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A Story About a Whale
Sam and I were going to visit the aquarium. I like to tell people zoos and aquariums are wrong because of animal cruelty, but I’m actually quite fond of them. Most of the animals are sleeping or eating or mating. I like the fact that there is some living thing in the world that can live their lives while others watch. They don’t seem to care that they’re talked about and observed, judged and constantly photographed.
I met Sam at the train station.
She pressed her hands into my hips as we kissed. She was wearing that top I like, the black one with the little rip in the shoulder from when I was cutting her hair and I caught the fabric on the scissors.
“Ready?” She asked, furrowing her brow to read the train schedules overhead.
I took her hand in mine and grinned. “Yep.”
The world felt like it was spinning ten times faster downtown. Sam and I walked without saying much, just appreciating each other. I liked just watching her walk. She pushed her hair out her face every few minutes and her eyes were never still.
I walked along nervously, clutching the straps of my backpack. I felt clunky and small, while Sam seemed to just float over the sidewalk.
“Oh, that’s cool.” Sam said as she pointed to a sign leading down to the lower level of the aquarium. Apparently two of the beluga whales had given birth to a calf two months ago. I read a little more and learned that the calf had gotten sick of few times but recovered very well.
“Let’s go.” I smiled as we walked down the dark staircase. It was quiet and dark and a little damp.
Sam caught me up in her arms before we got to the bottom and kissed my forehead.
“Hi,” was the only thing I could say.
We walked up to one of the tanks, hoping it was the one with the calf.
As we stood in the dark shadows behind the glass, I imagined we’d look like those photos, the ones of people looking into an aquarium, looking like flat cut-outs of black construction paper against the brilliant blue water, waiting for something to come out of a giant void. Suddenly, something did happen. The calf swam right in front of the glass, practically touching this shield between our two worlds with its impossibly giant gut. If I had blinked, I would have missed it.
Even though the calf was only two months old, it looked strong. I could see muscles rippling under its’ loose, white flesh and it could already swim next to the mother with ease. Instead of just one whale, it looked like at least two were powering inside it, working together and balancing everything out.
“It looks so solid, you know.” I said to Sam. “Like nothing could hurt it.”
She ruffled my short hair and laughed. “You’re so cute.”
I grinned. “I’m serious. Like, if I could be that whale, I would. It’s only 2 months old but it seems like it could live forever.”
We stood in silence for a minute staring into the thousands of gallons of blue water. There were only a few other people milling around the tanks.
“I love you, Sam.” I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut.
She fiddled with the keychain clipped to the waistband of my jeans for a minute and whispered, “I love you too.”
The calf popped up again, right in our faces. Like all belugas, its jaw was permanently curved into a smile, so they constantly looked like they’re on ecstasy. We laughed nervously and stared at our shoes for a minute.
Sam sighed and sat down on a bench in front of the tank. I sat next to her and rubbed her knee. We watched the calf flip and glide effortlessly in the water.
Occasionally she would corner herself or flip belly up, but she was still perfect and strong. I couldn’t help but think that although it didn’t take me very long to tell Sam that I loved her, but I already loved that whale and I had only known it for twenty minutes.