by Rick Brooks

Patience Hastings came into my life like Aphrodite stepping from the sea foam.

I'd been watching dolphins cavorting just off shore. Salt spray beaded my skin, feeling refreshing in the heat, as I cautiously moved closer. When I rounded a large boulder, there Pat was. One of my sandals scuffed on the rocks and she turned. She'd just come out of the sea because she was adjusting her one-piece red swimsuit. Her short dark hair was dripping water. Brown eyes nearly level with my own twinkled. She grinned and unconcernedly adjusted one shoulder strap. I caught my breath. Echoing her grin was a large dolphin with its head on the rocky ledge we stood on. It gave what sounded like a wolf whistle and splashed me with its tail. I blinked and it had disappeared. Pat's laughter was like silver bells.

"Hi," she said, squeezing my left bicep. "Let's go to where it's drier." She stooped to pick up a small gray overnight case from behind a nearby rock, and I admired the play of her muscles. I've never liked skinny girls. My married and well-meaning friends keep trying to pair me off with hardened dieters. Someone on a diet is rarely in a good mood anyway. Eating a decent meal in front of one is just asking for trouble. Pat looked chubby, but she moved like a cat. Or a dolphin. I rarely saw her frown. I had a cooler in my '57 Chevy with several bottles of Pokagon Orange and some cold chicken inside. Pat grinned, her face lighting up. "I like a man who doesn't get cans. Sea bottom out there is nearly paved with the damn things." She gestured at me with the chicken leg she held in one hand as she took the bottle I'd opened for her in the other.

We sat side by side on the hood and ate and drank, looking out across the restless ocean. I never saw the sea until I was fifteen. Haven't been able to leave it since. It bewitched me like it had Tolkien's elves. I could tell Pat felt the same.

Around most women, I feel a need to fill the silences with talk. Pat and I sat there with no need for words until the setting sun painted the waves red. When I offered to drive her home, I got a shock. "Oh, I don't live around here."

"Where are you staying?"

"I'm not. Just passing through."

"But...but," I caught myself. "Where will you stay?"

"Wherever you go is good enough for me," she said, picking up her small gray overnight case from the ground.

Her parents had named her Patience, so she was anything but. Though she never told me, I suspect I was meant to be a one night stand. But we seemed to mesh from the start. Pat loved to swim. I'd never met a woman like her. I'd nearly made the Olympic swim team, yet she could outswim me. She could even jump entirely out of the water.

We spent most of my spare time swimming, often joined by the dolphins. They frolicked around us. We rode the waves. The dolphins effortlessly, Pat and I with lazy strokes. Pat whistled and chirped to the dolphins and they whistled and chirped back. I swam towards one and reached out. It darted away. Occasionally one brushed against me and I marvelled at the softness of their hide.

Pat stretched out a hand and one came to her. Even the two calves showed no qualms about coming to her. The only time I tried to pet one of the little ones, I found two adults blocking my way. Dolphins are never supposed to have attacked humans. But they do have lots of sharp pointed teeth. I didn't argue with them.

Pat liked to swim in the nude, liked the feel of the water on her skin. Her pale body was noticeably lighter than any of the dolphins. Yet I'd often lose sight of her. Once I swam around and through the group of dolphins for ten minutes before she popped out from behind a dolphin and grinned at me.

I had an isolated cottage just above an abrupt shoreline. It was a low stone structure with narrow windows, but quite affordable. I was able to pay for it as well as all my supplies by pumping gas on weekends. It was only for eating and sleeping.

Pat and I would sit outside in the dusk on two crates I'd found. Or we'd sit inside, sometimes in the dark, sometimes with the kerosine lamp burning, and talk. She turned out to be the only child of a father married to his business and a bubbleheaded mother who resented admitting to a teenaged daughter. "Liked to let people think we were sisters," Pat said. She tossed her head with an uncharacteristic frown. "So I said to myself, who needs this hassle. Packed some stuff and left."

