Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Woe That Is Madness

A Woe That Is Madness
by Marty Reeder

Dorothy had no idea that her ex-boyfriend was watching her.
In fact, she thought she was avoiding him. AJ texted her demanding that they talk and that he would wait for her outside her apartment. Knowing that AJ had been unstable ever since their ugly break up six months ago, Dorothy never suspected that AJ actually anticipated his text would drive her to Ocean Park’s largest holding take.
So Dorothy sat unaware, the moonlight glimmering softly off of the lapping water of the nearly 1.5 million gallon tank. Dorothy had all the look of a gypsy, with a long brown skirt, layered with tinkling sequins and a blouse that glowed with a patchwork of luminous colored cloth. A brightly beaded necklace and dangling wire-patterned earrings contributed to this Bohemian look—though her glasses betrayed any singleness of fashion with a boxy and sleek smartness that shouted of a femme academic. Her eye shadow blinked with a metallic sheen, and her nail polish adorned the tips of her fingers with glittery dots of bright yellow.
While this sort of eccentric fashion stood out among Ocean Park’s employees, it is also what gave Dorothy a unique bond to the resident of the park’s largest holding tank. The sperm whale calf, Teddy, had been rescued after his mother was taken by Japanese whalers. He was left injured and barely capable of swimming straight. This tragic past left Teddy cold and wary to the staff at Ocean Park, in spite of their attempts to help him recover so as to release him back into the wild.
But Dorothy, an assistant dolphin trainer, caught his eye one day—her glittering garb immediately setting her apart—and he payfully sneaked up behind her and splashed her legs.
Now as Dorothy’s legs dipped and swayed in Teddy’s tank, she knew the tremendous mammal would greet her as he always had in the past year, by trying to sneak up to her and splash her. The dark water on the other end of the tank rippled and shot out moonbeams towards Dorothy’s eyes.
“Oh Teddy,” she smiled, starting to feel more at ease from the problems that awaited her outside the Park. “When are you going to learn that even an adolescent sperm whale is far too humongous to sneak up on me!”
A sudden shuffling behind her told Dorothy that she and Teddy were not alone. A voice rasped, “What about a regular-sized ex-boyfriend?”
Dorothy’s torso swung around, and she saw AJ hunched behind her, his face hidden by shadows, but his eyes glinting of malice. “AJ … I thought … I thought you were going to meet me at the apartment …” Try as she might, she couldn’t keep her voice from wavering.
“And I thought you were going to be my girlfriend forever.” Pause. “I guess we were both wrong.”
Dorothy’s next question remained unasked, because AJ anticipated it. “Yeah, they took away my keys when they fired me, so I just came in the daytime with a ticket and then hid out in the groundskeeping shed until the place closed up and everyone went home.” He did not need to finish up by explaining that was when he texted her, knowing that she would retreat back to her work. He finished by saying, “It’s not surprising, but still insulting, that you choose the company of these barbaric creatures over me,” AJ sneered toward the tank where Dorothy’s legs dangled. 
“AJ, I never meant to hurt you, but you changed after the accident and I—”
“Well I guess that’s where you and I differ, Dorth, because I mean to hurt you … and you’re definitely going to change after this ‘accident!’”
Before Dorothy could think to move, AJ closed the distance between them with an awkward leap, exiting the shadows and revealing a manic face accompanied by one of the tree trimmers from the groundskeeping shed—the teeth of the small chainsaw gaping in the moonlight.
AJ’s strength surprised Dorothy. His free hand gripped her shoulder with intensity, picking her up and then shoving her away from the edge of Teddy’s tank. Dorothy also noticed that AJ’s mind may have been in a frenzy, but he still thought strategically. He angled himself so that he stood between Dorothy and the concrete pathway back to the staff facilities. Behind her Dorothy heard the rustling of water from the shark tank. He wouldn’t, she thought, panicking.
AJ noted her realization. “Just your leg, Dorth. Just dip your leg in long enough to have it as mangled as mine.” AJ slid forward his left limb as an illustration. “Look at it this way: at least you’ll be expecting it. Those freaks caught me by surprise when I was scrubbing the fish guts off their ledge.”
Dorothy inched back in horror during this monologue, getting closer to the shark tank, whose ledge rose up to her knees. AJ followed her, slowly shuffling away from the large holding tank. The limp was all too clear in this moonlight, but instead of inciting pity, as it normally did, it now provoked a monstrous horror. To add to this, she saw AJ scrunch his face into a narrow viciousness, “Or if you don’t want to put your leg in, you can let me do the work,” he lifted up the jagged maw of the hedge trimmer to emphasize his point.
