Whales by Annie Raab

To say that Joey was passionate about whales would be a flawed statement. Having no prior interest in the creatures and possessing only those facts learned in short, trivial ocean units in science class, it seems strange that one morning he would suddenly have complete access to their ethereal songs drifting through the warm waters of the open ocean. When Joey woke that September morning and heard the whales calling out in his head, booming through the macrocosmic Atlantic sea, he couldn’t speak. This is normal. The channels that opened to the whales put on hold his own verbal pursuits, as if the human mind were unable to behold such different languages at once. The whales faded in, building up operatically while Joey lay perplexed in his bed. He spread out his arms and welcomed the sounds as distractions from his daily life, his parents, and his education. Cases such as this most frequently occur in children and it is believed that no species in particular is more recurrent than another. The typical course of an open auditory channel with an animal or group of animals varies from case to case, the only real consistency is the resultant, individual human silence. Joey could not have known he would become connected to the whales, or on the very same day another pathway opened between a young girl in India and family of silverfish. That story did not end well.

For Joey, life was still relatively normal. He was often satisfied to have completed another day as a young boy while listening to the stunning, drawn out conversations of the whales sounding out through his head. In silence, ge continued to eat with his parents, oblivious to their worried glances at one another. He smiled at the bus driver on his way to school, where he could be left largely unbothered—his silence unnoticed in the loud, overcrowded classroom. It was different than having a persistent ringing in ones ears. Whales come from further off, and yet Joey felt them extremely close. Unlike a ring, or a buzz, these were large bells or distant horns. They may as well be coming from the body itself. If Joey had access to the oft-dismissed medical reports on his condition, he would have related to the description of their connection being like an underground network of tunnels, an acoustic labyrinth where sound would not be still.

After first searching for the source of the sound with no success, Joey began trying to understand what the whales were saying. He spent time distinguishing the old from the young, the males from the females, the lonely from the vibrant. Whales are slow. They are cold to the touch. Their giant heart beats only several times a minute and the passages within those muscles are large enough to swim through. Unlike the volatile three-hearted octopus, whales are very sincere. Sometimes their honesty is awkward and unproductive, which leads many to believe they are stupid. It takes a single whale a very long time to say something—hours even—because whales are in no rush. They still have plenty to talk about. Weather conditions, water quality, parenting techniques, and regular digestion seem to be favorites, although for one entire day Joey listened to the desperate pleading from a young male to mate with a certain female—an enlightening lesson on the cruelties of wild maturity.

His silence persisted. His parents waited anxiously for their son to speak and tried not to pressure him. They tried to be progressive and agreed that this was part of his developing personality. If he wanted to remain silent, then damn their need to hear his bright young voice before he was ready. Still, they would sneak into his room at night to investigate the cause of his quietude. His mother always checked his breathing first, then checked for drugs. Half empty cans of aerosol or suspicious pharmaceuticals would alternately horrify yet relieve her, but there was nothing. His father checked the bookshelf first, never sure if he was looking for backwards propaganda or sensible Buddhist literature, and checked his sons breathing last. Both parents found nothing, not even a word written down on paper nor an article misplaced from his boyish routine could clue them into his silence. They called the school, questioning a series of teachers who all said he was turning in his homework completed on time, and never disturbed the class. One science teacher confessed that Joey had eyes a particular girl, but appeared too shy to confront her.

Joey became a powerful satellite. He uncovered the most intimate moments in the life of a whale. His mind became more attuned to the differences in whale noises. There were songs of travel, songs of contentment, songs of feeding. There were long pauses between stanzas of heavy loneliness. There were spirited songs of well-executed intercourse, which happened often. He listened to the thick calls of their strange humor and discussions about—he guessed—what whales find to be mundane. One day, he heard the first whale whisper. It was barely a hum resounding through the waters of his mind, rich with wisdom and ancient wit. It tickled his calm, like a tired insect landing on exposed skin. He was relieved when a group of whales came through stronger, full of life and virility.

