The Porpoise

A man gets a job working for the circus. The whole thing happens
very fast: he’s sitting in his house, he’s unhappy with his life, then he picks up the paper and sees an ad.

THE CIRCUS IS COMING! the ad says in big letters. DON’T YOU WANT TO WORK FOR THE CIRCUS?

Hmm, says the man.

He puts down the paper.

Then he walks out the door and starts the car.

 

The man drives downtown to where they’re setting the tent up. He gets out of the car and looks around.

Hey, he says, to a guy sitting behind a table. Is this where you get the circus jobs?

Yeah, says the guy– he looks like the ringmaster. But the thing is, we only have one left.

Oh? says the man. And which one is that?

Swimming with the porpoises, the guy says.

 

Porpoises? says the man. I didn’t even know you had those. I thought the circus was just tigers and stuff.

Nope, says the guy, we got porpoises too. So what do you say– you want the job?

 

Okay, says the man.

Great, says the guy. Sign this form. And initial it here.

The man takes the pen and makes the required marks.

Welcome aboard! says the guy. You start tomorrow.

 

Tomorrow? says the man. That doesn’t leave me much time.

What do you need time for? the guy says.

Well, says the man.

He thinks for a minute.

Be here 7 a.m. sharp, says the guy.

 

The man drives on home. He’s feeling a little grumpy.

What’s all the rush? he says. I mean, what if I had something important to do tomorrow?

He drinks a beer, watches TV, and goes to bed.

 

Almost immediately, the man has a dream. In his dream, he’s in the water with a porpoise.

With a shock, the man sits bolt upright in bed.

But I don’t know how to swim! he says.

 

Somehow this fact had eluded him before.

But I’m sure the circus’ll train me, he says.

But maybe they won’t, he says a minute later. What if they just assumed?

 

The man throws the sheet back.

I’m gonna drown! he says. I mean, it’s right there in the job title– I have to swim!

He gets up and paces back and forth about the room.

I need swimming lessons! he says.

 

The man finds the phone book and picks up the phone. He calls the local YMCA. He gets a recording all about swimming lessons. They start the week after next.

But I could be dead by then! the man says in a panic. I have to learn how to swim tonight!

Think, think! he says, and thinks very hard.

Suddenly he thinks of Sally Rhinehardt.

 

The man hasn’t thought of Sally Rhinehardt in years. She was the man’s high school girlfriend. He broke up with her a few days after graduation.

Jeez, that was dumb of me, he thinks.

Hmm, says the man.

He looks at the phone.

Sally Rhinehardt was the State Swimming Champion. She had come this close to making it to the Olympics. It had been like dating a fish-woman.

 

The man picks the phone up and dials Sally’s number– twenty years, and he still knows it by heart.

Hello? says a voice.

Sally? says the man.

Luke? Sally says. Luke Deveraux?

 

The man gets in his car and drives to Sally’s house. When he gets there, it’s after one a.m. But Sally’s got the backyard pool all lit up and heated.

Thanks so much for doing this, he says.

 

No problem, Sally says. Come on down into the water.

It’s good to see you again, she adds.

You too, says the man, feeling awkward in his trunks.

All right, Sally says, you start like this.

 

The man stays in the pool with Sally for hours. You’re a very fast learner! she says.

The man does the breast stroke up and down the pool.

Then he stops and kisses Sally.

She kisses back.

 

Oh Luke, Sally says. I’m so glad you called.

I’m so glad you answered, he says.

They hold each other close.

Then they climb out of the pool, and towel off, and run in to bed.

 

At about 7 a.m., the man suddenly laughs.

I’m supposed to be at the circus, he says.

Oh, Sally says. Are you still going to go?

What? the man says. Hell no!

 

But just at that moment, there’s a knock on the door. More like a pounding– a banging!

The two of them leap up and jump out of bed.

Who could that be? they say.

 

CIRCUS! blares a voice through a megaphone from outside. Come on out, we know you’re in there, Luke Deveraux!

The man leans over and peers out through the blinds.

I don’t want to go! he says. I changed my mind!

 

But the guy with the bullhorn holds up a piece of paper.

You signed a contract! he says. You can’t get out of it! It’s legal– iron clad!

And the police are here to enforce it! he adds.

 

Sure enough, behind the guy– and the clowns– there are policemen. They’re all holding billy-clubs in their hands.

Shit! says the man.

He looks at Sally in fear.

Hurry, come with me! she says.

 

Sally leads the man out through the kitchen door, down the spiral stairs, into the secret garage.

Get in, Sally says, motioning to the dune buggy.

The garage door opens, and the giant engine roars.

 

They squeal off over the hills. Behind, the sirens whine. The clowns are shaking their fists from their tiny car.

You can’t get away! yells the guy with the megaphone. You can’t avoid the circus and the law!

 

The man is still terrified– but Sally’s jaw is set.

The hell with those jokers, she says.

She spins the wheel hard. The buggy leaps forward and crashes through the doors of a shopping mall.

 

They speed past the shops; they leap the central fountain, crash out through the back wall of a Spencer’s Gifts. And then they speed away, across the parking lot–

But the cops and the circus are right behind.

 

They come up over a rise and Sally slams on the brakes.

They leap out– they’re at the edge of a cliff.

The man looks at Sally. She reaches for his hand.

Come on, count of three! she says.

 

The two leap from the cliff as their pursuers arrive.

They splash down into the water and bob back up.

The clowns and the cops stand glaring from the cliff.

You can’t get away! the ringmaster yells.

 

But get away they can– and get away they do! They swim away from the shore in perfect form. The figures on the cliff-top grow smaller and smaller, until they can’t even see them anymore.

 

I’m sorry I broke up with you after high school! the man says. I don’t know what I could possibly have been thinking!

It’s all right! Sally says. I had a lot to learn! For some reason, I was really wrapped up in swimming!

 

And the two of them laugh and they swim out together, while behind them, the land fades away.

And finally they come to Sally’s secret boat.

It’s named The Porpoise.

And on The Porpoise, they sail away.

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Ben Loory is the author of the collection Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day, and a picture book for children, The Baseball Player and the Walrus. His second collection, Tales of Falling and Flying, is coming from Penguin in 2017.