Saturday, May 2, 2020

"Anchors Away"

The rain had pounded against their house all afternoon with the unrelenting determination of a 1950’s door-to-door salesman.

“I nearly decided to swim home!”  Dorina declared when she joined Isaac and Tate at the table for dinner. She laughed when her husband filled a plate with salmon and set it in front of her.

“Practically leapt into our cart today, didn’t it, Tate? Maybe it looked out the grocery store window and saw a second chance at freedom.”  Isaac winked at his son, who grinned.

Supper in the Lamb household was typically a casual affair. Sometimes they would play a card game or watch a video while they ate, other nights they would talk about their daily activities or upcoming plans and schedules. They spent a lot of time as a family at the little kitchen table. It was the centre of their home — a welcoming, comfortable space that encouraged everyone to linger and loiter, especially the littlest of their clan.

But bedtime for Tate followed on the heels of the meal. When plates and games were cleared away, it was understood that the boy and his father would make their way upstairs and get prepared for sleep: body bathed, teeth brushed, pyjamas donned. Then, when she wasn’t working a night shift, mom took over with a story.

The storm was still crashing into the house while Isaac ushered their son through the bedtime routine that night. Dorina caught them both staring out the bathroom window with toothbrushes in hand, transfixed by the sheet lightning that painted the sky. She didn’t interrupt. The world could be a marvellous place, and sometimes it was exactly the right move to simply stand and gape in wonder. She stepped away from the door and into Tate’s room, picking up clothes and tidying shelves until she, too, got lost in the sky.

Dorina was summoned back to reality by a gentle squeaking as Isaac and Tate sat down on the bed behind her. Tate picked out a pair of crustacean-covered pyjamas that matched the maritime weather well.

“Good night, little lobster,” said Isaac, kissing the boy on his forehead.

Dorina took over the bedside position and asked her very favourite question: “Shall we hear an adventure, or have an adventure tonight?”

“Have one!” came the reply, punctuated by a flash of lightning and an overlapping clap of thunder from just beyond the bedroom walls. The heart of the storm was closing in on them now.

Dorina and Tate were both staring out the window when the first drop of water landed on Tate’s cheek with a splash.

“Hey!” said the boy, looking up in surprise. Another droplet hung from the globe light of his ceiling fan. It wobbled with indecision for a moment before taking the plunge and splattering Tate in the nose. His mother laughed as he wiped the water away.

“Does it usually rain in your room?” she asked, standing up to examine the trickle of water that was quickly becoming a steady, soaking stream. Tate had moved out of its way and over to the closet where he was rummaging around for their umbrellas, but he hadn’t yet found them when a gasp from his mother yanked his attention back to the bed.

Water gushed from the ceiling with a mighty force, as though someone had turned on a giant set of bathtub faucets in the attic. The ceiling was soggy and sagging, and seemed to be growing weaker by the second! Dorina waded through knee-high waves on her way to join Tate at the closet. Working swiftly she stuffed supplies into Tate’s trusty backpack: a pair of flip-flops, his compass, a yellow rain poncho and a rubber ducky that had floated towards them from its half-submerged box on the other side of the room. Into his hands, Dorina dropped a diving mask and snorkel. Tate strapped them on without question or delay.

Dorina snatched up her fanny pack and slipped on a pair of flippers just as the room was flooded with a blinding white light and the deafening crash of an electrical explosion. She scooped up her son and pressed them both against the closed bedroom door, shielding him as best she could from the sudden and torrential downpour. Another loud crack could be heard over the rushing water, and suddenly an enormous, iron anchor smashed through what was left of the roof.

“Deep breath!” shouted Dorina, as every last inch of airspace in the room was engulfed by the rising tide. Kicking off with all their might, Dorina and Tate swam up through the hole in his ceiling. They followed the anchor’s mammoth chain ever upwards, in a desperate search for rescue and fresh air.

A moment later they were bobbing like apples on the surface of the water, perfectly calm and glassy smooth except for the gentle ripples that moved away from them as the breathed. The air was cold, but not painfully so, and the warmth of the water protected them from feeling the chill right away.

“Ahoy!” called a voice from high above their heads. Tate and Dorina looked way up into the scruffy, bewildered face of a sailor. The man was dressed head to foot in rubbery yellow rain gear, prepared for a mighty storm despite the sunshine. His hat was tied securely in place with a bow that nestled deep in his beard, but it was folded back at the brow, for now, allowing for a clear view of his eyes. They were kindly eyes, and full of concern for the scuttled pair below.

“Ahoy there,” Dorina called up in return. “Are you willing to make a catch of us?”

The scruffy sailor nodded briskly and disappeared in a yellow blur. A pair of red-and-white lifesavers plopped down beside them, long ropes snaked over the side of the vessel. Dorina helped Tate wriggle into one of the buoys before slipping the other over her own head and down around her waist. With a great effort from helpful hands on deck, mother and son were both hauled to safety.

“Catfish whiskers and orca fins! Have y’ever seen anything so surprising in all yer life, m’love!?” 

“Ne’er before,” said a sturdy looking woman wearing several inflatable swim floaties around her middle and packed the length of every limb. Her floppy sou’wester hat was a twin to the sailor’s cap, and she wore mustard-coloured hip-waders to match.

Dorina made their introductions and the sailor followed suit. “I’m Cap’n Dan, the Fish Man,” he bellowed. “This fine lass is my wife, Lifejacket Lenore. Over there’s our medic, Mad Mackerel Max. He’s caring for a patient right now if you’d like a peek into the trade.” 

