As promised, the doctor came by the following week. Unless had been up and about for a few days. They had even brushed the snow from the walk and chopped some big logs down to a more manageable size for the kitchen stove. When the doctor arrived, Unless and Until were enjoying some tea in the front room, considering the next picture.
The doctor was intrigued, “What on earth?”
Unless looked up a little sharply, “Have you been to sea, Doctor?”
“No, Neighbor, never to sea. I know it’s there, or I have heard, but I have never thought much about it. Is it really very large?”
Unless’s tail twitched a tiny bit with supressed amusement, “So big you can’t see across it, so deep you’d never reach the bottom with the longest rope, and all of it full of life and strangeness the equal of any story.”
Until busied themself with the tea things to cover their pleasure at Unless’s good spirits and fine speech.
“Huh,” said the doctor, his hand reaching out just short of touching the painting, “and what is this?”
“We saw some once, from a ship. A great huge animal called a whale.”
“How they blow and splash, up at the surface,” added Until, pouring more tea for all of them.
“So this is a whale down in the deep part of the ocean, you think?”
Unless looked at the painting again, remembering again their time on the OSV Mirror, “Must be, Doctor.”
At this the doctor took a long sip of tea and considered things. He considered the whale, and the little he had been able to learn of his neighbors’ travels. He wanted very much to know who, what kind of person, could have seen a whale down in the deep to paint such a picture. Indeed, he wanted to know if it was true at all about the whales. It seemed very strange, and almost all the other pictures seemed to be entirely fanciful. It would be rude to question his hosts, especially one that was a recent patient, however, so he said only, “Quite fascinating.”
At that, none of the three knew quite how to proceed. The doctor, with long practice from similar situations, turned the talk to chit-chat about other neighbors and how folk in and around the nearby village had been weathering winter and the recent fierce storm. This passed the time very comfortably, and just as the afternoon light began to change color, the doctor took his leave.
Pleased with the visit, Until gathered the tea things, began tidying up, and took everything into the kitchen. It would be time for dinner before too long.
Unless stood looking at the picture for a long time. They looked at the whale, at the mysterious formations, at the sandclock to the left, and wondered about the bottom of the ocean. Such marvelous sights, they thought, that could never be seen no matter where they might have travelled nor how far they had gone before coming home. They heard Until singing in the kitchen, faintly, the sailors’ song from the OSV Mirror, and they tapped along for a verse or two. There was something restless about the picture, thought Unless, something pressured, as of all the water that must stretch above the whale as it nosed among the strange formations. All the water, and all the cold time that must pass for its huge bulk to navigate from current to current, from sea-floor all the way up to the surface.
Unless went into the kitchen and told Until some of their thoughts on the picture, offering to make dinner while Until looked at the picture.
“Oh my goodness! Is it too early for the duck?” asked Until, who knew it was not, but wanted to tease Unless a little bit about the only dish they prepared very well.
“Now it should be just right, we have good reason to enjoy it, and it can’t be but another month or so before the season turns. We won’t run low on food, and there is another duck in the larder.”
And it was so. Until went to the front room and looked at the picture, again singing quietly. Unless busied themself in the kitchen with one of the confits of duck they had prepared before winter set in. Hopefully, it would make a fine dinner for the two of them, and it would be a pleasure to do something just for Until after all the trouble of Unless’s illness.
When dinner was ready, Unless set the table and arranged everything in the dining room, then called Until to come sit down. They did not let Until do anything – Unless poured ale for both of them, served two heaping dishes of cassoulet, and set the covered pan on a trivet at the end of the table in case either of them wanted seconds.
The meal was delicious. Both applied themselves silently and quickly, moving to seconds and then, for Unless, thirds. Before Until could get up to pick up plates, Unless gathered everything and took it into the kitchen. Until could hear them rinsing the plates and putting something else on the large glass tray.
After several minutes, Unless proudly entered the dining room with a warm tart of dried apples with drizzled honey. They served two pieces of tart and went immediately to the sideboard, where they poured two small glasses of yellow wine. Until complimented Unless on the delicious dinner and the beauty of the apple tart. Unless smiled, stood, and held up their glass of wine.
The whale might believe it moves unseen
through water gray and through water green
with black stone and sand that it sees all around
The whale might believe it swims without sound
The whale might be lonesome
down in the sea
Like I was so lonesome
feeling just me
The fever was strong and it held me so tight
I swam like that whale down away from the light
But when the heat passed, and I finally saw clear
I swam to the surface, and you were right here.
Until was moved almost to tears, and had to make a loud fuss over the dinner, the tart, and the lovely toast just to keep from crying and getting sniffles. Unless scuffed the floor with their feet and peeked sideways at Until, trying to insist it was only right after Until had been left to work so hard alone and for so long. They each drank their wine and ate the entire tart between them before cleaning up and going to bed.