Welcome to 'Fine Lines', the Friday feature in which we give a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wizened look at the children's and YA books we loved in our youth. This week, writer / reviewer / blogger Lizzie Skurnick reads 'A Ring of Endless Light', the 1980 Madeleine L'Engle novel about Vicky Austin, who needs a good (dolphin) slap on the ass.Dolphins
Without realizing what I was doing, I put my arms around him. "Cry, Leo, don't hold it back, you need to cry—" I broke up because I was crying, too, for Commander Rodney, for my grandfather, who was dying slowly and gently, for a thousand porpoises who had been clubbed to death... I held Leo and he held me and we rocked back and forth on the old elm trunk, weeping, and the salt wind brushed against the salt of our tears. And I discovered that there is something almost more intimate about crying that way with someone than there is about kissing...
"Tell me what he feels like to you," Adam urged. How can anybody describe the feel of a dolphin? "Something strange, alien," I murmured, "like touching a creature from a different planet—and yet completely familiar, too, as though I've always known what a dolphin feels like....." Again I lifted my hand from the water, but I couldn't see anything, and this time when I stoped scratching, Basil dove down, his great fluke flicking so that again I was drenched in spray, and appeared far beyond us, leaping up in great and glorious arc before diving down again... I was still treading water and feeling more exhilarated than I have ever felt in my life.
"It's just—it's just—there's death everywhere—Commander Rodney—and watching Grandfather, and now Ynid's baby for no reason—it's just everywhere..." ..."Are you afraid?" he asked softly..."Of what, Vicky?" He picked up another handful of sand, and started trickling it through his fingers. "Dying?" his voice wasn't loud, but the word seemed to explode into the night.
...I heard every word he said. And I think I understood. At the same time my entire body was conscious of the feel of his fingers stroking my hair. I wondered if he felt as strongly as I did. At that moment there was a rip in the clouds and an island of star-sparkled sky appeared, its light so brilliant it seemed to reach down beyond the horizon and encircle the earth, a ring of pure and endless light. I wasn't sure that Adam's words were very comforting. But his arm about me was. He made me feel very real, not replete with me at all, only real, and hopeful....And I knew that if Adam kissed me it was going to be different from Zachary, with all his experience, or Leo, with all his naivete. Adam did not kiss me. Yet I felt as close to him as though he had.
I thought of Ynid and her grief at her dead baby, and I asked Basil, Is Ynid's baby all right? (Is Commander Rodney all right? Is my grandfather all right? Am I? Is it all right?) Basil pulled himself out of the water and a series of sounds came from him, singing sounds. And what it reminded me of was Grandfather standing by Commander Rodney's open grave and saying those terrible words and then crying out, full of joy, Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Without consciously realizing what I was doing, I turned my mind toward Adam. Do a cartwheel in the water, like Basil. I held my breath. Adam dove down. Up came his legs. Flip. Head and arms were out of the water. Just like Basil. Adam, do you really think of me as nothing more than a child? I realize I'm naive and backward for my age in lots of ways, but I don't feel about you the way a child feels. I've never felt about anybody else the way I feel about you, touched in every part of me...Is it only my feelings? Doesn't it touch you at all? He broke in, saying sharply, "Vicky, what are you doing?" I could feel heat suffusing my face. "N—nothing." Now he was shouting at me. "Don't do that!" "Why? Why not?" "Because—because—" He clamped his mouth shut. But he was telling without speaking. Because it's too intimate. But I did it with the dolphins. Why was it all right with the dolphins? And the answer came lapping gently into my mind like the water lapping about my body. Because this is how the dolphins are, all the time. They're able to live with this kind of intimacy and not be destroyed by it.
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