“It’s a trick of the light, honey,” her stepfather said, meaning it’s not like a whale is about to surface. One hand on her arm so he wouldn’t topple, they were standing there on the side of the boat, hoping to see bubbles, knowing they probably wouldn’t.
She told herself it was part of a pattern. Whales had to cover vast distances while singing their songs to attract a new mate.
She drew an imaginary slug from his flask of whiskey, pressed her cold fingers to her neck. Hurts going down, he said, but it warms you right up. She took a real one then, and coughed.
The whale idea had become bigger than them, bigger than anything. Sometimes she stood at the beach all day looking hard, for just one shadow. He said, “Told ya. There aren’t any whales around our coastline anymore. You’re more likely to spot a dancing bear.” He laughed in tiny staccatos, and she tried not to feel angry. It wasn’t his fault.
It had been like this since her mother disappeared, hoping for lemons on cherry trees, noticing patterns of waves like footprints on sand, him saying, “Humans are rented, not owned.” Her waist so small now that her mother would have trouble recognising her. The stepfather and his bottle of blended.
“Whales stay with their own,” she said, and he looked at her in that terrible way. But hadn’t she seen it on a nature documentary? A mother thinking a boat was its baby. Whales starving when separated, sometimes crying, even in groups. Tricking each other, pretending to be happy wherever they were.
MEG POKRASS — Meg is the author of 7 collections of flash fiction and 2 novellas in flash. Her work has appeared in 3 Norton anthologies including Flash Fiction America, New Micro, and Flash Fiction International, and has appeared in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, CRAFT, the Best American Poetry, Washington Square Review, and many other places.
Art by ETHAN BUNDY — Ethan is a writer, artist, and musician living in Portland, Oregon. You can find more of his stuff at https://themanwhofellinbuffalo.com.