When I was young, I used to have a dolphin as a pet.
Well, not a pet, really, but he could have been one if I kept him at home.
Fins was one of my best friends from first grade to sixth grade. He was a cute, blue dolphin that loved doing flips. I would visit him at the zoo every day after school.
My mom was a zoologist, and she took care of the gorillas. But I didn't really care for the big apes. I was fascinated by the dolphins.
Mom's friend, Jan, ran the dolphin habitat. She'd let me feed Fins and Tory and Beater at feeding time.
Beater was a funny little dolphin. He was bigger than Fins, but had a heart of gold.
Tory was adorable and playful. She'd love it when I threw the ball over the water.
But Fins was my absolute favorite. I would hug him and swim with him when Jan allowed it. Fins was the best 'pet' I could have asked for.
When I was younger, Fins was my best friend, and my Mom was my second-best friend.
They're both gone now.
I walked across the small field, breathing in the icy air and tightening my scarf as I glanced at the forest surrounding the small opening.White frost covered the pale and stiff grass beneath my feet, and a small gray cloud appeared every time I breathed out.I continued walking across the field, making my way to the middle. Finally, I reached a medium-sized animal with horns and a cute, quirky little smile.
I gently took a small carrot out of my jacket pocket, took off my mittens, and offered it to the curious creature.
"Come on now, Hans. It's okay. It's Wednesday, remember?"
The reindeers eyes widened and he happily took a generous bite of the long carrot. I smiled as I watched him help himself to the rest of the vegetable.
I patted Hans on the head with my bare hand and stroked his snout with the mittened one. Hans playfully nudged my hand and gave a happy snort.
I locked eyes with Hans' deep, brown eyes. His helpless, beautiful brown eyes. He was the only friend I really had in this cold winter. I didn't have anyone else. No boyfriend, no siblings, no relatives nearby. It was just Hans and I. But yet, right now, that seemed like enough.
I took my gaze away from the reindeer and looked down the field at the frozen lake. I could see some deer walking steadily along the thick ice.
I winced as I imagined what might happen if Hans went on that ice. He was so innocent and curious…
I looked back at Hans, who had gone to eating some grass. Visions of Hans falling through the ice flashed in my head. I unconsciously reached out and grabbed the fur around Hans' neck. Not hard. Protectively.
I knew Hans had no reason to go down there to the lake, but now that I had thought of the consequences, I couldn't get that image out of my head. I tightened my grip on Hans' scruff.
The reindeer lifted his head from the ground and bumped his head into my leg. I smiled and our eyes met again.
I shivered as another vision raced through my mind.
Not even thinking, I took off my scarf and tied it around Hans' neck, making a makeshift leash.
"Come on," I told Hans gently, glancing fearfully at the lake. I took a deep breath, and my tone softened. I pushed the image of Hans and the lake out of my head. "We're going to get more carrots."
I arrived at home in a little under a half hour. My house was located just outside the outskirts of the forest that Hans lived in. It was not impressive. My house was a small cabin with a wooden fence, small front porch, and only one bedroom.
I tied Hans to a fence pole and walked up my front porch steps. I fumbled with my keys for a moment, before putting them in the lock and unlocking the door. I walked inside.
I got Hans a bowl of water and some carrots. Then, I went back to the bitter outside and laid Hans’ meal on the iced-over dirt below him.
Hans contentedly bent his head down and began lapping at the water.
I stared at Hans hard, wondering what I was going to do now that I had saved him from a future of falling through the ice. Now that I had him on my lawn, I had no idea what to do with him.
I knew, since Fins was gone, that Hans was the closest thing I had to a pet. I couldn’t just let him sit outside in this frostbitten wind and freeze to death. But then, he sleeps outside every night. He’s a wild animal.
The more I thought about it, the more my mind ached. I knew I couldn’t bring him into my house, I had no stable…
Hans finished his carrots and layed down, licking his chops with his long pink tongue. I grinned. He sometimes reminded me of Beater with his silly antics.
My mind moved from the reindeer to the dolphins and back to the reindeer. I felt like I was having a battle between my past and my present. I knew I should be focused on Hans. The dolphins were from a long time ago.
I looked around my yard, hoping to find something that could shelter Hans from the nasty winter cold. My eyes landed on a battered shed in the corner of my yard.
I petted Hans for a moment, soothing him with my voice. “I’ll be right back,” I cooed, hurrying over to the shed. I yanked open the doors and found it empty except for a few old paint cans and a wheelbarrow.
I pushed past some cobwebs and tossed the paint cans into the wheelbarrow. I rolled the wheelbarrow outside and set it next to the shed.
I called over to Hans.
Hans’ ears perked up and he stood up and trotted over, wondering what the commotion was about. I led him into the shed, and he fit perfectly inside it.
For a moment, Hans paced around, trying to make sense of his new surroundings. Then, he collapsed onto the dusty floor, stretching out his legs and opening his mouth in a yawn.
I rushed inside and returned to the shed with an old wool blanket. I smiled at myself proudly as I wrapped my reindeer up in the comfortable fabric. Never before had I thought of something as masterful as this.
I silently closed the shed doors, leaving Hans and I alone in the shed. The wind howled outside as I snuggled close to the reindeer, nuzzling my face in his warm fur and sheltering the rest of myself with the remaining blanket.
As I dozed off to sleep with Hans, I could hear his light breathing as his stomach lifted up and down. When I finally closed my eyes and drifted off, the images of Hans and the ice fled from my mind. I knew he was safe. He was here now, and he’d live longer than I ever would.
And someday, my beautiful reindeer would join me, Fins, Beater, and Tory in the most pleasant place of all. And with that thought in mind, I could finally rest.