The Pearl - part I

unlikely friends

copyright 2011 by Kendell Kardt        


It was probably the sweet, clear sound of William's bell that first attracted Sally Seagull to the lonely spot where he was moored, far out in the sea off Nantucket Island.  William's bell was important to him and not only because of the comfort its sound gave him on the long, dark nights when the ocean was stormy and the wind howled in his rigging.  William knew that his bell was sometimes the only guide for a sailor lost in the fog, to help him find a safe channel into the island harbor.

It seemed to William that he had been moored to his desolate spot for a long time, for years, in fact, but he knew that his job was important.  He was needed.  William was secured to the bottom by a chain, so he couldn't move around much.  That was important, too.  The chain was attached to a very large rock called Big Tom, just a few fathoms under water. It was important that no big ship should come too close to the spot where William sat.  The ship might have run aground on Big Tom and been wrecked.

Of course, William had a light, too.  The light was red and flashed on and off in the dark.  William was sad in a way when the men from the Coast Guard had installed the solar panel.  Until then, he often had company, when the seamen came out to charge up his battery.   Now, with the solar panel high up on his mast, they only needed to come once in a great while, and check to see that everything was working properly.   Now William was lonelier than ever--that is until Sally Seagull found him.

It's not quite fair to say that William was alone.  He did, of course, have Freddy and he often thought he should be more grateful.  Freddy was a flounder who usually came up from the deep bottom once a day to keep William company for a few minutes.   Freddy spent most of his time down on the sea floor, eating.   He seemed to be made for eating down there.  He was very flat, so the heavy pressure of the water on the bottom couldn't squeeze him any flatter.  Also, both of his eyes were on one side of his head, the side he turned down, to see the food.   It made William smile to think that, while Freddy was a thoughtful friend, his view of things was a bit 'one-sided'.   William never mentioned this.   He would have been very sorry to hurt Freddy's feelings.

The reason William wasn't more grateful for Freddy's companionship was that Freddy couldn't talk.  Most fish can't talk, you know, and Freddy was no exception.  When Freddy came up beside William's big tank, he would float just under the surface for a while and blow bubbles.   William knew that the bubbles were Freddy's way of saying "Hello. How are you today, William?"   But it didn't help much, because William was always aware that he had to make up both sides of their conversation.

All that would change when Sally came, because Sally could speak, or at least she could squawk, which gave William a much better idea of what she was trying to say.

The weather was very stormy on the day Sally first came.  William had watched her for many minutes, gliding and circling high above him as the high winds tossed her little body above the foaming ocean swells.   William wanted to call out to her, "Hey! Down here!  I'm down here.  Fly this way.  You can rest here", but the wind was howling too loud for words to reach her, so he had to rely on his bell.  He rang it over and over, louder each time, until finally Sally was able to swoop low and catch hold of William's rigging.  Sally had been calling too as she circled, making the mournful sounds that seagulls sometimes make when they fly.  That day, it seemed to William that her shrill cry was saying, "Help! Help! I'm so tired. I can't fly much longer!"  When Sally landed on William, she was exhausted.  She made just a few little peeps, to say "Thank you".  Then she tucked her head under one wing and fell fast asleep.  William was very happy that he was there to help.  All through the long, stormy night he rocked gently back and forth, up and down, in the swells, while Sally slept.  If he had been able to sing, he would have sung a lullaby for Sally, but he didn't know any, so he just rang his bell, ever so softly, in a steady, slow rhythm and hoped she would understand.

The morning of the next day dawned bright and clear.  The sun glinted on the waves.  The storm had passed.  It was a beautiful new day.

When Sally woke up, she began talking almost immediately.  She was eager to tell him how, on the previous evening, she had been following a giant cruise ship out of Long Island Sound, waiting for the crew to empty a container of kitchen scraps overboard so that she might swoop down and select something for dinner.  The leftovers from cruise ships' kitchens were, she explained, quite a delicacy for Sally.   She admitted that on many a day, she was reduced to following one of the big barges of refuse that haul New York City's trash out to sea.   William couldn't help thinking that Sally's diet consisted mostly of garbage, but ever tactful, he kept that observation to himself.   He saw right away that Sally had a very busy life and did a lot of traveling just to find food.   He asked, rather shyly, if Sally couldn't find small fish to eat by diving into the waves.   Sally said that, yes, she knew how to 'fish', but it was a lot of trouble, and in her heart, she felt rather sorry for the fish.   Anyway, truth to tell, raw fish didn't taste very good and kitchen scraps, when she could get them, were a gourmet treat.

It seemed to William that Sally went to a great deal of unnecessary trouble to find the food she liked, but then, she clearly loved flying far and wide and William, who was mostly content to stay right where he was, thought he would try to appreciate the difference in their personalities.

Meanwhile, Sally went right on talking.   She told William how, on the night before, as she was flying low behind the cruise ship, the sky had grown darker and clouds lower and the wind had risen higher and higher.   Finally the big waves were reaching up and slapping at her toes and it began to rain very hard.   Sally realized, too late, that this time, she had flown too far from home and was in real danger of drowning if she were forced to sit herself down in the mountainous swells and try to ride out the storm floating in the water.   As she talked now, her voice grew quieter when she described the feeling of hope that surged up in her little breast when she heard William's bell.  How grateful and relieved she had felt when she had, at last, caught hold of his rigging and knew she was safe!   William was quiet now too.  He didn't say anything, but his own heart swelled with gratitude and love because he had been there to save her when her danger was greatest.

Sally spent all that beautiful, sunny day resting and talking with William.  They soon discovered that they had lots to share about their very different experiences of life and both of them felt a deep, peaceful joy because now they had someone to share them with.

Late in the afternoon, Freddy came up from the bottom and William introduced him to Sally.   She was very gracious, even though she had never met a fish in person before, certainly not socially.   Freddy blew a lot of bubbles and Sally made sure she pretended to understand each one.   All was well when the sun went down and once more, Sally tucked her head under her wing and slept, while William rocked her gently on his big metal arm.

Sally and William spent four happy, sunny days together on that first visit. They laughed and talked and shared their stories.   By the time Sally left, she felt rested and strong enough to set off on her travels again.   It seemed to both of them as if they would now be friends forever.   It felt as though they had known each other for a long, long time.

On the morning Sally flew away, she promised William that she would come again soon, as often as she could, to renew their conversation.   She hinted, with a twinkle in her eye, that next time she would tell him a lot more about her traveling adventures, especially about what it was like when, sometimes, she flew 'inland' from the sea.  The word 'inland' had a wonderful, mysterious ring all its own.   William wondered what that might mean.   He had spent his whole life on the ocean, floating in the waves.   He tried to remember what it was like when he was a little buoy and big, strong men in overalls had put him together at a shipyard,
' inland'.   But it was far too long ago and all he could recall was thick, acrid smoke and showers of sparks flying everywhere as the men 'welded' his mast onto the big tank that was his bottom.   He wanted, now, to know more and he was excited when he thought that on her next visit, Sally would have more to tell him.

William might have felt sad now, as Sally spread her wings and lifted her slender body up onto a light breeze for flight, but he was very happy at the same time.   He felt confident that Sally would remember her promise to return, and when she did, they would laugh and talk again and she would share some things about the mystery of life inland.   William rang his bell now louder and louder with a joyful sound as he watched Sally's graceful shape get smaller and smaller in the morning sky.   At last she was just a speck on the horizon, and then she was gone.   But William kept on ringing his bell long after Sally was out of sight.  He was happy.   Today he had something to dream about and that dream would keep him company until he saw Sally again.

click here for part II

© 2011 by Kendell Kardt