I’m swimming in a large body, water surrounding me. I look at the shades of blue the water has become and it shifts like mottled skin that I am clothed in. There are no fish or other animals where I am swimming; none I can see. And I can’t see the flat bright plane that represents the other side.
The whale, in either the throes of suicide or leap of evolution, had beached itself somehow in a land-locked city. Its big, oversized eye was constantly looking and seeing. Its wetness clung to it. It was too huge, fitting down only the broadest of Broad Streets. It was moving inexorably towards something. It was like a slothful Godzilla sans legs.
Jacob woke up in the morning and looked out the window and saw the eye looking back at him. He was on the fourth floor. The eye was larger than his window. He pulled the covers over his body and tried to hide from it, the mass of jelly of the whale eye staring at him. He couldn’t avoid it.
He got up and drew the shade, put some clothes on, but it didn’t matter. He knew it was out there, watching.
It was grotesquely intriguing. He couldn’t help but pull the shade back and look at it. Up close, it wasn’t any easier to take.
The whale had come down his street and its shoulder had brushed up against the corner of his apartment complex. It was trying to maneuver its fin. He could see the strain of effort.
He looked at the whale and thought about driving a stick or broom handle into its pupil. Because it was there; because he could. But he couldn’t, or at least he didn’t.
He left his bedroom to go get the broom. It was in the closet. He went into the living room and opened the closet. The broom was hanging from a nail nailed to the closet’s wooden wall. At the end of the broom handle there was a little hole and by the hole the broom hung on the nail like a crucifix.
There was some dirt on the floor and he swept it into a pile. The clean swath only revealed how dirty the rest of the floor was so he swept the whole room, moving the furniture and drawing long jagged piles of dust, the accumulation of shed skin cells, motes and particles. He swept it up into the dustbin and emptied it into the trash. The pile was reduced and reduced but never quite disappeared. The ghost remnant of his shed body. He hung the broom back up in the closet and forgot about the whale.
Would scientists come out and investigate the whale? Prod and experiment with it? Would they cut out pieces of its flesh for the purposes of their own amusement? Would they insert tracking devices and monitors and such all over its body?
It was a nuisance. It blocked the main thoroughfare. Grandmothers would come and place their hands on its slippery surface seeking spiritual something.
The scientists couldn’t identify its genus or species. They may or may not have come down from their mountain-top laboratories to test it with their knowledge.
I couldn’t feel the water anymore from having always felt it. The constant pressure of it pushing from all sides in every direction. Down at the dark depths it is stronger and I used to feel it more like the embrace of a stronger lover, the creator holding me. But you become accustomed to anything. Like how there are no smells; I don’t even know what scent is. It is like the movement of shoals of fish, silver like shattered mirrors. Like an exposed knee through torn jeans. I shouldn’t know what these things are. What are they? Smells I’ve never smelled.
One floor below Jacob, Hans fried eggs in a frying pan in his kitchen. His back was to the window where the wall of the whale waited. He’d looked at it earlier. It was still there. The eye was up above, so all he had to look at was the plain grey skin that sometimes pressed up against his window. It seemed to shimmer with the opalescent rainbow of oil spills.
His wife was at work. She hated the whale. Maybe the hatred was a thin veneer masking a love for the beast. She was in love with its smooth flesh, which had been slowly progressing past their window for the last two weeks. He knew she certainly hadn’t been interested in his smooth flesh in that time.
He slid the spatula under the eggs. If you put your face to the window, all you could see in either direction was whale.
His wife got out of the apartment as early as she could every morning. They had to go out the back exit now that the face of the whale, or whatever it was, was blocking the front entrance of the complex.
The whale was always moving even if it didn’t look like it. Rolling ever forward.
At first people came with buckets of water and poured them over the whale. They used stepladders to reach the higher portions. But as it continued moving, people got lazy, and the whale didn’t seem to need them. They were useless to it.
The first people to see the beached whale were the old couple who lived on the absolute brink of town. Their house was one of the only untouched relics from a bygone era. It was more like a cottage. It had brown trim and filigree on the shutters. The old man was 97 and his wife was 82. They cooked local delicacies and sold them at fairs celebrating their nationality. They boxed up bulk batches of baklava and posted them to countries where exiled citizens of their city lived.
The old man in his spare time carved finches from bits of birch. He was out in the yard bending over perilously with his hand supporting his back. His gnarled hand outstretched towards a particularly knotted knob of wood. It was like god reaching out to touch not Adam but himself. The birch branch kept moving out of reach. It trembled and twisted against the earth out of the old man’s hands. Maybe if he hadn’t had his weak ear towards it, he would have heard it sooner. The sound like thunder of a coming storm. It synched itself up with the trembling of the twig. He could feel it filling up his chest, the slow metronomic rumbling of some giant premonition approaching.
