by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Miri had never been dry humped so much in her whole life. It had only been a week, but she was already worried she may not fulfill her contract. A job’s a job, she told herself. But her thighs ached from where Pete rubbed himself against her, nearly constantly.
Pete was a bottle nosed dolphin, a young adult male, and it was her job to teach him how to speak English.
“AAAAYYYYY,” Miri said.
“EEE-EEEE-EEEEEE!” Pete replied.
Miri tried again: “IIIIIIIIIII, OHHHHHHHH”
Pete resumed humping her thighs.
He did that a lot. She tried to take his affections as a compliment, but he was a dolphin. And also, no one else was there.
If her relationship with Ben hadn’t imploded as spectacularly as it had, Miri likely wouldn’t have taken the job. But it had imploded, and the implosion had been spectacular, and Miri found herself in need of both a new apartment and a new job, since Ben had been her boss as well as her roommate, as well as her lover, an arrangement that now appeared as myopic as hindsight could possibly allow. So when she found the listing for “Linguistic Coach, no experience necessary, Room and Board supplied” she lunged for it.
One of the grad students, a precariously thin young man whose adolescent acne had never cleared, gave her the tour. It was a normal enough apartment, with a bed, a stove, a refrigerator. But it was also filled, up to Miri’s waist in seawater. The bed was a hammock suspended from the ceiling. The couch was a piece of wood that drifted, listlessly, through the space.
“Pete is pretty middle of the road, intelligence wise,” the grad student told her. Miri forgot his name. He spent most of the tour making eye contact with the ground. Or at least, what could be seen of the ground, underneath the constantly churning water. A complicated filtration system had been put in place.
“But of all our specimens, he exhibited the most immediate self recognition. So there’s that.”
Miri liked Pete. She did not like being constantly humped.
“PETE,” Miri shouted. “Please concentrate.”
“EEEEE-EEEE-EEE!” Pete shouted over her. He did this, a lot, too. Taking turns to speak was apparently not a dolphin trait.
Spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a year with a bottle nosed dolphin had seemed like a good idea, at the onset. What a story, Miri thought, to tell at the next Christmas dinner. A variety of coaches had been chosen, from true linguists, to ESL teachers, animal behaviorists, to layman like Miri. They would each live in solitude with a dolphin, and attempt to build the linguistic bridge where once there had been none.
For his lack of English, Pete was a clear communicator about one thing.
“Stop it!” Miri batted him and his boner away from her leg, where a blooming, blue bruise was taking shape.
She crawled onto the dry platform under her hammock, and dried herself off. “What the fuck, man,” she said to no one, but also to Pete. “It’s just penis penis penis all the time with you.”
Pete chattered happily in dolphin to Miri. She had no evidence to support it, but she suspected he was trying to explain something to her, loudly and repeatedly. Finding her unreceptive, he swam away.
Later, the other coaches would ask her how? HOW had she done it? None of the other dolphins responded the way that Pete had. And coaches had tried all manner of different tactics. Positive reinforcement. Deprivation. Pavlovian method. LSD. Electro shock therapy. Passive aggressive compliments. What had Miri done so differently, they wanted to know? His English vocabulary, though, admittedly limited, far surpassed what any other dolphin could say. It was a miracle.
Or, something just south of a miracle.
For all his strengths, Ben had been lousy in bed. Not lousy so much as boring. He’d learned early on in their courtship that Miri liked having her ears kissed, her wrists held. And so he attended to these duties with the precision of an algorithm, every single time, and after three years, all their sex had blurred into one, metronomic memory for Miri. Kiss. Fondle Hump. Kiss. Fondle. Hump.
In an effort to spice things up, Miri had bought a sex toy, and introduced it brazenly in the act of coitus.
“What the shit!” Ben shouted. He catapulted out of the bed, clutching his balls. “What the shit!” he said again, apparently at a lack for more words. He was very handsome, everyone told Miri so, but he wasn’t handsome then.
