512 Words

El Niño

M. Stanley Bubien

One particularly amazing thing about having kids is seeing how you rub-off on them. My youngest son, Drew, always seemed nearby whenever I talked about work---discussing events like upwellings and tidal sheers, or explaining my satellite images of ocean currents. It never dawned on me that he might actually understand.

"How long yah gonna be gone, Dad?" he'd asked before my latest trip.

"Oh," I said crunching my toast, "Two weeks or so. There's lots of currents to measure and we have to go really far out."

"Gonna see some whales again?"

My eyebrows raised. He was referring to a dive I did a year ago to gauge ocean temperature's effect upon visibility. We were down about thirty feet in extraordinarily murky water. As my colleague kicked away from me holding the spotter target, a huge black blob loomed at him from the depths. I dropped my own target, waving desperately to warn him, but when the monster emerged, it was only a humpback whale.

"I can't believe you remember---"

"You comin' back for Halloween?" he interrupted as he grabbed his lunch. "I got a real scary costume."

"I'll try, Drew, but I can't guarantee anything."

He looked at his shoes. "But I picked a super scary one this year."

I sighed and patted his shoulder from across the table. "I'll do my best."

That was two weeks ago. Fortunately for me, our Captain had kids too, and he'd heard me talking to the guys about Drew. We returned two days early.

I dropped my duffle bag next to our traditional---and freshly-lit---pumpkin. A cry of "Dad!" came from upstairs, and Drew bounded down after it in full costume.

"You made it!" Drew blurted. "Check out my costume! Isn't it scary?"

He was wearing what seemed to be blue pajamas with a huge, oval bulging out from both sides, making him look somewhat similar to a deformed beach-ball. Then I realized he'd painted on it. I recognized it instantly, for there were the North and South American continents colored precisely in green, with a strange red streak jetting horizontally from what surely was Peru.

"Isn't it scary?" he asked again.

Hearing the commotion, my wife approached from the kitchen and stood behind Drew. She kept a straight face, but her eyes betrayed that she was restraining a laugh.

"Well Drew... It's... Uh..." I bent to take a closer look. "You know, something about it seems familiar," I said honestly.

"Yeah! I got it from your poster."

Now I was really confused.

"You don't know do you?" he giggled.

I shook my head.

"Okay. I'll tell you. It's El Niño!" He pointed at the red streak. "Warm water. See?"

"El..." I mumbled, and realization crept upon me. Lately, I'd been talking a lot about the El Niño current and it's effect on the weather---I even had an image of it upstairs---and my predictions tended to border on the apocalyptic. Could Drew have heard?

"El Niño, Dad! Isn't it the scariest costume you've ever seen?"

Yep. He'd heard all right.

Thanks to Mike Fredenberg.

Copyright ©1997 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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November, 1997
Issue #19

512 Words