Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Chapter 15: A Bedtime Story




Prescott: She’s in?
Boyd: She’s in.  There was a short scare – signs of distress from her chip – but it was an existing condition.
Prescott: She isn’t sick.
Boyd: She isn’t sick.  She’s in.
Prescott: There’s hope for the others then.  You spent a lot of time on her exam.  What did you two talk about?
Boyd:  Nothing you hadn’t already.  The girl was confused; we reviewed the key points.  She’s a smart girl though; she fully understands how important this is. 
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Darkness seemed to fall early.  Limited light sources played a part.

The two eldest hurtled back in from the outhouse.  In turns they fumbled to scrape a small mass of grainy substance out of a jar with what looked like a tongue depressor.  Applying this to the well-worn bristles of their brushes, they set to work on their teeth and tongues.  Davey made a sport of the tongue portion, leaning wide-mouthed towards Ruth until he received a wince and nudge of faux disgust.  With her own brush stowed in her cheek, Ruth grabbed a second brush and loaded it with the thick paste.  That was when Amos arrived.  He closed his eyes as he pounded through the bead curtain and directly towards Ruth, his hands extended eagerly.  Elle abruptly jumped from her position crouching on the floor and took both of Amos’ hands in her own, “What have we here?”  The youngest appeared to have made a stop by his shell-and-spoon excavation site on the way back from the outhouse.  Neith hoped that was what was on his hands. 

Amos replied with a high held chin, off-set smile, and squinting smile-eyes.  Elle gathered him in her arms and kicked a crate into position in front of the sink in the same motion as sweeping the chubby-cheeked boy on top of it.  Elle whispered in his ear as she thoroughly lathered and washed his hands under running water.  Ruth held out Amos’ brush, toothbrush handle-first towards Elle, who clamped it between her teeth while she finished cleaning the mud from Amos’ nails.   

The eldest girl’s long hair radiated in a fan as she did two spinning steps on tiptoes behind the bookshelf.  Neith now knew the shelf divided the house into two spaces.  Behind it was a tight arrangement of beds.  Seeing Ruth retrieve a plain gown from beneath one of the pillows, Neith averted her eyes.  She rendered a sketch at the table, giving the children privacy to change out of their day clothes. 

There was so much activity and life here. 

Davey had come out from behind the dividing wall and was chattering.  “Mama?  I have something to tell you.” 

Elle was drying Amos’ hands and hers on the towel in the ring.  She retrieved the brush from her bite and asked, “What’s that, Davey?” All of it played out like a choreographed domestic dance.  Elle sat on the edge of the nearest bed, pinning Amos between her knees as she brushed his small line-up of whites.  It reminded Neith of an Intra video she had seen of a zoologist cleaning a camel’s teeth.  She couldn’t see much of Elle, but it was something in the way she craned her head to see and gripped Amos by the chin as she worked at the job. 

Meanwhile, Davey had matters of import to articulate: “Well, I’ve just realised I am actually the boss.” 

“The boss of Amos?” Elle replied. 

“The boss of a bug farm?” interjected Ruthie. 

“Just the boss,” Davey shrugged.  He hummed as he poked the spines of the books on the shelf so that they were all an inch deeper than before. 

Satisfied with her work in the toddler’s mouth, Elle stood and rinsed his brush, dropping it in with the others.  She turned in time to catch the littlest by his shirt tail before he strode back out the door.  He laughed as she scooped him up into a hug and muzzled his neck.  She began peeling clothes off of him too. Neith returned to the sketch.  It was one she’d started earlier of Amos in the dirt.  He was talking to himself in her drawing, and Neith always found teeth hard.  She furrowed her brow as she attempted to outline them lightly enough that the kid didn’t turn ghoulish. 

“So, Boss, come and show these underlings how we pray,” chided Elle. 

“It’s like this,” Davey said, now on the other side of the bookshelf, out of Neith’s view.  “What are underthings?” 

“Those things you forget to put in the washing basket,” shot back Ruthie. 