Dorothy could only shake her head as fear gripped her. He had completely lost it. “No!” she finally squeaked, trying not to sound desperate but failing. She shuddered as she felt the edge of the shark tank press up against her calves. “Why are you doing this?” she whimpered, barely loud enough to register.
He shuffled forward. “Because. Because these savage creatures are monsters, as I found out a year ago. They should all be destroyed. And yet, the one person I love—loved—she turns out to take their side the minute I start talking about retribution. You talk about these malicious animals, about that beast of a whale, like they’re your buddies! … while the whole time your boyfriend wants some justice done and you treat him like he’s gone mad, trying to send him to a therapist!”
Dorothy could not move back any further, so instead her sequined skirt rustled to a stop as she listened to AJ’s appalling appeal. “Well, Dorothy,” he continued, “I’m not going to make you go to a therapist. I’m just going to help you see my point of view. So sit down on that ledge and drop your leg in. If the sharks don’t seem to notice at first, I’ll only slice you up enough that the blood will get them going.”
Tears started rolling down her cheeks as she shook her head. But she saw the fanatical resolve in his eyes, and the minute he lifted up the small chainsaw, she closed her eyes, rotated on the ledge and slid one leg gingerly in the water. Almost at once, some rippling told her that the sharks detected the change in their environment and were investigating. She cringed, instinctively wanting to pull her leg out.
Any thoughts to that degree were immediately shredded as the relative silence of the night air ripped apart with the shrieking of the menacing weapon in AJ’s hand. It sputtered loud enough that she did not hear the threats that accompanied it, though she did not need to. Her leg stayed in the water and she clenched her jaw as something bumped against it. The sharks had found her. Any second now, she knew she would feel a tug and then a sharp pain accompanying it.
Waiting for that awful moment, a crash somehow overwhelmed the rattling staccato of the trimmer. A tremendous shattering of water swamped the concrete pathway between the two tanks and Dorothy turned back in time to see a shape the size of a minivan slam into AJ and knock him forward.
Dorothy snatched her leg out of the shark tank just before jagged teeth and dead eyes could clamp down on it. She barely had time to stand and call out Teddy’s name before a raging AJ had recovered and restarted the hedge trimmer. “How about we make that gimp of yours go away permanently! What do you say, monster?”
Teddy, while formidable force in crashing out of his tank, now sat helpless on the concrete as AJ slammed the chainsaw down just where Teddy’s fin met his body. The sperm whale calf writhed uselessly as AJ pressed downward in a disturbing craze. So engrossed in his work was he, that he did not even see Dorothy come up behind him with a buoy catcher and swing it at his head with all the desperation she could muster. The pole slammed into him and he immediately dropped the trimmer and stumbled sideways. He just about got his legs under him, except that his bad leg buckled one last time, causing him to trip onto the ledge of the shark tank.
The sharks, deprived of their previous prey, were quick to fasten onto AJ’s loose hand. Before he could think to find an anchor, the eager predators dragged him into their tank.
Hours later, Dorothy involuntarily shuddered again, trying to shake the graphic scene she had witnessed out of her mind. She had not yet moved from Teddy’s side while several marine biologists worked on the whale’s wound. The police still had officers taking pictures and muttering while pointing to the shark tank. Some paramedics stood uselessly to the side, not needed but too intrigued to leave just yet.
But Dorothy ignored them all. Instead she stroked the head of her finned companion and looked into one of his eyes, which seemed to reflect an understanding and compassion as deep, almost, as the sea from whence he came. Such a contrast to AJ’s wild eyes only moments before his own destruction, she thought.
One of the biologists gave a short exclamation and, after a moment of discussion with one of his companions, he approached Dorothy. “What is it, Josh?” Dorothy asked. She knew him from work.
Josh lifted up an object about the size of his palm. It was black and metallic, slickened by the dark whale blood on it, and it showed a couple pointed edges. “Tip of a harpoon. It was lodged way down there. That’s what had created Teddy’s swimming limp all this time. If AJ hadn’t cut just where he did, we never would have found it, and then when Teddy got to be too big for our enclosure, it’s pretty certain he wouldn’t have survived back in the wild.” Josh shook his head in astonishment. “Now, it’s looking like he’ll heal up just fine. As long as he can find a pod that likes peculiar fashion style as much as he does, I think he’s going to be okay!”
Dorothy breathed a sigh of relief and wrapped her arms as far as she could around her friend. “Well, Teddy, I have to give you credit. I told you before that you couldn’t sneak up on me, but you legitimately caught me by surprise this time.” She smiled. “Thank you.”

©2012 Marty Reeder