Obadiah Holt: The Dogwood Legacy, Part III (Sample Chapters)

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Prologue

     Every family, no matter how august, can be traced back to a time when its ancestors behaved neither honorably nor well. For reasons outside the control of any individual, one in a proper instant receives a call to a higher way of life and responds appropriately to found a tradition which is passed down to his or her descendents. Such is the case in the lineage of every righteous personage. Such was the case with the father of Gabriel Solomon.

     Jeremiah Solomon was the first of his wayward clan to reconsider his errant manner of living. He made the transition from disreputable seafaring man to honest farmer well into the first half of his nineteenth century existence and traded the tall masts for the furrowed field, the sailor’s knot for the plow harness. Behind a steady team of oxen, he scratched out a hard living from New England soil near enough the coast that the air often bore the scent of ocean brine. His style of life was strict yet aesthetic, and he regularly consulted a book covered in black leather for advice pertaining to the travails and labors of human existence.

     Though of severe personality, Jeremiah married a kind and gentle soul who went by the name of Rebecca and in whose presence he felt more complete. She bore him five children, two of whom, Gabriel and his younger sister, Sarah, lived to adulthood. Harsh winters claimed the other three, two girls and a boy, whose souls were significant but whose names are irrelevant to our story. Worn out by difficult living, father and mother died while Gabriel and Sarah were still in their twenties, whereupon brother and sister took divergent paths, each according to the dictates of personal inclination.

     Longing to cross the continent, Gabriel followed that inner voice but never made it past the enchantment of the Ozark Mountains. It became rumored among the hillfolk of his day that he encountered and was schooled by avian tutors of supernatural origin, thereby learning the craft of jimplicute hunting. Missing from this popular account were the forging of a harpoon to unearthly specifications and the central role played by the mysterious monarch of those hills. Readers familiar with a previous story will recall that Gabriel’s rescue of a small child he named Jacob would, in turn, lead eventually to Jacob’s intervention in the sad affairs of one Jessica Franklin. This inquisitive, little girl grew into a tall and durable woman and became the spiritual matriarch so influential in the development of her great grandson, Nathan Turner.

     Sarah Solomon accepted a proposal of marriage from Ezekiel Holt, a devout minister of strong beliefs and strange ways. He had once taken ship on a whaling vessel, manning the oars of one of its smaller whaleboats. Though he had not served as a harpooneer, one incident in particular had left him stricken in conscience over his own role in the enterprise of killing whales for commercial profit. What had placed him under conviction was the experience of hearing a whale speak and finding that he could understand it.

     In the moanings of the dying cetacean, a humpback whale caught in its summer feeding grounds of the North Atlantic, he heard not words but emotions and strong impressions. Whales speak in deeply felt images and sense of geography, their songs stirring the primal soul of anyone sensitive enough to listen carefully. In this lament, Ezekiel divined the pain and betrayal of a peaceful creature which had been happily breaching the waves and slapping their surface with its long pectoral fins and powerful flukes prior to receiving the sting of the cruel barb. It was to be the last hunt for this chastened man as it was late in the season. Once ashore, he had refused his wages and taken on odd jobs to support himself.

     Ezekiel had eventually scraped together enough money to enroll in a seminary where he managed to graduate despite vexing his instructors. During the tenure of his pastorate in a whaling port, his church suffered poor attendance due to his habit of making disparaging remarks about the local industry. Enough curiosity seekers, however, would come to hear the man who talked to whales that the minister was able to provide for his wife and their children. Meager contributions to the offering plate were regarded by some as the price of admission. Sermons of the eccentric constituted affordable entertainment while maintaining respectable appearances and fueling humorous tales at the community tavern.

