Warmer Water by Mathieu Cailler

It’s our first day together since the divorce, my daughter and me, and I’m picking her up for a visit. A new kind of dad now. I don’t wake up with her in the other room. I don’t make her eggs with toast buttered on both sides. Now, I make plans before I see her. I am, in a sense, something of a playdate. Only there for a few hours on the weekends.

I’m taking Abigail whale watching. She has wanted to go for a long time, and I have pushed it aside until today, a cold day in Los Angeles, with the sun out, but the wind equally present.

She is dressed in her new Converse sneakers I sent her by mail, but she does not mention them, and I do not point them out.

We head off on the ship named Serenity, and she eats some sour cherry gummies, a couple at a time, transferred quickly from her hoodie’s hand-warming pouch to her mouth. Most times, I would tell her no, but I pretend I do not see things now.

The ship stirs and pushes farther into the Pacific. From here, on the bow, we stand, staring back at it all. The world, becoming blurry with distance.

The P.A. system crackles, and the guide tells us to be on the lookout to the north, that the gray whales will be streaming from Alaska to Mexico, in search of warmer water. And that whales have a sort of auto-pilot system that allows them to shut off portions of their brain while still swimming forward. I think that sounds perfect.

Abigail tugs on my shirt sleeve. She points to the horizon and tells me she sees one. Others nearby pick on her cues and do their best to locate the mammal, but all I see is a riptide, eddying in a beautiful spot of sun, reflecting and refracting light, and I stare at that instead. Isn’t it something? she says. And I have to agree.

MATTHIEU CAILLER — Mathieu is the author of six books. His short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in numerous national and international publications, including PANK, The Saturday Evening Post, and the Los Angeles Times. He is the recipient of a Shakespeare Award, a Short Story America Prize, and a New England Book Festival Award. Heaven and Other Zip Codes, his debut novel and most recently published book, was named the winner of the 2021 Los Angeles Book Festival Prize. To learn more, please visit mathieucailler.com or find him on social media @writesfromla.

Art by ELISA WANG — Elisa is a Chinese-Canadian student and writer interested in historical fiction, short stories, and poetry. She also dabbles in the visual arts from time to time.