Two girls were walking along, in sweatshirts, jeans and flip-flops, discussing the meaning of life.
“. . . now, lip gloss needs to be applied liberally, every few hours or so. Do you think this eye shadow is too bright? Omigosh, I saw the cutest pair of jeans in that shop. Are those new earrings?”
I didn’t answer my friend, just basked in her flow of words and the sea breeze blowing in from the west, glad that it wasn’t freezing, raining, or both. Having both finished a giant essay, we were ready to enjoy what remained of the Sunday afternoon, walking down to the beach for some ice cream from the Creamery. A seagull flew overhead, a splash of white against the gray sky.
“What d’you think, Kate?” asked Meg.
“Mm. What? Oh, right. You should go with the pink,” I answered.
Thunk-skip, swish, thunk-skip swish, two pairs of flip-flops flopping against the pavement. We walked down the waterfront and to the pier, planning to visit the aquarium and our favorite shark, Rosie, who was approximately three centuries old and counting. The bell over the door tinkled softly as we went in. Meg headed straight toward the touch tank. She scooped up Pickle, the sea cucumber, and planted a large kiss on him. I stared.
“You know, if you wanted to kiss something that badly, I’m sure Willy would be happy to oblige.”
Meg sighed. “It’s not for that, stupid. Sea cucumbers are for good luck. I need all the help I can get. That final on the Renaissance is next week!”
“Oh. OK then.” I hesitantly brushed my lips against Piclde’s slimy back, smelling salt water. I gently put him back in the water. Pickle, being rather intelligent for a sea cucumber, started squirming away, as fast as any sea cucumber could, from the edge of the tank.
Next, we went to the shark tank, amused at the little five-year-old who was putting his hand against the tank until a shark swam under it, and running away, shrieking with delight, then coining back to do it again.
“Hello, Rosie,” said Meg, addressing a rather stately-looking shark in the back, who was looking, I could’ve sworn, irritably at the five-year-old.
We drifted from tank to tank, observing the stately sharks, elegant anemones, and courageous crabs battling with their large claws. Things were mostly quiet except for the hum of the water pumps. The air smelled like old seaweed and a fish market. Over to my right a large fish surged forward to nab that last chunk of fish food before it settled at the bottom, to be eaten by the little mollusks that were employed for just that purpose; their role in life to simply clean up after these giant, messy eaters who left their scraps lying around to be picked up by smaller beings on the food chain. Sure enough, the gluttonous fish had dropped some of its snack, and, sure enough, a competent-looking snail wandered to the spot to clean up.
Keep going, little snail. It’s your turn for dinner, I thought. The snail’s pearly white shell moved forward, ambling along at its own place, having no need to rush.
Outside, the breeze picked up. A gust of cold air swept through the roundhouse, startling me. I stepped back, stepping on Meg’s foot.
“Hey! Watch it!” She poked me. “Let’s get out of here; there might be dolphins out. Besides,” she wrinkled her nose, “it smells like cat food in here.”
So we left the aquarium, leaving our Piscean acquaintances, to walk on the pier. A wave hit the stone pillar, making the whole jetty sway. Sea spray hit my face, salty and sweet at the same time. Meg was scanning the horizon, looking for the gray shadow and splash of white that signaled a dolphin pod. She grinned and nudged me. Where? Oh, right, over there. The dolphins leapt over the waves, too far out to swim, but close enough to view from the pier. A foolhardy surfer was getting ready to try and ride a huge wave. I shivered; that wave was huge, and it was not exactly warm on land, so it must have been freezing in the Pacific Ocean.
The surfer was successful, turning his board skillfully, yet compared with the dolphins he looked rather stupid, depending on a piece of fiberglass, while the dolphins managed well enough with what they already had. Still, it was an admirable effort, and the surfer was almost to land before he fell off spectacularly, right into the sand. Meg and I started laughing. I looked out to the west, and saw a flash of red.
Red? What was red doing among the grays and tans, greens and blues, of the beach? I leaned out over the railing, and saw that the red was actually a bundle of roses, drifting along on the current. Meg had noticed it too. We stood, looking for a long time, as it floated away
And that day, though what was actually required for an education had been completed, I learned something: Even among an ancient shark, two girls, the ocean, and a surfer, there is something that breaks the pattern, some slight inconsistency. Red roses from someone’s beautiful garden, maybe from some greenhouse in Indiana, can end up floating on the Pacific Ocean. And that makes me wonder, sometimes, if writing new words, changing the tune, or breaking the pattern can be a good thing after all.