by Mary Lou Haberman
Charles the Manatee relished the feeling of Margaret the Auk making her way up his back in her quest to see out the second-floor window. The claws on her webbed feet massaged his taut skin; flaming the fantasies which came in waves when she nipped, then gently tugged at the folds of his neck.
He often remembered the day he fell in love with Margaret. He had seen her rocketing through the clear sea in the shallow waters of the tropical Atlantic. Oh, what grace, oh what confidence she had. Then, much to his chagrin, she had disappeared. He was deeply disappointed that his true love had come and gone so quickly. Morose, he lumbered through the waters and had to rest on a beach where, to his delight, he found her resting.
He settled into the steamy sand and gazed at her. He loved her avian beauty and intrigue, and, with the confidence of a true lover, he nuzzled her webbed foot. She startled at first, then sank into pleasure. They laid in Earth’s palm and, sighing deeply, fell asleep. Time had no meaning, and they were content.
Until the day they were frolicking in the sea and an enormous floating monster appeared above them. They heard raucous human laughter coming from the monster. “Ye, sirs. Today’s the day we get the thing, take it home and scoop up the money! Let’s heave ho!”
Next thing he knew, his beloved Margaret was flailing right in front of him. He felt the frantic vibrations of her screams through the water and saw a long barb in her flank. He called out to her, but she couldn’t hear him; and then she vanished. He heard the humans cheer, “Good catch! The professo’ will be so excited his teeth’ll fall out when he sees our find! And we’ll be well paid! Break out the rum, boys, and drink to that!”
As the monster floated away, Charles’s heart broke and he wandered the sea, morose. He hoped to find a pod of orcas to help him. But, however long it was, it wasn’t long before he was barbed by the same humans and dumped onto the monster’s deck. The humans’ raucous voices disturbed Mother Sea, and she roiled her waters until the humans writhed and exploded chunks of undigested food all over themselves. He was grateful the vomitus missed him.
He didn’t remember what happened next or how it was that he ended up here in this museum, in this spot—this warm, safe place—with her. Like Margaret, he too yearned for the freedom of the sea. No matter how long it took, he was committed to helping her go slowly, but gracefully to get to her destination. His mother had called him “the teddy bear of the sea” and he knew he was destined to do good. He often sighed, resting in the fact that for more than a hundred and fifty years, he’d felt held in the palm of something—something mysterious. It didn’t matter what it was because he and Margaret were together, and he would do anything to make her happy.
Catherine was restless—something just wasn’t right. She looked fondly at her dad, wishing he could help her find an answer to the question burning its way into her consciousness with increasing frequency. Why was it taking so much energy to create a happy place—a warm nurturing interesting place where kids and grown-ups of all ages could learn about and delight in the awesomeness of nature and history? What can I possibly do?
Lindsay was restless too. She knew she was gifted as a steward of memories, keeper of history, and caretaker of culture. What did she need to do to be able to joyfully share her glorious gifts?
What was it that Catherine had shared with her over coffee just recently? Was it a dream about a manatee? She shivered as she remembered Catherine had said, “In my dream, I was walking along a sandy beach and came face to face with a wrinkled manatee with serious eyes. He seemed to know me and through his stiff whiskers he spoke in a booming voice with such authority I was nearly frightened.”
Lindsay had murmured, “Strange.”
Then Catherine had gone on. “The manatee told me to be more bold and less passive. He said, ‘if you don’t gamble, you won’t get anywhere. He said, use your appetites for life to do good.’” After she said this, tears came into her eyes. “His words massaged my heart.”
At this, Lindsay shivered. What was going on? With fear of being thought crazy, she told Catherine about the dream she had had in which a manatee had said, “Lindsay, use your gifts and talents to make a positive impact on people and change the world for the better.”
They looked at each other quizzically and each sat pondering what this shared dream could mean. Then they agreed whatever it was, it was vitally important.
Lindsay hesitated, then confessed, “Catherine I have no idea. What can I really do to help the museum glow for our community, our state, country, and world? The board doesn’t support me. I feel like I’m failing.”
“Oh?” Catherine didn’t mean to sound disinterested. She was strongly determined to find out what was going on. Her heart was committed to saving the museum no matter what it took. But she was a bit skeptical that Lindsay was telling the truth. She thought, Maybe she was copying me to get closer to me. I think we could be great friends. But I’m just not sure. She had to check out the veracity of Linsey’s dream. “Did your manatee resemble Charles the manatee downstairs that looks old but cuddly?”
