it because everything is becoming clear and real again. But, most of all she believes it because her heart feels it’s true.
About the Author of Danny’s Song – Alan MacLeod
Alan MacLeod is a writer and psychologist living in Bruce County where his family emigrated in 1852. He belongs to writers groups which inspires and encourages, but his top reader is his wife Barbara. He feels honoured to be published in Dreamers, which is a journal of heart and soul.–
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