Summer 1995, New England Marine Institute,
Near Fall River, Massachusetts
There they were, speeding to greet her, the reason Marianne could haul herself out of bed at 5 a.m. The two dolphins chirped and whirred, pressing up against her legs where she sat on the wood planks of the dock.
“Good morning, Mamie. Hey Sugarloaf!” She stroked their noses, then gasped as she slid into the water. Although a warm day in early July, the seawater off the coast of Massachusetts held a definite chill.
Being allowed to swim with these rescued wild dolphins was an act of spiritual generosity on their part. Anytime she needed peace and comfort she found it with them.
Mamie nuzzled her beak against Marianne’s belly, cackled, and grinned her huge grin, then Sugarloaf gently bumped his melon directly into her abdomen. That’s odd. It is as if they know. But how was that possible? She had only found out herself a few days ago.
When Sugarloaf whacked her gently with his tail, she grinned. “Ok, I hear you. Breakfast!” Pulling herself up out of the water, she reached for the bucket of fish on ice. The dolphins gulped down mackerel and herring and smiled for more.
Due to the additional responsibility, this summer internship was more rewarding than the previous year. Now, instead of assigning her grunt work, the staff in charge at NEMI felt safe with her and she was now entrusted with feeding and entertaining the rescued dolphins.
This was her life’s dream. But she was going to need a Bachelor’s, then a Master’s in marine biology. How would she manage? A lump formed in the back of her throat as she tried to figure out, yet again, how to tell her dad.
Gazing out across the gray-blue water, she could just make out the outline of the Elizabeth Islands. One was Cuttyhunk. It had been just as the travel brochure described: “An hour’s sail to a secluded paradise.” She sighed. An unusually warm day in May had extended into a glorious evening of sunburn, seafood, and laughter, with a sense of magic in the air. Not to mention the shots of Tequila, which added confidence, even pushiness, to his advances. She never knew if alcohol released a person’s inhibitions, to display who that person really was, or if it created a totally different persona. Well, it didn’t matter, now. To be fair, she’d had a few glasses of wine herself, so the fault wasn’t all his.
Mamie sidled up to Marianne’s leg and chattered softly. Sliding back into the water with plastic balls, Marianne played with her two friends, laughing out loud as they leaped into the air, tossing the balls back and forth.
“Marianne, good morning!”
“Hey, Trish!” Marianne headed back to the dock.
Tiny Trish Silva was in her mid-fifties, but from a distance looked sixteen. Slender and fit, she buzzed with energy, making Marianne think of a honeybee or a hummingbird, staying that thin thanks to a super-charged metabolism. Trish called out, “Labs show Mamie’s still thiamine deficient, so we have to dose her. You fed them yet?”
Marianne grinned. “Oh, I think I can persuade her.” She slipped the pasty little ball of nutrients into a chunk of fish and tossed it down Mamie’s open mouth. “Ta-da.”
Trish asked, “So, did you end it with him?”
“How did he take it?”
“Not bad. At first.”
Trish shook her head. “Huh. What do you mean, at first?”
“Well, now he just keeps calling…”
“Oh man, seriously? I didn’t know rich guys did that.”
“Well, he’ll get it, eventually.” Marianne heard the doubt in her own voice and when Trish gave her an odd look, she repeated, “He’ll get it. If I ignore him, he’ll get the message.”
Trish shuddered. “Glad I don’t have to go through any of that anymore. OK, moving on, we had a rescue last night–Jeremy and the team found a short-beaked common dolphin, a baby, just a few days old. She’s in the smallest tank and we’ve been holding her afloat…” She glanced at her watch. “Peter’s on now, then I need you to take a shift.”
“What happened to her?”
Trish ran her hands through her spiky gray hair. “An incident with a boat propeller–cut her fin up badly. The vet’s been and stitched her up, but she’s lost a lot of blood. We couldn’t find her mother or the pod. We named her Grace.”
The two women headed back toward the facility, where the tanks held rescued turtles, otters, dolphins, and sometimes whales. They were returned to the wild, if and when possible. The center tried to limit human contact so most could be sent back to the ocean, but sometimes the animals were too injured to be considered releasable.
There, in the small holding tank, Marianne saw Peter, a staff biologist, holding the new infant. Only about two feet long, the little dolphin lay still in Peter’s hands. While keeping her afloat, her blowhole out of the water, he reached for a bottle of formula and held the nipple to the dolphin’s stubby snout. She didn’t respond.
“Hasn’t eaten yet,” he said.
“Not a good sign.” Trish sighed.
Marianne climbed down into the water and took over from Peter.
“Give us a shout if you have any problems,” Trish said as she and Peter headed for the door.
Marianne stared down at Grace. The nasty cut in the baby’s fin was held together by a clear line of stitches. Otherwise, the little dolphin’s gray skin was flawless. Through the water, Marianne could make out the distinctive yellow and gray pattern in the shape of an hourglass on her flank.
A big eye watched her.
“Hey, little Gracie, you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine.” She crooned to the baby dolphin, but it remained still.
A strange stirring in her lower belly sent an icy sensation racing up Marianne’s spine. It wasn’t pain, exactly, just pressure, almost as if her insides were vibrating. She’d never felt anything like it. Was this normal in the first few weeks?
Then the little dolphin in her arms began to stir, almost vibrate, as well. And the sensation of pressure in her abdomen grew even stronger. She opened her mouth to call for help, but then the dolphin shivered, relaxed, and lay motionless. Marianne felt another chill of dread.
She called over her shoulder, “Trish, Trish? Can you come?”
As she shouted, Grace’s tail began to sweep up and down, and Marianne could feel its muscles bunching and tightening. Marianne gasped, as with a burst of energy the dolphin pushed out of her arms. The strange sensation down low in her abdomen faded until it disappeared.
“Trish! Come quickly!” She held on to the ladder and watched, mesmerized, as Grace swooped around the tank.
Trish came running out of one of the doors just in time to see the little dolphin return to Marianne and press up against her.
“That’s great!” Trish grinned and squatted down at the edge of the tank.
Grace gave a series of clicking sounds and Marianne reached for the bottle of formula. The baby pulled at it noisily, and after demolishing the bottle, took off around the tank again. Marianne threw back her head and laughed.
“Marianne,” a voice shouted from the doorway. It was Jennifer, the motherly admin/receptionist at the front desk. “Someone’s here asking for you. Young guy… tall, blond…”
Trish flashed Marianne a look. “Is that him?”
Marianne muttered, “Oh for God’s sake.” She called back to Jennifer. “Tell him I’m unavailable, OK? Thanks, Jen.”
“Oh, Marianne. That’s annoying.” Trish touched her arm. “And a bit scary! What are you going to do?”
Marianne shook her head and bit her lip.
This situation was getting out of hand.