Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction
Orcas and SketchpadsThe islanders live life in a different time flow from the rest of us. Time on the islands is measured by the grand sweep of the sun from east to west, rather than the more prosaic sweep of a clock's minute hand in a tiny circle. Life comes as it will, and the islanders care little for the steady march of time which propels and restricts the lives of those on the mainland.
At occasional intervals, however, the flow of time catches up with the islands. Those who are departing for the mainland or returning to the island are forced to come to terms with the precise, structured schedule of the ferry, which makes only a handful of runs per day.
Then, once the scurried activity of the ferry has ceased, time raises its white flag of surrender once more to the casual, almost whimsical schedule of island life.
Between the two of them, Sue and her mother - who were not islanders - had a combined understanding of the time flow of the islands. Sue, who had just finished a very relaxing, stress-free year of life in preschool, had a natural comprehension of the islands' carefree disregard for time. Laura worked a nine-to-five job as an administrative assistant in a local law firm, and lived by the perpetual, relentless ticking of one second following after another in stubborn progression.
On occasion their varied perspectives on time flow caused problems, and this morning was starting out to be one of those days.
Today was Sue's birthday, and she had announced several weeks before that she wanted to go to the lighthouse and marine museum on her birthday. There aren't many five year olds who think a day at a lighthouse and museum is a great birthday present, but Sue wasn't entirely usual. She had, a few months earlier, developed a strong fascination with all things nautical. Laura blamed this marine addiction on Sue's grandmother, who, last Christmas, had given her a stuffed orca puppet named Ollie, never realizing that this would instigate a flood of questions about the things that live in the ocean. "I have to know what to feed him," Sue had explained, perplexed at her mother's reluctance to answer the deluge of oceanic questions that faced her every day.
Once the posters that hung on Sue's bedroom walls had all been pictures of Disney characters and TV stars, but now they had been removed to make room for photos of lighthouses and sailing ships and porpoises and whales. There was even a finger paint picture that was - in Sue's eyes - a perfectly recognizable portrait of a killer whale. Poor Tabitha, Sue's little teddy bear, had been relegated to the top of her dresser, making room for Ollie in her bed each night.
Now, on Sue's birthday, Laura was up before dawn, trying to get Sue ready for the trip to the coast in time to board the morning ferry. Laura understood the urgency of meeting the ferry's immutable schedule. Little Sue, who was trying on the new sailor outfit her gram had sent her, was indifferent to her mother's urging. It was her birthday, after all; surely the ferry would wait for her. Between her urgent reminders to Sue to "hurry and get dressed," Laura packed swim suits, a picnic lunch, beach chairs, and her sketchpad and charcoals into the car.
Laura had been looking forward to this trip as much as Sue, but for different reasons; as an amateur but passionate artist, she was eager to sketch the lighthouse and rocky eastern shore of the island. Today's visit to the island would give her a perfect opportunity to indulge her hobby; after visiting the museum, Sue would want to spend the afternoon playing on the rocks by the lighthouse. It would be a peaceful and delightful afternoon.
Now, finally, they were on their way, with Sue singing, at the top of her little lungs, ancient and macabre piratey songs, which - in her simple view of things - were what all sailors sang. When she had exhausted her limited supply of these shanties, she switched to more silly songs from the Muppet's Treasure Island. Laura just listened and smiled, but kept her laughter silent.
Then, suddenly, the songs stopped, and Sue turned a questioning gaze on her mother. "Did you pack Ollie?" she asked.
Her mother's smile disappeared immediately, and she said, impatiently, "If you wanted Ollie to come, you should have packed him yourself."
"Ollie wants to see the museum," she said, pronouncing "museum" like a cow might say it: moo-zeeum.
"Honey," Laura replied, "We're already running late. If we turn around now, we'll miss the morning ferry."
"Ollie's never been to the ocean before."
Laura wished she could remember, from her own childhood, the inner workings of a five-year-old mind. Sue knew that Ollie was just a puppet, just a stuffed toy, but in her young mind, the little girl had built up a mental image of what this day would be, and Ollie was inextricably bound into that imagined perfect day.
Laura tried a different tactic. "I think Ollie is busy getting your birthday party ready, sweetheart."
Sue gave her mother one of those disgusted looks that can make a parent just wither inside, the look that says, "Don't talk down to me, I'm not stupid." Sue said, "I don't want a party, then."
"Honey, Ollie is just a toy."
"Gram gave him to me," was the seemingly unrelated response. Perhaps Sue thought Gram would be sad if she left Ollie home on this special day. Or maybe she just couldn't wait to tell Gram how much Ollie had enjoyed visiting the ocean for the first time. Either way, Laura began to understand that the absence of Ollie was a bit more of a problem than she had first thought.
She pulled the car off to the side of the road and stopped in the breakdown lane. "Honey," she said, "if we go back to get Ollie, we'll miss the morning ferry. Then we won't have time to see both the museum and the lighthouse. Is that what you want?"
"Ollie wants to go to the museum."
Later that night, after a long and exhausting day, after cake and ice cream and presents, and after the last of the party guests had gone home, Sue and her mother and Ollie sat cuddled together on the sofa. Sue was fast asleep, but Laura and Ollie both had their eyes wide open. Laura shook her head at the orca and smiled, almost believing for a moment that the creature was smiling back at her. How strange the things that little children will do for love of a stuffed animal, she thought. Then after a moment, Someday she'll be too old and worldy-wise to make such silly sacrifices, and I'll miss the sweet innocence of today.
Cradling Sue in her arms, just as Sue cradled the stuffed orca in hers, Laura glanced at her sketchpad which sat forlornly blank and lonely on the coffee table. With a rueful smile she thought, Then again, not everything changes just because you grow up.
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