Authors: Tao Lin
The dolphin quietly went, “Eeeee eee eeee.”
“Do you want to play with me?” the dolphin said.
Ellen looked at her feet. “Okay,” she said.
The dolphin held Ellen’s hand.
They went in the backyard and the dolphin opened a trapdoor.
They climbed down a ladder.
Halfway down a bear was coming up.
“Use teleport,” the dolphin said.
“I don’t have it,” the bear said.
“I just don’t,” the bear said.
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah. Wait. I forgot that I had the ability to teleport,” the bear said.
“A sarcastic bear,” the dolphin said.
“A bear. A sarcastic bear. A bear, a dolphin,” the bear said. “A stupid bear. A fucking moose.”
“We have two people so you go down,” the dolphin said.
“Fine,” the bear said. “Life is stupid anyway.”
The dolphin and Ellen and the bear went down the ladder.
There was a corridor.
“Thank you,” the dolphin said to Ellen.
The dolphin hugged Ellen.
“I like you,” the dolphin said.
The dolphin looked at Ellen.
The bear scratched the wall a little.
“Thank you for coming, Ellen,” the dolphin said.
Ellen looked at her feet.
She had plastic sandals.
The sandals were green and blue.
The bear made a quiet high-pitched noise.
Ellen made eye contact with the bear.
“Do you want to come?” Ellen said to the bear.
The bear scratched the wall and looked at the dolphin.
“No,” the bear said. “I wouldn’t have fun anyway. I can’t have fun in groups of three.”
The bear knelt and opened a trapdoor and tried to crawl in but didn’t fit.
The bear stood.
“I don’t need to go there,” the bear said.
The bear had a blanket and it folded it neatly.
“I don’t know,” the bear said. “I’ll go work on my novel I guess.”
The bear went up the ladder.
The dolphin and Ellen walked to a cliff.
The dolphin knelt and opened a trapdoor.
They crawled through a tunnel.
There was a room.
It had a bed, a refrigerator, a Christmas tree.
The Christmas tree had blinking lights.
“Are you hungry?” the dolphin said.
The dolphin gave Ellen a muffin on a plate.
“A little,” Ellen said.
The dolphin watched Ellen eat the muffin.
“Thank you,” Ellen said.
“Do you want cake?” the dolphin said.
“I don’t know,” Ellen said.
The air conditioner went off.
The room was very quiet.
The Christmas lights blinked.
The refrigerator was very quiet.
“Do you want to come over again?” the dolphin said.
The dolphin held Ellen’s hand and they went to Ellen’s room.
“I had a lot of fun,” the dolphin said.
Ellen hugged the dolphin.
The dolphin cried.
The dolphin very quietly went, “Eeeee eee eeee.”
“You are nice,” Ellen said.
“Did you like the muffin?” the dolphin said.
“Yes,” Ellen said.
The dolphin looked at Ellen.
Ellen sat on her bed and looked at her hands.
Ellen looked at her sandals.
The dolphin looked at Ellen’s sandals.
“Do you want to do something else?” the dolphin said.
The dolphin held Ellen’s hand.
They went through the trapdoor and the corridor down a ladder into an elevator.
The elevator had mirrors.
Ellen looked at herself and the dolphin.
The dolphin was smoother.
The dolphin put a blindfold on Ellen.
They walked across a rope bridge and Ellen heard hamster noises.
The dolphin took the blindfold off Ellen.
They crawled through a tunnel.
There was a playground.
Ellen walked into the playground and felt very quiet.
She felt very calm.
The dolphin went down the slide.
Ellen climbed onto the slide and went down the slide.
The dolphin went, “EEEEE EEE EEEE.”
Ellen went to the swings.
The dolphin and Ellen did the swings.
“EEEEE EEE EEEE,” went the dolphin.
Ellen looked at the dolphin’s face.
The dolphin’s face looked handsome.
Ellen looked at the dolphin going, “EEEEE EEE EEEE.”
