“What are we going to play first?” said Arrietty.
“Numbers,” said Gifflet.
“Only we’re going to your room to do that. It’s too noisy for here.”
He could see Dr. Dolci and Professor Vespers strolling along the far side of the skips, chatting quietly, both with their hands clasped behind their backs. Professor Vespers turned and gave him a thumbs up.
“Let’s go,” said Gifflet.
Back at Brasilia’s little rooms, Gifflet first had Arrietty count to one hundred. “I know you know how to do it, it’s just to warm up. Let’s hear it.” Arrietty sang out the numbers. Everything Gifflet taught her was done singing. It’s how he always remembered things best, and how he sparked Arrietty’s enthusiasm. When one hundred had been reached, the assignments got harder.
“Now, count by hundreds up to one thousand.”
“One times one is—”
“No, not the one times table, that’s too easy for you. Since you’re a smarty pants, start with the three times table.”
Arrietty grinned and launched in.
So the evening went. Gifflet often worried about Arrietty’s education. When she was older—very soon—she’d need to go to school. A proper address was needed for the application; that would be the first hurdle. Then there were school fees, uniforms, books . . . How would Brasilia afford it? He knew it worried her, too, and that she was saving money. Even though Brasilia did better than most, busking never earned a lot, and it might take a long time to put away enough. Gifflet wished he could help, but he was already half living off Brasilia’s earnings. If he didn’t care for Arrietty while Brasilia practiced, she’d have to hire somebody else, so it wasn’t like he was freeloading. But he still hated himself for it. He wanted all the money to go to Arrietty’s school fund.
Well, in the meantime, he’d teach her what he could. She had a bright mind. He would do his best to nurture it.
At last it was bedtime, and Arrietty requested the legend of the playful dolphins. Gifflet said in his tuneless croak:
In the beginning, there was nothing but water.
There was no land or sky, just empty space above.
All the life that there was
Was in the water.
There were octopi and deep-sea turtles and waving sea anemone,
And inky squid and sea dragons and slithering eels and manta rays
But of all the creatures in the sea, the most playful were the dolphins.
The others called them bumpers, because they played tag and tossed things with their strong noses.
And because there was nothing but the sea—no sky nor anything else at all,
Everything was in darkness.
So, the dolphins played by feel and they bumped into each other and all the other creatures.
Arrietty always squealed with laughter at this part and begged to know who was bumped by the dolphins. Gifflet then supplied an ever-growing list of unfortunate creatures who were tossed from nose-to-nose-to-nose by the clever dolphins before floating away, mortified, into the impenetrable depths. Arrietty cheered when the stars appeared and the dolphins put their heads above the water to wonder at them. She laughed when the moon rose in the sky and the dolphins cried, Friends, a ball! Let us catch it so we can play! though they never could. And she sighed when the sun came, setting everything aflame with the glorious day, and the dolphins leapt out of the water with exaltation.
And to this day, the dolphins leap and play, trying to reach Sister Sun, the brightest playmate of them all.
Arrietty scrunched down into her blankets, pulling them around her, for the wind was rising and its wicked fingers reached through the cracks in the old wall. Gifflet tucked her in tight and watched as her uneven, wide-set eyes fluttered and closed, and then her face slackened and her breathing slowed. Gifflet gently brushed all the thick hair off her face and kissed his princess on her lopsided forehead.