Sunday, April 18, 2010

One Day by the Sea

This post is in honour of my father's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I couldn't be there in person this year, but I was there in spirit. And as one of those solemn and awkward blonde kids, I hope this story will give you some insight into how much that day meant to me, as well as to you both.

Herb and Ailsa swam towards their summer cove, for what seemed to Herb like the thousandth time. The morning sky was a pale grey as Herb idly broached the surface, taking a quick breath before returning to his spouse.

"I still think we should have stayed home. The water isn't any warmer here."
"Yes, Dear", Ailsa said, almost automatically.
"And you know, Hank was going to take us out to visit that new wreck he found. I wanted to see that..."
"I know Dear. It will still be there when we return, I'm sure"
Herb opened his beak as if he was about to speak, and then thought the better of it. They swam on together in silence.

The summer cove had been a longstanding part of Ailsa's family tradition, and not even Herb's staunch grumpiness could sour the anticipation she felt as they arrived in sight of the brown rocks that marked the headland. The annual trip back to the cove was always a touchstone for Ailsa. Each sandy path through the rocks brought with her a childhood memory - her sisters bravely daring each other into difficult and more dangerous underwater caves, her father calling her home as the day faded. Strange and delicious new foods. Late nights with the pod, laughing in the moonlight. But most of all, the cove brought a kind of security for her. No matter what Herb's position was, she would be here. And Herb knew that as well as anyone. With an extra spring, she leapt high out of the water, taking the time to survey the familiar yellow cliffs and scraggy casurina trees that clung to the windswept sides of the cove.

The tide was particuarly high, as it always was this time of year, and as Herb sluggishly chased a school of Tailor off towards the deeper waters, Ailsa ventured a little further into the cove, where the swell was starting to break. Kicking her tail, she nestled perfectly into the curl of the wave, and felt the warm sun on her dorsal fin as the wave propelled her forwards, faster, and faster, into a salty white foam. Again she leapt from the water with excitement, with scant regard for her age, like a dolphin 30 years younger. It was on this brief flight that she noticed the crowd out on the beach. It was strange to see so many humans crowded onto the lonely beach of the cove. And what was even stranger, was that they were all so quiet. It was a golden sunny day, and save for a few fluffy cumulus clouds, the sky was the deep blue of late summer. Perhaps it was just the memories of her reckless youth, but Ailsa found herself intrigued. She slowly swam closer, away from the breaking waves, up one of those sandy paths between the rocks. Carefully rising above the surface, she could here the speaking tones of a single human. The noises they made were so strange...

As she rose, Ailsa could see the humans had arranged themselves into a strange formation - a male and female were touching their bony flippers together in the centre of the congregation. Alongside the female were more females, clutching flowers, and three blonde haired children stood beside the male, looking solemn and awkward. A gaggle of spectators watched enthusiastically. A single human addressed the male and female in the center:

"...Do you Ian, take Catherine to be your Lawful Wedded Wife? To have and to hold, in sickness and in health?..."

There was more muttering and strange staccato sounds from the humans. Surely, Ailsa thought, this was some kind of courtship ritual. A human bonding. Ailsa's thoughts went immediately to the day that she and Herb were bonded before the pod. Surely, to a human, that would look just as curious as this? Ailsa turned, and let out the familiar clicking sound to alert Herb that she was nearby. A click returned through the water:

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm still coming. There's plenty of food here."

Ailsa again poked her head above the water. There was more talking, and then the Male grasped the Female between his flippers, and pressed his flat beak up against the beak of his new spouse...

The thunderous applause, and cheering noises that immediately followed caused Ailsa to shoot below the surface, and swim against the waves back to the safety of deeper water. In her haste, she didn't notice Herb, returning with a beakfull of Tailor.

"Hey! What's the rush?" Herb looked concerned at her flighty demeanour, as she collided with his side.

"Oh, it was... Nothing..." Ailsa had to settle from the unexpected noise, she felt dizzy from overbreathing.

"Well, there's lots of great food to be had out there. I uh, caught you some. And you know what, I think maybe the water is a little warmer. I haven't felt this speedy in months!"

Ailsa turned to look at her spouse of 25 years. Fish was hanging out of his beak. He had that same hangdog expression that he was wearing when Ailsa had first met him, same furrowed brow. On the spur of the moment, she swam alongside him, and clasped his torso with her flippers. She pressed her beak up against his beak.

"My darling", she said warmly, "Happy Anniversary"

"Happy wha? Get off me, have you lost your mind? Hey!" Herb struggled against the unfamiliar embrace.

By the time he had struggled free, his Wife had snatched the catch from his mouth and he found himself staring as she flipped her sassy tail to disappear into the deeper waters of the cove.

Grinning, he swam after her.