Usually we don’t publish Fiction at Cargo Literary, but we just couldn’t resist the dialogue between pond, ocean, fog, and whale god. So please enjoy, “Words From the Whale” by Olivia Robinson.
FOGO ISLAND JULY & AUGUST 2015
“I have no answer for the god whale,
and can only show him my empty hands,
the ocean trickling
between my weak fingers.”
– “Words from the Whale to the Drowning Girl” by Amy Parkes
The girl took off her shoes and dangled one foot in, giving the ocean false hope.
I. The god whale warned her: This is not a paradise. You have to see beyond your expectations.
But the girl didn’t listen. Her mind was filled with images of bonfires on the rocks and white sheets snapping on the clothesline. She heard the crashing waves and pretended the sound was a lullaby when in reality it was the ocean’s stomach growling. The ocean saw the girl for what she really was: a naive, easy meal.
The ocean and the god whale watched the girl step off the ferry. She pulled two suitcases in her wake, a pink one with polka dots and a large black one. She also had a grey backpack over her shoulders and a navy duffel bag slung over her arm.
Ahh, thought the ocean. She will be easy to weigh down.
Little did the ocean know the girl had a poem tucked in the back pocket of her blue jeans. The poem advised her to “Always travel lighter / than the heart” (Crozier). Words were on the girl’s side. She had a whole suitcase full of them. Words were her secret, the only part of her the ocean and the god whale couldn’t see.
II. The girl woke up wrapped in a layer of fog. She lined seashells up on the kitchen windowsill and invited the ocean inside for a conversation over coffee. She slept in a bed of fairy lights under a comforter the color of the ocean on a foggy day.
The ocean and the god whale conspired to entice the girl into their world. They could already tell she was enchanted by the way she walked the shoreline every morning and studied the ocean as if trying to learn a new language. The girl liked to sit on a flat rock and watch the rhythmic flow of the water between the boulders. The ocean sang a song especially for the girl and tried to convince her to jump in. But the air still remembered the freshness of spring and held on to its chill. The girl took off her shoes and dangled one foot in, giving the ocean false hope. The ocean, always determined, kept singing.
III. Abandoned for the day on the sandy beach with a few snacks and her beach towel, the girl finally exposed her pale skin to the sun. The god whale swam into the cove to keep watch and make sure the ocean behaved herself. The girl ran across the sand and threw herself into the waves. Her footprints in the sand were erased immediately and it was like she had never been. The ocean hadn’t realized the feeling of desperation was mutual. The girl wanted to be submerged, absorbed, saturated with salt, and the ocean didn’t know what to do. She was used to being the hungry one. In her confusion, she tossed the girl back on to the sand and told the god whale it was his turn to teach the girl a lesson.
Out at sea, the fog rolled in and the land disappeared. Seagulls flew above the small white punt and squawked warnings the girl didn’t understand. When the god whale breached beside the punt, too close, the girl almost reached out to touch his tail. The god whale made sure she saw him before he dove deep. He knew he could have sent the boat and the girl into the ocean’s waiting grasp, but that wasn’t his objective. He only wanted to scare her a little. And he didn’t want the ocean to get all the credit.
The boat whipped around and bobbed exhaustedly on the silent, foggy sea. Even the puffins, weighed down with salt water, held their breath and watched. The girl looked down into the water, but the god whale was gone and all she saw was darkness.
The girl wanted to be submerged, absorbed, saturated with salt.
Fences made of driftwood or bones lined the sandy path that led to the north star.
IV. The girl regularly hiked to the end of the end of the flat earth even though she was confused by the concept. How could it be the edge of something as significant as the earth when she could see other land masses in the distance?
She realized later that perhaps it was a metaphor, but for what she didn’t know. The god whale said it was a secret, one he could only tell her after she figured it out herself.
So day after day the girl climbed the stairs to the edge. She always stopped halfway up to admire the view and catch her breath.
On the day the horizon disappeared, the girl thought she figured it out. It would be easy to mistake the peak for the edge of the flat earth on a foggy day when hiking up felt like climbing into the clouds and diving into the sea at the same time. All that mattered was the possibility.
The god whale and the ocean applauded her logic even if it wasn’t quite the answer they were looking for.
V. The girl turned her attention away from the god whale and focused on creatures who lived on land. The mischievous Newfoundland ponies, anchored in a field at the end of a long rope, leapt and ran in an imitation of freedom. The girl wondered if they were afraid of the ocean. She ran her fingers though their mane tangled by the salty air and told them not to worry, her hair was tangled too.
