One of the women is carrying a multicolored beach towel plus a pair of black-rimmed kiddy goggles that don’t fit her because she’s a dolphin and an adult at that.
The vixen next to her doesn’t seem to care about this all that much but gets that glint of curiosity just big enough to spark a conversation, and off they go.
Or, rather, they don’t. The vixen loses her nerve right as she’s about to open her mouth to speak because the dolphin briefly re-situates herself to drape the towel across her lap. The goggles still don’t leave her hand.
“You’re holding those goggles for someone,” the vixen states warmly with just enough ditziness in her voice to make it socially credible as an out-of-the-blue conversation starter.
This is also a public beach, and well over a hundred furs are around, so an out-of-the-blue conversation is not, in itself, an oddity.
The dolphin’s response, though, is odd.
“Well, I doubt I’ll get to give them to him in this lifetime,” she says, “but yeah, I guess you could say I am holding them for him.”
The dolphin’s voice lacks some key element of enthusiastic speech, despite otherwise conveying the squeaky, high-pitched cheerfulness expected of her kind. She looks down at the goggles, her structurally immobile facial expression giving away nothing further as she rubs a bulbous, blubbery finger across a lens.
The vixen can’t help prodding further, leaning over and looking at the goggles, her little black nose getting within a foot of them, the nostrils twitching briefly as she chances a sniff.
“They seem like normal store-bought goggles,” says the fox. “They’re made of rubber and plastic, right?”
“Yep, that’s right,” says the dolphin blandly.
“Well… that’s interesting… are you by any chance…?”
“Are you a mother?”
The dolphin laughs, clicking out a sound that resembles a snicker. “No. No, nothing like that, no.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, just, I’m here with my boyfriend and—”
The fox gives an awkward, too-big chuckle that devolves into a laugh before she’s through. Then she puts up her left handpaw and leans down putting her head briefly on her knees before throwing her head back and forcing herself to composure again.
“Wow, you okay girl?” the dolphin says, her voice finally a little playful.
The vixen giggles. “Nope, I am sooo not okay. I’m not on anything, just—”
“Not right now,” the dolphin interjects before cackling out another of her aquatic-mammal laughs.
“Oh hush! No! That’s so mean! No, no, see… I’m, oh I’m just so nervous.”
“What? What’s going on, huh? Fill me in! Is it your boyfriend?”
“Hehe, well…” The vixen looks around clandestinely, presumably searching the area for the presence of said boyfriend, or perhaps for anyone else who ought not hear this next thing but might be listening. After making sure, she leans in right up near the dolphin’s face and says in a hushed yet dreadfully excited voice, “I think he’s gonna propose to me!”
The dolphin seems simultaneously thrilled at this assertion and a little perturbed at having her personal space violated. Carefully, gently, she uses her bottle-nose to nudge the fox’s face forcibly away to a suitable distance. The dolphin’s hand squeezes nervously around one goggle.
“You are a lucky, lucky girl,” the dolphin says, her affect now back to sounding inappropriately flat—blunted. “I hope you are really happy with him. Seriously.”
“Oh I know, I mean… I’m sorry, I thought texting everybody would get it out of my system but it didn’t, I just had to tell a random stranger, you know? You know that feeling you get?”
“Ah. Not… really?” the dolphin says, as politely as she can manage. “I’m ah… I’m not really all that…”
“Yeah. Excitable. I don’t get too excited most of the time these days.”
The fox shakes her head and fans her own face with one handpaw. “Oh, I’m sorry, I must have made a fool of myself, I just… this is life changing!”
“Sure is, girl. Sure that it is.”
“I mean, he’s a really nice guy—we went to high school together and we didn’t really like each other then, but then later when we were at college he—”
The dolphin loses track of what the vixen is saying, growing increasingly lost in some internal thought of her own, staring off in the direction of the sun in the cloudless sky, her eyes not quite looking directly at that glowing orb of blinding light, but still reflecting a bit with its harsh rays, her vision no doubt clouding from the slight exposure.
