Sink or Swim, Part 8 – Finale
It was nice to go on a date with someone who was much smarter than me for a change. It didn’t take a genius to teach middle school, but apparently it did to become a marine biologist. Fierce competition for jobs, few graduate programs, and general lack of funding meant the few people that achieved such dreams every year were the best. Amy proved to be a witty conversationalist, a charming dinner date, and generally a pleasant person to spend an evening with. She wasn’t working becoming an influencer, she wasn’t trying to build a brand, she wasn’t “living her best life,” she was just doing her job and being happy being herself. When I dropped her off at her house, I couldn’t help but feel a bit smitten. Maybe I’d been looking at dating entirely wrong my entire life.
When I got back to my apartment, Otis, Barbra, and the foals were sleeping in an adorable fluff pile while Bob sat on his rump, watching over their enclosure. He was also asleep, so I let my fluffies just continue with their slumber before turning in myself.
The sound of pounding woke me from a dead sleep. I first thought someone was in my apartment, until I realized that the pounding was coming from about a foot above the floor and sounded like someone banging a shoe against the door.
“Wogeh!” demanded Bob from the other side of the door. “Wogeh! Nee hewp! Wake up!” Bleary eyed, I stumbled to the door and opened it to find Bob dancing round in panic. “Otis nu wake up! Sowwy fow get out of woom, buh nee hewp!”
I came into the safe room to find the foals peeping on the enclosure floor while Barbra was pushing Otis with her stubby hooves, shrieking at him to “pwease wake up!” I opened the cage and picked up my tiny blue and black unicorn. Barbra looked up at me with pleading sobs, begging me to “hewp spechaw fwiend.” But Otis was beyond help. He was cold and stiff, a tiny smile frozen forever on his grey muzzle and eyes closed in the sleep that lasts forever.
Otis was gone.
Even though I knew it was coming, even though we’d all known it was coming, it still set tears to my eyes. Otis might have been a cranky, miserable old asshole, but he was my cranky, miserable old asshole, and I loved having him in my life, however brief that might have been. I had to break it to my pets.
“Otis has died,” I said. “He’s taking the forever sleep. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Buh Wogeh make ebeyting bettah!” said Bob. “Hoomans do anyting!”
“Pwease!” begged Barbra. “Bebehs nee daddeh! Bawbwa need spehcaw fwiend!” Her foals chirped and squeaked beneath her, cuddling in close to keep warm. “Wogeh say Bawbwa haf anyting! Jus wan Owtis! Pwease!”
“Guys, I can’t help Otis,” I said. “He’s gone. This has been coming for a long time. Otis was really old, and it was just his time.”
“Buh wheh go?” asked Barbra. “Owtis wight deh, jus nu wakies!”
“And he never will,” I said. “Bob, can you explain it to her?”
I somehow didn’t feel qualified to explain death to a fluffy pony, so I set about to preserving Otsi’s fragile body. I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. So many things I’d read about fluffies said that you should just throw them out with the regular trash. In fact, I could see one of my neighbor’s pitching still twitching fluffies into the dumpster from my kitchen window, but I’m sure they weren’t anything more than a stress relief for him. Otis had been my friend and to treat a friend with such callous disregard sickened me. I wrapped him in a dish cloth, and set him in the refrigerator. I’d find a place to bury him tomorrow. I closed the door to find Bob standing there, his oily cheeks repelling the tears running down his face.
“Owtis weawwy gone foebeh?” he asked.
“I’m afraid so,” I said. “We’ll bury him tomorrow.” I looked at the clock. “Well, later today at any rate. I’m sorry Bob.”
“Owtis Bawb’’s bestest fwiend,” Bob sobbed. “Nu haf bestet fwiend now.”
“You’ve got Barbra,” I said. “And Wendy. And me, I guess.”
“Buh Owtis bestest fwiend!” Bob protested. “Wha do now Owtis hab foweveh sweepies?” I pet his fluffy mane, trying to comfort him. It was something I don’t think I’d done until then.
“You learn to live,” I said. “You know, my best friend died when I was young? He and I did everything together. Then he got really sick and then he wasn’t there anymore. I was sad for a long time and I thought I’d never be happy again. But time makes that pain hurt a little less every day. It gets easier, but it never really goes away completely. Don’t you miss your other friends who died?”
“Bawb nebah had fwiends befowe,” he sniffled. “Hewd fwuffies nu wike Bawb and dey get fowebeh sweepies aww dah time. Jus pawt of wive by wake. Buh hoomans suppose make eveyting bettah!”