“Underwears?  I’m not showing the underwears how to pray!” 

“No, no, you’re not, but you asked what underthings were,” retorted the eldest. 

“I don’t know what she’s talkin’bout,” Davey said. 

“Neith, would you sweep up?” Elle called out. 

Neith looked around.  She found tools in a corner. 

She overheard parts of Elle’s prayer – beginning with thanks for something each child had done that day;  Ruth for being patient with a younger brother believing himself to be a part of the management, Davey for coming when called, and Amos for his laughter.  Neith smiled at that one especially.  Elle then requested help for something each was worried about or for something she knew they wanted. Neith stilled the broom in the hopes to hear better, but couldn’t catch it all. 

Each child then took a turn to pray in soft tones before they kindly resumed speaking in volumes that allowed better eavesdropping. 

Davey was chanting what sounded like, “Mawkaw!  Mawkaw!” 

Elle asked, “What do you think, Ruthie?  Shall we go with the boss’ suggestion?”  Neith smiled as she swept and considered Elle’s artful manipulation of wills. 

Neith swept the pile she’d made into a worn dustpan. She was now in a better position to see Ruthie and Davey lying low in their beds.  She stalled by the waste bin, listening.  Davey already appeared to be asleep!  Ruth’s eyes were wide and attentive.  Elle moved to the bed she’d perched on earlier, pulled back the covers, and sat with her right leg outstretched in the bed, her left foot on the floor.  Amos lay in her lap smiling and then Neith saw something she had only seen in tragic pantomime; Elle nursed this wriggling, excited toddler.  Ruth continued to watch Elle’s face as she spoke, transfixed. 

Ruth must have agreed to the story choice, because Elle began. 

“Long ago – hundreds of summers ago – before isolation, and before your great, great, great grandparents settled in Nydia, many boats sailed between the two islands of an old country that was once here.  The boats sometimes carried supplies, but often they carried people – explorers, adventurers, and sometimes travellers who simply wanted to go on a holiday. 

“The boats sailed and drove by large motors across the strait every day.  I know, ‘strait’ sounds like the word you know for when something is without a bend or curve in it.  This kind of strait is a word for a narrow sea passage.  Some of the strait made for easy travelling, and some of it was perilous – the winds outside the sounds and the rocky shores made for a dangerous combination.  That didn’t stop the boats. 

“One day, a young girl – perhaps your age, Ruthie – was up at the bow on deck of a large ferry when she saw a fin in the water, close to where the ship was slicing through the waves.  She was thrilled, thinking she had spied a shark to tell her little brother about.  Eh Davey?”  Neith lingered by the bin, quietly propping the tools back in place.  She saw Elle pat Davey’s back, who smiled, eyes closed. 

“But it wasn’t a shark.  What was it, Ruthie?” 

“A bottlenose dolphin.” 

“That’s right.  Well done for remembering which variety.” 

Ruthie’s eyes beamed despite her quiet smile. 

“The dolphin stayed with them, as though guiding the ship through the strait and channel.  The girl saw it leaping above the water like it was playing, and she kept gripping the rails each time she thought it might leave.  But the dolphin stayed and guided the ship all the way until it reached the edge of the bay where it would port. 

“This was not the last time someone saw the bottlenose dolphin.  The dolphin came to be known for escorting ships.  And so the people gave him a name, because they thought of him like a friend.  They named him ‘Moko;’ Moko the dolphin.  He was very diligent in his duty, and even came to do his job during storms! 

“Moko didn’t just guide ships, either.  Once a small pod of whales was stranded in a bay.  Things were looking very grave – that the whales might die, Davey – but Moko came, and led the pod through a narrow channel the whales had missed.   The people who were watching on the shore cheered!  What a smart and helpful dolphin, Moko was! 