“Yes.” Linsey whispered. “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
They looked at each other, fueled by their passion to care for the museum. They didn’t know that sometime later, each woman would gaze into the eyes of the other, fueled by mutual passion.
Then Lindsay said, “Catherine, you could start this journey with learning more about the pole from Dr. McNair.”
Catherine thought, Lindsay admires Dr. McNair for his knowledge. She wants his expertise to make the museum historically credible. And, from what Ruth Bader said, I’d better learn more about Dr. McNair himself.
For a while I was hoping the invasion of these human Living Ones was a nightmare—I didn’t want to believe that my very existence and that of my family was threatened with the cruel extinction so many of my loved ones have suffered. Should I seek revenge? No, I’m committed to justice, protecting my family, and opening our hearts to whatever creatures need a safe and nurturing place to live. It’s time to mobilize our collective love and lead Catherine and Lindsay in the right direction. The third graders are coming tomorrow for the tour! I’m calling an emergency family meeting for tonight after the darkness enlivens us. And good fortune is with us—it’s a full moon.
I was impressed but not surprised that my darlings had created a code to communicate during daylight when anything scared them. Word quickly spread that I had called an emergency meeting. I could feel the pulse of every family member beat more strongly with anticipation. They were being called together for something serious. Something was pulling them, each and every one, close together. They were uniting. I suspected each of them had been feeling apprehensive about something. Something. Valuing the importance of family and using the code, they sent hugs through an invisible thread that vibrated with their thoughts.
We met that night in the second floor room where Margaret and Charles rested—both exhausted from their toils. I told the family members—in terms they could understand (being the innocents they are)—what I needed their help with. Without going into much detail, I was honest with them about the situation. Some of them embraced the sweet ones who cried out of fear about what they didn’t quite understand. The old guys in their frames vigorously nodded their heads and their eyes sparkled in anticipation of an adventure. Anything besides the same ‘ole same ‘ole they went through every day, every week, every month, every year for at least a dozen decades.
I was happy to hear the Carolina parakeets confess, “We’ve used our invisible feathers as coats to spy on the humans. You’re right. The only one to be deeply trusted right now is Catherine. But we have to help Lindsay find out what sort of person McNair is and then she and Catherine can bring safety, beauty, and harmony to our precious family.”
I waited a few seconds for everyone to pay attention, then clarified our mission. “We must capture the attention of Catherine and Lindsay and get them to the Grand staircase—they must notice me, look up at the dome, see the crack and, most specially, see what is on the other side of the crack.” Silently, I reminded myself, It’s wide enough now. They must find the treasure before McNair. I can’t wait any longer. Dearly beloved family, I’ve thought this through carefully. The best way to get our friends Catherine and Lindsay up there is to make the children scream.”
The family members looked at each other, skeptical. Then, a pulse of cooperation and love for each other flew through the invisible thread. They felt what needed to be done and agreed with my plan. I believed in the power of their love for one another. “Family, what will make the children scream?”
The dolls leaped up and sang in perfect harmony, “We can coo, we can screech, those children we will reach.” The other family members cheered them on until they shouted in unison, “we will scare the hair right off their necks!”
“Now, now,” I said, holding back a chuckle, “we don’t want to hurt them. We want them to scream when they are on the tour with Catherine, so Lindsay will come running to find out what’s happening.”
The dinosaurs looked at each other. What could they do to scare the kids? After a brief consultation with each other, the elder dino reported, “We could peek at them behind every corner when they come in. We could look real mean like we want to eat them. Grease their love of scary things—get them ready to scream.”
It did my soul good to hear the others clap and hoot in agreement. I was getting excited. And even more excited when the wolf lined her cubs up in front of her. “Ok, kits, let’s hear your howl.” The cuties’ chorus shook the shy corner spiders right off their webs. She grinned and licked each cub, “Good job.” Then she motioned for the spiders to sit with her.
I was so proud of them. None of their plans would hurt anyone; and working together they would scare the kids and draw Lindsay and Catherine’s attention upward.
Surely it won’t be long until all is well.
To read the story in its entirety, click here.
Mary Lou, this is great fun! I love how you’ve interwoven all the characters of the museum. I can’t wait to see if their plot works!