There’s a whale near shore, the size of a Greyhound bus.

She releases a breath, mist rising in the air.

I ask a guy near me, who’s leaning on a metal detector and looks as though he spends a good amount of time at the beach, if he knows anything about whales. He shakes his head. His face is well-worn, friendly. I tell him things I shouldn’t. I’ve been oversharing lately and I call my ex too often. I need to stop.

Steam erupts from the whale’s blowhole.

People wade out toward her so I go too though I don’t want to. The ocean is calm, it’s easy to get close. There’s a yard-long gash along her side exposing buttery pink fat. Someone says she’s a female blue, that a ship hit her, and I say fucking cars and ships, always killing things. The lady nearest me wades away. There’s a boy surfing down the beach, and I think of my son, his high-pitched, joy-filled voice, “Look, Mommy. Look,” as he bodysurfed wave after wave, laughing in the soupy froth, his face as wide open as the sky.

This whale is riding those same waves.

She lets out an exhalation, and I’m inside her vapor; the odor is blunt and bitter and, somehow, smells like my son when I kissed the top of his sweaty head.

The whale’s eye is the size of a muskmelon, she’s looking at me, and I ask her if she too once had a little boy. I stroke her gently as if she were a dying friend. Later, when the Coast Guard arrives, telling me to get out of the water, I don’t want to.

“Isn’t there a tugboat to get her back to sea?” I ask, wishing to change the ending.

“She isn’t dying because she’s ashore; she’s ashore because she’s dying,” says an official.

Someone takes my elbow and leads me to shore.

I stand in the sand, waiting.

The fog rolls in, the waves more powerful, the ocean undecided whether to push the whale aground or take her back. She hasn’t released a breath in a long while. I plead for the current to take her back, but a wave, larger than any before, shoves her finally onto the shore.

There is no one that I want to speak to about this.

© Anamyn Turowski
[This piece was a finalist for the 2020 Forge Flash Fiction Competition, and was selected by Damyanti Biswas]