“But Moko was still a dolphin, a dolphin who loved the deep sea and never grew tired of swimming.  Not like you and me, Davey – we get tired, don’t we?  Well, one day, some families were swimming in a crystal cove on a warm day.  And who should come, but Moko!  He came and played with the people swimming.  He began performing tricks with bottles.  The children laughed!  One woman there began holding onto Moko’s fin as he swam.  She went with Moko back and forth through the waves.  Moko took her deeper, and deeper out to sea as they played.  She did not notice how deep and how far away from the beach she really was until Moko left – perhaps to go and meet a ship he felt needed him, who knows? The woman became frightened she couldn’t swim back! At first, a few people back at the beach had been jealous that they were not out with Moko, playing.  They felt sorry for those feelings now, and only wished the woman would come back.  They grew more and more worried.  It began to grow dark.    The woman’s husband and his friend grabbed a boat and went out to look for the woman.  They found her, tired and weak, but alive. 

“The husband was angry.  He forgot the way Moko had guided the ships.  He forgot that Moko had saved the whales.  He forgot how Moko played with the children.  All he remembered was being afraid.  As time passed, when people spoke of Moko, all the man thought was how the dolphin had almost taken his wife from him.  He wondered if Moko had been planning wicked things all along. 

“One day, the angry man and his family were crossing the strait – I imagine you’re asleep now Davey, but I’d remind you here what that was – well, his family were crossing it on a big ship.  One of the angry men’s children was up on deck, looking out for Moko with many others.  The angry man sat close by, eating with some friends and his wife.  He was planning something horrible but they didn’t know it. 

“When the man heard excited squeals from the group posting watch for the dolphin, he got his rifle from where he had hidden it beneath his jacket, on the back of his chair.  Now his wife looked frightened again, but this time for Moko.  She tried to stop her husband, but the man had already decided that the dolphin could never again take away anyone who mattered to him or anyone else. 

“The woman who had been swimming with Moko ran and took her children and did her best to herd away their friends too.  They didn’t get far.  They all heard the crack of a shot.  There were screams of shock on deck.  Some children began to cry. 

“The angry man returned to his seat with his friends.  He felt big and important.  A few friends patted him on the back as though Moko had been sport.  Most were quiet. 

“From that day forward, people continued to watch on deck for a bottlenose dolphin, leaping amongst the waves.  They scanned the beaches when they swam.  But no one saw Moko ever again.” 

Neith was shocked.  This was not the kind of bedtime story she had expected. 

“People heard of what the man had done.  Many people thought it wrong.  The government made a law that no one could harm dolphins, and specifically: no one could shoot at Moko, if he was still alive somewhere.  But it was too late.  The law didn’t change what the man had done.” 

After a brief quiet, Ruth spoke; “I don’t prefer that story, Mum.” 

“I know it’s not your favourite, but thank you for letting Davey choose.” 

“He’s only going to think he is the boss even more now, you realise?  Of us, and all of the underwears.” 

“We can keep letting him think that,” Elle’s voice was playful. 

Quiet again. 

“Mum?” 

“Yes?” 

“I don’t think Moko died.  But I think he was done helping humans.” 

“Oh?” 

“I don’t think he was trying to hurt the lady, when they were swimming.  I think he didn’t know she couldn’t swim back, or he wouldn’t have left her there.” 

“Maybe you’re right.” 

“Don’t you think so?” 

“I hope so.” 

There was movement in the bed area. Neith could see Elle easing a pinned arm out from under a very still Amos.  She then moved out of sight.  Neith concluded she was bestowing kisses on the other two.  She then rounded the bookcase and came out to where Neith was waiting – unsure of what to do with herself now the sweeping was done.  Neith saw Elle had a heavy quilt. 

“You can sleep here.” Elle pointed to the only couch in the home, beside the front door.  She gently placed the beautiful blanket on it.  “Good night.”  Elle hesitated there, as though she wanted to say or do more.  Then she turned and retreated to her bed, where her two youngest were already sleeping. 
Neith slept on the couch, but heard the breath of an entire family swelling close by.   

She was okay so far.   

Maybe Boyd had been worried about nothing.   

Feichangbei could come to magical Nydia.



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