Characters & excerpts
Nora - a Humpback Whale:
Nora allows herself to rest.
She is nearly halfway through her journey to the warmth of the breeding grounds, and the urge in her to get there quickly vibrates in her blood like the song of the mighty males that await her. She is satiated by the long season of feeding in the luxurious waters that are too cold for mating, but now there is an ache in her belly that she knows even the frantic shoals of herring that spawn in this part of the real world, cannot satisfy.
Her baby is gone from her side, and she knows that she will never again feel his urgent suckling. His song will never be heard; his spirit will never be shared with the rest of their kin.
There are monsters that live partly in the real world, and partly in heaven. Monsters whose song is constant and churning and without spirit. They are foul and unforgiving, and their tentacles are long and tenacious.
Their grasp is inescapable.
One such creature captured her precious child and ensnared him to its huge underbelly for many sea-changes. His cries for help had resonated through the realm and drawn their brethren close, but there was nothing that even their combined strength and wisdom could do to assist him.
And then a strange thing had occurred. A tiny creature had descended from the heaven that fills the lungs of all of her kind. The creature had looked into her young child’s eye, and her son had immediately become calm. And then the creature had turned to look at her, and what she saw reflected in its gaze had calmed her also.
There was empathy and intellect. There was kindness and understanding.
The tiny creature had no song, but its compassion and obvious desire to help was just as inspiring. It attacked the tentacles of the monster, working furiously and without rest, leaving her son’s side only to take an occasional sip of heaven into its own lungs until eventually, he was free.
Nora’s baby had groaned and then purred with the relief of his escape. He’d made a shallow, rolling dive and came up beneath her, rubbing at her and seeking a nipple for comfort and reassurance.
The tiny creature had hung there regarding them, making no effort to sing. Instead, it raised one of its skinny flippers before being somehow raised up, back into the heavens from which it had so mysteriously appeared.
Nora’s baby managed to stay by her side for only a few more sea-changes. He became weak and disorientated. More and more frequently she was forced to dive beneath him and lift him so that he could take a feeble sip from heaven.
And then, with one last plaintive moan, he had sunk. She had stayed with him for that final dive, watching him spiral inexorably towards oblivion, until her own need to breathe had forced her to abandon him.
The wind has almost instantly dried her hair which begins to busy itself by whipping, without mercy, into her eyes. She brushes it aside with a well-practiced gesture of her hand and sets off towards the gnarly captain, or tree, or whichever she comes across first.
It turns out to be both; the captain is sitting with his back against the twisted tree trunk, staring vacantly out at the ocean. He is wearing his ubiquitous white tee-shirt and trousers that seem like they’ve just been retrieved from the dry-cleaner. A brightly coloured bandana very cleverly restrains his hair.
‘Mind if I join you?’ she asks, jauntily.
‘This tree’s not fat enough for the both of us.’ He looks up at her but does not smile.
‘Don’t worry... I’ll just perch awkwardly on this pointy rock.’
‘Be my guest.’ The disgusting man does not even bother making room for her next to him. Even Edward would do that.
Undeterred, Sarah finds the clearest parcel of land to park her buttocks upon. She is particularly interested to spot if there are any ants in the vicinity of her precious flesh.
Satisfied that her swim-pants would remain insect-free, she sits down as elegantly as possible next to the good captain. She does a quick survey to check the status of her decency, and pulls Edward’s now distinctly filthy tee-shirt, up and over her knees.
‘Did you sleep?’ the captain enquires.
‘Yes... in fact, I’ve only recently got out of bed. How about you?’
‘Hmmm... Not that much I’m afraid. Hopefully, I’ll fare better tonight.’
‘Edward slept through the entire thing,’ she says.
‘I know... I spoke to him earlier.’
‘Tell me... is this how you spend your entire life?’ she demands.
‘What... looking after clients who have absolutely no idea of what’s going on around them?’ he counters.
Sarah almost squeals in excitement and wonder at the panorama that unfolds before her eyes.
She can see the arc of the world.
The ocean stretches out before her as if the whole world is made of small, white-topped waves that are stirred up proudly by the constant breeze of the Tradewinds. There is not a cloud to be seen, and the arc of the world and the blue of the sky meld together in a haze of blues and greens that makes it seem almost as if the boundary between them is designed to reflect the perfection of their relationship to one another – as if the cosmos and the seas are in fact, one and the same.
