When the doorbell rings, my eccentric (and stunning) housemate Phoenix rushes to the window to peek out. Inside that large brain of hers, nefarious thoughts form. If the person with a finger on the button is male and wearing a necktie, he’s in for a surprise. She bounces around, bubbling with anticipation as she waits for me to open the heavy door.
Although she is an excellent student (in grammar, of all things) and an exceptional swimmer, she lives for practical jokes, and an attractive, well-dressed guy at the front door is an irresistible mark. I glance at her and our eyes meet, the glee falling away from her sleek body for a moment. She silently shakes her head, her expression dark. Don’t you warn him.
Phoenix is the type of female that men (and women, too) find irresistibly alluring. The moment they lay eyes on her, everything else in the room is forgotten (including her rather average-looking best friend, me). I’m used to this–she had the same effect on me the first time I saw her–but it’s sometimes difficult for me when the guy on the other side of the door is mine (and the first words out of his mouth are: “Wow, she’s amazing.” But, of course, I always agree–she is my best friend, after all.)
But this time, it’s someone I don’t know. I open the door and meet the unfamiliar but excited eyes. He’s a thirty-something guy wearing a tie, long-sleeved dress shirt, and dark pants (in the sweltering tropical sun). No wonder Phoenix can barely contain herself. The man gives a well-heeled introduction (which I politely pretend to care about) and then glances expectantly past me. He’s obviously not here to see me.
I used to envy Phoenix all that attention, but now I know that this power she has over people is more of a curse than a blessing. Although she’s not as famous as Rafael Nadal or Lady Gaga, anyone who sees her can’t help staring. But she pays a steep price for her celebrity, and I wouldn’t trade places with her for anything. Strangers come up with absurd excuses to get close to her and often try to sneak in a touch to her face or body, which she hates. People she meets in passing treat her as if she is an old friend (or even lover!), blurting out intimate details and begging to kiss her or hold her in their arms. They are often shocked to find out she has no interest in them (and can be petulant and violently cruel to even the most sycophantic admirers).
On the whole, Phoenix lives an isolated and lonely life filled with hundreds (thousands?) of adoring fans who don’t speak her language or understand her world. She has only a couple of real friends, and even those of us she trusts end up leaving her eventually, so I cut her a little slack for this mostly-harmless prank. (She has others that definitely have a darker side.)
The expectant man pushes through the door, eyes wide, and spies Phoenix. He’s heard about her from a famous writer and has come, invited but unannounced, to meet her. I roll my eyes and watch as he rushes past me, expensive business card still held aloft. Phoenix leaves the window and stands up to her full height, peeking over the wall of the tank, clicking and whistling a Siren’s song. When the well-dressed man gets close enough, she sinks down into the water and fills her mouth. The guy’s shoulders slump, worried that she has snubbed him, but she immediately pops up again, and his face breaks into a wide smile.
Phoenix can hold nearly a liter of salt water in her mouth, and because she breathes through a blow hole on the top of her head, she can talk and spit at the same time. And she has a great aim. The unsuspecting mark reaches out to touch her, and she lets loose a forceful stream of water, hitting the guy’s crotch and moving up to his shirt and tie, and finishing with a fishy blast to his stunned face. I stifle a laugh as I take the soaked business card out of his wet hand. (If he had been wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, he’d be staring into the depths of the tank, wondering if anything is in there.)
As you’ve may have guessed, Phoenix is an Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin, and I am her teacher, swim partner, best friend, jailer, chef, and occasional accomplice.
This time, the dripping-wet man laughs (which is actually not uncommon; but some people get mad), and Phoenix does a spectacular, spinning aerial jump, sending a tsunami over the side of the tank. He claps, and she takes a dolphin bow: clearing the water with her whole body and making nary a splash. I head off to find a towel, and she disappears in the depths of the tank to bask in the memory of his stunned (and still dripping) face. Until the next time she hears the doorbell ring.