Joey found himself in the library often. He sought information on the causes, depth, and duration of his inability to speak while the whales continued to sing through his head. He wondered if whales were truly able to interrupt a life so far from their own. If there were answers, he did not find them in any of the books on ocean creatures. There was no hidden secret behind the colorful pictures of skin, muscle and bone that explained their ability to reach across a continent with their haunting music and strike him directly in the soul. He dove into their habits. He fought through the sounds piping constantly through his mind and concentrated on the literature. Their constant babble about daily life was frustrating when it prevented Joey from living his own. He felt entitled, in his human ways, to reject the simple fears of a whale. So what if they were cold, underfed, or tired? That was ocean life and he could not be asked to dwell over their problems. In a desperate attempt to silence the whales, he empathized with the enemy, the dark killers of the ocean that put an end to more vulnerable among the gentle creatures. Anything he could grasp he held onto. Any hope of ever living a normal life again lay in the dissolution of those thick, slow moving voices with their problems gestating somewhere in the long ocean. He questioned his own failures, his seedling desires for the future, and his fears that the whales would be there through it all. His sympathy for the predator became a wish he tried to project, but as far as he knew during his time with the whales, the line of communication was exclusively one way.

***

In the dark early hours one morning in the winter, while sleep and wakefulness were locked in their familiar battle, Joey’s line with the whales punctured his senses with more ferocity than ever before. Those loving, fragile voices of mother and calf drifting towards the Southern waters that had helped put him to sleep cut out abruptly. Now he heard the old mother panic, still as slow and drawn out as her other emotions. He heard the rushing pack of assailants approach her and the calf. A group of smaller, more aggressive whales screeched and flashed their teeth menacingly. The calf drew closer to his mother and she tried to position herself as a solid wall against the pack of hungry beasts. They came from all sides. They beat their tails hard and were soon upon them, twisting and shouting and wedging their way between mother and calf so as to cut him free for their kill. The mother’s belligerent roar seemed to deter the pack, but they held fast to their formation. The calf was torn away from his mother and the pack of killers shouted in celebration. They crowded the powerless calf, now and too far from his mother who used to lift him above the surface of the water for a precious breath of air. Horrified, Joey listened helplessly as the calf’s calls became more distant as the hungry pack pushed it further down to sea, causing it to softly drown. When the tumult ceased, the mother moved soundlessly through the water, away from the icy northern lands. For the first time, Joey heard the delicate sounds of a whale weeping.

His parents were worried. When they saw their son for breakfast he had the sunken pale look of some illness. They checked his forehead and tonsils, made him some tea and sent him back to bed without asking questions. Joey lay in his bed and cried with the mother whale as she continued her journey alone. He tossed about, hoping for another signal to arise from another part of the vast landscape of the sea. Several calls faded in and out, but flowed away quickly, and he was stuck with the grieving mother. His father came into his room and sat on the bed as Joey shook and wiped his eyes on the sheets. He put his hand on Joey’s back and talked to him until he stopped crying and drifted back to sleep. For a while then, he sat with his hand on the soft nape of Joey’s neck, marveling at the skillful accuracy for which this young boy was put together. Joey dropped out of reality as he surged deeper into sleep. His mind spread open to reveal the tunnel that connected him to the whales. He entered their world for the first time.

This is when he began to speak. Joey swam through the warm waters of the tropic

looking for the whales. The ocean was silent. Twisting awkwardly, kicking his legs and flapping his arms, Joey searched the ocean for those voices that had become familiar neighbors to his own thoughts. He felt he would not find the mother, who, for all he knew, had given up her journey and sunk to the deep abyss at will. The blue light that wove through the rich waters consoled his remorse. There were other whales, he remembered, who remained, despite the tragedy of another, full of life and energy. If the mother was still alive, Joey would like to say something to her, and he hoped powerfully to know her by the connection they shared. He remained there until the distant waters darkened. A massive shadow, swimming out of legend, or prehistory, glided easily toward him. The waters churned but he floated undisturbed, unable to escape the path of the oncoming giant. Then, he felt her connection. It electrified his being as all other whales fell away from his thoughts. She drifted past, powered by the slow pulse of her mighty tail, the distance between each tolling heartbeat, and the grief which bore her forward. Joey uttered a mouthful of watery words that she seemed not to notice as she continued silently southward. The only one to hear those words, as her tail waved goodbye and disappeared to Joey forever, was his own father leaning his head towards his sleeping son, overcome with relief.

Published in the September 2015 Issue. 