     On Sunday mornings, Sarah would listen to her husband hold forth from the pulpit. On summer Sunday afternoons, she would pack him a modest lunch and watch him row away from the dock of their seaside cottage to receive supplemental material for the following week’s exposition.  On Sunday evenings, she would do the mending by candlelight as he paced the bare floor and gave utterance to what he had learned in resonant groanings beyond comprehension by anyone but himself. Ezekiel mastered the language of the whales and passed the skill on to his children, who faithfully transmitted it to their offspring, and so on down through the generations. Year succeeded year; decade succeeded decade; and century succeeded century until only one practicing descendent remained. His name was Obadiah Holt.

Chapter 1

     In the time and place of Gabriel Solomon and Jacob Leviathan, there were those who believed in the wrong things. In the time and place of Ezra Thomas and Nathan Turner, there were those who believed in almost nothing. This condition of unguarded intellect became even more widespread until the time of Obadiah Holt when there were many who would believe in almost anything. Ignorance and moral uncertainty were prevalent, and international bans on commercial whaling had been instituted and repealed in a recurring cycle of political, economic, and ethical upheaval.

     Even in his early forties, Obadiah was a gray, weathered block of a man, seemingly ageless. His shoulders were broad, his wrists and hands thick, and his legs and back stout. His cragged face and heavy brow concealed a considerable underlying intelligence. The close crop of his hair accentuated a sizeable and square lower jaw. Such were his reticence and his appearance that those who met him often failed to notice his penetrating wit. He was about six feet tall and both stood and walked with a slight forward tilt to his back. Whenever the man stood up, sat down, or negotiated stairs, he did so slowly, owing to his languid manner rather than any physical difficulty associated with middle age.

     The problem, if it may be called that, was that Obadiah Holt was a teacher in need of a student, and his current existence left him feeling unfulfilled in this regard. His occupation as keeper of a coastal New England lighthouse afforded him limited contact with other members of human society, but this was not entirely unacceptable to his reticent personality. Having no one to instruct, he at least had nobody to whom he was obliged to respond except during scheduled inspections.

     Consistent and dependable, occasionally obdurate, this formidable man presented the image of a throwback to a bygone social era. There were, among the relative few who knew him, some who mockingly inferred that he carried in his physique and personality vestiges of humanity’s evolutionary history. That they themselves knew next to nothing about the theory of evolution seemed not to bother them or to serve as cause for beneficial introspection. For his part, Obadiah ignored them and diligently set about turning the life-preserving light on at dusk and off at dawn, surveying conditions of tide and weather, keeping a log, maintaining equipment as well as his living quarters, and repositioning safety buoys as necessary. The last of these responsibilities required that he be an excellent boatman, which he was. Equally at home in a lifeboat or small sailing vessel, both of which were moored to a dock off the rocky promontory on which the lighthouse was constructed, the keeper was in the habit of using his limited free time to sail well out beyond the buoys that he might practice the peculiar craft of his ancestors.

     Though he gave no outward indication, he had a well-developed aesthetic sense, and the beauty of his working environment was not lost on his appreciation. The tall, cylindrical, white tower of the lighthouse led up to a glass-enclosed gallery which was surrounded by a railed balcony and surmounted by a cupola. This, as any right-minded tourist would attest, was in itself attractive, but its appearance was further enhanced by the white-walled, red-roofed cottage which stood next to it. The exterior of the cottage was simple yet elegantly pleasing, the interior spare but comfortable while affording a beautiful ocean view from the windows of various rooms.

     It was from this location that Obadiah Holt conducted his daily life and observed, year in and out, the passing of the seasons. His feelings of incompleteness and loneliness, of having yet to fulfill his main function, were assuaged somewhat by the comeliness of his surroundings. Any frustration was tempered by a patient constitution. As the waves crashed against the rocks, as the tide – in relative synchrony to the sun and moon – rose and fell, he remained ever attentive. In keeping with a sense of assignment, he watched, and he waited.