“Even humans can’t fix death,” you admit. “Let’s get some breakfast, then we’ll decide what to do next.”
Breakfast was a somber affair. Barbra was too upset to eat, but her foals chirped and peeped to let their own hunger be known. Their soft cries filled the otherwise silent room with soft notes of hope for the future. So small were their voices, so helpless and vulnerable, that I couldn’t help but worry about Barbra. She wasn’t crying anymore, but her eyes were moist with tears ready to flow at any moment. She sat on her rump, letting the foals feed at her swollen teats, but she stared into space as the foals pushed and jostled among themselves for position.
“You’ve got to feed your babies,” I said to Barbra. She seemed to snap out of her thoughts and rotated the foals, placing one beneath each arm to let the other three feed. She went back to staring into space for a few minutes as the foals fed, then swapped out the last one.
Their colors were more defined than they were last night. One was pink on pink pegasus male, colored in pale pastels. Another was a deep green earthie male with a white mane. The one ferociously chirping under her right arm was a deep cocoa unicorn filly with a shiny black mane, and the one under her left arm was a pure black pegasus filly with a frost white mane. The last one suckling for breakfast at Barbra’s teat was a beautiful blue male with hair dark as night and a tiny unicorn horn atop his fluffy head.
I’d heard that you could never tell what variety could come from fluffies, but I never imagined that they’d all be so different. I certainly wasn’t expecting a perfect copy of Otis. He even seemed grumpy, his eyes just opened and scowling at everything around him.
“So do you have names for your babies?” I asked Barbra.
“Owtis gun name dem today,” Barbra sniffled. “Say dees fiwst bebehs he knew gon haf bestest wife cause Wogeh take care of dem.”
To say I was touched that Otis thought so highly of me would have been an understatement. I was certain Otis hated me and only tolerated my presence because I fed him. For all his bitching, experimenting on him, and reprimands to not be such a dick, it turned out he liked me after all. I had to excuse myself a moment before returning to the question at hand. Barbra looked over her foals before looking back at me for guidance.
“Nu gud wif names,” she said at last. “Bawbwa nu haf name tiww Wogeh gif one. You gif bebehs names?” I wasn’t much for names either, with Otis and Barbra having their own names given to them by circumstance and Bob being named after a bad joke. But I thought it something worth thinking about.
“Well, this little black and white filly should be named Thunder,” I started. “The brown one looks like a coffee bean, so we’ll call her Bean. The green baby, hrm… he looks like a mint, so we’ll call him Peppermint. The little pink boy is going to need a tough name, so we’ll call him Sunburn. And this little guy…” I picked up the tiny clone of Otis. He peeped and chirped at me for a moment before frowning and scowling. “We’ll call him Otis Jr.”
“Wuv names!” said Barbra, taking Otis Jr. back from me. “Wook at bebehs, Bawb! Dey haf namsies now!”
“Bean, Thundah, Peppahmint, SunBuwn, an Owtis Juniow,” said Bob. “Gud names. Wuv babehs! Hewp take gud cawe of dem wike I pwomise Owtis.”
Otis really did think of everything in his moments of lucidity. He knew he wouldn’t be around to see his children grow up, but he also knew that Bob would do his best to make sure they’d get all the care they needed. I didn’t know if I was going to keep all of them, but I knew Otis Jr. would be staying with me one way or another. The others would find good homes after getting fixed. Could you fix a micro fluffy? I had no idea, but I’m sure someone would know.
My bigger concern was finding a place to bury Otis. The local pet cemetery didn’t accept fluffies for some reason and the fluffy cemetery I did find was just an unattended pit near the sewage treatment plant with wood chipper rental services on the weekends. No, Otis deserved better and it took me a while to think of something appropriate for my little foul mouthed friend. I hit on an idea and started making calls.
On a beautiful August Sunday, we gathered at the lake, bringing us full circle to where it all began.
Amy, Wendy, Steve and Rajesh all gathered at the lake side, awaiting Otis’s final send off. We’d brought sandwiches and beers, Frisbees and beach balls for an end of summer celebration. Bob stood nearby with Barbra and her foals awaiting in their travel carrier. I held a model long ship carrying the wrapped body of Otis, and stood ankle deep in the waters of Lake Martin.