There was a fence that bordered the yard and the street, and through the fence broke the foremost part of the whale. It crashed through, bursting the boards of the fence like a dam before undeniable torrents. The sound of the breaking fence was like a crack married to a pop. It sent slivers everywhere. One piece hit the old man on the cheek, embedding itself under the skin. He was still slouching over the birch branch. His eyes had rolled up, looking at the whale. His heart was beating erratically. He was thinking of his wife in the kitchen baking and how she would come out to see what was the matter and he would be frozen there, probably dead, and the thing, whatever is was – how could he have known it was a whale? – would still be there in all its menacing torpor. And she would look up at it like a thing upon which no human eye was meant to glance, and beside his body her body would become frozen in the rigors of death, the two of them dying together in the same position, bent over, their bodies forming shells of each other, to contain something that had already been lost.
Water is the closest thing to infinity we have on earth. To live inside infinity is like to be immortal, to glide on its fabric. To jump out of time to catch a breath. To poke your head out of existence for a fragment, breaching the line.
I encompass more in my singular body than is fathomable. The bones of my ribs could host whole villages. By my mere transport I displace enough water to drown entire civilizations.
Water is a universe when you are in it.
The whale left a trail of ooze in its wake that no amount of scrubbing or rain could scour away. So that even after it had passed, its trail was intraversable. Those who attempted to cross its path slipped in the slick shellac of its passing. The back wheels of cars spun like in snow. It left a stench like foul and rotting seafood. It went right up the nostrils and could not be expunged.
I remember being young and still large, growing into the shape of me. Wondering for how long the girth of my self extended. There were certain parts that seemed partitioned like the tail at a recess of yards. I couldn’t touch any other part of myself but I could make some of them move, and, bringing my tail down upon the surface of the water, make a splash.
It was the tail that did most of the destruction. Just as it seemed the threat had passed, the shadow was still cast upon the door, and with the flick of its tail, brought down a metric tonnage of damage. Or, if kept flat, down along the street, it scooped out chunks of buildings with its fanned out blade of flesh.
The shadow fell incrementally, unseen, over the desk with its ink blotter and opened pages of some business to be done. The man was straightening his tie in the reflection of a butter knife. His name was Mr. Green and he would ruin a life in less than an hour, if everything went according to plan. One of his hairs refused to stay plastered down amongst the rest. It had a mind of its own.
Mr. Green worked in the office building. It was built in the middle of the previous century, but its façade had been recently refurbished to portray a modern front. Its glass walls reflected the setting sun in the evenings. The jackhammers and drills chiseled off the old face, reducing it to dust and chunks of hand-crafted ornate sculptures that had once adorned the cornices. Winged angels sanded out of existence. The interweaving of ivy and holly torn off to fall upon the ground and trod into dirt. Carried off and buried with the rest of history.
Mr. Green was hired after the renovations, having moved to the city from some other one further inland. So he neither saw nor missed the old architecture, what some had called nostalgic excess. The theater off the boulevard had to be razed completely. A plume of dust rising like some kind of Hiroshima. Ashes blown in the wind.
I hold my breath and swim under the outcroppings of rock. The small clumps of mud that humans wallow in. Underneath the continents are vast interconnected canals and through them, teems of us traffic. They go down to the depths where strange things grow, unalive. In the black of the deep, before the larval layers where the earth was formed and is. Everything changes unseen, a hectic chaos that only the smallest fraction of creatures can survive, like living on a star or insidious heart. They cling like the barnacles to my hide to the life-giving source. When I pass through these canals the fish make way for me. When my shadow is cast upon them they grow darker. I am an all-powerful entity that chooses not to crush them.
The rivers all stopped (or had not yet begun) well outside the invisible lines defining the city. Some rivers were a multiple of municipalities away. The people’s understanding of running water had always been artificial.
The whale at an intersection broke a pipe of the aqueduct, and water poured out all over it. The water flowed around the whale’s tear-drop-shaped body and filled the streets. Houses were flooded while their taps went dry. A battalion of plumbers stuck their fingers in the leak. But they couldn’t stave the flow because the whale blocked them from accessing it adequately. They were shoved up against it, deploying sandbags trying to shunt the gap.
