Your seagreen stuffed whale hangs on the window. The early summer sun casts a shadow which makes it look alive, like it’s shaking its tail. A silver chain hangs around what would’ve been its neck if it were human; its fins, which would’ve been hands and arms, lay loose over the edge of the window-sill.
The whale’s stitched smile and polymer eyeballs face the parched roadway outside. You wonder, What is it thinking. And you wonder, do whales think? How about, when they are chained, shrunk down, and made fluffy?
A spotlight—brighter even than the open sky outside—hangs above you, straight above you, where your face points, where you should be looking.
“Keep still, please,” The doctor says. “Do you like whales?”
You like whales
“When I was your age, I liked sharks. I thought sharks were strong and tough.”
Sharks don’t have any bones in their body, not a one, but you don’t say that. Instead, the light paints the skin of your face, your sunburnt chest, baking, healing, photosynthesizing.
You wonder if your operation will be like the water cycle—you know fluid is being drained—if the doctor is going to bury you alive so that you can soak in the Nutrients and Enzymes to turn this light, brighter than the sun, into something edible, something sweet.
You hold your mouth open. The doctor’s hand is warm, soft, and curious about your body. His hand has a plastic wrap around it that tastes like talcum.
“Everything’s going to be alright, now,” says the doctor. He’s maybe just talking about your bottom, but you hold to hope he means everything, like the whole universe, your grades, your whole life. Or at least the ride home.
“Stretch your mouth horizontal—side-to-side-like you’re making a frownie face.”
You do, and his doll-white paws hook into the inside of your cheeks and uncurl your lips. “Good girl,” he says, pinching the outside of your mouth with his thumb.
A third hand lifts in front of the white light like a rising moon and searches your back. The nurse is waspy, like she was stuffed in a PVC pipe but only the top half made it through. You’re a bit worried, but you don’t show it, maybe because you’re a good girl or maybe because the nurse has pinched a place that seizes your bones.
“Hold still.” This is the doctor. But you hear Ma and Pa again.
“Well, she’s not going to be fit for school is she?” That’s Ma.
“What did the doctor say?”
“They’re cutting her fucking spine open, aren’t they.”
Your father sighs.
“At least she won’t get put out of class for shaking her ass like a whore.”
The doctor says, “Shut the door.” It shuts. “I’m going to give you a bit of gas,” he says. “You might feel sleepy.”
Whales only sleep with half their brain at a time, you say.
The nurse is holding a clear cellophane pyramid. If you put enough sand in it, and the sand was wet enough, you could make a sandcastle pyramid. Instead, she closes it over your mouth and tells you not to worry.
The nice nurse has one hand on your tummy. It eases up and down like a shy loaf of yeast-bread. Everything in you is only too happy to leave, only to get swallowed back again. You imagine your breath as wispy seahorses marching up to the light, then pulled in by their tails. You wonder who is tugging those poor seahorses, this tired air inside you, this can’t be air, the way it burns your tongue on the in & out.
“Turn her over.”
Incandescence relates sunlight, verbs into fingertips. Your nose-holes shut; your butthole clamps; your mouth vacuums closed. You feel like your pet hermit crab hiding in its shell. You feel dunked in still-damp pastels . . . your fingers now translucent aqua, seem to be growing dorsal ridges, into fins; your belly ballooning cherry red, a tingling in your back births the blow-whole of your new whale-whole body. The tiles of fat across your tummy that your mother always calipers in condemnation are no longer a bedrock of shame, but a vital living wall of blubber, keeping you safe from the Mongolian temperatures of ocean depths.
As you sink deeper, your pulse slows; your ribcage and lungs fold closer to your heart. Feel your new family grow. First from the lines of your palms; second, from the bone between second and third knuckle. They are humming like speeding cars, snorkling to freedom in good cheer. You wonder what kept your family warm, how they fed themselves, as a fuzzy-spotted father sprouts out the softness behind a shoulder blade. But, you think, whale families are matrilineal, fathers disappear. Then coral, perhaps, or barnacle? A quiet herd of barnacle nested in your tendons to grow and feed off your shoulder. You wonder at them. You sigh, and your father-barnacle dies and falls from you, sinks.
Anyone might say, “I keep my family in my bones.” But here you are—your skin drumskin-stretched, else dented in manifold perversions, too taught in most places, too loose in others: your new shapelsessness crucial, somehow, but unfamiliar.
Somewhere there are hands on you, pulling, ripping you; a man, a doctor, a scientist; you remember how men learned about the deep ocean from catching whales and cutting their bellies open, sifting through their old meals . . . or is he here to collect your baleen, your whalebone, convert it to your corset, the ridges of an umbrella, to shield his selfish self from the blooming tide?
Look, your feet: webbing at the toes, rounding at the bones, coning into a pair of hearts. Your lips, pressed together like a blowfish, now drag the marrow-thick railings signifying your jaw; edge of mouth recede to nearly “ears,” blubber embrace ear-jelly in happy reunion; nullify “jaw…”
A light creeps in, and flesh is cut somewhere in the distance. A splash of loose tendon announces the Great Teething. Your chompers widen, soften into each other; the enamel cracks and releases to the ether. Your baleen’s showing, you are a Blue Whale, grandest of the Animal Kingdom, who survives not by fight nor flight but by mouth that’s a black hole, vacuuming loose krill by smiling. You feel what was once your spine arch, like a drawn bow, and you breach through the weight of water around you, white light punching your scales. You breathe, the mechanics of breath new, this breath grand and reaching, you breathe with your toes, your face, your new teeth, or else they are breathed, in-or-out, in-or-out, all rallied in the whalesome bend, in, in, out: your spout bursts like a popping soda bottle.
Breaching at Lake Michigan, you joyspin through the air; sense above you a plane, inside it something like a family. The father stares cold ahead, the mother crows over the child, warning her; the little girl supplicates to the spinning ocean, nervous, teeth checking tongue.
“Look mommy, it’s me! I’m a whale!” She clutches the window and wiggles her bottom. A small fluid-filled tail pokes through her pajamas.
“She thinks she’s a fucking whale, Donald,” the mother says, “When are we getting rid of it?”
Your father sighs. Sink sink sink.
Mike Panciera is a writer and computer programmer living in Virginia. His work has received recognition from the New River Valley Voices, Glenwood Park, and Glimmer Train competitions. His interests include game development, algorithmic art and AI-assisted writing. He can be reached through his website: makeartandgames.github.io