At least, this is what any non-manic person would see by looking at the dolphin; the fox is currently too excited to notice and manages to elevator-pitch the history of her relationship in the expanse of half a minute.
“I am so sure you’ll work out wonderfully,” the dolphin says, and clutches the goggles along the same lens as before. “You two go right on together. Right on.” She punches the air with her free hand, giving off a mock tough-girl vibe. She casts the vixen a sideways look before chuckling again.
“Yeah, I’m… really sorry to take so much of your time,” the vixen continues, wringing her handpaws nervously and twitching her toes. “I’m just waiting for him to get back.”
“Yeah. So am I.”
“My boyfriend. I’m just here waiting for him.”
The dolphin sighs out the top of her head in an unusual way that conveys neither relief nor frustration, but something much heavier. For a moment she doesn’t even take in another breath as would be customary after expelling that much air. She hangs for a moment, looks away from the fox, and starts to lean back and stretch, finally taking in another resigned breath.
The dolphin ends up leaning back so far while inhaling that she nearly falls backwards off the backless wooden bench. She catches herself with a surprisingly deft combined motion of her tail and abdominal muscles, spring-boarding herself upright and catching the front edge of the bench with her hands.
“Oh my!” says the fox.
“Don’t, please,” says the dolphin, earnestly. “Don’t get excited over it. I’m a little clumsy sometimes still. Family is from the islands. Spent a lot of time in the water when I was younger, yep yep. Gravity sucks.”
“Ah. I guess I wouldn’t know much about that. My boyfriend’s a surfer though… he might go boarding to show off for me, later.”
This might be a sideways attempt by the fox to invite the dolphin to watch. Either way, the dolphin declines by her own sideways measure.
“I think I’ll go ahead and leave soon,” she says.
“Oh. Okay. Well it was good meeting you. What’s your name?”
They exchange the formalities with growing ante—first the name (verbal), then the email address (written down on scraps of paper which will probably be lost or forgotten), and eventually the hopeful commitment by the fox that she will send an email for sure, and the dolphin’s claim that she will look forward to it, and then the dolphin gets up and gets ready to walk away, and it’s all perfectly set to be the end of this mundane social encounter.
Then the fox stops her.
“Hey,” the fox says, and the dolphin turns around.
The dolphin is surprised. She’s taking a really good look at the fox for the first time, noticing the small golden earrings and single gemmed ring, probably a promise ring. She’s a pretty, red fox, with a black splotch along the left side of her muzzle where it curves out into her cheek area—a splotch not repeated on the right. She’s not very tall. Her facial expression is full of concern, the muzzle angled downward and sideways like she’s anticipating hearing a terrible piece of news.
“Did your boyfriend… recently leave you or something?” the fox says seriously.
“He died,” the dolphin says.
The fox’s eyes go wide. “Oh no! I’m so sorry! I was all excited and—”
The dolphin tosses the goggles lightly onto the bench and sits back down beside them, shortly thereafter picking them back up and beginning to fold her towel around them like a packing cloth or a bandage.
“It’s okay,” the dolphin says. “It happened a year ago. Almost a full twelve months ago now. I really ought to be over it.”
“Oh no, no! You don’t—oh my goodness I am sorry! I—”
“You being that nervous isn’t going to help. I really am happy that you’re going to have something happy in your life soon. Ya know that, right?”
“Well… well, yeah, but…”
“So don’t worry. Go do what you need to do.” The dolphin manages to chuckle again. “And hey, if you get sad from talking to me, remember it’s your own fault though, right? You struck up the conversation first.” She gives another brief cackle.
“Oh, don’t gimme that,” the vixen says, her voice a mix between sulking and deep concern. “You’re obviously really hurting… I feel bad for you, you know?”
“Oh, yeah, I know,” says the dolphin, in a voice suggesting she might roll her eyes a little bit if she could do so without the fox seeing. “So, uh, what grief-related service you wanna perform, huh? You wanna listen to me recount for the fiftieth time how he died so I can just keep on remembering it? I … mean, I don’t really know what else there is people can do for me at this point.”
