The following is an excerpt from “The Wake,” a prose piece written by Chris Swensen.
Nora Daly walked alone on the gray shore. Her dog, Boatswain II, or “Boaty,” had pranced off after the scent of a crab. She was headed as always to the lighthouse and back on that gray noon, when she saw in the distance a dark form on the pale sands. Boaty was already sniff-snuffing about its great mass. When the little girl got close she saw the whale sideways, puffing dryly. Its fins fanned the air, its tail stroked the earth.
She reached out timid-like. Nervous pale fingers met the blubber skin. The beast wheezed and groaned. She could see herself in the well of its eye, alone against the bright sky. She felt pulled by its gravity; she leaned against its breathing mass. She could feel its moaning, could feel it in even in her bones.
* * *
Soon the entire village had converged. This was the second time a whale made such an appearance. Her aunt Evelyn, the newspaper man, the restless mischief boys, and all the familial lingering faces of roundabout grownups arrived to look at it. She even met a “local expert,” a tweedy and mutton-chopped man, whose spectacled face explained: “Sometimes they get lost, or maybe even sick.” She watched as the generous folk bathed its lumbered form with cool water from buckets. Boys tried to climb it; creative scoldings were flung quickly. Eventually compelled by something that could not be explained, they all gathered to return the form to the waves. The whole town gave great shoves and curses alike. The wave-returned whale puffed away haughty. The town boys groaned with disappointments. They had heard tales of “Dynamite Removal” and blubber raining from the heavens with humorous thuds. The lighthouse keeper was with the newspaper man. Pipe-faced he smiled, “Seems a waste, could’ve had fillets.” For some reason after hearing this, Nora grew red-faced.
“You shut your Goddamn mouth!” Everybody laughed. Evelyn made sure Nora tasted soap for three days.
* * *
It was a was and used to be kind of village there along the shore. There was a humming and lunch-whistling cannery. There used to be a filled dock, the fisherman’s cages bristling with crab legs or bulged with fish. It was mostly that once-hated Hibernian race that clung to that shore and cliff side even now as times got worse. Nora lived here all life long, now with her aunt Evelyn, a kind and soft-spoken widow who had a fading beauty about her, and was far too kind to everyone. Nora was beginning to hate her for reasons she did not understand.
It was a leafy suburb with old houses creaking in the wind. She lived still within sight of her old home, wearing its white paint that was coming off in flakes. She would remember always how in the afternoon she would walk along the beach with Boaty to the old lighthouse and back.
After that whale business she was out again, yellow rain coated against the gray noon. There was a sound in the distance. A mischievous bellowing. It was Timmy and his toadies. He was throwing eggs at the face of a large sea turtle. The creature made a face and retreated within its shell. “Ha ha! Got you with your own babies!” he triumphed about before tipping the shell-withdrawn creature onto its back. “Ha!” Nora strutted towards the boys. She had hoped for Boaty’s support, but he was nipping at seagulls in the distance.
“Leave it be Timmy!” The toadies balked. Timmy strutted towards her face and stood right in front of her in his little suspenders. The toadies were all snicker-faced and goady.”I don’t do what girls tell me.” The toadies watched eagerly.
“You think just because your Ma and Da beat you, you’re tough, but you’re not.” Toadie disbelief washed over the gaggle of boys. Timmy was scowl-mouthed. “At least I have a fucking Ma and Da!” He kicked her in the shin and made a hasty retreat, toadies trailing laughter and mockeries. One of these days, she thought. So help me God.
* * *
Want more? This piece was published in Black Rock & Sage Issue 15 (2016). Purchase a copy today!