SHE TOLD him of the morning years ago and miles away when she had been evicted by deputies, her doomed fiancé behind bars and awaiting sentencing. Her father had been her only relative and he was an alright man but had been killed far from home. So she wandered the streets of Biloxi with her infant firstborn and assorted belongings in a shopping cart, and pregnant with her second.
At one point she sat on the curb. For a long while, she watched the pedestrians and drivers pass, all traversing purposefully toward their destinies. She put her hands in her pockets and discovered a forgotten ticket to the JL Scott Aquarium, a parting gift donated by a social services organization closing due to budget cuts.
So lacking any other destination, she had pushed the sproggy-wheeled cart for hours down long streets to the place.
She stowed the cart outside. The cashier would not accept her last four dollars and coins for the infant’s admission, just gestured her inside.
Inside, she walked among the rows of tanks of exotic, expensive, flitting fish until she reached the home of the lone killer whale.
One Orcinus orca named Julius, the plaque informed. An endangered species with highly developed social behavior and extraordinarily stable mother-offspring bonds, found in all the world’s oceans, and who probably range thousands of miles. Although an apex predator, killer whales are not considered a threat to humans, yet there have been instances of captives attacking their handlers at marine parks.
She reported to him that the whale’s tank was about sixty feet across. She watched the beast swim hypnotically. The left pectoral fin was folded strangely and did not move correctly.
An old man approached from the crowd. He had the learned air of a priest. Julius Caesar maybe? he asked his group. No. That’s funny. A different Julius maybe. Julius III was the sixteenth century pope who said, ‘Do you know, my son, with what little understanding the world is ruled?’ This balding old man in nice clothes made a quick exhale through his nose. He looked and shook his head and later left.
Pope Julius’s leviathan form sailed over then hovered, scanning with his tiny black eyes within forward-slanting patches, through the clear Plexiglas. Of such a strange nature were these beings who lived in another medium entire. Awareness flickered behind those miniscule eyes as if reckoning things in the surface world with guarded curiosity and some distain.
The girl held her baby in one arm, and palmed her pregnant bump with the other, and stood and stared. Then she reached and touched the cool, smooth wall that separated them.
THAT NIGHT she would steal a plastic rose from a vase in the lobby of a Tennessee motel, the clerk spotting her over her paperwork but saying nothing, and she would give it to him wordlessly. Now she rested her hand lightly on his thigh.
God did this, she said. Maybe He took pity.