Robbie looked up from the book on his knee. ‘Is there dolphins?’
‘How d’you mean?’
‘Are dolphins real?’ He held up the pages for me to see. There was an illustration of a dolphin talking to a mermaid.
‘Of course dolphins are real. You’ve seen dolphins,’ I answered. He studied the page, frowning.
‘This one can talk.’
I hoisted him over my shoulder and carried him, laughing and groaning, to the bookshelves. We searched along the tall shelf at the bottom until I found the big nature book, its spine sun-bleached almost white from a summer spent in the kitchen window. ‘There’s a dolphin,’ I pointed, after flicking through the pages. ‘Three of them.’
He rubbed at the image with his index finger. ‘But we were looking at that picture of a dinosaur last week.’
‘Dinosaurs were real too, they’re just gone now. But you’re right. That was a computer illustration.’
‘Is this an illustration?’
‘It’s a photograph. It’s real.’
‘How do you know?’
We went to the computer and he kneeled on the chair and typed D-O-L-P-H-I-N-S into YouTube. After an hour we’d watched dozens of videos. Huge schools of dolphins massing underwater. Playful dolphins cresting through boat wakes. ‘Are these real?’ he said.
‘Yes! Robbie, I’ve seen dolphins. I know they are real. And they are not extinct.’ He leaned forward and typed D-I-N-O-S-O-R-E-S into YouTube.
On Saturday we cycled to the Dead Zoo and walked around looking for a dolphin skeleton or even a stuffed one. There were none. I pointed to the stuffed sperm whale hanging the length of the ceiling. ‘Do you believe in whales?’
‘Dolphins are in the same family as whales.’
‘Are dinosaurs in the same family as whales?’
‘Are dinosaurs in the same family as… snakes?’
‘Lets go to the sea.’
We cycled out the coast road until we arrived at the beach. I sat on the wall while Robbie wrote in the sand.
‘There are dolphins out there right now,’ I said.
He paused, raising a hand to shade his eyes theatrically. ‘I can’t see any.’
‘Underwater. Can I tell you a story, Robbie?’ No response. ‘When I was a young man we found a dolphin on this beach. The tide had just gone out and somehow he was left lying here on the sand.’
‘Was he alive?’
‘Yep. His nose was all bloody, and he was gasping out his blowhole. Later we found out that he probably hurt his nose on some rocks, and then his sonar was damaged, so he got confused and ended up on the beach.’
‘His sonar like bats?’
‘Yep. So we poured water over his back for a while. We kept him nice and wet. I don’t think they like to dry out. But he wasn’t happy, and the tide was getting further and further out.’
‘What did you do?’
‘A man came from the aquarium. A marine biologist. Someone phoned him.’
‘And there were maybe six of us, so we all helped the dolphin into a stretcher the marine guy had brought. It had holes for the fins. And we carried the dolphin down to the sea and put him in the water.’
‘Was he heavy?’
‘Really heavy, but okay for six people. We walked into the water and put the stretcher down and the dolphin swam off. But he was confused. He swam in a circle and got stranded again, just up the beach.’
‘Because of his sonar. We all ran over to where he’d swam to, and I got there first because I was nearest. He was still in shallow water so I just spun him around and pushed him out again. My wet jumper had slid down over my hands and afterwards it smelled so strange. Like sour rubber.’
‘Did he die?’
‘He swam straight after that, and the biologist said he might be okay if he got to the open sea. Out of the bay. His nose would probably heal without him getting trapped anywhere.’ Robbie was standing on the wall looking for dolphins on the shoreline.
‘So you know that dolphins are real. I have held one myself.’
‘Well, maybe fifteen years ago.’
‘So you don’t know if they are gone like the dinosaurs. You haven’t seen one today.’
‘No, Robbie. I suppose I haven’t.’