“Tell me a story,” I wheedle, snuggling closer in bed to my husband, Dave.
“I’m tired,” he says with a yawn for effect.
“C’mon, Honey. I want to hear a story.”
“I can’t think of anything.”
“I’ll give you three animals…”
I smile in the dark, hearing echoes of the voices of my little ones, Tucker and Casey, twenty-five years ago, saying, “Dad! Dad! Tell us a bedtime story!”
“Hmmm,” Dave would say. “Give me three animals…”
And that’s all it took. No matter how obscure or unrelated, Dave could spin a yarn from those three threads. I don’t know what sparked memories of those cozy evenings, but that’s what I want to hear now. I know from Dave’s groan that he is weakening, so I think back over the past few days...
We’re on vacation in Florida, staying at the Holiday Inn. Yesterday, Dave summoned me from the bathroom, saying, “Your services are required… and bring a tissue.”
I’m not in the mood, I’d thought.
But when I entered the bedroom, Dave was on the floor doing his back stretches and he was pointing at the ceiling. An insect – a centi-pede? – was motionless on the swirl of white stucco.
Dave does not like bugs.
I climbed on the couch and reached, but the insect had wings and took flight. It was not a centipede, something more like a…
“Dragonfly…” I nudge Dave. “That’s my first choice - a dragonfly.”
Dave is silent. Has he fallen asleep? Maybe he won’t tell me a story tonight, but I’ll be ready for tomorrow. I think some more...
On the beach this morning, I spotted a large, gelatinous green mass, rolling in the lazy surf. I thought it was seaweed until I noticed a quiver and the tremble of a pointy protuberance. “It looks like a huge snail without its shell,” I’d said...
I whisper into the dark, “My second animal is a sea slug. Dave? Do you hear me? My animals so far are a dragonfly and a sea slug.”
“I hear you,” says the weary voice at my side.
Number three, number three. What will it be? I hear the surf beyond the window and I picture the expanse of blue water in daylight, the wink of sun flecks dancing on ripples. Since our arrival, we’d scanned that vista, hoping for a glimpse, but never seeing a …
“Dolphin. Those are my three – a dragonfly, sea slug and dolphin. Tell me a story, Honey," I beg.
There is silence and I think I’ve lost him, when…
“I’m sorry, but I don’t breathe fire,” says Dave.
“What?” I say, confused.
Dave’s voice is annoyed, a little high-pitched. He says, “I said, ‘I don’t breathe fire.’”
I smile and pull the sheets closer to my chin. He’s already started the story!
“But you’re a dragonfly,” Dave continues in the whiny voice of the sea slug. “You must be able to breathe fire.”
“Well, I don’t. I understand your confusion, but I’m telling the truth. I do not, I repeat, I do not breathe fire.”
“Please,” said the sea slug, “I need your help. None of the other sea creatures likes me because I’m so slimy. I need your fire to dry me off a bit.”
“Even if I had fire, I doubt that’s a good idea,” responded the dragonfly.
“Oh, I don’t care if I wither like a vanilla bean or a raisin, it would be better than the way I am now.”
“I’d like to help you. Really, I would, but like I said, I don’t breathe fire. Let me think though. What’s the smartest animal in the sea?”
Again, I smile, wiggling my toes in anticipation, inching still closer to Dave’s chest. It’s my dolphin! I think.
“A dolphin,” said the slug.
“I’ll see what I can do,” said the dragonfly.
He winged his way out over the waves and spotted a fin. A triangular fin, moving very fast. He flew in close and fluttered on the fin. “Excuse me,” he said politely.
The fin tipped backwards and slipped beneath the water’s surface, revealing in its place a great mouth, bristling with sharp teeth.
“I’m sunk,” thought the dragonfly. Then he felt a strong thump.
The jaws of the shark, for that’s what this many-toothed creature was, snapped shut. He turned with a thrust of his tail and was gone, scared off by the one thing, the dragonfly knew, that sharks fear.
A dolphin! I feel like crowing, but instead I grin.
“A dolphin,” says Dave.
I knew it!
The dragonfly thanked the dolphin for his timely appearance and explained the sea slug’s dilemma. “The poor thing really is quite repulsive, so if there’s anything you can do…”
“Hmmm,” said the dolphin, only it came out a whistling squeak. He slapped the water with his tail and swam to the beach, scanning the sand in search of the sea slug.
The slug was lolling, in and out with each tug of the waves, waiting for the dragonfly’s report. Suddenly, the water whished and wavered and wrenched at the slug, tossing him up on the shore. The slug glimpsed the curve of a smile as the dolphin flipped something high into the air with a cheerful squeak.
What is it? I wonder.
“What is it?” wondered the slug.
Whatever is was, it landed smack on the slug. He felt the tapping and tickling of tiny tentacles, touching him, holding him close. Very close.
It was a starfish and it enfolded the slug, tucked him in and rolled him up. Together, they looked just like a ball. With his round gray nose, the dolphin pushed them beyond the surf line, onto the hot white sand.
“Now, I’ll dry up!” thought the sea slug. But soon he realized, “This doesn’t feel very good.”
The sun beat down. The sand was scorching and grainy. The tendrils of the starfish were still, growing tight; the starfish was shrinking as it dried. The slug thought, “I could go for some nice, wet, ooze.”
Overhead, the dragonfly hovered, concerned.
But the dolphin was wise. It was just a matter of time. He knew who would happen along.
A small boy appeared, as curious as the dolphin knew all little boys to be. He trotted over to the slug-starfish, poked at the odd-looking ball and picked it up.
“What is it, Tuck? What did you find?” called a voice.
“Don’t know,” said the child. “Something weird.”
The slug was not dry yet. He was wet. And sticky. Quite frankly, he was still pretty gross.
“Yuck!” said the boy and tossed the ball into the sea, where it sank through the rippling salt water.
“Ahhhhh!” said the starfish.
“Ahhhhh!” said the sea slug.
They stretched and separated and gratefully sucked in that water.
With a swish and tail-pump, the dolphin appeared. To the slug he squeaked, “Did you get what you wanted?”
The slug swelled and twisted, content in the water. The dragonfly zoomed overhead and tipped a wing. The starfish floated, flexing his five fingers; softly, he touched the slug.
The dolphin waited with a knowing smile.
“No,” said the slug, “But maybe I have what I need. I’m slimy and green, repulsive perhaps. That is not going to change.”
“And?” said the dolphin.
“And?” repeated the slug. What did the dolphin want him to say? He thought about the dragonfly who’d sought out the dolphin. He thought about the starfish who’d been willing to dry for him.
He smiled, as slugs do, a gross, slimy smile, and said, “And still, I have friends willing to help me.”
Just as my kids had, two decades ago, I feel cozy and safe at this happy ending. “I loved my story, Hon, I might want one every night.”
Dave groans, but he gives me a hug and a kiss.
“Let me think,” I murmur. “What will my three animals be?”