Dolphin Encounter, a chapter in my book

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This short story introduces a researcher, a marine biologist, who is doing a study of dolphin behavior and communication with individuals who have disabilities.

Submitted: April 13, 2014

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Submitted: April 13, 2014



A Chapter from my novel in progress:


“I want to be sure you know that I can’t guarantee anything, I mean the dolphins will be in charge and they might not even show, for that matter.” In my heart I felt guilty for giving this feeble disclaimer since I had not seen my dolphins in weeks. “I am not sure what your son’s reaction will be or even if he will react.” I was trying hard to talk her out of this agreement but her eyes welled up.  There was a moment before she said slowly, “ I am willing to try almost anything and what’s more, I trust you.” As if she didn’t have me convinced she hastily added, “I’ll be able to be in the water right beside him and the sun is shining, the water is warm….not a bad afternoon, yes?” When I asked whether her son liked the water she said she couldn’t be sure since there was so little response to any stimuli.


The three of us eased ourselves off the dock and into the warm Florida gulf waters, I looked over to be sure the gates had been thrown wide open, they were. So, then we waited. I could feel the five year old’s muscles stiffen as I supported him in the water. We began to glide in small circles with mom on one side and me on the other.  This went on for some five minutes and there was still no sign, no whistle or click and I feared the dolphins again, would not show up.


I could see she was disappointed; this woman had traveled an hour with her severely autistic son on the outside hope that I might agree to let her participate. She was smiling though and trying hard to soldier on. I was so focused on her with a look that silently apologized that I failed to notice the silver grey fin break the surface. A fine ripple spread from the spot and then we both heard the soft whoosh of air being released from its blowhole.  We hardly had time to notice as they approached with a sort of reverence and Derrick’s whole body relaxed. He no longer had the stiff-arm posture but seemed to reach toward the dolphin, now joined by another.


After several slow circles where they brushed against our bodies they nudged me out of the way and gently moved beneath his arms. He settled his little arms lightly just behind the dorsal fins of each dolphin and what we experienced in that moment can only be described as grace, a total lightness of being.  When I looked over I saw Helen gently relax her hold and I didn’t consciously release my hold but was vaguely aware that the trio, now Derrick and the two dolphins were making their own slow circles.  The sight brings tears to most people, even me although I have witnessed this before. Helen’s face was tear streaked as we both watched the undulating up and down tail movement that propelled them. They tucked in closer to have contact with Derrick’s torso and his legs hung limply behind him. 


Several minutes passed, I don’t know how many, I listened to the clicks and the whistles trying to pick up a pattern and didn’t notice Helen again until she placed her hand on my arm, “He’s actually smiling.” “I’m sorry, what?” I absently replied. He has never smiled like that, ever. All I could think about was whether I had turned on the camera, I had not, and whether I could even document this moment. Helen was in another world.  “What are they saying?” I regained focus. “The soft clicks and whistles that you hear are definitely communication but we cant be exactly sure what they are vocalizing.”  Even as the words left my lips I knew this was different. I was aware that the dolphins seemed to be whispering, they were capable of greater volume and pitch but this session was quiet, subdued even.  Thinking back it is like they sensed the seriousness of the contact and did not want to break the spell that they had created.


Derrick began to caress their skin and they lightly tossed their heads in response. Their slow circles brought them closer to us as if they were checking in to be sure that we were still OK with what was going on. “Did you see that! It’s like they came over to check in with us, have you ever seen that?” Now I was smiling, “Yes, yes I have.”  Could it be that the dolphins I so wanted to study had finally decided to come back on their own. I never gave them any other stimulation and certainly never fed them. I simply left the gates open to the bay waters and waited.  I am not sure how long this trance-like state lasted but I became aware that the light was waning. They stopped right in front of the two of us now. “What are they doing? What should I do?” Helen seemed flustered. “Just reach out, they won’t release him until they know you have him.” And just like that this overjoyed single mom who had just witnessed, no, been part of, a miracle reached out for her smiling son.


At first he seemed disconcerted but swiveled to see them back slowly from under his arms and turn toward to gates that would take them into open water. They did not submerge but cruised fins out and with a final louder whistle and a bevy of clicks they tossed their tails and swam through the gates into the Gulf.  Helen was looking at Derrick as the light in his face seemed to wane with the summer sun.


“Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer! What are you, an idiot, this is what you have been waiting for and you never set up the damn camera. It’s lost forever now. You will never get the grant money. No one will ever believe this happened without proof.”

“I’m sorry, did you say something? Helen was responding to my muttering as she dried Derrick before putting him in his chair.  “So, can we come back tomorrow?” she added in earnest. Yeah and maybe I will turn the camera on and get some empirical data.  “Sure”, I said still not positive if any of the afternoon’s activity would ever repeat. I asked for permission to film the next session and she agreed saying, “I can’t pay you.” I said she needn’t do that but wondered if she would agree to let Derrick be a part of my research project. “You mean all we have to do is come a couple of times a week to swim with the dolphins, uh duh, of course!”  After a few minutes of walking back to her car she said quietly, “They will be back, won’ they?”

I turned to respond and realized I was not sure what would come out of my mouth.


This was the day I had hoped for and waited for but nothing that I did had made a bit of difference until a frail autistic boy entered the water. ‘Was this what they had been waiting for?”



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