“Oh… sorry. I don’t really know how to help people with it, I guess.” The fox sounds genuinely ashamed of this.
“Anybody you know ever died?”
“My grandma, but… I didn’t know her that well.”
“Yeah. I figured. First time for everything. It sucks. Changes the way you think about things, even if only a little. But it’s a little change in a lot of places. I… don’t really feel surprised.”
“That I haven’t had anyone die?”
“Yeah. Not surprised. Not saying you’re bad or wrong or something. You just… seem like someone who doesn’t think about that sort of thing.”
The dolphin glances her way briefly, and nods.
They sit there in a moment of shared silence, both staring out at the beach and the water beyond, the waves rising and falling, the children and young people playing—some couples chasing each other and doing barely legal things when they think no one’s looking. The dolphin’s eyes go skyward again, taking one more slightly painful look in the direction of the sun before turning back down to the gravelly walk-space sand right in front of her.
It is to this solemnity that the vixen’s boyfriend arrives, coming down the path behind them. “Hey there!” he calls out in a voice that is unmistakably from a male canid. Both women turn and look over their shoulders in response.
“That your boyfriend?” says the dolphin, quietly, without moving her gaze.
“Oh, yes,” says the vixen.
“You could’ve told me he was a damn fennec,” mutters the dolphin.
“Hmm?” says the vixen.
A fennec indeed, and a short one—the dolphin can’t help having a wave of nostalgia and longing hit her. He’s not much taller than the fennec boyfriend she remembers, and even the face bears some reminders, though his eyes are larger and the contours of his muzzle smaller. A romantic, crazy part of her wants to run up and slap those black-rimmed goggles into his handpaws, gaze cryptically at him for just a moment longer than is socially appropriate, and then walk away crying yet still somehow stoic and determined to face the life ahead of her—symbolically comforted in the knowledge that she finally passed on the present intended to her boyfriend to someone else of his generalized brood.
And she mentally punches this impulse right out of her thoughts because it just seems too damn stupid and corny. Besides, he’s muscled and kind of hot, wearing bright blue swimming trunks with a carefully knotted drawstring that holds them tight around his narrow waist. In those respects he isn’t enough like her old boyfriend for the metaphorical giving away of her burdens to have any chance of really doing anything.
He’s obviously a different person, just a guy.
And yet that stupid voice within her still keeps wanting to do it. Despite its previous beating, it comes right back. Such is her life at times, and she sighs inwardly as she stands from the bench to approach him.
Fine, she thinks to her impulsive brain. Have it your way. Let’s see what happens.
“Hi,” the dolphin says merrily to the new arrival, holding the bundled towel in her left hand and reaching out her right to wave and then point at him. “You know what you should do?” she asks, and then turns her pointing hand to gesturing toward the red vixen. “You should marry that girl. Maybe then she’ll stop bothering me like all day long!”
“Wait, you two know each other?” says the fennec, laughing.
“Hell no,” says the dolphin and chuckles. “Your girlfriend’s a crazy bitch though. Anyway yeah, you two, go… get married and make babies—lots of babies. Seeya. I gotta go.” She puts on her large flip-flops and plods away as quickly as she can manage, leaving the boyfriend with a bemused but awkward grin on his face as his poor mind visibly tries to figure out what he’s just walked in on. Economically, and predictably, his brain ultimately appears to leave this matter for figuring out later, turning his attention instead to the lovely and mentally capitalized Woman of His Dreams.
The dolphin keeps walking briefly—then stops and looks back to find the fennec and the vixen sitting by each other on the bench, already holding hands and rapidly building up toward what will obviously be a major moment for them—a vaunted and hopeful plot point in the narratives of their lives. Already they’re gazing out over the ocean together like lovers should, exactly like lovers in a crazy greeting-card world of make-believe should.