Dolphins felt top-heavy, that year, most of the time, and wanted to lie down. When their heads weren’t on top they still felt top-heavy, but metaphysically. In public places they felt sad. They went into restrooms, hugged themselves, and quietly went, “Eeeee eee eeee.” Weekends they went to playgrounds alone. They sat in the top of slides—the enclosed part, where it glowed a little because of the colored plastic—and felt very alert and awake
but also very sad and immature. Sometimes they fell asleep and a boy’s mother would prod the dolphin with a broom and the dolphin would go down the slide while still asleep. At the bottom they would feel ashamed and go home and lie in bed. They felt so sad that they believed a little that it was their year to be sad, which made them feel better in a devastated, hollowed-out way. Life was too sad and it was beautiful to really feel it for once; to be allowed to feel it, for one year. When dolphins had these thoughts, usually on weekends at night, it was like dreaming, like a pink flower in a soft breeze on a field was lightly dreaming them. The sadness was like a pink forest that got less dense as you went in and then changed into a field, which the dolphins walked into alone. Sometimes the sadness was like a knife against the face. It made the dolphins cry and not want to move. But sometimes a young dolphin would feel very lonely and ugly and it was beautiful how alone it felt, and it would become restless with how perfect and elegant
its sadness was and go away for a long time and then return and sit in its room and feel very alone and beautiful.
Sometimes when dolphins went to playgrounds alone they did the monkeybars and went to the swings and on the swings thought, “I hate this stupid world.”
They thought, “I hate it.”
They cried a little with the wind against their face.
They felt so bad that they went away.
And found Elijah Wood and told Elijah Wood to go with them and Elijah Wood went—because he thought it was a movie. Elijah Wood and other celebrities like Salman Rushdie rode dolphins in rivers. Salman Rushdie felt proud and famous. And the dolphins swam to islands and beat Elijah Wood and the other famous people with heavy branches. They cried when they murdered human beings, and it was terrible.
One dolphin had a battle axe and killed Wong Kar-Wai.
Wong Kar-Wai was easier because he wore sunglasses and couldn’t really see the terror.
Sometimes dolphins knew other dolphins—cousins, uncles—that had died, and they said, “It is sad they died but there is nothing to do except be nice to anyone still alive.” But they themselves had not been nice. They had killed Elijah Wood, Kate Braverman, and Philip Roth—people like that. They had made promises and forgotten. One dolphin had become friends with a man with Down syndrome and the man had written the dolphin a letter and the dolphin had not responded. Another dolphin had made promises to meet a person—had promised, and promised again, a third time—and had not kept them, and it had hurt the person.
And so they said, “I need to be nicer from now on,” and went home.
At home they decorated their Christmas trees and sat on the floor.
“I have no one to be nice to,” they thought.
They went to an acquaintance’s home—to try to be friendly and compassionate to someone—but
were not invited inside, and went back home, and thought about how as a young dolphin they had thought that the Gulf War happened in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Do you want to see an independent movie?” Jan said in the car. She reached over and patted Ellen, her daughter, on the head. They were driving somewhere. Ellen had been sitting there, on the sofa, drinking water; her mom had said something about Vitamin D, or something; and now they were going someplace. It was Spring Break for Ellen. So far she had drank water on the sofa while thinking about how to destroy the local Starbucks; ate a bag
of carrot sticks while walking around the neighborhood, feeling afraid of people; and, the day before that, slept sixteen hours. A few more days and she would be sitting there again, in Advanced Placement American History. Her teacher, who was also the football coach, would make fun of Sacco and Vanzetti. People would take notes.
Sacco and Vanzetti are pansies
Ellen didn’t respond so Jan patted her again; and kept patting and then patted Ellen’s forehead a little too.
“You’re going to crash!” Ellen said. She didn’t trust her mom. But she shouldn’t be afraid of dying, she knew. It would happen, of course. “It’s okay if you crash. I’m just saying. You might.”
“You like independent movies because they are real. They have meaning. Those movies where things keep changing. Mutants,” Jan said carefully. “People don’t change like that. They don’t fly and shoot lasers from their eyes. That’s not real.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s about how controlled by money things are, not how real.”
“We’ll adopt a lot of dogs for free,” Jan said. “Is that what you mean?”
Ellen was confused a little. “Maybe. But people are always like, ‘Plants are alive too, and you eat those, hypocrite.’ But what’s worse? Murdering a thing with nerves and a nervous system or murdering a thing that only might have those? I mean, people are stupid.”