A bumblebee visited on laundry day. He bobbed his bum up and down to the rhythm of the waves without even realizing it. The girl watched him, but she knew she didn’t speak his language either. She realized the amount of dictionaries necessary might be too heavy to carry back in her suitcase.
VI. The ocean demanded the capelin throw themselves upon the rocks and the tiny fish were powerless to refuse. After all, the ocean put the spoon in their gaping mouths everyday. When the capelin rolled, the girl ran to the shore with a plastic shopping bag in her hand and rubber boots on her feet. She was still in her pajamas and her coffee sat abandoned on the kitchen table. The ocean smiled. She had hooked the girl again.
The girl didn’t know where she was anymore. Fairies lurked in the tall emerald grass and flitted back and forth between the stalks bending in the wind. The more mischievous ones tried to fly into the girl’s ears but she shooed them away, laughing. She ate raisins out of a tiny cardboard box and picked crowberries as she ascended a hill to get a better view. At the top, the wind tried to get in on the game and sent up a huge gust. The girl took a stagger-step but stayed on her feet. At the base of the cliff, the ocean laughed.
Fences made of driftwood or bones lined the sandy path that led to the north star. Gleaming white headstones appeared amongst the grass, eroded from years of putting up with the ocean’s tears. The girl wandered and was unable to shake the feeling that she was being watched. Every time she turned a corner or crested a hill, the ocean appeared like a gymnast jumping to her feet after an impressive flip. The girl took comfort in the ocean’s presence which was exactly what the ocean was counting on.
VII. Seagulls wanted to have their voices heard. They perched on the red fishing stage and watched the girl as she walked the path along the shoreline. The seagulls heard rumors that the ocean and the god whale were planning something. Being naturally mischievous, the seagulls set out to see if the rumor was true.
The girl wore purple palazzo pants that billowed in the wind. She tripped once on the flapping hem when it caught the toe of her sneaker, but she didn’t fall. A wide-brimmed sunhat perched on the girl’s head like an elaborate decoration and she had to hold it on with one hand because the greedy wind kept trying to claim the hat for himself. The seagulls laughed at the girl’s attempts to be fashionable. Didn’t she know by now it was all about practicality?
The red sheds intrigued the girl and she tried to capture them but the photographs turned out blurry and looked more like paintings. She learned the white symbols painted on the stage doors were there to guide the fisherman along the narrow wooden plank walkways in the dark. A long standing tradition designed to ensure that fewer fisherman ended up in the sea on their way to their boats.
VIII. On a sandy beach peppered with tiny shells, the girl learned to tread lightly. She put two dainty white shells in the pocket of her jeans to keep as a reminder of the day, but by the time she got back home the shells were broken into tiny pieces. She let the fragments fall from her hand on to the kitchen table and tried not to think about how closely they resembled cremated remains.
Until she visited Lion’s Den, the girl didn’t believe in ghosts. She preferred hiking alone because she liked to stand at the top of the look-out areas and yell as loud as she could into the wind. Other people didn’t understand how frustrating it was sometimes being quiet all the time. On the trail the girl felt like she was walking in a tourist ad on television, all craggy coastline and the crashing waves and dancing emerald grass. She convinced herself she could hear an accordion.
The god whale asked the ghosts to remind the girl she wasn’t alone and they whispered to her on the wind. You have to prove to us you belong.
Suddenly out of breath, the girl sat in the grass and tilted her head back to look at the sky. She listened to the ghosts laughing as they danced through the grass. This place was their backyard and the girl was only a visitor. She knew that now. For once, the ocean advanced and retreated but said nothing.
You have to prove to us you belong.
One evening, the ocean even went so far as to bless the girl with a lilac sky and full moon.
IX. The girl got brave again when she began to refer to a rock on Simms’ Beach as “hers”. The ocean let her have it for a few days and watched as the girl returned every afternoon with a notebook and pencil to write the day away. Always patient, the ocean waited. One evening, the ocean even went so far as to bless the girl with a lilac sky and full moon.
But after a little while, the ocean had enough. When the girl walked to the beach to write, she found the rock submerged under a high tide. The ocean laughed as the girl stood higher up on the beach and pondered how she had come to misjudge the ocean.
X. The girl turned to the sturdy comfort of architecture to try and understand. She observed the Inn from a distance and thought it looked like a beached iceberg. Upon closer inspection, it more closely resembled a fishing stage. The girl didn’t know what to make of it. Inside, she discovered a library the color of mint ice-cream and a view of the ocean displayed like art on the wall.