“Today, we mourn the passing of Otis, oldest known microfluffy,” I say. “Otis was not with us long, but came to us in the way we knew him best: miserable and belligerent.” Everyone nodded solemnly. “He told us often of how fluffies were treated in his day, and to some, that’s what fluffies are: disposable vermin to abuse and torture. All of here know better. Through these months we’ve known Otis, we know that each fluffy is their own being with thoughts, dreams, hopes and feeling. Sometimes they’re sunny and pleasant, like Wendy. Others live to please like Bob.” Bob nodded at the mention of his own name. “Others are born to love, like Barbra loves Otis. And who knows what their foals will grow up to be like?” I paused a moment to collect my thoughts.
“Otis has shown us that fluffies don’t have to be sunshine and sweetness to be loved,” I continued. “We honor his memory by being assholes to people who deserve it. Because fuck those people.”
“Fawk dos people,” Bob agreed.
“Yah! Fawk dem!” Barbra chimed up.
“And so we commend Otis to the lake,” I continued, “in a way we think he’d enjoy.” With that, I set the boat in the lake and gave Bob the cord tied to the prow. Bob held it in his teeth, and stepped into the water.
“Bob, what are you doing?” asked Steve. “Water’s bad for fluffies.”
“Nawt dis fwuffy,” said Bob with a grin. He paddled himself out into the lake, keeping his head held high and his legs moving in perfect sync. I’d put the plugs in his nose earlier, just in case, but he swam like he’d been doing it all his life, carefully dragging Otis’s long ship behind him in the water. He paddled back to shore a minute later and shook the water from his fluff. Rajesh and Steve stared slack jawed at the grinning orange fluffy. It was worth every second spent training him to see their stupid expressions.
I pressed the button in my pocket, and the long ship burst into gouts of brilliant orange flames. Sure it was an extravagant send off, especially for a fluffy pony, but Otis had taught me so much in just a few months, that I thought it was worth it. Barbra stared stoically at the flames while the foals oohed and ahhed at the pretty display on the lake. They wouldn’t understand, given they were only a week old and barely past chirping, and maybe they never would. But it was important to Barbra, and that’s why we were all here.
I popped the top off a bottle of beer, and raised it to the gathered friends. They did likewise, though Bob just raised a hoof instead.
“To Otis, the oldest Micro fluffy ever,” I said.
“To Otis!” everyone replied.
“And to Bob,” said Amy. “The first swimming fluffy, ever”
“That we know of,” said Rajesh, raising his beer. “To Bob.”
Our last lake party of the season was one to remember. People had burgers, fluffies had spaghetti. Feats of strength were once again performed with gusto, there now being a lady here to impress. Bob swam for hours, even asking for his helmet so he could go diving for “wake tweasuwes!” and Barbra told her foals all about what kind of fluffy Otis had been. Wendy even gave Bob a hug, the first he’d ever gotten from “a pwetty mawe.” It was a fine way to cap off the summer.
As sun dipped in the sky and we packed to leave, Steve clapped me on the shoulder and handed me a fifty dollar bill.
“I guess you can teach fluffies to swim after all,” he said. “You going to keep them?”
“I’ll probably give the foals to someone I trust,” I said.
“Dude, I’ll take Sunburn,” said Steve. “Molly would love him.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like Peppermint,” said Rajesh. “He’s such a sweetie.”
“Sure,” I said. “After they’re weaned, we’ll get you set up. Are you okay with Rajesh and Steve taking your babies, Barbra?”
“Dey seem like gud daddehs,” said Barbra. “So otay. Can keep Owtis Juniow?”
“Of course, sweetie,” I said. “You can have whatever you want. That was the deal.” She smiled and went back to hugging her babies as I strapped the carrier in the car. Bob emerged from the lake and shook himself dry.
“Dis nice,” he said. “Wawa getting’ cowd do. Come back watew?”
“Not for too much longer,” I said. “Winter will be here soon.”
“Nu wike cowd times,” said Bob. “I stay wif you fow cowd times?”
“Did you think I’m going to leave you out here?” I asked.
“Dunno,” said Bob. “I swim fow you. Wha mow Wogew want?”
“Someday you have to learn to live for yourself Bob,” I said. “What do you want out of life?” Bob sort of shrugged.
“Wan be happy?”
“Are you happy now?” I asked. He gave it some thought.
“Bawb am happy, Wogeh,” he said at last. “Can go home now?”
“Sure thing Bob.”
We left that lake side the same way we had at the start of summer, only this time with an appreciation for what a fluffy had taught me. It cost me a lot more than fifty bucks, but I gained some insights into learning, a new outlook on dating, and a few loving pets in along the way.