“Tomorrow we’ll adopt one dog,” Jan said. “We’ll do it at night, and we’ll ride bikes so we don’t waste gas. Do you like that? Adopting dogs at night, doesn’t that sound fun? What will we name them? I said one. We’ll get two.”
“I’m serious,” Ellen said.
“What’s your favorite animal?” Jan said.
“I don’t know,” Ellen said without thinking.
“Is it a horseshoe crab?”
“I don’t know,” Ellen said.
There was a store outside, passing by, where they sold hunting gear. It had a canoe
glued on its front. Who needed to murder a deer then sit in a tree and float down a river? “I’m going to kill everyone,” Ellen said. She was against violence, she knew.
Jan smiled at her daughter. She moved her hand to pat Ellen’s head then stopped, halfway, and pulled her arm back.
“Everyone should be impeached,” Ellen said. “For being so bad at living.” What happened if an unemployed person was laid off? Ellen’s mind went blank. She wanted to swim with young dolphins in a small, clean, shallow ocean—with that silky kind of sand that didn’t have any shells in it. Was that what she wanted? She wasn’t a good swimmer.
“Impeachment,” Jan said. “Is that a euphemism? Yeah. That’s what they do. Make everything sound nice, like life’s just eating peaches all day. That’s nice of them. Optimistic.”
“Anything in the world is a euphemism,” Ellen said. “There’s just one thing to life. It’s just this … thing. Everything else is just a euphemism for the thing. The oneness. I know what I’m talking about.” Ellen felt a prickling sensation
on the top of her head. The cloth—or whatever—ceiling of the Buick was hanging down on her hair, like a skullcap. “It’s all atoms, right? So everything’s just the same. I mean, without perception there’s just … a nothing-thing. It’s just one thing. Whenever you talk or use your senses you’re distorting that thing, trying to make it into a lot of different things—like trying to separate it from what it really is. I’m not the only person who says this. Buddhism does, and other people. I’m not stupid.”
“Your little sisters are … do you think they are a little strange?” Jan said loudly.
“Strange people are better,” Ellen said.
“Your brother Steve is not strange,” Jan said.
“I don’t care. I mean … he’s older.”
“I’m stopping at the grocery,” Jan said. “You want to wait in the car? Come in with me—it’ll be fun.”
“What? How is being a consumer fun?” But people had to eat, Ellen knew. Buying food was okay, wasn’t it? Just enough to survive. Nothing more. “We should grow our own food.”
“Should we grow food for the dog that we’ll adopt tomorrow?”
“Don’t try to change me. A dog isn’t going to change me.”
“Maybe we should wait until after Thanksgiving for the dog. Thanksgiving is so soon! Aren’t you excited?”
“I hate all holidays.” Thanksgiving—the gorging and genocide of it; how could it be a holiday? were they serious?—made Ellen feel at once nauseous, sarcastic, seditious, and starving. Her mouth watered. But she also wanted to vomit on the white man’s face then smash something—a house, an entire mansion—with her forehead and have it be suicide at the same time.
“When you were a kid … I remember your face on Christmas. Smiling, bright. Remember you made those lists for me? It would have these little things you wanted. It would be numbered. Like
, a stuffed animal,
, whatever … then there would be a few numbers where you wrote ‘mystery thing,’ ‘mystery thing,’ ‘mystery thing.’ You wanted to be surprised.”
She was so superficial and materialistic back then. She was stupid. She was someone else back then. “That’s wasn’t me. I mean, I can’t be held accountable for anything I’ve done in the past,” Ellen said. She was startled a little. Was this true? “Each moment … is just a moment. Time is like, a thing. And space is another thing. You wouldn’t say I’m responsible for things occupying other spaces, like everyone killing everyone else in wars or beating a wife. So you shouldn’t say I’m responsible for things that occupy other areas of time.” She was excited. It made sense. She felt like she could do things now. Play and be wild and not have to be afraid or nervous anymore. Then the feeling passed. She could do nothing. She couldn’t play with anyone. The feeling always passed.
“You were always smart. Smarter than me. As smart as your dad. You used to sit there and say, ‘Tell me to multiply 40 and 25.’ And then you’d say the answer. I always told you that you would be good at anything you worked at.” Jan looked at Ellen a moment. “Um,” she
said. “Don’t be mad when I say this. But … it’s not too late to restart piano lessons.”