In an abandoned building on Change Islands, the girl found her soulmate. The rusty hinges pleaded with her to understand their loneliness. The god whale watched all of this with a knowing eye. You’re doing well, the god whale whispered to the girl. Keep looking.
XI. In his spot on the rock, the Great Auk demanded a lot of the ocean. He asked her for daily weather reports and inquired about the boats that went out for the day. Even though the god whale instructed him not to, the Great Auk became quite attached to the people who sailed past him out of the safety of the harbor. He started to refer to them as his family and inquired about their health. The ocean humored him because she felt bad about his landlocked predicament. The ocean herself had only ever known freedom and couldn’t imagine being always stuck in one place
Pink starfish were the ocean’s messengers. They tried to keep the peace between the god whale and the ocean, both of whom enjoyed a good argument about the proper temperature of the water. The starfish found their job difficult sometimes, being naturally timid creatures, and they took to hiding under the seaweed in an attempt to disappear. But because they spoke in such high-pitched voices, the ocean always knew where they were.
XII. The ocean and the god whale were in constant disagreement over who had jurisdiction over the four studios. The ocean argued the she ruled over Long and Squish and said the god whale could have Bridge and Tower. But the god whale protested because Bridge was over fresh water, not salt, so he believed neither of them had jurisdiction over that one.
The girl, oblivious to the ongoing argument, visited Bridge Studio in hopes of seeing an elusive caribou but found blueberries instead. She ate the berries until her tongue turned blue and baked the rest of the berries into muffins. The tray sat to cool on the window ledge protected by gingham curtains billowing in the breeze.
The god whale and the ocean were so busy arguing that they left the girl unsupervised for the entire afternoon and evening. Under a lilac sky, the girl and her friend went swimming at the rails. They stripped down to their underwear on the side of the road and left their clothes in a pile on the shoulder. The pond was as flat as sheets on a well-made bed and the girl almost tried to bounce a quarter off of the water. She slipped under the surface like a fish and the water wrapped itself around her limbs. The pond wanted her almost as much as the ocean, so he put on a good show with the lilac sky and his overall calm demeanor.
Unlike the ocean, I only have your best interests at heart, the pond said.
XIII. The god whale broke his agreement with the ocean and gave the girl a tip: Go fishing after a thunderstorm to maximize your catch. Fish get seasick on the currents, the god whale explained. They throw up everything in their stomachs and are ravenous after the storm is over.
The girl took his advice and set out under still turbulent skies. She went out with an experienced fisherman and they stayed close to the rocks where the fish liked to hide and dropped their jiggers. Farther out to sea, the setting sun beamed down through the clouds and illuminated a trawler as it raised and lowered its arms as if directed by a puppeteer with a strange sense of humour. The girl jigged five cod and apologized to each of them as they bled out and stared up at her with their beautiful amber eyes. She stroked their smooth, spotted skin.
The ocean watched her and decided she was getting much too comfortable again. Fog picked up the phone when the ocean called.
Where have you been? the ocean bellowed down the line.
Sleeping, the fog grumbled.
Well, get back to work, the ocean demanded and hung up the phone with a defiant clatter.
No one disobeyed the ocean. The fog rolled out of bed and chugged coffee before he put on his dress shoes and slipped out the door. The girl was already out on the water when the fog punched the clock. The girl was going on an adventure to Little Fogo Islands again and the ocean was furious. Apparently, the girl hadn’t learned her lesson the first time.
Let the fog do his job, the god whale cautioned. And for once, the ocean listened. It was the ocean’s New Year’s resolution to be more forgiving.
XIV. On Little Fogo, the girl felt no larger or more significant than a feather. The ocean fumed against the rocks but kept her distance and the wind offered his two cents by tangling the girl’s hair into salty knots. The god whale kept an eye on everything. He watched how the girl looked all around her as if trying to memorize the landscape. She watched as the horizon disappeared, the fog slowly eating it for breakfast, and she wondered if anything was permanent. The god whale felt something strange, an emotion he thought he no longer possessed. The desire to keep someone safe. He didn’t know how to break the news to the ocean, though.
