Observing Cormorants

He had no specific love for cormorants. They were birds. Like robins and terns and albatrosses. Yet, here he was: observing cormorants. Just as he had yesterday and the day before. 

There was no real connection between his solitary afternoon walks and cormorants. Or—perhaps more accurately—he did not walk so that he could observe them in the water. No, like the cormorants themselves, by idle chance he had meandered to this particular park bench at the specific time the cormorants dove for lunch. 

Photo credit:  Cormorant  by  Neil Tackaberry  licensed under  CC BY-ND 2.0

Photo credit: Cormorant by Neil Tackaberry licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

He found himself counting their dives. Seconds ticking away. He admired their ability to dive for what felt like far too long, only to surface fluidly. There was something philosophical about it. A smarter, more astute person would latch onto it. Probably write a treatise or two. Something about staying under long enough to feel the strain and the stress of breathlessness, only to surface, persevere, and do it all over again. 

The ducks and geese were not interesting to him. They swam and quacked, cute goslings and ducklings floating in a row behind, but he paid them no mind. People threw bread near him, but he stopped himself from telling them how it harmed the ducks. He didn't even know if it was true, though he believed it. No, he was here to sit and watch cormorants, not chastise children and people looking to get rid of stale bread. 

He watched another cormorant dive below the surface without making a splash. He counted, yet it didn’t surface. Thirty seconds. A minute. Still nothing. Confused, he leaned forward and watched closer. Another dived. The same. A third dove and, this time, he saw a flash of light beneath the surface. It was only a flash—not unlike a glint—of light. An odd light.

He stood and walked to the railing.

A few more cormorants stood on a degrading pier piling twenty feet away, their wings fanned out like one of those spitting dinosaurs. Another cormorant landed in the water above where he had seen the glint of light. Then it dove.

Light flashed just below the surface, the cormorant dove towards it, then it disappeared, replaced by the flash of the sun on the remaining ripples. Four cormorants gone in a literal flash.

He looked around, hoping someone had seen what he had just seen. The children and elderly playing with the ducks were too engaged with their bread. Runners with headphones in were coming by, too lost in the rhythm of shoes on pavement. Picnickers on the hill were too engaged in one another. He recognized some of them—they were regulars like him, after all. But he was invisible to them, just another employee out for an afternoon escape. 

So, he did what no one would expect him to do. 

He jumped in.

The water was cold; colder than he had expected. It rattled a bit of common sense into his mind for a moment, an immediately feeling of foolishness flooding into his mind. 

And then there was light. Bright light. So he took a deep breath and dove like the cormorants.

The light wasn’t far now, just a few strokes ahead. He pumped his arms—it had been a while since he had been swimming. As he approached the light, it began to take shape, or, more accurately, what was on the other side took shape. He saw a sky, a railing, and rotted pilings. A black mass passed him as he slipped into the light. It resembled him…it was him. He was smiling.

And he was through. Down had turned up and he groped for the surface. With one last thrust his head popped out of the water and around him, bobbing, as if they had been there the whole time, were his cormorants.

Around him was a new world: the same world, but new nonetheless. Billboards and buildings were the same. Trains rattled past, clacking on the bridge above him. The joggers kept running their circuit, oblivious to the man floating in the water. 

But then he saw her. A beautiful memory. Glowing smile, radiant hair. Just as he remembered. It had been years since she had died, but here she was. Alive.

He swam for the pier and pulled himself onto the planks. She was waiting, tennis ball in her mouth. And smiled, memories rushing back. He hugged her, nuzzling his face in her neck, scratching her behind her ears. And she barked just like he remembered.