“We walked across the sand through the orange light of the afternoon . . .”

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read the part of Hank Peabody

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The Boys of El Fornio Ready
Another Dolphin for the Sea

from The Reeducation of a Turd Peddler
by John Henry Peabody

JANET AND I HAD BEEN down at the beach taking water samples for most of the afternoon.
  “I hope everything comes out negative,” she said as we loaded our samples into the back of my truck.
  “We’ll see,” I turned and looked towards the surf. At the edge of the water was a group of kids standing around some kind of creature that had washed up. “What do they got there?” I nodded.
  “Take a look.”

  We walked across the sand through the orange light of the afternoon. Five boys in their early teens stood around a washed up dolphin, poking a stick at it. A rope had been tied around the tail.

  “I’ve seen this before,” I said.
  “It’s a raising ceremony,” Janet replied. “At least it seems like one.”
  “That’s right. These knuckleheads think they’re going to raise a dolphin from the dead.”
  I looked back up to the bluff. I could see drag marks through the sand.
  “They probably started up there,” Janet surveyed. “Then brought it back down. Look,” she pointed. “They’ve lined up their charms.”

  I walked up and knelt. Strung in a queue beside the dolphin was one datura blossom, an apple core, a half full paper cup of what looked to be soda, a straw from the Mission Drive-thru, a pack of matches from the Oak Tree Café, a Number Two pencil standing at attention, a pair of Librado skyrockers casting slim shadow and a beach-polished rock of bright green serpentine. Two cigarette butts finished out the line of charms.
  “I can’t tell if the cigarette butts are part of the line or what.”
  “I think they are,“ Janet said. “Cigarettes and cigarette butts came into use as ritual charms in the 1930s. It meant personal independence, adulthood. Boys this age would want to express that, although I’m not sure where they would have heard about it.”
  It became apparent that the boy with the stick wasn’t poking the dolphin at all. Rather he was passing the stick over the animal’s head like a wand while he hummed. The dolphin itself had a puncture wound in its side, below the dorsal fin. It continued to drain a small about of blood and fluid. The boy with the stick remained focused as his buddies watched.
  “So did the Fornay actually bring dolphins back to life?” I asked her. “You can’t honestly fool each other for hundreds of years, can you?”
  Stick Boy kept waving his wand over the lifeless body. One of the boys came forward and lit one of the skyrockets. It flashed and shot into the air.
  I began to remember some of the history I had read about the Fornay reviving dolphins. It wasn’t an ancient practice. Some scholarship and tribal sources have noted that the “ceremony,” such as it was, began only when the Spanish arrived, and that it was a way the Fornay attempted to trump the Catholic mysticism of the Padres. The idea was to up the spiritual ante with an amazing show of shamanic power in the face of the cross, Christian myth and the rituals of the Mass. One theory went as far as to say the Fornay, who still maintain a close relationship with the channel dolphins, would catch a dolphin, drug it, then make sure the Spanish could see them praying over the dolphin’s body, reciting incantations. Then, as the drug wore off, they would slip the revivified creature back into the water. Indeed, it made an impression on the Spanish as several padres and accompanying diarists from the mission era made note of it in their journals.
  “Everybody likes to pretend.”
  “Are they pretending?” Janet asked. “At what point do you believe in your pretensions enough that they are real actions, with depth, even authenticity?”
  “All of a sudden Pocahantas is a psychologist,” I tapped my head. “Maybe on the way back to town we’ll see a Jackalope and if we think it’s real enough then it’ll be real.”
  The boy with the stick walked over to the tail side of the dolphin and picked up the rope. He leaned towards the water and heaved the creature with all of his weight, one hand still holding the stick.
  “Here they go,” Janet said.
  “Here they go what?”

  The dolphin was pulled into the surf as the other boys collected around it. Water lapped at their ankles and covered the dolphin. Its back began to shine. The boy with the stick handed it to one of his buddies. Two of the others put more skyrockets in the sand, ready to light. The boy with the stick untied the rope around the animal’s tail. The set rose and a swell of water came in. The dolphin sank. Its tail moved and shot back and forth. Then it cleared its blowhole as the boys lit the skyrockets. Sparks reflected on the wet sand and the dolphin slowly gained itself. It kicked its tail and moved towards the waves as the skyrockets gave a whoosh. A wave fell and the dolphin disappeared into the surf. The boys cheered.
  Janet looked at me. “In a few days we head up into the Pass. I want you to take this afternoon with you. This is a gift.”
  I looked out past the breakers. “How do we know the dang thing isn’t going to just belly up and float back in?”
  “We don’t. But you did see that, right?”
  I took a long look at Janet. All week she had been the attorney, in court, at city hall, wearing her suits and white blouses, but today she was playing the Indian.
  “I’ll see you up at the car,” she turned and headed back across the sand. I watched her. Her ass will never not be nice, I decided.
    I looked back at the charms set up in the sand, shadows long, orange light heading towards purple.
  Just the right combination, I suppose.

See What Happens Next with Hank and Janet
A Fool So Full of Sorrow


Copyright © 2010, The El Fornio Historical Society
          Contact John Graham at john@elfornio.com