XV. Sitting on a mattress in the back of a white Westfalia van, the girl held on over the bumpy roads and watched two small trout swing back and forth on a rope hanging from the rearview mirror. She hiked back from the waterfall with two friendly men who laughed at her trepidation of the woods. The girl realized she functioned best in open spaces with the ocean in view, and the ocean was flattered by the girl’s devotion. The ocean started to second guess her plan with the god whale. Maybe the girl was better suited for life on the island than the ocean had originally thought.
Her days on the island were rapidly coming to an end and she still hadn’t figured things out. The god whale wanted to tell her, You’ll probably never figure out what brought you here or why you want to stay. Few people do. But he took a hint from the ocean and kept his mouth shut.
the ocean was flattered by the girl’s devotion.
We always considered that whole summer one long, loving honeymoon as we were married that year, in June.
XVI. The girl returned to Lion’s Den to listen to the ghosts again. She wanted to see if they would tell her any of their secrets. At the top of the hill in Eastern Tickle, one of the ghosts lifted the girl’s ball hat off her head and deposited it in the middle of a pond. The girl laughed and watched her hat sink. It was exactly the answer she was looking for. The ghosts took a piece of her to keep for themselves and in doing so, welcomed the girl into their world. While the ocean and the god whale dithered over their next move, the ghosts opened the door and invited the girl into the kitchen party where accordion music soared and feet stamped into the night.
XVII. The girl started collecting treasures from the beach to keep in a large mason jar on her windowsill. She gathered driftwood that gleamed like bones and tiny periwinkle shells and brightly colored lobster trap tags. The mussel shells were her favorite because the colors reminded her of the blue hour. At first, the ocean was angry with the girl. How dare she take what belongs to me? the ocean thought. But the god whale swam in with the voice of reason. I’ve been thinking about our girl all night, he told the ocean. She’s taking souvenirs because she’s afraid her memories won’t be enough. She’s afraid of forgetting.
The ocean scoffed. Our girl? Since when did she become ours?
Since the moment she stepped off that ferry, the god whale replied.
The ocean didn’t know what to say. She knew the god whale was right but she didn’t want to tell him about the afternoon she spent watching the girl paint portraits of the ocean on rocks. The ocean was afraid the god whale would think she was going soft. The truth was the ocean had fallen in love with the girl. But the ocean didn’t want to admit to it because she knew the girl was leaving soon and might not return, and there was nothing worse than being in love with someone who you may never see again. That night, the ocean cried herself to sleep and in the morning the fisherman wondered why the ocean looked so tired.
XVIII. On her last full day, the girl took the ferry to Change Islands because she couldn’t bear to say goodbye. The girl was used to running away from anything that made her feel too strongly. She watched the ponies in their paddock by the sea and wondered if they ever felt the urge to run away. The multicolored houses dotting the shore were jewels on an understated but elaborate necklace. The girl liked how small and manageable everything looked in her tiny photographs.
But when she saw the view from the balcony she felt her throat constrict like a thousand bees had flown in and built their honeycomb. The ocean screamed at her, You haven’t learned enough yet! You can’t leave!
The girl was frightened by the ocean’s emotion and turned away. She was scared of staying in one place for too long. The god whale, having recognized the girl’s developing pattern of behavior, shook his head.
You’ve scared her away, the god whale said. Now she may never come back.
XIX. In an attempt to convince the girl to stay, the ocean painted herself and the sky with watercolors. It was a masterpiece and the ocean was exhausted. She watched as the girl sat on the rocky beach by a bonfire and talked with a man from Montreal who wore an oatmeal sweater and a wool beret.
I learned English by watching television with subtitles, the man said. So sometimes I say strange things.
The girl smiled. Silently, the ocean thanked the man for saying what she couldn’t seem to articulate. But what the ocean didn’t realize was the girl understood what the ocean was trying to say all along.
XX. The sun made it its mission to cheer up the ocean and the girl. After the sun and the god whale had a meeting, they decided to create an exhibition of beautiful sunsets to sustain the girl. The ocean agreed with the plan because she loved how she looked in pink.
The girl hadn’t heard from the god whale in a while and she was worried. She sat at a picnic table and watched the cove for any sign of him. The world transformed into a Christopher Pratt painting and the girl realized it was a sign. The ocean didn’t want her to leave at all. But the girl knew it was too late.
The god whale sighed deeply. Despite everything she had learned, the girl was still chasing something she could never have.
Don’t make me go, she whispered.
I’m not making you do anything, the god whale replied.
The ocean and the god whale watched the girl board the ferry in the early morning darkness. The girl dragged her heavy suitcases and tried to rub the unwritten sentences from her eyes.