‘Clever Whales’ by Karen Lethlean

My buddies tell me I should’ve waited. Ray and Delilah, our two kelpies, they might not agree, but I regard them as buddies. I am still not sure what I waited for.
       Sarah rescued both of the dogs and was boss of the pack, sometimes I am merely tolerated.
       In mid lead-tangle I hear raucous barking, in response to this Ray and Delilah have stopped dead in their tracks. Doing deadpan kelpie head turns toward the offending fence under which a beige nose was just visible.
       I’ve waited nearly a year since Sarah; pack boss, my wife, died of cancer. I remember holding her in my arms one afternoon and carrying her to our bedroom. With Sarah so weak I wondered how come Ray and Delilah had so much more energy. Sometimes, like now, staring at this other dog desperate to be on this side of the fence, yet hopelessly trapped, I almost feel Sarah in my arms.
       Not long ago we went to the Great Barrier Reef. A sojourn booked because, ‘by then I will be clear and I’ve always wanted to snorkel on the reef.’ Well Sarah wasn’t recovered, so we couldn’t wait, and went anyway.
       ‘It takes eons to make a coral reef,’ said our Captain Jack Sparrow look-alike deck hand, Ashe. ‘A gazillion years to create a little bit of magic and wonder. It’s another world down there, enjoy it.’
       I couldn’t help thinking, and one cancer cell to destroy everything.
       Underwater flecks of light sparkle and disappear, yet replaced by others. So beautiful. Floating above corals and fish, immersed in another world of wonder. Sadness gripped me. Realising this will be some of the last wonderful things I can share with Sarah. I contemplate how to store this away as indelible.
       Another morning Sarah called to me, ‘I saw whales. Out there.’ She pointed with a thin, bony finger out our front window. ‘Just look.’
       Rubbish trucks were doing a weekly pick-up. One drew near and stopped, its arm reaching out for a bin. If you cradled your imagination, it did look like the flukes of a whale rolling. ‘There,’ said Sarah smiling. ‘I told you.’
       And somehow in that moment of whimsy and delight a suggested idea became animated right on the street. Such was Sarah’s magic.
       ‘They’re picking up rubbish,’ I said.
       ‘Don’t we have clever whales in our street?’ she said softly.
       Out here, alone, while I looked at a trapped dog so desperate to be out here playing with Ray, Delilah and me, I turned away. Knew to wait would gain nothing. So I said, ‘see you later,’ and moved off.
       As I walked along pulled by these two outrageously silly dogs, I reminded myself to look down at those bundles of fur. Told myself to see their sense of fun and energy. I knew Sarah sent me a signal. She told me to keep on walking and loving these buddies she selected for me.

Karen Lethlean is a retired English teacher. With fiction Barbaric Yawp, Ken*Again, Pendulum Papers. She has won a few awards through Australian and UK competitions. She is currently working on a memoir of military service 1972-76 called Army Girl. In her other life Karen is a triathlete who has done Hawaii Ironman championships twice.

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