Chapter 2

     Three quarters of a mile down the road from the lighthouse – demarcating where the promontory met the mainland – was a tall hedge, and beyond this living barrier was the beginning – or end, depending on the direction one was travelling – of a real estate development of nicely over-priced homes. Each of these houses was a little too big for its associated lot, as is completely in custom with the display of wealth rather recently acquired within family histories. A profusion of hedges and wooden privacy fences lent an otherwise attractive claustrophobia to the neighborhood, an unpleasantness that would have gone unnoticed by urban dwellers but which would have been annoyingly obvious to anyone accustomed to the more open spaces of the country.

     The most expensive houses faced a coastal road beyond which could be seen, unobstructed, the boulders and breakers of the shoreline. Subsequent tiers of property became progressively less expensive the farther inland they were situated, and a network of streets connected and arranged them into the familiar residential block system common to so many communities. In one of the relatively less expensive domiciles lived a family which got along reasonably peacefully as long as they were not required to spend much time together. The younger of the two children of this family had special needs in that she could not hear due to a malformation of her middle ear. Her name was Robin Fletcher, and she was three years of age.

     It will be recalled from the prologue of this account that every family has a period of instability and poor behavior somewhere in its checkered history. In some cases, this period precedes one of conscience and general righteousness, but the converse can also be true. So it was with the Fletcher household near the sea. A high tradition of loyalty, unselfishness, and spiritual devotion had been eroded by a generation or so of distraction and neglect along their branch of the family tree. Father and mother were so unaware of what had been lost as to be unable to recover it or transmit it to their offspring.

     Owing to appearance, that most effective of deceptions, one would not have said that these were outwardly reprobate people. They simply made themselves of willful inconsequence and so shall remain nameless. The father worked assiduously in his business dealings and so proved himself a capable provider. This, aside from an uninvolved presence when home, was his one gift to his family. His emotionally distant wife cared more for things than for relationships, and she pretty much considered her maternal responsibilities completed once Robin had mastered the essential skills of lifting a spoon, walking without falling, and completing toilet training. After setting hastily prepared meals on the table, she retired to whatever preoccupations she fancied at the moment and ignored her daughter as long the child did not disturb or annoy her. The neglect fell just shy of a legal definition of abuse. When school let out, she placed the little girl under the supervision of her ten-year-old son from a previous marriage; and he, in his turn, relinquished his wee half-sister to the care of the elements.

     It might truly be said that Robin Fletcher was raised by the weather and tutored by the seasons. Unable to hear, and never having developed the power of speech, she of necessity learned to dress herself, often learning the hard way which outfits were suitable for which conditions. Her precocious independence was possible because of certain qualities she harbored, not the least of which was a keen intelligence. Uncommonly observant, she possessed a long attention span and employed an innate sense of cause-and-effect. Large, long-lashed eyes of bluish gray looked out upon the world from a cute, round face of delicate chin, firm cheeks, and small mouth. Her shoulder length, dishwater blonde hair was thick and crudely brushed by the daughter’s attempts to mimic her mother while the latter sat absorbed in the reflection of a bedroom vanity.

     By order of course, the wind, sun, rain, and snow were Robin’s fleeting companions. She loved the outdoors and would gaze for hours through the living room window when confined by parental whim for childish misbehavior, real or imagined and always unexplained. Communication was deemed too difficult and therefore a waste of time by her elders, so the little girl had learned to resort to the anxious reading of expressions on adult faces to determine what was or was not permissible. When she was free to go where she pleased, Robin’s heart rejoiced at muscular exertion, be it climbing rocks or trees or slapping the soles of her rubber boots against the foam of gentle surf on a tidal flat. That she never came to harm at water’s edge or on precarious heights stands as evidence of the unseen hand that protects so many innocents against the rules of probability. Her arms and legs grew stout, her little hands calloused.

     It was inevitable that restless exploration would someday lead this forsaken and untamed spirit to Obadiah’s lighthouse. This happened during the month of May, following her fourth birthday in March. Up until this time, she had confined her expeditions to the streets and yards of her own neighborhood, much to the disapproval of several property owners who considered a strange child up one of their trees an intolerable burden when added to the debt load of living beyond their means. She had learned which houses to avoid, and the list of available properties for childhood recreation had grown short. For a personality disposed to freedom in motion, the money of others can have a tendency to shut down physical options. Of course, had she been able to read, a profusion of “NO TRESPASSING” signs would have saved her the trouble of divining the attitudes of those residents who had posted them. Driven to ever greater extremes, and enabled by growing strength and stamina, she extended her range.