Look. The Angels. by Ciara Lynch

In 1926, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of the National Shrine of the Little Flower. The church was later destroyed by fire in 1936. Now there stands a twenty eight foot limestone crucifix on the tower that overlooks Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak, Michigan. It was built in 1931, a cross they could not burn. The entire church structure is made of granite and limestone. With the main level and balcony, the stone octagon can seat three thousand people. And it’s where the angels used to live.

I was four years old when I first noticed them. It was after communion, and the congregation kneeled in silent prayer. I rested my folded hands against my forehead and sometimes closed my eyes because that meant you were really good at praying. But I preferred to keep my eyes open. I could always see better in church. The warm stone walls and stained glass light brought my vision into focus and everything was clear. My mom noticed my wandering eyes and pointed to the ceiling. “See that light?” I stared into the places amongst the ceiling that flickered and danced. I nodded. “Those are angels.”

And I saw them.

I watched for them every Sunday. I knew the light was only a refracted image of their true form, but sometimes when I stared for too long, everything else would blur except the angels. And they were so full of light that I could not make out all that they were. Sometimes I saw their wings. They were immeasurable in size, strong, and patterned like feathers made of white fire. I wondered how it would feel to stand with their wings folded around me.

I had quietly watched the angels for almost a year. We were kneeling when I noticed my mom with her eyes closed. I tapped her shoulder and looked up. “The angels,” I reminded her. She leaned close to me and pointed toward the altar.

“See those candles?” I nodded. “That light is from them.” That’s when the angels left the church. They were replaced with heat, light, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. Flame melts candle wax and breaks hydrocarbons into molecules and casts flickering lights on the ceiling. I still looked for the angels, but they were not there.

I still look for the angels.

When my sister Mia turned three years old, she proclaimed from the backseat of the car, “Look, Daddy. A shooting star.” She held the last word out and let it fade. It was 2:30pm on a Wednesday in Spring. The sun was out and the sky was clear. I looked up and out the car window to see a cloudy white line forming across the sky. I smiled.

“No sweetie, that’s just a jet,” my dad said, but I wish she could still look up on a sunny day and see shooting stars.

When she turned four years old, I heard her whisper to my dad in church, “Look. The angels.” She stared intently at the ceiling and I wonder who told her. Or perhaps she found them herself. They were back.

“That’s just the light from the candles,” my dad said as he pointed. And just as quickly, the angels were gone. Finally realizing what he had done, he whispered, “Actually, they’re fairies.” She smiled and went back to staring at the ceiling. The church is where the fairies live, and I hope for her they always will.

Published in the September 2015 Issue.

Another Sky by Robert Vivian

    Love is clear in the dark listening for a sound, a hush, a whisper or turning of a leaf on its way to scattering and long ago tree and love is held close, so close its fire burns brightly in my chest out to the tips of my fingers and love is a wound that will not heal and love is the ache that accompanies it, love is a hand holding a cup of tea and love is the spoon on the counter reflecting starlight in the nimbus of its shine and love the wisps of hair across my wife’s forehead in sleep and love the bandwidth of their blondness and love outside deep in the night to early morning and love the hidden crickets chirping everlasting peace and love in the mailbox and hangdog flag wagging its redness to please take these letters, love in the unused oven and ice cubes fitted for the plunge into grape juice, vodka, and root beer and when I say love I feel it feeding me in photosynthesis and when I see love I know it is manifest spirit like roots shaping the very ground and fields beyond where my gaze can roam and sky is love in vast and glorious empyrean, apple is love in halved sections moist with sugar and water and dear in this love I walk and I wander all the days of my life and under the sign of this love, which is a many splendored flower, and out on the highways beyond the billboards and the off ramps and orange pylons of construction love is driving across America at the speed of light and love is talking to itself in mystical code like soft static between stations and love is speed and movement and also stillness, so still and steady yet wanting to fly and love fills my mouth with juicy alacrity and love grazes my shoulder like the wing of a bird and this same brushing a holy contact and sacred offering of feather and love layeth me down in green pastures with daisies in my hair and love waketh me in the morning to stretch and work and play and these words whatever they say, whatever they speak curve around the great bend of love’s bounty and the acorn in the palm of Julian’s hand in the intimate display of all there is and how love is held and cherished there, son, daughter, and little lamb on the straw of Julian’s skin, waiting for another sky to lift them up to heaven.

Originally published in the April 2015 issue.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