‘I’ll show you how bloody calm I am,’ Edward retorts, and throws a punch at the captain, endowing the blow with all of his considerable weight.
The captain steps easily to one side; many men have tried to punch him and some, unlike Edward Clifford, have actually been successful.
Edward’s plump fist goes right through the door, the momentum and anger of the punch inserting his arm right up to the crook of his elbow. ‘Jesus Christ!’ he exclaims in shock and pain.
Edward is left hanging there with his arm stuck in the door, and the sharp, raggedness of the hole he has made, is forbidding him from extracting it.
Good job, thinks the captain as he takes a seat at the end of the Clifford’s bed and rubs tiredly at both of his eyes with the knuckles of both of his hands.
‘Edward… you daft bugger,’ Sarah says softly and goes to her husband’s assistance. But when she gets to him she stops, puts both her hands on her hips and bends over at the waist, engulfed in a wave of laughter.
‘What the bloody hell are you laughing at?’ Edward shouts, turning towards her and opening the door wider as he does so.
The commotion has stirred the rest of the household, and the captain can see Margaret, Guy and Jazz congregating out in the corridor. Even young Tom sticks his head around the corner of the doorframe to see what all the fuss is about.
From the end of the bed, the captain offers him a small wave, and Thomas uncurls his fingers in an act of acknowledgement.
‘Everything OK?’ asks Guy.
‘Does everything look OK?’ Edward snarls.
‘Edward tripped and stuck his hand through your door. Don’t worry… we’ll fix it,’ the captain explains.
‘I’ll go get a saw,’ Guy decides.
‘A saw?’ Edwards demands.
‘Are you going to chop his arm off, daddy?’ Thomas enquires.
‘Come on, Tom… let’s give everyone some room.’ Margaret steers the boy away from the fracas.
‘But I want to see Mr Edward get his arm chopped off.’ The captain hears the boy complaining as he’s led away along the corridor.
‘Maybe Mr Edward will get something less painful stuck that daddy can chop off another time,’ Margaret consoles him.
‘Bloody little monster,’ Edward mutters.
‘Have you ever heard a camel fart, Mrs Clifford?’ he enquires, seriously.
Sarah knows where he is steering this particular conversation. She very nearly decides to ignore him and go below to see if Edward has managed to stay asleep during all the manoeuvring, but then again, that would be cowardly, wouldn’t it? ‘No,’ she says, ‘I’m quite certain I never have.’
‘Well, it involves a significant amount of hot air, passing through a restricted orifice which vibrates noisily. The process is usually protracted, sometimes explosive, and very often repugnant to the sensitive nose,’ he states.
‘You compare Edward to a camel farting?’ she sighs.
‘Not at all, Mrs Clifford,’ the captain almost laughs, but his pure harshness won’t allow him, ‘a camel’s fart is clearly obnoxious, but only a very ignorant person would claim to be offended by it. And I cannot use it as a reasonable comparison to what comes out of your husband’s mouth because the hot air that escapes from a camel’s arse is entirely necessary. I’m merely using it as an analogy to explain why Jazz and I cannot be offended by your husband’s behaviour.’
‘Do you know why dinosaurs never used toothpaste?’
‘Er… because Sainsbury’s didn’t have a pharmacy section back then?’ she suggests.
‘That may have been a significant factor,’ Jazz laughs. ‘That aside, everything that we use to make toothpaste was available to dinosaurs only, of course, they lacked the physical and intellectual tools to invent it. The reality many of us enjoy, is simply the natural consequence of our mental creativity and dexterity, and it is nothing more than a period of cerebral order which will, of course, dissipate along with the other entropic processes of the universe. In other words, Mrs Clifford… Sainsbury’s won’t be there forever,’ he says, sagely.
‘Blast… I’d better start stocking up!’
‘One of humanity’s finest gifts, and possibly its greatest burden, is that we are responsible for our own realities,’ he tells her, softly.
‘And I’m responsible for my own,’ she realises.
‘Yes… but there are things that you can do to change your situation.’
‘I honestly don’t know... I’m in no position to judge, but I get the sense that you have come to be seen simply as a possession by your husband... You are merely his wife, and that point of view has led to imbalance and disharmony. It is possible that you will never succeed in making your husband as happy as he feels he is entitled to be. Maybe instead, you could concentrate on being as happy as you can be, and see how he responds.’