Far away from shore, a whale heaves herself up and out of the water for the last time, dying with a sigh so big it could tip a ship. Her body floats on the surface, big as an island but untethered to the earth. The nosy teeth and beaks of fish and birds begin to poke and prod at her fins, her glorious tail, and the rubbery skin of her sides, searching for the blubber that used to keep her warm. With each piece they pluck from her body she sinks a little further; her wide, pale belly parallel to the ocean floor as she falls toward the place where the sun’s rays can’t reach. When her body meets the sand there might be the soft thud of a finished journey, or maybe it is silent, only a shift of silt and darkness. Maybe tiny bubbles rise up around her, millions of glittering, perfect orbs of air floating upward, then getting bigger as they get closer to the light, so swollen that when they meet the surface they float away and become stars. Far below, the whale’s body becomes a universe, a planet, a country for an invasion of species that will survive because of her death. Crustaceans scuttle across her bones, eyeless shrimp scavenge the rot, and glowing pink worms wave their streamer-like bodies in the thick current. Twelve thousand species will live for as long as fifty years on the whale fall—a length of time that is likely as long as her living-life was. An ecosystem growing because of death, an endless cycle of pushing and pulling, dividing and falling, until there is nothing left of her but gas, invisible even to those that knew her as home.
* * *
In a mostly vacant hotel in February’s Newport, she sits next to the boyfriend she hasn’t known very long, inhaling the beer and floor wax smell of the bowling alley that clings to her damp sweater like barnacles. Her cheeks are flushed and young, and she falls onto the dark plush of the bedspread, letting him pull off more layers of her clothing, sinking until the darkness of the blanket becomes the sky, the blue glow from the television the moon. Their bodies become a collision, a rocking of muscles pulled against bone, a flash of light across the softest skin of her neck, a breath caught on its own escape, suspended until the air returns to the chill of absence. Perhaps it is too soon to feel the silent shift inside her. Maybe the feeling beneath her skin is from the beer, carbonation rising from the pocket of her stomach, making her feel both full and weightless, the way an astronaut must feel seeing the world small. Her hips sink low into the foam of the mattress; her body becomes a black hole, a cave, a sinkhole for an invasion of multitudes. A new collision, softer but heavier, begins to divide her body into lifetimes that would stretch beyond her own, a quivering electricity desperate to latch on, to use her blood and air in inconceivable ways. Female pink-streamer worms live on the bones of long-dead whales and hold within themselves the bodies of their male partners, invisible. She never wanted to become a body with a body inside her— life inside a life is also a death inside a death, endless in the ways they call each other home.
Image via Pixabay