The hospital was outside the whale’s trajectory and it became filled up with the victims of the whale’s passing. The old couple brought in too late, others who had passed out in shock, people who had been struck by dislodged masonry or a rattled object, car accident victims, dehydrated home owners, drowned children. The hospital had overflowed and people stopped coming in for anything they could feasibly care for themselves. But even the emergencies were overwhelming. The people outside the whale’s path seemed determined to transect it. There were crowds gathered along the parade route for the first few months before everyone had seen it, saw there was nothing much to see, and went home. Mildly wounded townsfolk sat in strangers’ homes at their kitchen tables drinking coffee or, if it was later, a shot of something stronger. They looked at each other with the glassy eyes of vague recognition. Some shoulders were in slings, some legs in casts, some eyes behind patches. Some people died in their homes, of unknown causes, and were only found later, in strange positions and poses like the spontaneously dead of Pompeii.
There are mountains, forests, deserts under the water. Great lost cities, sunken pirate treasure. I felt lost in it, the vast directionless mass of liquid. It pulls at you and holds you, it keeps you. There is more under water than above and everything is accessible to me. I’ve seen it all. There are no secrets or mysteries of the deep.
Hannah stood watching the whale from the window of her office. It was three blocks down but still the only thing you could make out from that distance. She’d seen it rise over the crest of the hill and each day grow in size. She sometimes spent hours distracting herself from her work by watching it make its lugubrious progress in her direction.
She looked at the second hand on the wall clock and waited for it to move.
She was standing by the window which was unopened, which was unable to be opened, her eyes darting between the clock’s second hand and the oncoming whale. Her eyes tracked over the empty space of the wall between the two, and it was this whiteness that she wasn’t looking at that became the only thing she saw, a vast whiteness opening up in front of her vision.
I remember when I was born, at the beginning of time, when everything was new. How everything was like glass. Like freshly-spun glass. You could see through it; you could see through everything. And you could move through everything; everything was permeable. Like time and space were still figuring things out, getting organized and making plans for the future. But once they decided, it all went in one direction. Everything would only get heavier from the accumulation of it, dragging you to the ultimate bottom.
The only place you can get some measure of release for a moment is in water. The water pushes you up against the downward thrust of time. Living in water is like living in time, feeling it rush all around you, going with its flow. I feel it, now that I am old, like hands clawing at me, dragging me into its bosom.
Her boss had entered the office and was standing at the door watching her watch the whale. Hannah’s boss had come in to ask her on the progress of some account, but the sight of Hannah standing at the window drove it from his mind. He stood in the door and one of his employees stood down the hall waiting for him and the janitor watched the employee waiting for the boss looking at Hannah moving her head between the whale and the clock. And someone somewhere was looking for the janitor to clean up some vomit that trailed out from the bathroom and into a closet. And the vomiter was hiding in the closet, not wanting to be seen sick, her mostly-digested food and bile heaving up her throat coated with acid. And John, her husband, was sick in their home, in their bathroom, because the supper they had eaten the night before had been contaminated with larvae from flies that had flown over the span of the country from some plague- or virus-infected berg to feast on the molding gelatinous scum that was left to fester behind the whale. The whale having finally passed their home after months of its slow trail, while they watched from their windows. And during the respites from regurgitation, John would look out his window at the receding back of the whale and wonder.
From a certain perspective, Leonid was mending his roof, with his tools and nails and replacement tiles on top of his house prying up the loose and broken tiles. He’d been putting it off, but finally decided that since he couldn’t get to work because the whale had crushed his car, he might as well get some work done at home.
Or, maybe, from a different perspective, you might say Leonid was repairing his floor. Or wall even. And maybe the sky was the ocean and cities were constellations. People crawled around on the walls like flies. And when they dropped a glass, it floated up to the ceiling where it broke and clung to the ceiling’s surface.
Leonid crawled up out of the window where he asked his wife for the crowbar. She was sitting on the wall. She took it out of the basket on the floor and tossed it upwards which was sideways to Leonid. He caught it and fell back through the window and landed on the roof’s floor.
I drink all of the water and eat all of the fish. My mouth is open and everything goes inside. I want to encompass all things. To become celestial. I feel invisible, transparent. The fishermen place their hands through me, driving their boats through my hull.
My eye is the eye of a storm. I rage and the earth quakes. I have eaten everything; all manner of creatures live inside of me like an ark.
Her feet became bloody walking over the shards of broken glass. She thought about picking them up in her hands and carrying them outside to where the whale’s tip was beginning to approach the edge of town. If they could wait, it might go. If they could have only waited, everything might have continued on like it always had.
She stooped over and dragged her hands through the ragged glass. Her hands passed through it, the glass slicing a clean line through her skin. Fingers lobbed off. She frantically grasped for any tiny sliver of sharpness, the wetness of her blood slickening the smooth surface.
It had been years, forever, since the whale had come. Buildings were burned to the ground, beyond. Corpses strewn, forgotten. Grown men cried into the elbows of their business suits. Ungrown girls stared vacantly into the distance, wondering what was coming next.