The jellyfish drifted in the darkness, pulled by the tide, pushed by the flutterings of the otters who splashed in the waters in front of the rock. In, out, in out, up, down, up, down. Sometimes a piece of food brushed past its mouth; the jellyfish curled its mouthparts around the tasty treat and drew it deep inside to its stomach.
The child peered over the side of the boat into the green water. He could see translucent white blobs, suspended in the dark, like stars in an inverted sky; only these stars moved, forming unknown constellations, a mysterious, momentary zodiac before they broke up, torn apart by the slice of the oar.
The woman pulled on the oars with a steady rhythm: forward, up, in, back, down, out. The fluidity of the motion spoke of years of practice. She did not speak, just stared ahead, her eyes fixed on the shore. Occasionally she glanced over her shoulder and adjusted their course with a stronger pull on one side or the other.
Overhead an eagle circled, soaring effortlessly through the trees.
“Oh look, Mum, look at all the jellyfish! Look at them moving! Don’t hurt them with the oars!”
The boy reached out into the water to touch one of the fragile creatures. The woman, halted in mid stroke, positioned one of the oars under the jellyfish and slowly lifted it up to the surface, where it slithered off the wood and plunged back into the watery grotto.
The jellyfish did not know it had been moved; it just resumed its pulsing, drifting back among its throbbing family.
“What do you call that Mum?” asked the boy, “what’s the jellyfish doing?”
“Womphling,” murmured the woman.
“Oh,” said the child, and turned back to stare into the depths.
Womphling. Her mother had invented that word, years ago, to describe the lolloping movements of a puppy; a long-haired bundle of energy that undulated across the room, falling over its own paws. The puppy was long gone, grown and given to a good home, passed on and mourned many years ago. Her mother was gone too, passed away before her son was born.
The woman brushed away a tear, took a deep breath and resumed her rowing. She wanted to pull against the years, to get back to the time when she was a young girl, when her mother took her to the shore to explore tide pools and look for sea creatures.
“Womphling,” repeated the child, trailing his fingers in the water, “look, the jellyfish is womphling again.”
He looked up at his mother. “I like that word.”
The woman smiled.
“Yes,” she said, “I like it too.”
This was inspired by the afternoon I rowed my daughter around Grace Harbour in Desolation Sound, British Columbia. The word, ‘womphling’, which is pronounced ‘wum-fel-ling’ was indeed invented by my mother and applied to our boisterous, short-staying puppy. My mother did see her first grandchild before she died, but only by a matter of months.