Nicholas A. White
Aug 12 · 4 min read
Image credit: Jay Mantri

The dolphin lopsidedly swims for the shore of one of the many uninhabited islands that emerge from this part of the creek around low tide. A portion of the net remains wrapped around her body. She’s all cut up from oysters, slashes in her rubbery skin.

But I don’t know. I’m not a wildlife expert.

I paddle closer, beaching my kayak on the sandy shore beside her. I think she might spook from my presence, but she barely moves her tail.

It isn’t easy pushing her, even a little, because dolphins are a lot heavier in person than they look from a distance. Everything’s heavier in real life, once you get close enough.

“How long you been out here?” I ask, as if the dolphin might respond.

It takes a while to saw through a single strand of the net with my little pocketknife, and there are dozens to work through. But time is malleable like that. Five seconds can feel longer than five minutes, depending on the situation.

“We’re going to get you out of this,” I say, which lingers like an empty promise.

She isn’t moving anymore, resting on the sand instead, the top half of her body sticking out. By the time I finish freeing her, the tide’s starting to come in, the water rising on the oyster beds.

I pull the dolphin by her tail into deeper water, having to use my whole body, my feet wedged into the sand under green-tinted water. She starts coming alive, slowly — the first time I think maybe she really is going to be okay — and I keep thinking about how much my daughter, Bentley, would’ve liked to be here.

But she’s not here. She’s at the hospital for precautionary screening from what Claire says is my fault.

“Promise me you’re going to stay away from those oyster beds,” I say. “Otherwise I’m not letting you go.”

When she looks at me, I swear the dolphin knows. It registers. The magical glimpse of cross-species recognition.

This isn’t the evening I imagined, kayaking here to get some fresh air after Claire told me not to follow them to the hospital. But I feel good after seeing that dolphin swim away. She’s a little wobbly in the water, but capable of navigating her way toward the main channel, I think.

I’ve done something respectable — I’ve helped — which isn’t always the case.

Before Claire got home from work today, Bentley tripped on the stairs, banged her head on the carpet floor, and lay there unconscious for five seconds.

Don’t get me wrong, those were a scary five seconds.

Claire said, “This is exactly why we can’t be together,” after I told her what happened. And while I’m going to apologize for all of this — I’ve already decided that — I’m still not sure what I’m apologizing for. I told Bentley to hold the handrail, like I’ve told her a million times. She’s eight years old. I can only do so much.

And the important part isn’t that it’s my fault or not my fault but that she potentially has a concussion. Which gets to the bigger problem: After almost three months, Claire and I still haven’t figured out how to make our non-relationship work. We didn’t expect living together after breaking up to dig under our skin as much as it has, barnacles growing in the gap between us, slicing us, making us angry whenever we look at each other in the smallest wrong way.

I roll up the fishing net and stuff it into my kayak, wondering if whoever owns it simply doesn’t care about the inherent risk to dolphins.

They’re on the way home from the hospital by now. The good thing is that I know Bentley’s okay. Not because Claire’s called me yet, but because I made sure of that before they left. I asked her questions, checked her pupils for dilation.

But still, I don’t know everything, and after the dolphin swims into the main channel, I exhale a breath I didn’t know was being held, as if Bentley’s and this dolphin’s fates are somehow intertwined.

I hear the lapping of water against the sharp oyster beds, the splash of birds as they bombard baitfish in the water. It’s peaceful out here. It’s quiet. It’s beautiful.

But it’s also violent — somehow all of that occurring at the same time. And while I can’t tell you how that’s possible — I simply don’t know — I can tell you, if you’re out here, and you listen, and you lose yourself strictly in the sounds of the tidal creek, you’ll hear the proof.

Emrys Journal Online

Companion to the print journal est. 1984, Greenville, SC

Nicholas A. White

Written by

Part-time civil engineer while pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Emrys Journal Online

Companion to the print journal est. 1984, Greenville, SC

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