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Author's note: This magical realism story about trust, a young father, and his love for his daughter was inspired by the rare few parents today who along with their children, still see the wonder in the world.
A Composition by Aaron L. Gerri, 9th Grader
November 15, 2002
Rocksand Island is the smallest island in the world—at least, that’s what everyone said.
Everyone who believed in it, that is.
Up until recently, most so-called sensible people didn’t believe that Rocksand Island was an actual geographical location. Most people didn’t bother to find out. Some people said that Rocksand Island was so isolated that not even a bird could reach it. Rocksand Island was just a symbol, an idea, an image, a saying that meant “nowhere in particular”. It co-existed with Timbuktu and the end of the world.
Last month it was discovered that a “Rocksand Island” really does exist. Still, nobody knows exactly where it is or how it came to be. It’s too small to be tracked by satellite, too small to be seen by helicopter or jet plane, almost too small to be called an official island because the average adult could stretch out and span its length. Rocksand Island, true to its name, is nothing more than a cluster of rocks and a single tree in the midst of hundreds of thousands of miles of ocean.
Now we come to the question that waits unasked in the mind of every journalist, scientist, scholar and ordinary person who is reading this paper right now. It especially concerns our children, for they’re the ones who first believed in Rocksand Island and other places once thought to be fantasies.
How do you get to Rocksand Island?
The answer is simple yet as close to impossible as it gets, and that’s why I can tell it to you today. It lies in your trust for the ocean. Hardly anybody today will tell you they trust the ocean, and the ones who say they do are liars. Only one person so far has been able to trust the ocean, and because she has, the ocean has revealed itself to her. It has whispered to her its darkest and most ancient secrets, opened up its deepest caverns for her, shown her treasures beyond our comprehension and carried her to lands we never believed existed.
This is a story of complete, absolute, unconditional trust, the trust one little girl had for the ocean.
There was and only will be one person to see Rocksand Island. Until now, few people knew this person or even if she existed. She might as well have been a speck of dust or a water molecule floating high above our heads in the atmosphere. But Justice Gerri was a little girl, six years old when she arrived at the island. She would spend the next three months of her life alone in the middle of nowhere.
Twenty-three-year-old Lucas Gerri was supposed to be a deep-sea biologist. He was really a fearless solitary creature who spent months at a time in a small fishing boat in which he ventured out into the open ocean. His feet seldom touched solid ground. He was at home with the dark waters and the beasts that lurked beneath their shadows; they fascinated him and were his only companions. In the past he had led a typical life among typical society, but he didn’t care to remember much of it. He knew little of the modern world’s superficial fads, but he also knew little of love and hope and joy. He didn’t regret anything, nor did he look forward to anything. He had few negative memories and few positive ones. He had a daughter, but that was five years ago and he hadn’t seen her since she was three months old. He hadn’t forgotten his child, but he made no effort to see her.
One week before Lucas’s twenty-fourth birthday, not that he was aware of it, there was a knock at his apartment door. A hurricane watch had been issued, forcing him to return to shore to wait it out. He had slept for nineteen hours straight when he arrived the day before, and now he stood blinking groggily at the two strangers before him. As it turned out, they were not strangers but his ex-wife and little daughter.
The girl’s hair was the first thing he noticed. It wasn’t all shiny yellow curls as he remembered it being when she was a baby, but rather dingy gold streaking dark brown, closely-cropped hair. Along with her clear gray-blue eyes and shouldn’t-be tan complexion, she looked just like him. She clasped her mother’s hand as she waited, but she smiled up at the father she never knew.
Amber Blair looked at Lucas, her lips pressed together in a solemn line. She blinked, but didn’t smile. “Luke,” she said, nodding towards their daughter, “she’s yours now.”
Luke glanced at Justice, who had let go of her mother and was dancing down the dismal carpeted hallway. “What should I do with her?” he asked.
Amber’s jaw twitched anxiously. She looked at her daughter, then at her ex-husband. He wouldn’t know how to raise a child, she thought. He’s too absorbed in his studies; he’s forgotten how to connect with people. Ever since he left for the ocean four years ago, he’s never wanted to come back. He’s lost all concept of reality out there. But she knew he was a good person, although somewhat strange, and would do no harm to their daughter.
