White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
Trent England
Trent England lives in the Boston area where he writes full-time. His work has appeared in Wigleaf, Fiction Magazine, Hobart, Nth Position, Web Conjunctions, Unsaid Magazine, and elimae. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Two previous stories, "Mammal Story," and "Funny Story," appeared in previous issues of White Whale Review. He can be found on the web at http://tengland.com.

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Alaskan Shoreline

Trent England

 

Her family once took a boat tour of the Great White West, and I had asked her to call me. She called me and I could barely hear her.

“The line is frozen,” she said. Or she said Broken. She told me what she had seen: a straw boy with a baleen necklace, plankton stickers on the children’s walls, the humpback sounds over the speakers in the morning and evening.

She sent me a postcard she had bought at the shoreline. It was all waves and rocks and what looked like water-washed bones in the sand. I scoured the back of the postcard for intimate clues, but she had only used enough ink to misspell my street name, thus explaining why it arrived two days after she returned.

This was when we were young. We always rode a van to and from school, and she and I were in the good habit of riding in the back, behind the last bench seat. She had returned from Alaska and I was

happy and she was near me. We were sitting on tennis rackets and mesh laundry nets in the back, and we shifted in the dusky afternoon.

I asked her, “Can this go there?”

She moved for me.

I said, “I like this there.”

She didn’t talk about what we were doing, so she talked about Alaska, about how I should go there and see it myself and see the whales in person. I asked her to lift up and she did and I moved my wrist and she moaned and whispered, “I want you to go.”

 

I found her when we had become adults.

She was at a night-school campus where every car in the parking lot had a car seat and expired stickers of political campaigns. Around every car was littered cigarette butts, and the main grassy square of the campus had grown high with weeds and sunflower imitations.


I listened to her on the steps of a motel talk about her new life. She was taking a class, learning how to sell insurance. She leaned against a post and looked at me on the sad cracked steps and asked if I had really come to Tennessee to see her.

There are very few synonyms for “yes,” and even fewer so truthful. I told her it was true and I convinced her to have a meal with me.

Our dinner was cut short when she took a phone call and then left, cupping her hand over the receiver to tell me that she would call in the morning. And when it was morning, the phone rang, and through heavy breathing, she promised she would call back in the evening. I fell asleep watching television in my motel room and reading the school pamphlet that had fallen out of her purse.

 

Word came back through her mother that she had gone west, settling near white ski slopes. I panicked picturing her in the cold, knowing her tendency to get wet. I imagined her approaching strangers in line for onion river soup, handing out

insurance fliers. Maybe she had grown freckles out there under the sky, her hairline going burnt ochre in the sunny snow, her statuesque arms out like Moses in the cold, saving a nation.

So I drove west to find her, but she had already slipped off to a flat state of mind and gotten married. I convinced her to escape with me, if only for a half-hour, to a faceless café. She pushed aside a plate of a half-eaten sprout sandwich and held my hands and reminded me of the still delicate fiber between us. She explained the permanence of her new marriage. She made me promise that I would move to Alaska and find a good woman, make myself a home and have children, fat and happy.

 

Years later, we had a phone call composed of long pauses and sentences pressed of all their wrinkles. She asked what I thought of Alaska now that I had moved there and I said it was younger than I realized. She asked if my wife and I lived in tents, and I said no. She asked if we ate whale meat.

“Whale can be good,” she said, “if you give it the right rub.”


“It’s not about the rub. You have to sear it in the pan correctly.”

She tried to muffle her voice but I heard her laughing and heard people in the room with her laughing.

But the truth is that my wife and I have become happy. In the mornings, we walk our Alaskan children to the bus stop and see them off in the distance. We both work in a store for tourists who like to go remote, who think of deep Alaska when they confront themselves purchasing plane tickets. The store is not ours, but we live in the three-room home attached to it, and the owner is somewhere warm and sunny, sending us postcards of tan lines and navy boats bleaching the sea. The store is open until dark, and the most popular item is the whale.

We sell pen ink made from whale blubber, whale keys and bottle openers, stuffed plush whales, and cinnamon candy whale drops. A whale-shaped sign hangs above the register in swinging wit, and under the counter we sell a mammal-shaped object that the Alaskan men are not fond of.

Copyright© Trent England. White Whale Review, issue 2.3


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