TNB Original Fiction: “Whale Love,” by Bobbie Ann Mason & Meg PokrassBy TNB Fiction
August 21, 2013
Louisa, who tucked up her skirts and went running every day or she would go mad, was confounded and smothered by the whales of Concord, like Mr. E, on whom she had a crush when she was a child and left him flowers under his window, flowers found and laughed at by Mrs. E, who had to put up with all his giggly acolytes, who arranged themselves prettily at his feet, including that lunatic Jonas Very, to whom Mr. E was always so kind even though Jonas Very was very very unpoetic and it would kill him to think so, but aside from Mr. E and stately Mr. H, whom she privately liked to call Nat, because he was so very very formal and distant, always walking along the Lexington Road with his head bent in thought, there was princely Henry, and on that spring evening she was running to meet Henry in his rowboat–Henry in his rowboat, playing his flute!–and overcome by her freedom from the whales of philosophy she did a sort of handspring in the path and accidentally felled a small dead tree.
The Whale of Walden
In his sturdy personal cabin within sight of the great pond, Henry wrote and wrote daily in his journal, of all the comings and goings of warblers and chipmunks and geese, but he never dared to record his sightings of the great heavy fabulous creature that surfaced from time to time, white in the night, with a spout of Walden water so forceful it reached the shore and he felt the spray and heard the thrashing, and he knew there was only one–stranded, grown to giant size over the years, without a mate….or perhaps with one, a little minnow who failed to grow and was fated to trundle the bottom of the pond–wherever that was, as it was so deep the bottom had not been found.
The moon crept up daintily through the trees, highlighting the white birches and extending a broad pale shimmer across the surface of the pond, as Louisa let Henry row her through the night, while he jabbered about nighthawks and unknown thrumming insects–the insect orchestra being so loud as to drown out some of his words–but she thought he said, “There is a secret out here, and I want you to see it, to thrill to it, but you must never tell it to anyone,” and being a truthful and earnest girl, she made the promise and also, in a moral quandary, felt both abashed and quaky, trembling to the sound of his voice, the slosh of his rowing, but then suddenly he let out a stifled cry, the boat rolled and rocked, and the water heaved high, and a great white shape jumped in front of her, moonlit and slick, and a fountain blew to the sky and Henry cried, “Don’t tell, don’t tell!”
Louisa never told, not exactly, but she was haunted by troubling visions and on her morning runs she avoided Walden and instead ran through the woods from Hillside to the Old North Bridge and often saw Nat and his bride in their garden, and once she saw them in a shocking embrace on their porch, her bonnet askew and his chest bared and one day she ran into Mr. H, or Nat, as she had heard Mrs. Sophia address him, on the path where he was muttering along, and he invited her for tea with him and his wife, so on the day of the tea she brought them a sketch, which was not so good as her sister May would have done but it came from her heart and it was not telling the secret to portray a fanciful image of a spouting whale and anyway who would know it was secretly established in a local pond? And Nat H seemed so pleased with the sketch, and Mrs. Sophia declared that she would etch a whale onto the window glass with her diamond, and Louisa was delighted, for Nat and Sophia behaved like children, children who were allowed to get into each other’s clothes.
The book in the Boston bookshop was not prominently displayed, and Louisa would not have noticed it except for the word “whale” on its cover. It was not her cup of tea. She would not read about a mad sea captain obsessed with punishing a whale. That sounded absurd. But Nat knew this author. Nat must have given him the idea of the whale. Her knees buckled. She had betrayed Henry. She felt as though she had opened Pandora’s trunk. Now that the whale had been revealed, it would wreak mayhem throughout the world. It would overwhelm prose, curtail sentences. She gasped, staccato breaths. You can’t fight a whale.
Whale Prince, M. Dick
Romancing the big whale prince M.Dick, Nina the Hussy-Seagull feels, is not effortless; she imagines him blowing her a swan-bubble of air as she leans on the current, which is her crutch maybe, so feels like a mute starfish, dumb star of fish, a bit anxious but hey, lighter at least, emerging for her fantasy groom, M. Dick– probably bi-sexual or at least carrying the taste for the adorable Pequod and crunchy Ahab and other bobbing objects of water, especially that sarcastic beast, Ishmael, passively mocking Nina just home from the second water-bounce gull-orgy, gold-green seaweed shapes in her hair, a mammal smell or shell or Ahab’s hamburger-leg in M.Dick’s cavernous mouth jiggling at her lusty bird-heart again, it is M. Dick, prince of mammals, his cold, rudderless lips.
