The Boy and the Walrus
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by Felicity Nesbitt
Category: Children's Fiction
Description: Daniel Marsh spends a frigid night with a walrus calf stranded on the coastal rocks near his Alaskan home. After seeing her safely to a zoo, the boy devotes himself to visiting and communicating with his fragile animal friend. They share a special link no one else seems to appreciate.
eBook Publisher: The Fiction Works, 2004 http://www.fictionworks.com
eBookwise Release Date: April 2004
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [111 KB]
Reading time: 75-105 min.
It was on the northwestern coast of the United States where the air is cold, and the water is colder. It was not yet winter, but there was ice. And where there was no ice, it felt as if there should be ice.
The boy was climbing along the rocks of the rugged inlet. He liked to climb on the rocks, testing his skills as he scrambled from one to another. The granite surface was often slippery, often sharp, always hard.
He did not mind the wind that struck his face with a harshness that might make others seek shelter. To him, the autumn breeze was mild compared to the harsh winds of winter. And he knew that winter would come soon, and it would stay long. Snow would cover the rocks, giving them the appearance of being soft. And chunks of ice would float in the near clear waters of the majestic Alaskan coast.
Studying the sun carefully, the boy knew that it was time to turn and head for home. He did not wear a watch. His father always told him, nature had its own way of telling time, if you paid close attention.
Today he turned toward home with time to spare. He was late often enough, distracted by the schools of fish or the sea mammals that he sometimes spotted just off shore. Today he would be in time for supper. There were no mammals or fish to catch his eye and absorb his attention.
When he reached the cottage, his father was outside chopping firewood. He greeted his son with a nod and a smile.
"Want some help, Pa?" the boy offered.
"Almost done." His father took one last swing with his ax, splitting the log straight through the middle. The boy looked on in admiration. He could never seem to place the ax in the middle of a log, and when he did, it never went all the way through. He would have to pick up the log with the ax attached and hit it against the tree stump two or three times until it finished splitting wide open.
Together the man and boy carried the freshly chopped wood to the woodpile on the side of the cabin. The boy's father laid a gentle hand on his shoulder as they walked up the steps and opened the door to the porch where they removed their shoes and jackets before entering the house.
His father nodded toward the bathroom. It was his way of telling him to wash up for supper. After scrubbing his hands clean, he returned to the kitchen to serve himself a bowl of the soup that was still simmering on the gas stove. On the nights they didn't eat fish, dinner was most always soup. Often it was made from potatoes and onions and carrots. In summer his father put in whatever vegetables had ripened in their garden. Sometimes he mixed them with a can of tomato sauce or rice. It never seemed to have much flavor other than the taste of onion, except when fresh parsley was growing in the garden. But he did not complain. He knew the meals his father made were nourishing. He knew too that they were the best his father could do.
Next summer he thought he might help his father with the cooking. He had checked out a book on herbs from the school library and had picked a few that he would add to their garden in the spring.
He settled himself at the homemade oak table in the one small room that was used as a sitting room, dining room, and kitchen. When the boy's mother was alive, she had often talked about moving to a larger cabin some day, with a separate living room that could hold two couches and a chair so they could have lots of company. There was no need for that now.
The boy's father broke off a piece of bread from the round loaf and handed it to him and then did the same for himself. Although his mouth was watering from hunger more than taste, the boy knew better than to take a bite of his food. His father poured them each some milk from the pitcher. After he had set it safely on the table, he said a soft and solemn thank you to God. The boy did not need to hear the words to know it was a solemn grace. His father's tone of voice told him that.
The boy sat still, waiting for his father to begin the meal. Once his father dipped his spoon into the soup, he did the same. This was the only way he knew for certain that grace was finished. His father's voice was so soft that he rarely could hear the Amen.
It hadn't always been that way. There was a time when he could hear his father's voice easily. It was not loud, but it was strong, and the tone was not solemn, but gentle. He knew the change in his father's voice had to do with his mother's dying. He did not know if it was because there was a sadness deep inside his father that stopped him from speaking the words with joy, or if it was because his father had trouble believing the words now.
After a second serving of soup, he excused himself from the dinner table, cleared and washed his dishes and went to his room. It was a small room, maybe eight feet by ten. It was all he needed. Everything he owned fit in his closet or dresser. Only one of his desk drawers was used. That one was filled with a sketching pad and art supplies. The other two sat empty except when he put his school books away. His own books stood in a row across the back of his desk. One was a dictionary, and two were anthologies of animal stories.
The other one was a book his mother had bought him when he was born, because she was so anxious for him to have it. It was called, Lassie Come Home, by Eric Knight. His mother had read it to him when he was five, and again when he was six. He had read the book alone every year after that.
His room might have looked cold and empty except for the pictures that covered the walls. Some he had drawn himself and some he had cut out of magazines. They were mostly of animals: dogs pulling sleds, horses galloping across the snow, dolphins flying out of the ocean waters, orcas sailing in the mist, and a walrus lounging on an Arctic ice floe. That had always been his favorite, except for the poster that was tacked on the ceiling above his head. That one was a picture of a Siberian husky.
Some day he would get a dog just like the one in that picture. First he would have to convince his father that dogs weren't so loud and so dirty and so expensive to feed. And that it might be nice to have someone in the house besides the two of them.