The Pearl, Part II

a mysterious gift


One day, late in the year, William was bobbing in the rolling swells above Big Tom, when Freddy popped up to the surface beside him as he did every day.   As usual, William looked down and rang out a cheerful "Hello!"  Today, though, something was different.   Freddy wasn't blowing bubbles.   William, a bit concerned, asked if Freddy was okay.   Freddy seemed to be wearing a rather serious expression on his flat face, if, indeed a flounder can have an expression.   Freddy didn't look sick.   Why no bubbles?   Did he have a secret?   Why wasn't he saying anything?   Instead of answering, Freddy rolled over once or twice, then he flipped his tail and swam around William's tank three or four times. "What can he be doing?", William thought.   Without answering, Freddy swam round and round until he came to the small flat platform in William's base where the battery was hidden.   Then, with what seemed like a mighty effort, Freddy flipped his tail and lifted himself almost completely out of the water.   He opened his mouth, dropped something round and shiny onto the platform above William's tank, and sank back into the water.  William was amazed and bewildered.   Now Freddy was swimming round and round again, blowing a furious stream of bubbles all the while.   Certainly, he was talking now and all excited as he poured out a long and complicated story.   Here was a mystery indeed.   William looked down at the shiny, round thing.   It was white, about half-an-inch across, and had a soft glow coming from it.   William tilted himself.   The thing rolled across the platform.   When it caught the sunlight, it seemed to change color a little bit.   Sometimes it glowed pink, then it glowed blue.   "Amazing", William thought.   "What is it?"   It was certainly very lovely and like nothing he had ever seen.

Freddy was blowing so many bubbles now, William was afraid he might run out of air.   Of course, as always, William had no idea what Freddy was trying to say.   Best to pretend, he thought.   He let his bell chime out.   "Thank you," he said.   "Thank you for your beautiful gift."   Two bubbles.   "You're welcome."    Then Freddy was gone beneath the waves.

Many days passed now.   It was getting on toward winter.   Mostly, at this time of year, William was thinking about his job.   There were more storms and bad weather now, and William had to keep a sharp lookout for ships that might be in trouble.   Most of the summer sailors from Nantucket Island were gone now, but fishing boats and big ocean freighters worked all year round.   It was William's job to keep them safe, but even as he worked, he had one extra thing to think about: the round, shiny marble that rolled back and forth across the platform on his tank.   He tried to remember to keep his balance in the water so it wouldn't be washed overboard.   Freddy still came every day, but said nothing more about his gift.   If William
sometimes asked again what it was, Freddy would blow just a single bubble.   The bubble went 'POP!'   Was that a 'P'?   POP!   William didn't know.   He just smiled and gave a little ding of his bell.   "Okay", he said.

Then one evening, just at sunset, on a lovely, cold day in December, William looked out toward the west and saw something high up above where the setting sun lighted it from beneath; two wings and a small, gliding shape in the air.   Was it?   Yes it was!  It was a seagull.   William's heart leaped.   He let out a furious chorus of dings and dongs and clangs.   He flashed his red light on and off a dozen times, very quickly.   "Over here! Over here!"   He knew it was Sally, coming to pay him a visit.   Sally was excited too.   She circled around William, beating the air with her wings.   She climbed high above him and then made sudden dives, splashing the top of a wave before climbing up to do it again.   All the time, Sally cried out in answer to William,   "Scree--screech--hello, hello!   I'm here!   I'm back!   I missed you!"   Finally, with one last swoop, she set herself down on William's mast and folded her wings.   Sally sat still for a while, making soft, cooing sounds now, almost like a pigeon.   William had never heard a seagull make sounds like that, but he understood.   Sally was saying, "I'm here.   I came back.  I'm home."   If William had ever been close to shore, he might have recognized the sounds his bell was making now, very soft, slow sounds, low peals, each one dying away in the sunset to be followed by another.   He didn't know it, of course, but he was making the peaceful, chiming sound of a church bell at evening.