“Too much?” Miri asked. She’d thought the dildo would be a great addition. She’d even gone to the care to make sure that it was smaller than Ben, a shopping feat that deserved its own accolades. But they didn’t have sex for a month after that. When they did resume, it was back to their regularly scheduled programming. Kiss. Fondle. Hump. Kiss. Fondle. Hump. The routine was what Ben liked, and machinations of their relationship clicked on ahead for sometime longer.
It was with the memory of sex with Ben in her mind that Miri made her breakthrough with Pete. Males, it seemed, of any species, could be easily handled, if you were willing to roll up your sleeves, create and then attend to a routine.
Because one thing was for sure: Pete couldn’t concentrate on learning when he had a boner.
So Miri resorted to hand jobs.
When Pete approached her with his tumescent dolphin dick, Miri did what many bored girlfriends, wives and hookers had done for centuries before her, and gave Pete a good, firm gripped old-fashioned. She learned quickly he liked more pressure than friction, and more twisting than up and down. He was easy to read, after all, and communicated his enjoyment well. It was not sexual to her, so much as it was practical. And the bruises on her thighs began to recede. Her forearms grew thick and strong.
“AYYYYYYYYY,” Miri said.
“AYYYYYYYeee-e-e,” Pete responded.
“IIIIIIIIIIIIIII,” Miri said.
“IIIIIII-Eee-e-eee,” said Pete.
Within three months, Miri and Pete had established their own daily rhythm. Eat. Hand job. Learn. Eat. Hand job. Learn. And it worked, ticking along through the days, the weeks, and the months like an immaculately constructed clock.
Once they’d overcome the initial hurdle of Pete’s concentration, she was even able to use her methods to incentivize learning. Communicating effectively and politely with Miri, Pete learned, meant he got a nice handy.
And with such great rewards to motivate him, Pete even used the mirror that was half submerged in the bathroom to practice on his own. Miri would watch him, as he spouted his vowels over and over again, only emerging if he was hungry, or horny.
It never even occurred to Miri to be ashamed, until she did her end of year debriefing with the scientist in charge, Dr. Lilly. Lilly was the kind of clean cut, square jawed East Coast white guy that had never been susceptible to Miri’s charm. Her meeting with him had been brief, and intense.
“You mean to tell me, you stimulated him sexually?” Lilly demanded. Behind him, a grad student unsuccessfully stifled a snicker. Considering that someone else had given a dolphin LSD, Miri was a little surprised to learn that her methods, which had proven to be the most successful, were considered the most inappropriate.
“He wouldn’t concentrate otherwise, sir.” And Jesus Christ, she thought. It’s not like I fucked him.
Lilly gave her a look that she could read for what it was. Slut. Slut. Slut.
“Tell no one,” Lilly commanded.
She’d be given no credit publically, that much Lilly made absolutely clear. Her name would be struck from their records. No one would know about Miri, nor would they know about her metronomic ministration of handies. But she’d be paid. “Fine,” Miri said. “Fine.”
However, when the news broke that Lilly’s lab had fostered an English-speaking dolphin, Pete’s vocabulary did all the talking. With the news cameras rolling, and Lilly standing proudly next to the tank, Pete recited his vowels just as he was supposed to, much to everyone’s delight.
But then, unbidden, he rolled over, revealing his pink and erect boy bits to the cameras.
“NO!” cried Lilly. He tried in vain to coerce the reporters to stop, to turn off the cameras. But the cameras kept on rolling.
And that night, on the national news, all of America heard the four words that Pete had spent the year mastering:
“MEEE-EE-RE-EE-EE, PLLLLEEEEE-EE-ASE PEE-EE-EEE-EEENIII-IISSS MEEEEEEE!”
Maggie Tokuda-Hall has an MFA in writing from USF and a tendency to spill things. She splits her time writing for children and writing for adults, and her debut children’s book, Also an Octopus, comes out in 2016. Find her on twitter @emteehall.