     On the day in question, Robin’s peregrinations wound generally in the direction of the high hedge bordering the housing development in which she lived. To her childish imagination, this wall of shrubbery somehow appeared more real than the houses at her back as she stared up at it. It also represented an unreasonable impediment to her vision and forward progress. There was but one solution to this unacceptable circumstance. She must have a look into unknown territory.

     In the midst of her examination of this obstacle, she spied a gap and wiggled through to the other side. Before her stood a narrowing peninsula covered in high grass and fringed with rip rap. At the end of this picturesque promontory stood the mystical, white tower, which stood out against a blue sky flecked with clouds. These radiant, white puffs were swept along rapidly by the same wind which caressed Robin’s face and fired her imagination. From her low angle of observation, she could barely make out the margins of the peninsula as well as the road leading up to the lighthouse and its associated cottage.

     Obadiah Holt was working on the pier, repairing some damage that had been done by a late April storm. His sailboat and lifeboat, safely moored, bobbed peacefully on the waves that lapped against the shore. The rise and fall of the water made gentle, plunking noises against the underside of the pier, and the boat hulls squeaked against the bumpers suspended over their sides whenever these thick, plastic cylinders became wedged against the dock. Obadiah fastened down the last of the replacement boards, stood up, and turned to reach for his paint bucket and brush when he saw that he was not alone. Some six feet behind where he had been kneeling, a tiny visitor was standing as she watched him intently.

    “And who might you be?” he inquired in a tone calculated not to encourage a wandering child.

     She did not respond. He tried a different approach.

     “What’s your name, little one?”

     The child continued looking at him carefully but remained silent. She appeared not to have understood his question.

     “How old are you?”

     He found the continuing silence irritating at first, but a look of concern soon creased his already lined features. Playing a hunch, he pointed over her head. When she looked over her shoulder in curiosity, he banged his hammer loudly on one of the vertical, metal pipes supporting the pier. The little girl did not startle. From this lack of reaction, Obadiah surmised that she was at best hard of hearing and at worst completely deaf. She looked back to him with a confused expression on her face. He judged by her worried look that the bulk of her interaction with adults was the avoidance of getting into trouble. He slowly sat down and motioned her to join him. She complied without hesitation.

     From this encounter, the solitary lighthouse keeper was deriving an unexpected sense of purpose. How could he communicate? At her apparent age, his guest was probably unable to read or write, and he was certain that she could not speak. She looked fit enough and was obviously active and inquisitive, or she would not have ventured this far at her tender age. He could not shake the impression that he was currently seated next to an intelligent, uncommonly attentive human being. How did she learn anything at all? The only logical answer seemed to be a combination of observation and imitation, so his starting point would necessarily be the demonstration and acquisition of physical skills.

     Where should they start? How long did he have? Was this child lost or missing from home? He needed to establish trust in order to find out where she lived and to make sure she could return safely. He should teach her something she was interested in learning. Perhaps he could include her in the task at hand. Taking her hand carefully, he led her up to the base of the lighthouse and opened the door of a small room projecting from its side. This was a maintenance shed of sorts, and from a shelf just inside the door he procured an additional, albeit smaller paint brush.

     When they had returned to the dock, Obadiah opened and stirred his can of white paint, looked directly into Robin’s eyes, and demonstrated the correct way to get the right amount of paint on the brush and apply it to the wood of a board he had recently inserted while making his repairs. She clearly enjoyed this activity and applied herself to it in earnest, if not with the same meticulous care as her teacher. Still, the girl learned quickly and demonstrated no small amount of coordination and concentration. Her new friend noted with satisfaction how quickly the quality of her work improved.

