Fiction: Dolphins, Oysters And Crabs
Jeremy Glazer writes about that weird liminal space between high school graduation and supposed adulthood. It’s set against the backdrop of Key Biscayne. Glazer is a Miami native who lives and writes on Miami Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The songs you heard in this piece were “Aurora” and “Comienzos” by Miami band Arboles Libres.
More original fiction by Jeremy Glazer:
Walter and Edith
They Always Leave
Original nonfiction by Jeremy Glazer:
Dolphins, Oysters and Crabs
“The world is your oyster.”
My principal actually said that at graduation. And she said it like it was original, like she had come up with the line herself and was so proud. Sitting there, in the auditorium, I felt sorry for her.
But I don’t feel sorry for her anymore. Lately, I’ve been feeling sorry for me because so far — the world hasn’t been my oyster.
It’s more like a crab. When I grab it wrong, it hurts.
That graduation speech was a year ago. And maybe that’s why I started thinking about the whole oyster thing again. And maybe that’s what depressed me, because I felt stuck.
See, I was supposed to go to college last year. I got in to FIU. For engineering. But I didn’t like school much, and, with this ocean of possibilities in front of me, I wasn’t sure I should keep doing the one thing I knew I didn’t like. So when I showed up for orientation in July and couldn’t find a place to park, and couldn’t find the room where I was supposed to go, and then couldn’t find anyone who even looked halfway nice enough to ask, I figured it was a sign. I got in the car and drove home.
“You have to go to college,” my mom said. “You can’t even get a real job with a college degree these days.”
I said “Ma, it won’t be forever.” My dad was silent, which was worse. He just shook his head, slowly.
Then he called his friend Stan and asked for a favor. And the following Saturday we went to meet Stan for lunch at a barbecue shack in Hialeah.
On the way, my dad said, “You don’t work, you don’t stay in our house. Get it?”
Stan and my dad talked for most of the meal about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and after Stan sucked the meat off his last rib, he pointed it at me and said:
“You’re hired. Be there Monday. Front gate.” Then, he handed me his card. It said Miamiquarium with a picture of a killer whale.
So now I welcome visitors to the Miamiquarium. I scan their tickets with this wand that lights up and makes a screeching dolphin sound.
Turns out, it’s worse than school. I sit in this bird-cage looking shed. It feels like a prison cell — with bars and everything. The only perk is that during breaks, I get to peek in on
the shows. There’s a huge whale that dances, a bunch of dolphins that jump and play catch, a tank full of stingrays with their tails chopped off so you can pet them, and, of course, the big sea lion show.
There is something amazing about watching those animals. It almost makes the job bearable.
But it wasn’t just knowing it’s been a year since graduation and remembering the oyster thing that was depressing me.
A month or so ago, a bunch of protestors showed up. They had signs about a whale in a bathtub and dolphins in slave chains and they were wearing these ‘Free Ferdinand’ t- shirts. He’s our famous sea lion–or at least, Miami famous.
I left the birdcage to come out and watch. There were TV cameras and everything.
“Slaveowner! Get off the plantation!” one of the protestors yelled at me when I walked over. She looked a little like my elementary school music teacher.
I said “I only take tickets.” She said, “You’re a foot soldier. Defect!”
After a while, the protestors lost steam. They seemed to be withering in the sun. I don’t think they were from here.
But it got me thinking. They’re right. The animals must hate this. All us humans who work here hate it. And the animals work harder than we do.
It started to really bother me.
Then, one morning on my way to work I was early so I stopped and parked on the causeway out to Key Biscayne. Downtown Miami looks like Atlantis rising out of the sea, especially on hazy summer mornings. I was standing there looking at the buildings and I caught a little black out of the corner of my eye. A fin. A dolphin. Then there was another. And a third.
They were a dark shiny black rather than prison grey, like the ones in the tank at the park. They were swimming together, playing around. They looked so happy. No one had to throw them any cut up fish to get them to jump.
I watched for so long I was late to work, but all I got was a stern look from my boss. It was worth it, and I stopped the next day to watch too, and the day after that. The next week they were gone. I thought I caught sight of a tail one day, but I wasn’t sure. After that, I still stopped, but I would just sit there. I wouldn’t get out and look. It was too disappointing. I was getting to work later and later, and I guess Stan called my house because, one morning, when I was sitting there, paralyzed in my car, I heard a tap on the window. It was my dad. He must have followed me. I was screwed.
He tilted his head to tell me to get out of the car, and then he turned and walked toward the water. I followed him, and we stopped on a ridge of dry seaweed. Neither of us said anything. We just stared at the pastel skyline coming more into focus as the haze burned off.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked.
“Dolphins,” I said.
He looked at me.
I told him about the world not being my oyster. About seeing dolphins. About not seeing them. About it driving me crazy.
I said, “If I knew the dolphins were there every day, that would be one thing. I’d just have to be patient, look long enough. But they aren’t. Some days, I just won’t be able to see them no matter how long I wait. It’s out of my hands.”
“You know where they are when you don’t see them?” my dad asked. I squinted at him, not sure of the right answer. He pointed to the horizon with his chin. “They’re out there. Free. They don’t need you to worry about them. Worry about you.”
We stood there, staring out at the water. After a few minutes, he reached over and squeezed my shoulder — gently, but I could feel the power in his hand. He walked back to his car and drove off. I went back to my car and drove to work.
That was two weeks ago and I haven’t been late since. I leave really early for work now, in case I want to stop on the causeway.
Now, if I see any dolphins, I get happy. If I don’t, I get happy too because I know they’re out there in the ocean, far away from some big bathtub and frozen fish scraps.
Just knowing that makes it a little easier to sit in my cage and use that wand for eight hours. And, to plot my own escape.