THE DOLPHIN MOMENTS (2017) - for narrator, harp, and contrabass
Premiere: "Historieforetelling - New Music by Ben Morris" - April 25th, 2018 - Norges Musikkhøgskole, Oslo, Norway
Duration: ca. 11 min
Narration text (by Julianne McAdams):
In a very green, very wet forest, there is a pond that has another side. The deeper you get, the shallower you get, and as you swim down, down, down, you find yourself swimming up, up, up. A splash, a whoosh, and usually an “ouch!” and you’re there:
A mirror image. Everything looks the same—it’s not like you’d think, all misty and ethereal – instead, the air is clear. There are trees, just like usual. A pond, just like the one you dove into, is there behind you. A portal to return home later. Glassy, mossy, like forest ponds should be. It’s small, small enough to jump across.
To end up on this other side, Geo dips his toes, then ankles in the water of this pond, only to realize it’s deep, deep, deep enough that his feet can’t touch the bottom. So he swims, further and further down until his ears pop, and suddenly he can breathe underwater. When he surfaces on the other side, things look the same, but he can almost float.
The strange thing about Geo is he goes there only to sleep. When he sleeps there, he dreams bigger, clearer, and wider... of barefooted wind running between the trees like squirrels and of waterfall morning showers, and of being close to things.
But the tricky thing for people like Geo, who sleep in bent places, is that time itself seems to bend, and they run the risk of losing track of it. When his dreams are wider, and when everything still looks the same, his dreamworld is confused with the real one he left behind, and he wonders when he is awake and when he is asleep, when he is upside-down and when he is right-side up.
But Geo knows, keeps track of this, usually, because on the other side he hears dolphins playing.
And so that is how Geo can tell, usually, when he wakes, where he is; he hears the dolphins in those awake moments and he knows to return to the pond, to breathe in water and end up on the side where he can’t dream as wide and his limbs, somehow, feel heavier, as if he’d become grounded, like a flightless bird.
One day Geo’s sister Aralia follows him. She’s read his journal, seen his drawings. They’ve told her which pond to find, laid it all out for her. She goes to it, pond skaters slipping across the surface, parting ripples like the sound of swimming, a lily pad floating on its own thin goop. Aralia dips a toe in, then part of her leg, as Geo’s papers have instructed. Pond gunk mixes between the toes of her bare foot, dirties under her nails, swarms around her, a scattered, murky brown.
Aralia, feeling now that the pond goes deep enough, places her shoes next to each other tidily, then her pink socks, ruffled at the ankles, inside them. Her shoes and socks watch while she dunks the lower half of her body into the pond, testing the depth. Aralia wants to see the other side of the pond where children are so light and dreams so wide.
After Aralia disappears, Geo will not have a sister who holds his hand when they walk to school and cries sometimes when she has a nightmare, running to his bed for a soft scratch on her back to sleep or a story about something safe. After Aralia disappears, Geo will dream wide all the time, and because his world is bent, he will start to wonder if his sister ever existed right-side up at all. He will wonder if she was just a recurring dream he no longer has.
Or maybe it’s the other way around: Maybe Geo is stuck upside down. That must be why Aralia is gone, why he cannot find his pond anymore. Maybe he is asleep still, he can’t wake up… Confusion, like width, was always a part of his dreams there.
He considers this confusion when he turns 10. He hears the adults discuss what he will outgrow. He will outgrow those shoes too quickly, dear. He will outgrow those diaries, Sweetie. Don’t worry, he will outgrow those memories. Sad as it may seem, our Geo will outgrow her.
Geo’s mirrored sides of the pond mix now as do clarity and confusion and it no longer matters which is which or how to find her because he’ll grow. He’ll grow just the same and there she won’t be.
Aralia lets go of the pond’s mucky edge and falls, falls, sinks and sinks, and doesn’t turn upside down or right side up. The dark water doesn’t grow lighter again the deeper she goes. Her lungs don’t fill with breathable air bubbles the way Geo’s always have. Aralia falls deeper, deeper, deepest. She never washes up on the upside down side of the pond, and Geo can’t find her like he found his notebooks, sprawled open, which described to his sister with confidence something even he cannot understand.
One thing Aralia will never tell her brother is that as she sinks, she can hear the eek eek eeking of dolphins chatting. The eek eek eeking that does not stop, the brassy, quick screech of intelligent, slippery mammals. They go on and on and on, carelessly, their music like all of the flooding of the imagination.