“She can’t stay here,” said Luke.
“I know,” said Amber.
“I’m not living here, Amber. I only came back for the hurricane watch. I’ll be gone by Wednesday.”
“Well then, you’ll have to take her with you.”
“She’s been fine all this time living with you.” Luke lowered his voice to an almost-whisper. “I couldn’t give her a decent life six hundred miles out into the Atlantic.”
“Oh, you’ll find a way to.” Amber picked up a duffel bag from the floor and handed it to Luke. “This is hers. You’ll want to take it with you on your next little excursion.”
Luke took the duffel and dropped it onto the armchair behind him. “Thank you,” he said.
Amber led her young daughter through the door of apartment number twelve, kissed her promptly and walked away. It was the last Luke and Justice would ever see of her.
The boat was old, a ’57 model of rusted metal and peeling paint and salt-encrusted glass windows. Once the Pioneer Charter, it was now affectionately called the Piñata since most of its letters had worn away. Black barnacles and clumps of algae clung where the water lapped the sides, and sea cucumbers frequently washed onto deck during high tide. Stepping aboard warily, clutching her father’s wrist and a thermos of steaming milk-tea, Justice doubted she would like living on such a boat.
At first, she refused to leave the security of the enclosed sleeping cabin. She’d never imagined the ocean to be this big. It frightened her to be on such a tiny boat, completely at the mercy of the deep, open blue that could swallow them in one gulp without leaving a trace. She could see nothing but water, no sign of life ever existing in this enchanted world. This wasn’t the urban water she knew, the water that came sealed inside plastic bottles and spurting out of lawn sprinklers. This water glittered in the afternoon sun and became a sheet of tranquil black glass at night, bouncing beams of moonlight across its surface.
“Justice.” Her father was calling. She paused in her game of dominoes to push her fingers between the window-blinds of the cabin. She glimpsed him leaning against the railing of the boat, adjusting the lens on his camera.
He saw her and motioned for her to join him. “Dolphins,” he shouted. “May’ve been some porpoises as well. Come on out, you’ll want to see this.”
She shook her head and pointed to the window. “I can see them from here,” she shouted back.
“You won’t see anything from in there; the pod’s on the other side of the boat. Come on!” He waved his arms. “I won’t let you fall off. Hurry and get your jacket on.”
Justice hesitated, then climbed down from the bed and tugged on her jacket. Her neatly arranged domino rows toppled to the floor as she rushed out into the cold, slamming the door behind her. Luke swept her into his arms and hugged her before setting her down on an upturned chair. “Glad to see you out in the fresh air,” he said. “See out there, those little dark triangles coming out of the water? Those are the dolphins. Must be hundreds of ‘em.”
“Where?” Justice scanned the horizon, balancing atop the chair’s warped frame.
“’Bout fifty feet out, little more to the left. Keep looking, you’ll find them.”
A minute later, she drew in a sharp breath. “That’s all dolphins? For real?”
Luke chuckled. “Yep. For real,” he said. “Incredible, isn’t it?”
“There’s so many of them.”
“First time I saw them, I thought they looked like shooting arrows,” Luke remarked. “A shower of arrows, slicing through the water.”
“They look like arrowheads from here,” Justice said. “Are they playing with each other?”
“They’re playful all right,” Luke said, resting his elbow on the chair. “Playful and friendly. Dolphins are real social creatures. They always travel together.”
“Like us,” Justice said.
“Right. Except we’re not the most sociable things on the planet, but nothing wrong with that,” Luke said.
The pod was moving farther and farther away, but Justice couldn’t stop staring. Even as the dolphins disappeared beneath the sunlit waters, she watched—silently, motionless, all but mesmerized by the ocean. From then on, she decided, she wasn’t going to be afraid of something so wonderful and mighty. She couldn’t be. She would embrace it, bond with it, become one with those magical waters. She would let the ocean flood her heart and soul and every living particle of her.
The next morning, Justice sprang from the cabin while it was still dark. Wearing nothing but sweatpants and a tank-top, she ran onto deck and leaned against the steel railing. The ocean was gray and choppy, as if someone had slapped a coat of thick semigloss paint over it. Their boat bobbed up and down, up and down in the midst of thousands of little waves where the paint had clumped. She giggled as the waves rhythmically smacked the side of the boat, spraying her face.
