Stranger Whales

Sumac is adrift in the bay, paddle laid across her knees, just past the shipping lanes. Her tiny boat bobs and pitches as the tankers bull past, all hunched red shoulders and robot crew. In the distance is the blue blob of the family island, 25 feet of sterile rock claimed by a great grandfather from the governments of three countries, two ascending and one breaking in exile.

She is cold in her wet suit, cool as river clay.

The whale breaks the surface, black and rust red, the color of beaver’s teeth, seal skin caught in her jaws, loose and flapping, shucked like an oyster. She is tossed and sprayed. The whale sinks, her passing a whirlpool centered around the paper-thin skin. Sumac leans over the side. Knuckles white on the haft of the oar; the whale rolls over. They make contact, eye to red eye, before the murk swallows her tail.

Like the ship, like sumac herself, she bears south.