     When the job was completed, Robin looked up expectantly as if awaiting further instructions, and Obadiah felt a yearning, empathetic ache from deep in his chest. He did not want this to be the end of their association. Childless since the early death of his wife, he greatly appreciated such young company. Taking her by the hand again, he walked her down the road and toward the hedge. She looked up at him several times for direction, but he simply pointed forward with his free hand. By not letting go with his other, he sought to assure her that he wanted to remain in her company.

     Seeming to pick up on his intent, the little girl walked a few more paces then pulled him as best she could onto the grass. They crossed the field together, and she led him to the gap in the hedge. At this juncture, he released his grip on her hand to see what she would do next. She wriggled through the small hole in the bushes, and he followed, with more than a little difficulty, on his hands and knees. Once he was back on his feet, Robin did something she had not done up to this time. She smiled in surprise and approval.

     The course of their journey went down streets and across back yard fences which the four-year-old showed little difficulty in climbing. Fortunately, nobody in any of the affected properties was home, or at least they did not notice. A child intruder is one thing, but a grown man of Obadiah’s imposing appearance clambering over a fence is quite another. In what might have been interpreted as the greatest possible distance between two points, they eventually came to the house where Robin lived. She seemed reluctant to go inside.

     Weighing his options, Obadiah decided after a moment to try knocking on the front door. It took a number of attempts until he heard movement inside. An attractive woman deserving no further description answered the door. Her expression was one of mild surprise and distracted irritation.

     “Good morning, Ma’am,” he began politely in his gruff voice. “My name is Obadiah Holt. I’m the lighthouse keeper at the end of the peninsula. This little one wandered over to where I was working, and I thought she might be missed.”

     “Oh… I didn’t know she was gone,” was the extent of the answer he received.

     “Well, I don’t want to get her in trouble. She’s a pleasant tyke, and you’re welcome to bring her to the lighthouse for a visit any time you like.”

     “I’m sure she’ll be back.”

     Obadiah was disgusted by the blandness of the woman’s unemotional replies. It was obvious that she was a disinterested mother who had not even bothered herself to thank him. This being the case, he himself had no further use for her, and he felt no sense of obligation to inform her of any future efforts he might make for the benefit of her daughter. His resolve to help Robin was by now firm and unalterable. In fact, it had just become his highest priority. He patted her on the head and nodded briskly toward her unconcerned elder.

     “So goodbye, then.”

     And with that, he was off toward his awaiting tasks, for it was past his normal time for making observations from the gallery below the cupola. It was therefore under these inauspicious circumstances that the education of Robin Elizabeth Fletcher commenced. Though she did not know it, she had been enrolled in Obadiah Holt’s school of philosophy and practical living, and she was to be his only and star pupil. It would never appear on any career application, but her education would be unique and of the highest order.

     Over the next year, the quality of Robin’s life changed irrevocably for the better. It was the first time that anyone had honestly and honorably loved her as she was. Daily, she showed her appreciation by returning to the lighthouse. Her mentor taught her many useful skills in boatmanship and the use of tools, and these she acquired with almost astonishing ease. Except for some necessary experience and adjustment, a physical skill observed was essentially a physical skill learned. Sight, touch, and kinesthesis were the main avenues by which information entered her mind.

     Importantly, Obadiah also taught her to swim and to use a snorkel, and this ability would make possible the most dramatic physical transformation of her life. For the time being, however, she simply enjoyed the freedom and sensation of swimming. The feeling of floating and the movement of water across her skin and through her hair were soothing, and she delighted in unrestricted movement and the partial freedom from gravity afforded by buoyancy. Of course, it had been necessary for her benefactor to purchase the necessary swimming attire.

     Throughout the course of that summer, the sun lightened her hair, and the child grew in strength, stature, and capability. The lighthouse keeper sent her home late each afternoon, but never so late that he could not set sail until he was beyond the sight of land. In the prolonged daylight of the season, he disappeared at least a couple of times a week to commune with his own instructors. In such circumstances, he, too, would be required to learn without the benefit of words.