The next days were very happy ones for Sally and William.   They talked and talked.   Sally told William all about her adventures inland and on Nantucket Island, where she often went exploring.   William told Sally about fish trawlers, lost in the fog and stormy seas, that he helped find their way into the harbor.   Neither of them knew it yet, but their conversation would have a very important meaning in the near future, and not just for each other.   William, of course, showed Sally the round thing, rolling around on his deck plate, and Freddy came up too, making that one mysterious bubble, the one that went 'Pop', like a 'P'.

Sally listened and smiled a curious seagull smile.   Then she spoke.   "I know what this is," she said.   "It's a pearl."   Freddy made three popping sounds in a row.  "Yes, yes! Pop, pop, pop."   William, if he had a mouth and eyes, would have opened his mouth wide and stared in wide-eyed wonderment.   "A pearl?  What's that?"

Now, Sally was all screeches and squawks as she explained the mystery.   Once, a long time ago, she had seen a pearl, just a little one.   She had been patrolling the beach on Nantucket.   She had swooped down to pick up a shell, which she said was an 'oyster'.   Oysters were food for seagulls, she explained, but to get the food, which was inside the shell, you had to make the oyster open up so you could scoop it out.   Sally had carried the oyster shell high into the air, and then let it fall, so that it landed on a big rock far below.   When the oyster shell hit the rock, it made a sickening, cracking sound and burst open.   Sally dived down to get the food inside and that's when she saw the pearl.   It was a tiny one, but shiny, just like William's, and it rolled out on the sand beside the broken oyster.   Sally ate the food, of course.   She was very hungry that morning, but she didn't enjoy her meal very much.   She felt sad.   "Can sea gulls have feelings?" she wondered.   She knew, because her mother had taught her, that oysters were food for sea gulls.  She knew that.  But today she felt sad, because she realized that for her to eat, the oyster had to die.   Sally had never thought about anything dying before, least of all an oyster.   But now, looking down at the broken shell and the little shiny, round pearl, Sally felt a tear form at one corner of her bright seagull eye.   "Can a bird cry?" she wondered.   Sally had picked up the tiny pearl in her beak and carried it back to her nest.   She kept it for a long time and thought and thought.   Perhaps it was from that day on that she began to dislike the taste of fish and started
instead to follow the big cruise ships out to sea, and to eat the kitchen scraps they threw overboard.

While Sally and William pondered these strange new events, Freddy came up again and swam around William's tank several times.   He wasn't blowing bubbles now.   Instead, he stuck his head all the way out of the water, opened his mouth to form a big, round circle, like an 'O', and stayed there.  You might be thinking now that it's too bad fish can't speak, because right then it was so clear that Freddy wanted very, very much to join in the talk between Sally and William.   So, just this once, let's pretend that Freddy can speak.

What Freddy wanted so much to say was that the big 'O' meant not just any oyster, but stood for his special friend, Ozzie, who lived far below on the sea floor, where Ozzie, like all his oyster friends, spent most of his time in bed.   An oyster bed, that is.   One day while Freddy was browsing down there keeping Ozzie company, Oz opened his shell and rolled the big pearl out onto the sand, right in front of Freddy's nose.   Ozzie made a very sour face as he did this, as if to say "Whew!  Am I glad to get rid of this thing! It started out as a
grain of sand, but no matter how many coats of shiny stuff I wrapped around it, it just kept scratching inside my shell and making me itch."  Ozzie sneezed.   "Here, Freddy. You take it.   Maybe someone else will know what to do with it.   I certainly don't need it."

There.   Now we know what had been on Freddy's mind all these months!   And that's when Freddy had decided to take the pearl in his mouth and bring it up to the surface as a present for William.

So today, on a clear day in early December, all three friends were gathered around the spot where William was moored, looking at the wonderful, giant pearl and thinking hard about what might be done with it.   The first mystery was solved and for the next part of our story, we will have to trust very much in the worldly experience of Sally Seagull.

click here for part III

© 2011 by Kendell Kardt