I'd seen her stuff. A small watertight case with a swimsuit, sandals, jeans and halter, underwear, sunglasses, a small roll of dollar bills, and two books of poetry. Both about the sea.

She insisted on paying half the costs of the cottage despite her dwindling supply of money.

One night we were lying together. I was stroking that silky skin of hers, feeling the responsive play of the muscles underneath. I often wondered how she kept her skin so soft despite the salt water. I knew she didn't put anything on it.

I got all our supplies. She never went near the village that was almost half a mile away. "Pat," I finally said, "Have you ever thought about marriage?"

She stiffened, then relaxed. "Yes, but..." She paused and said flatly, "I'm not like other people."

"Neither am I. Most people would think us crazy to live in such a place and swim nearly all the time."

"It isn't that. I'm not human."

I looked up and down her lucious body and just smiled at her.

"I'm human in shape right now," Pat said. "I'm also a dolphin."

"Almost," I said.

"I'm a were-dolphin, a shape changer." She grinned at the look on my face.

I coolly pulled myself together and responded, "Huh?"

"I was swimming naked the first time it happened. I thought of how it would be if I were a dolphin. Now it's like clicking a switch in my mind. The change is both pain and ecstasy. Dolphins see mainly with their ears, guided by patterns of sound. You don't smell anything, but you taste everything. Your whole skin is a sense organ. You can feel the living things near you as they move. It was overwhelming. The first few times I couldn't bear it for long. Now I hate to leave it." She was gazing off into space, her face aglow.

"Then why did you?" I asked without thinking.

Pat grinned. "Sex. Dolphins are only interested in males during the mating season. The whole bunch out there, except for one calf, is female."

I had a mental picture of Pat, still in human shape, twined around an obviously male dolphin. I was not only jealous; I was scared.

Our first argument was a bad one. It ended with Pat nearly in tears. She swore at me and stormed out of our cottage. She stood in the moonlight and whistled, then looked out to sea. Before I could catch up with her, she dove. That stocky little body that I loved seemed to become even stockier. Her arms fused to her sides. Her legs fused together. Her skin grew gray. A dolphin hit the water and arrowed out to the others who had come at her whistle.

I pleaded with her to come back, but she and the other dolphins headed out to sea. So I dove in after them. I swam as I never had before. They kept gaining on me. I don't know how long I persisted. Seemed an eternity with nothing in sight but the ocean. I had the illusion of being on a gigantic treadmill, exerting all my strength but going nowhere.

Finally I began to tire. It was way too late to turn back, so I kept on. I fell into a dreamy state where there was nothing but stroking with one arm, then the other. My arms and legs grew heavier and heavier. I felt as though I was watching my body from above. My arms went limp and the water closed over my head. It really didn't seem too important. Then something came up underneath me and lifted me out of the water.

It was Pat.

I put my arms around her dolphin body and hung on as best I could. The other dolphins danced around us as Pat made a lazy 180 degree turn. It hardly seemed any time at all before Pat was nudging me ashore. Then she turned back toward the rest. I got to my feet and called. I nearly fell over. Before I could leap back into the sea, Pat had cut one of the calves out of the group and both were headed back to shore. At the edge of the water, her form flowed and turned paler. And so did his.

The other dolphins whistled, hooted, and called. They followed Pat and nearly lept onto the shore.

She came towards me, tears streaming down her cheeks. The baby in her arms was crying and howling. That was when I first met my step-son, Jeremy.

We've had many happy years together. My Jeremy is now a teenager himself and has three little sisters. There are times when I come home from work and find them with a distant look in their eyes and the smell of seaweed in their damp hair. I know they have been where I can never follow.

One shouldn't cage a wild animal. And my darlings are part of the wild. They could never be happy ashore all of their lives. The bonds of love have held them to me despite the joys of the sea.

I do worry about my daughters, though. It would be hard for me to accept a dolphin for a son-in-law.

The End

Dolphin Girl