     Instructional sessions were moved indoors once the weather clouded with gray and turned colder. As Robin gained confidence and became more familiar with his method of instruction, Obadiah began to teach her numbers by pointing to objects such as nails or horses in a picture, one by one, and then writing the associated numerical symbols on a piece of paper for her to reproduce. He would also take her up into the tower while he made his observations, and she learned to use a spotting telescope and binoculars. On those occasions when they were in the cottage, she would stare in fascination at the charts of ocean currents mounted on the good man’s living room wall.

     Spring approached, and a growing sense of apprehension gripped Obadiah. He knew somehow that he was running out of time. Robin’s condition would not be ignored by the authorities once she reached the age of five, for her attendance at some sort of school was mandated by law. Due to her inability to hear, this most certainly meant enrollment at a state school for the deaf, but this was not the real problem. It was obvious that Robin had not learned sign language, and this pointed toward parental neglect. There was a possibility that the local governmental agency overseeing issues of child welfare might eventually pronounce the Fletchers unfit parents and place their daughter in a foster home after conducting the requisite legal proceedings. Though an escalating series of measures must first be taken, Obadiah saw nothing in Robin’s parents that indicated their willingness or ability to satisfy the demands of a caseworker. The thought of his unofficial charge being remanded to the care of the state was entirely unacceptable. Should that happen, he might never see her again. Something had to be done, though, at present, he did not know what.

 Chapter 3

     It was after Robin turned five that Obadiah was seized by a strong inclination. Intuitively, he suddenly knew what to do on behalf of the child to whom he had become so attached. The lighthouse keeper set about his preparations. He went into town and purchased a wetsuit that would fit her. To this he added snorkeling gear similar to that which he already possessed, but with a smaller facemask. A flotation vest had been bought for her the year previous so that she could make short excursions with him in the lifeboat or sailboat. Her progress to date had been good, and the next stage in her development was about to begin. It was time that this little girl experienced his routine on the open water.  The legal liability of such an undertaking was either disregarded or went unconsidered.

     On one of her visits in late May, the little lady could not find Obadiah in his residence and so ran down to the dock in search of him. She discovered him attired in a black wetsuit and packing the small sailboat. He made a swimming motion with his arms, and she dashed back up to the cabin to put on her swimsuit. When she returned, he looked over at her, threw in the last of the equipment, and stepped aboard. It took but a motion of his hand to bring her jumping gleefully into the boat to join him. He helped her put on her wetsuit and strapped on her flotation vest before directing her to a seat on some cushions in the stern. He knew she was a strong swimmer for her age, but she was young enough that he dared not take the risk of her tiring where the depths exceeded her ability to touch bottom by at least hundreds of feet.

     As they sailed out over the waves, her hero tacked skillfully to make use of the wind, and Robin was mesmerized by the swinging of the boom as the sail changed position. They glided farther and farther from land, the movement of their vessel becoming more up and down when they crossed a series of swells driven by the wind. Spray shot up from the bow as water slapped concussively against the hull. Robin looked repeatedly back over her shoulder as the shore shrank into a dark line on the horizon and then disappeared altogether. Her eyes widening, she looked to Obadiah and unconsciously smiled. Never before had she been out this far.

     She looked to her left and beheld a sight new to her eyes. Gray and graceful, dolphins were leaping from the water, their small dorsal fins atop rounded backs. They often approached the boat in a friendly manner, only to resume formation and continue their sport. The display brought laughter typical of the unhearing from the child’s lips. Then there was another amusing development.

     An approaching pod of pilot whales – each member sleek, black, and roughly twenty feet in length – swam directly into the school of dolphins, taking apparent delight in disrupting their formation. Bulbous, black snouts bumped against gray bottlenoses as elegantly coordinated bodies swam around one another in arcs, and all were swept pell mell into a swirling, happy anarchy of smiling, toothy jaws and flapping flukes and fins. Eventually both parties departed in separate directions as if they had been caught and reprimanded.

