An excerpt from Dolphin Dreams

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Martin goes out in a small boat early one morning to hunt fossils along the cliffs:

He'd talked to his Dictaphone for a good fifteen minutes, occasionally sipping his tea to keep his throat moist, before he realised that he had company. A smooth grey shape had broken the surface of the water in front of the boat.

It rolled slightly, and an eye peered at him.

Martin jumped. Then he realised that he was looking at a dolphin. Two dolphins, in fact, for there was a whistling noise behind him, and he turned to see another of the animals at the side of the boat, looking up at him.

All thoughts of fossil-hunting went out of his head. The cliff would be there tomorrow. Dolphins were another matter.

"Hello," he said and immediately felt foolish. They couldn't understand him. And yet the dolphins were clearly curious about him; if he talked to them, it would at least indicate interest back. "What do you two want?"

The dolphin next to the boat whistled at him again and grinned. Martin knew that bottle-nosed dolphins had a permanent "smile" that wasn't a real expression, but this one was definitely grinning at him.

It was the cadence of the whistle. It sounded as if the dolphin was imitating human laughter, and together with the open mouth it gave the impression of a real smile. "Are you laughing?" he asked, mostly in fancy. To his surprise the dolphin gave him a brief whistle and dipped its head.

It couldn't have understood exactly what he'd said, but it had obviously been hanging around humans enough to have picked up some body language. "Well, this is an interesting conversation, but we're not going to get very far on body language and tone of voice."

The other dolphin whistled at him. No, at the dolphin he'd been talking to, judging by the flurry of whistles back and forth. They shifted position, ending up side by side next to the boat, both looking up at him. Only then did Martin realise just how large they were, as long as the small boat he was sitting in. He was abruptly reminded that dolphins were the smallest members of the whale family. They were very small whales, but even a very small whale looked quite big when two of them were this close to him and his now fragile-seeming boat.

Though they didn't seem at all hostile, just curious. Perhaps they were hoping for a snack; if they'd had much to do with humans, they'd undoubtedly encountered people trying to feed them. He edged closer to the side of the boat. "I'm sorry, I don't have any fish. No fish."

There was a mournful whistle from the one he'd first seen, who clearly understood "no fish". Then it nudged the boat with its head, swung around to point its beak at the cliff, whistled, and looked back at him.

"You want to hear more about the fossils?" Martin asked, wondering if he was dreaming.

The reply was a whistle that sounded like a yes. Well, whether they'd actually understood anything of what he'd said, or whether they just liked the sound of his voice, they obviously wanted him to go on talking. So he settled back down on his seat and told them about the local fossils.

The dolphins stay with Martin all day. In the afternoon he puts on an audio book:

The three of them spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the book. The dolphins didn't move from their station alongside the boat until the book came to an end. Then they moved away a little and looked at him. One whistled.

Martin looked at his watch. It wasn't that late. But he'd been up very early, and now he was tired. He needed to get the boat back to the jetty near Simon's place while he was still fit to operate it safely. And there was a cold breeze now, which he hadn't noticed while immersed in the story. "Time I was getting back," he said regretfully. "I just hope you two are still around tomorrow."

They'd been good company. He was cold and a little stiff. But he felt much better than he had twenty-four hours earlier. God, he must have been in a bad way if this pair made him feel far more wanted than Barry had in that last fight. "Thanks, guys. This has been the best date I've been on in ages."

He started up the engine, and they moved away, giving him room to manoeuvre out of the cove.

He looked back as he took the boat out into open water. They were following him at a safe distance. They'd had a good time too. Was it the audio book? He'd have to bring another one with him tomorrow, just in case they showed up again.

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