“Sweetheart!” Luke clamped a hand on her drenched shoulder. “What are you doing out here so early?”
Justice beamed up at him through dripping hair. “Just spending some quality time with the ocean,” she said, repeating a phrase she had heard her mother sometimes use.
“I see,” said Luke, raising an eyebrow. “So you’ve learned what I didn’t know ‘til I was four times your age.”
Luke crouched beside her and wedged himself between the railings, halfway over the edge of the boat. He sputtered and gasped and whooped with joy as the icy waters soaked him, then tugged on Justice’s arms and lifted her over his shoulders. She shrieked with gleeful laughter, arms outstretched, fingertips barely brushing the waves. “I’m flying!”
“You’re flying all right, baby,” he shouted over the roar of the wind, holding her high above his head. “Now that’s what it’s like to be one with the ocean.”
“You won’t drop me, right?”
“Of course not, but you’ll have to trust the ocean too!”
“What do you mean?”
The next thing she knew, Luke had pulled them back into the boat. They lay on their backs, breathless, staring up at the foggy sky. “I believe the ocean’s our friend,” he explained, “not something we should live in fear of. See, I didn’t know that for most of my life. I was afraid of those waters, but not anymore. Now I know the ocean’s already us, Justice. We just need to be the ocean.”
“Mm,” said Justice. She nodded slowly. “Together.” She pressed her palms together, carefully lining up the curves of her fingers. “Like this?"
Luke shook his head. He reached over and interlaced Justice’s fingers, tightly folding her hands. “More like this. Not just together, Justice…connected. Woven into each other. Don’t let anything separate.”
Afternoon came, the sun shone, and Luke took a break from his research to summon his daughter. “Do you swim?”
Justice scratched at a salt-scab on her legs. “No,” she said, “and I don’t think I want to.”
“No, I think you do.” He snipped a length of waxed cord and double-knotted it around her waist. “You’re going to love this,” he said, leading her to the rear platform of the boat. “Jump.”
“Jump?” She looked at the water, then at him. He nodded and showed her the other end of the cord looped around his wrist. “Justice, I used to do this every day. It’s absolutely amazing. All you have to do is relax your muscles, like you’re sinking into a giant hotel bed, and let the ocean float you.”
“What are you doing, trying to make me drown?”
Luke chuckled. “No, I want you to try something I know you’ll enjoy. The ocean’s not about to let you drown, and neither will I. Now trust us, and jump.”
“Relax,” Luke called.
She didn’t hear him. All she felt was the sting of slapping the surface, the burning sensation of saltwater rushing into her ears and throat and shooting up her nose and the prickly cord scratching raw against her back as Luke jerked her up onto the boat. Justice groped for his hand, coughing from swallowing so much water, and swiped her hand across her eyes. Still gasping for breath, she exclaimed, “You said the ocean’s going to float me, but it’s not!”
“You’ve got to let it, Justice,” he said, keeping a firm hold on the cord. “You’re trying to do it all yourself now, and that won’t work. Do what I said—relax and trust that the millions of pounds of water below you will lift you up and keep you there.”
“The ocean’s that heavy?”
“You’d better believe it’s powerful,” Luke said. “In there, you’re but a little downy duckling feather in the Great Lakes.” He smiled. “Let go.”
She trusted her father. She wanted to trust the ocean as well, and if it were really as wonderful as Luke had promised, she had nothing to lose. Justice let the cord slip out of her hands. Then she closed her eyes, leaned back and spread her arms and legs like a limp doll. This time, the feeling was unlike anything she’d ever imagined. There she was, alone in the deep blue, the sun warming her face, the waters gently sloshing beneath her. For a moment she wondered if a shark would tear through the surface, ripping her into shreds before she could clamber back into the boat, and she froze. It was a terrifying thought until she reasoned that if she were one with the ocean, she would be one with even the most fearsome of its inhabitants.
The water made humming and plinking sounds in her ears, almost like the mysterious clicks and squeaks of the dolphins. She blinked the water out of her eyes and drew in a long, deep breath. She was one with the dolphins, too. Not just together, but connected. Her heart pounded, and she smiled.