     The boat sailed on for several minutes. The sun was at its height, and Robin closed her eyes and relished the feel of warmth and salt spray on her face. An invigorating scent of brine fell upon her nostrils. This was one of those eternal moments when time brushes up against timelessness before being forced once again into its normal progression.

     The sea wind, though never ceasing entirely, lessened to near stillness. Inexorably, almost imperceptibly, the atmosphere took on a different feel. It was as if they had penetrated the invisible walls of a vast and solemn chamber. Sensing this, Obadiah let down his sail and allowed their boat to drift. They came to a stop, save for the bobbing of their craft on the shift and swell of the cetacean field.

     Presently, the deck started to resonate such that the deafened child in the stern gave a start as the light breeze combed through her hair, and her young heart virtually swelled out against the flotation vest she was wearing. In the water around them could be seen the sliding, shiny backs of enormous creatures, gracefully arching before disappearing beneath the light chop of the waves. Occasionally, a great pair of flukes would rise above the surface, rivulets of water draining in a broken sheet from it back edges. The boat was completely surrounded.

     Robin’s mentor tapped her on the shoulder and signaled her to follow his example. They donned their snorkeling gear, slipped over the gunwale, and entered an azure world through which muted sunlight danced and diffused into the depths. Obadiah held the little girl’s hand and pulled downward gently both to reassure her and to compensate for the buoyancy of her vest that she might keep her facemask in the water. Dark, graceful shapes loomed in the near distance.

     The immense forms were those of humpback whales, perhaps the most acrobatic of all whales, and they were singing with heads down, tails up, and long, interestingly-shaped pectoral fins extended outward at their sides. The manner of their song was such that the little maiden could feel it even though she could not hear. The calming hand still held her own. Aside from an agitated excitement, she trusted her elder friend.

     A large male humpback, some fifty feet in length, separated himself from this underwater choir by descending, swimming slowly forward, and rising toward his observers. On nearing them, he sagaciously bowed his knobbed and barnacled head before applying his sonar to a closer inspection of these visitors. He turned from Obadiah as if recognizing him and focused the whole of his attention on Robin. Powerful vibrations coursed through the child’s body, and her ears crackled uncomfortably, popped, and opened. Then she heard it: the haunting, moaning melody of the whales from its deep bass to its high treble. This experience, from feeling to hearing, was in its slightly painful way the most pleasant physical sensation she had ever known. The sound waves that had travelled through her and the simultaneous pressure of Obadiah’s hand had expressed similar intent on her behalf.

     And now that fatherly hand pulled her back toward the boat. They emerged into a world of sunshine, wind, and – for Robin – something entirely novel: airborne sound. Now she could detect atmospheric movement by more than sense of touch. They were still out of sight of land, but near enough that the cries of gulls occasionally fell upon her ears. Waves lapped gently against the boat as Obadiah helped her to her seat in the stern. 

     There was a somewhat louder splashing as, all around the boat, impressive flukes were raised and slapped downward in apparent salutation. Then an upwelling of water gave way to the towering enormity of the same whale that had restored unhearing ears. Suspended for a split second like some misplaced building, he rolled over on his back and fell seaward. There was the sound of detonation, and the dark, blue-gray surface of the ocean exploded into an expansive spray of shimmering white. Others of this baleen brotherhood followed suit, such that the waters of that locale resembled the workings of a great municipal fountain. Despite the considerable noise, these proceedings bore an air of solemnity. As suddenly as it had begun, this ceremonious display ended with the sounding of the whales, and Obadiah reverently raised his sail.

     As they sailed back toward shore, the child pointed a trembling hand beyond the stern.

     “W-wh…”

     Unable to express herself, she began to cry in frustration.

     “So,” her pilot declared in his New England accent, “now that you can listen, we might as well teach you to speak.”

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ROBERT LAMBERT JONES III

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