And the dolphin decides she’ll be damned if she isn’t going to protect that and enjoy it as long as it lasts, because even if it doesn’t always happen, there sure as hell isn’t much else to look forward to in mortal life if not for hopes like that. Sometimes you don’t have to eat the fish; just seeing the fish and appreciating the fish could be enough. Or, in this case, the foxes. Those overly happy and stupid and foolish and naïve and young and desperately attracted to each other foxes who are both alive dammit.
Still, she can’t let herself leave without some kind of trick. Playful trickery has been bred into her as an instinct almost as much as swimming. It provides a way of randomly punctuating any major experience, or bringing cheer to someone else by giving them a rare gift, something unexpected yet pleasant. She must do something. Must.
So, doing the obvious, the stupid, the corny thing, she slips off her sandals and sneaks up on them. She gets right up behind them, either because they’re too busy being lost in each other’s silent handpaw caressing to notice or because they know she’s there but really can’t be bothered to give her a glance and kind of wish she’d just go away.
Taking the towel in one hand, she unwraps the goggles and very carefully slides them into the back pocket of the fennec’s trunks—he reacting to the felt brushing against his butt by giving out a little audible grunt of arousal. “You sneaky little vixen you,” he says lustily.
“Mm?” the vixen says, her tone now utterly submissive and meek as she waits in stereotypical fashion for something to happen. “Mm!” Her boyfriend kisses her full on, their tongues mingling—the vixen finally catching a glance of the corner of one eye at the dolphin, who’s still sitting right there looking up at them, waving, and happy.
“I’ll write,” the dolphin says in a whispered voice, just loud enough for the vixen to hear, but too softly for the single-minded fennec to care.
* * *
The dolphin gets back to her lonely studio apartment a few hours later. Tomorrow is Saturday, but she still has to work her usual morning shift at the pool. Lifeguard. Not that even her skills could’ve done much to save her boyfriend. There’s not much a person on land can do to save someone on a multiple-day off-shore boating trip from direct contact with a hurricane. A person on an idiot’s boat who didn’t take it back in because he thought surely the storm would never turn and head their direction. That moron. That moron friend of Rick’s—her boyfriend’s name was Rick—that moron friend who she’d still never speak to again even if he was still alive. Which he wasn’t.
The picture of herself with her fennec still sits on her computer desk, looking back at her as she boots it up to go online. He looks so strong in that picture, a little guy, but determined. He had wanted to be a showman on a cruise ship, boisterously telling everyone about their options on their lavish vacation. She hadn’t known what she wanted, but making sure people didn’t drown seemed like a good start. The irony had never been lost on her for a single day since his death.
“I’m sorry, Rick,” she says aloud, though quietly, to the photo as she leans back against her cushy office chair, tilting her weight along her left side to accommodate the bulk of her tail as she slips it through the hole in the chair’s back and gets comfortable. “I can’t give you up easily, old guy. I just miss you too much. It’s like one of those jokes with a horrible punchline… you know? Two guys walk into a bar. Two guys walk into a bar and what, one of them dies because there’s a barfight? I can’t live with that. I don’t want to accept that.”
A moment passes as she gets into her email. “I love you, Rick,” she murmurs. “I really love you. You made my life better. I don’t have any regrets about that.”
She closes her eyes and takes in a deep, dolphin breath. She takes a moment to feel the heartbeat in her body, which has been there all day, and all her life, pulsing reliably onward.
“Those goggles were really heavy though,” she says with some degree of whimsy. “I’m glad I gave them to someone strong. Least, I hope he’s strong. Hee hee.”
She opens her eyes, looks off-focus at a space between her computer monitor and the black, night-skied window behind it.
“You were such a big baby,” she mumbles. “Never wanted to open your eyes in a chlorinated pool. Stupid guy…”
She sits there, and sits there a while, until she has been through all the usual memories one more time. One last dance with the drug-like sorrow and happiness and wishings and heart-tearing agony of what their relationship had meant.
She looks up at the screen of her email client, more than a few tears in her eyes.
She clicks “Compose.”
She successfully types in the vixen’s email address after some momentary difficulty locating the slip of paper.