Four Chimes

Beth Fernandez Everett

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Four Chimes

My totem is a seagull, which was once considered an ordinary bird. No one on the islands has seen one since before my birth. Last night I dreamt I was flying. I flapped my arms but couldn’t rise. I heard my mother say, “Be one.” Somehow, I became the bird; sleek silky like the feather my mother had given me before she died. I began to rise—just inches from the ground. Filled with an unsteady disbelief, I propelled myself forward as if swimming. A bell rang in the distance. Once. I ignored it. Twice. I began to wobble. Three times. Gravity was real again. I jolted from my sleep.

     “Yanka! Get up! Did you hear the bell?” Arol poked his head into the door of my stone hut. “The bell has been rung three times! A bird was spotted. Hurry! It’s coming from the north.”

     I grabbed my feather and crawled from my hut. No one had rung the bell since the summer before when there had been a dolphin sighting in the west channel. Arol and I had sat on the hot west cliffs all day in anticipation. Nothing but a steady stream of trash had drifted past the rocky island.

     As we ran toward the cliffs, the bell rang again. One. Osprey. Two. Eagle. The eagle was Arol’s totem. I held my breath for him. The bell chimed again. Three. Heron. Four.

     “A seagull,” Arol whispered. “A seagull, Yanka!”

     We arrived at the cliffs. The sky was pale but clear. Far below, clumps of debris pocked the glassy surface of the water. I could see Satka the ferryman, and his square raft as he paddled north.

     “Do you feel any different?” Arol asked. He’d been watching me closely since the last bell.

     I shrugged and took the feather from my pocket. “Be one,” I whispered before I dove.

     Arol’s scream traveled with the wind.

     My body dropped like a stone toward the water. I closed my eyes and arched my back, missing the surface of the water by inches. I was flying!

Below were the signs of human disaster: plastic debris and Styrofoam and burnt lumber. In the spaces between was an endless number of jellyfish. When I looked up, Satka waved his arms in warning. I was close enough to see the panic on the ferryman’s face as I slammed into him.        The impact of our crash threw him off the raft, and he skipped along the water like a flat rock before landing several yards away. I lost my breath and took a moment to recover. “Hold on, Satka!” I shouted as I struggled to stand. My fist was still clenched, but the feather was gone.  

     “I can’t feel my legs,” Satka said. He was holding on to a clump of debris. If I didn’t help him soon, the paralysis from the jellyfish stings would reach his arms, and he would sink into the water.

     I began to flap my arms, as I had in my dream, but nothing happened. I lay on the hot planks of the deck and moved as if swimming, but it was no use without the feather. The raft drifted further. Soon, I would lose sight of Satka.

     I opened the lid of his supply box and found a jug of water, several hooks, a knife and a homemade tranquilizer gun, and finally a rope. I tied the end in a knot and tossed it to him, but it was too short.

     I cried, “Satka!” He was silent. Even if I could reach him with the rope, his limbs were already useless.

     I stood on the edge of the raft. “Be one,” I said out loud. “How can I be one? I don’t even know you!” I yelled through tears.

     Then I heard it—a high-pitched scream from the sky. I looked up to see the seagull flying toward the raft. It circled, screamed again, and dropped a single, snowy-white feather. It rocked back and forth in the air before landing in my hand.  I could feel its magic immediately lifted from the raft.  One more scream and the gull flew toward the open sea.

     I was flying again! For a quick moment, I thought of chasing the bird, but Satka needed me, so I began to hover over the water, searching. I found him motionless over a pile of floating trash. I made several passes before I was able to grab onto the fishing line that held the garbage together. I tugged and yanked until Satka began to drift toward the raft.

    Once I was back on the raft, I pulled Satka’s wet body onto the deck. His legs were covered in welts, and a jellyfish was attached to his stomach. I ripped it off and listened for breath. He was still alive.

     It was hours before Satka could move again. I towed the ferry back to the island. We passed the cliff were Arol stood witness to the entire event, and then on to the cove where Satka lived with his family. I helped him tie his ferry to the dock while he grumbled about wages lost and scratched at his welts. I reached into my pocket and gave him the feather.  

     That night I dreamed of flying again and awoke to find myself hovering over my bed.