Nina, the Hussy-Seagull of Russia, fully possessed by the devil-spirit of twelve-step-averse sailor, Ahab, and repelled by the savage cannibalistic disabled Queequeg, an extraordinary harpooner, battled her own afflicted brain, which was pecked with chronic anxiety and soul-sickness, dreamt of many handsome seagulls but of only one misplaced, poetic whale, M. Dick, commuting to Walden Pond from Moscow for freedom–orgies over water–guiltlessly dumping her capricious lover, Jonathan Livingston, a mean-bird who acted out and found relief by dirtying the nearly-bald head of daytime television actor Ahab Trigorin (known for ungainly character roles and public displays in bare trees) while the hussy-seagull could not watch, she squawked sorrowfully and flagrantly flirted with many birds in different flock arrangements, performed deck-duty very well with the Rumba, or at least did some of the dishes by webbed-leg to reduce energy usage, so in a dream or a real day, Nina flapped upward to the top of the Pequod’s crow’s-nest, ready to plummet and land on the first under-dressed whale who swam by, but she was inevitably seduced and raped by Russian president Vladimir Putin, “soul of the world” with a flight-fixation befitting a Russian leader, thus ruining the fragile seagull’s sense of balance and rendering her mute.
Nina of Walden
When frustrated, water-logged M. Dick the whale of Walden discovered Nina the Hussy-Seagull with morning sickness, lying prone upon the Rock of Walden, the great gentle whale burped in his mouth a bit–which scared three nearby fishermen to death–and seeking relief, M. Dick popped his vacuum-sealed cave a crack, uttering forth a cloud which covered Walden with Dick’s famous blend of breath reminiscent of organic oak bark and chocolate-nib laced with hints of cat-food breath (alcoholic content both mellow yet dangerously high), producing a sweet, organic after-flow vintage ambergris and immediately curing the sorrowful seagull of everything and injecting the hussy-bird with the creative desire to be not only a whale-wife, but to settle there forever on the shores of Walden with her long-lived lover, the indomitable Dick. They would drink fermented pond-water and plant a garden. She would make the ground speak beans.
What We Squawk About When We Squawk About Whale-Love
“Helluva tourist draw,” the casino mogul mused. Adventurous nighttime rides, honeymoon special, cozy fiberglass jet-boats.
Legend bubbled that the whale surfaced when a love-sick seagull performed a swooping dance in the moonlight. One of the location scouts had observed through a telephoto lens a seagull hovering above Walden– a lone seagull sporting what appeared to be a necklace with an albatross pendant, and a tattoo that said “Call me Fish Meal.”
No one in the forensics lab recognized the line, and with no whale to show for six months of sonar, immersed sub and bubble-bath ultrasound, the developers proceeded briskly with their plans for Sunrise over Walden Waters retirement condos, built on the site of an old ruin where an odd, gloomy man had once scribbled some words not worth beans anymore.
And yet the ghostly ambergris vapors of M. Dick will haunt the shores of Walden Waters (a name chosen because it was more poetic than Walden Pond), and the residents will complain of seagull shit on the balconies and a foul sweet smell rising from the waters at dawn.
BOBBIE ANN MASON majored in English at the University of Kentucky and received her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut. Her first short stories were published in The New Yorker and her first book of fiction, Shiloh & Other Stories, won the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her first novel, In Country, is taught widely in classes and was made into a Norman Jewison film. Mason’s newest novel, The Girl in the Blue Beret, ventures into World War II and the ways it is remembered. Her memoir, Clear Springs, about an American farm family throughout the twentieth century, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Find out more at bobbieannmason.net
MEG POKRASS is the author of Damn Sure Right (Press 53), a collection of flash fiction. Her stories have appeared in around a hundred and fifty online and print publications, including the Literarian Center for Fiction, StorySouth, Failbetter and McSweeney’s. She has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her stories have been showcased for Dzanc Books’ Short Story Month and nominated for Best of the Web, Best of the Net, and Wigleaf’s Top 50 [Very] Short Fictions. Meg has been commissioned to write an original screenplay with veteran writer/producer Graham Gordy,and she serves as an associate editor for Frederick Barthelme’s New World Writing. Learn more about her at megpokrass.com.
Yes! A smart, humorous, intelligently conceived treatment, absent ridicule. I was smiling all the way through my read. Such an inventive piece.
An ingenious and sparkling web of Amercian literary tropes, loved it, and love the whale.
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