As the four of them ambled over to observe the medic at work, Dan the Fish Man and his wife threw dry towels the size of bedsheets around the shoulders of their rescued guests. The towels must have been super-ultra-double-extra-absorbant because by the time the cluster of onlookers made their way over to Mad Mackerel Max, Dorina and Tate were both perfectly dry and warm.

At first blush, the medic tent looked like a greenhouse, a little glass building in the middle of the ship. There was a door to this peculiar little office, but instead of being on the side of the building, it was on the top, hinged to open to the sky. Mad Mackerel Max hovered just above the chair that was pulled up to the desk. He was wearing an elaborate yellow scuba costume, with a lab coat buttoned over the whole get-up to ensure professional vibes. Perched on the chair opposite him was a very tiny mermaid.

The greenhouse was actually an aquarium.

“This wee creature caught our attention this morning,” Lifejacket Lenore explained. “The poor dear has a fractured fin, and Max is doing his best to get her up and swimming again.”

“She is so little!” said Tate. “I thought mermaids were bigger.”

“This is a sea-fairy,” smiled Dan the Fish Man. “They are rather common, but often go unnoticed. People often overlook things that are common and small.”  Tate nodded, already knowing this truth all too well.

Mad Mackerel Max was delicately sculpting a “swimming cast” out of plasticine for the sea-fairy’s tail. His tools were fine and slender, and he worked diligently to imitate the scales of the little mermaid’s tail. When he finished the job, he applied it like a sort of splint to her fin and secured it in place. The sea-fairy was as watchful as Tate and Dorina, and she was ever so patient while the cast was applied. Finally, Mad Macherel Max (who had proven himself quite sane and kind by this point) shaved off a strip of buoyant foam and fashioned his patient a kind of belt that would help her balance until she got used to the new weight of the cast on her tail.

“Right as rain,” said the sailor’s wife. “Now we just have to get her home. It’s a long journey and it would be best if she can save what strength she has until after a good rest.”

“Where does she live?” asked Tate.

“Oh, at the bottom of the ocean,” said Dan the Fish Man. “At this time of year, sea-fairies travel up to the surface very early in the mornings and back down when they’re ready to sleep. Come winter they stay down in their homes much longer, for days and days at a stretch. Winter’s far off, but this wee one won’t be making her daily journey for some time. She’ll have to be satisfied with lobster rides for a while.”  

“I saw a lobster at the grocery store once,” Tate told them. “It had rubber bands around its pinchers.”

“Aye,” replied the captain. “Perhaps I put him there myself. Lobsters are not half so clever as you and me, and though it can be a finicky business to catch them, they do make a lovely bisque. Lifejacket Lenore, what’s on the menu today? Do we have a bisque fit for these visitors?”

Dorina thanked them for the offer but told them about the salmon dinner they had recently finished eating. “We seem to live at the bottom of this ocean,” Dorina told the boat people. “We found ourselves here by following the chain of your anchor. It seems the sea-fairy is our neighbour! We’d be happy to bring her home.”

“How fantastic,” cheered the medic, who had popped out the top of his office only a moment before. “The patient is ready for transfer.”

Dorina pulled the rubber ducky from Tate’s backpack, and helped her son adjust the snorkel and mask back into position. The scruffy sailor handed Dorina a small metal hammer. “When the wee thing is safely returned to her home and you’re both out of harm’s way, strike this hammer against the side of our anchor and we’ll pull it back up. Our medic has booked an appointment with an Atlantic liopleurodon in the morning so we must be on our way.”

They were lowered back over the side of the boat and into the water, followed by a bucket that delivered the sea-fairy into their care. They said their farewells to Dan the Fish Man, Lifejacket Lenore and Mad Mackerel Max, the medic. Once they had wriggled free from the lifesavers, Dorina signalled for the tiny mermaid to wrap her arms around the rubber ducky’s neck.

“Deep breath,” she instructed, and all three slipped below the surface.

The sea-fairy kingdom was well concealed and mostly underground. The entrance was protected by a pair of aggressive-looking watch-lobsters which did not have rubber bands around their pinchers. Thankfully, the crusty crustaceans were brought to heel by the sea-fairy guard on duty. He looked at Tate and Dorina with both suspicion and gratitude, nodding his thanks and quickly sending them away. Tate waved goodbye to the little mermaid who gently patted her plasticine cast and smiled.

They swam down through the hole in Tate’s bedroom ceiling. Dorina pulled out the little hammer and struck the anchor three times with all her might. Just as their lungs felt about to burst, the chain pulled taught and with a whoosh the anchor was dragged up, up and away! A great vacuum was created by its leaving and all the water that had flooded Tate’s room was sucked up through the hole, back where it belonged. The ceiling fan wobbled as it returned to its proper place, but before they knew it everything was set to rights again.

Dorina tossed their adventure gear back into the closet, except the duck which was destined for the tub.

“Look, Mama! I’ve got lots of watch-lobsters!” said Tate, pointing down at his pyjamas.

“I’m glad to know you’ll feel so safe tonight, my little love.”

“Will you be safe, Mama?” 

Dorina smiled warmly at her little boy, growing up so thoughtful and kind. The storm outside was passing. Perhaps Captain Dan the Fish Man was taking his ocean with him.

“No fear, baby boy,” she said. “We are all safe here.”