The dead whale that washed up on the beach did not care for me at all.
He asked me not to touch his silken but rubbery skin as a matter of respect.
I told him I did not understand that kind of respect but would he please explain it.
The waves crashed,
sending a finish of salt water over his body,
cascading off his sides,
darkening the sun bleached sand surrounding him.
He said it wasn’t something a girl like me could learn, even though we had plenty of time.
He said he knew me too well, had met my type before.
Girls with golden curls who can’t stay away from the dead.
I pointed to the mole on the left side of my neck and said, ‘look this makes me different.’
He said that mole was not enough
and even the freckles and moles on my thighs and stomach couldn’t change a thing.
‘But I have a single freckle on the top of each foot,’ I pleaded,
‘and a small box of curls cut from the middle of my forehead.’
He laughed and, shaking his flippers at me,
said this was exactly the kind of thing girls like me would say to a whale such as himself.
It took longer than I expected for his body to decompose.
At first, I did not mind the smell so much
and would lean close to tell him all sorts of things to make him like me.
I thought that maybe,
the more his body disappeared,
the more mine would mean.
Naturally, this was not the case and he entreated me to leave him alone.
Only after the stench became as overwhelming as the humidity and mid-afternoon sun did I keep away. Standing at a distance, squinting and shielding the sand from my face,
I saw high-tide wash over him,
carrying away driftwood, seaweed and pieces of his flesh.
At low tide, the waves crashed well below where he lay, stretched out on his belly.
Sometimes, the water would slide far enough up the beach to tickle the flukes of his tail.
Sea foam pops and crinkles like static as it slowly dissolves on skin.
He only made eye contact with me once, and his look told me,
even after seagulls picked out his eyes,
that nothing I had told him,
or could tell him,
would change his perception of me.
I took a vertebra from his spinal column when he finished rotting,
against his wishes of course,
and watched the ocean carry the rest of him away.
Sea spray flicked salty curls into my eyes and mouth and I did not say goodbye.
His vertebra is much lighter than I expected,
looks and feels like coral.
I know it will not ever speak to me.
Sarah Elaine Magin earned degrees from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Knox College. She is currently teaching at the College of DuPage.