From the earliest days of childhood, the boy dreamed of buoyancy, of floating through water supported by water, of floating through the air supported by the air, of floating through space supported by space. He shared his dreams with his sister. She was a year older, but willing to follow him. Feathers in their hands, they jumped from the roof together, learning how to fly.
“You’ll get hurt,” said their older brother.
They weren’t hurt, but they didn’t fly, either.
The boy dreamed of galaxies and jellyfish. He liked to lie on his back in the night grass and listen for the music of the stars. Sometimes his sister lay on her back beside him. They never heard anything but the sounds of earthly night: crickets, wind in the trees, the clatter of kitchen sounds inside the houses. Still, he said he was sure of the music. Someday he would hear it.
When the older brother grew up, he let life take him up. He married, fathered children, and worked hard.
When the sister grew up, she let life take her up. She married, bore children, and was a mother to them.
When the boy grew up, well, there was some doubt that he ever grew up at all. He went to school for a while. He worked or a while. He had lovers for a while. He was a man now, but he did not become a husband or a father. Mostly, he traveled the world. He told his sister that he still had those dreams of buoyancy, still dreamed of galaxies and jellyfish that were both aglow with the same jeweled light.
He lived for a time in Nepal, in Mexico, in Italy. He had friends in San Francisco and Key West, in Boulder and Madison.
“Why doesn’t he make something of himself?”growled the older brother.
“He is,” said the sister.
“What?” said the brother. “What is he making of himself?”
But the sister had no words for it.
The man who dreamed of buoyancy learned to meditate. He ate mushrooms that taught him how to cast his soul out of his body like a fishing lure on a silver line. He visited his sister and her family. He made his nephews and nieces laugh with his stories of their mother up on grandma’s roof, feathers in her hands, almost flying.
“Don’t tell them that!” the sister said.
“You don’t want your own children to learn how to fly?”
The man visited his older brother’s family, too. The older brother called the sister afterwards. “What’s he going to do in his old age? Does he think we’ll support him?”
“You would refuse?” said the sister.
“That’s not the point.”
The man traveled. He lived for a time in Thailand, Australia, Ecuador, and Spain. He stayed with friends in New Orleans, in Taos, and in Boston. He wrote postcards to his sister. He ate pills that taught him how to see farther than the strongest telescopes. He put drops on his tongue that let him hear the songs of dolphins in the ocean deep.
He called her late at night from a city not far from where she lived. He said, “You used to lie in the grass with me,listening to the night sky.”
She said, “I remember.”
He said, “Help me. I need your help.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I can’t drive a car with my hands like this.”
She came to the place he named. The skin of his hands was gray and spotted. His fingers had grown together. He said, “We have to hurry.”
She drove him many miles that night, toward the lowering moon, all the way to the sea. He would not answer her questions, but only recounted their childhood together, the way she had taken up his dreams as if they were her own.
His legs seemed to be joined at the knees. She helped him out of the car and he leaned heavily against her as they crossed the wide beach. Near the water’s edge, he fell forward and inched his way along. The dorsal fin ripped his shirt as it grew. His sister felt his desperation for the water, and she pulled him forward by one flipper. Breath puffed out of his blowhole. The sand must be rough against his belly, his sister thought,but then he was far enough for a wave to lift him, and he was free.
Free, his sister thought, looking out over the waves.
His new life had come so suddenly, she had not even said goodbye.
She saw the arch of his fin in the moonlight. She could see his body undulate. He splashed once with his tail and was gone.
His sister stood still for a long time, then mimicked the way he had moved. A wave went from her shoulders, down her spine.
She couldn’t follow him. Even so, she stayed there, watching the moon set over the waves, practicing.
The sister called the older brother. She said, “He’s gone.”
The older brother cried, and he said, “Well, what could we expect after the sort of life he lived?” Later, he told his children that their uncle had died. Much, much later, when the children were almost grown, he cautioned them to choose carefully the lives they would live.
The sister told her children that their uncle had become a dolphin. Much, much later, when the children were almost grown, she told them that by now their uncle might be a celestial body. She led them outside on a summer night. She lay on her back in the damp grass, and her children lay beside her. Together, they listened to the stars.