Do not look impressed when Roberta tells you about narwhals—the Monodontidae, the white whales. Do not bat an eye when she talks about their elongated canines, how they twist like candy out of the artic sea. When she says she’s heard so much about you, look at your mother. Let her know you see her. When she reaches for a green olive, take one too. Roll the pit over your tongue, clean it on every side like your mother taught you. When Roberta talks about her work and your father’s—the reason she’s come all this way—clench the pit in your teeth and smile wide.
Do not pay attention to Roberta’s red skirt flapping in the breeze or the cluster of orange freckles that dot her white-lady shoulders. Try not to notice the small flip of her nose, her full lips, or the crease of her eyelid. Do not admit you have dreamed of having that crease too. Do not compare your mother’s face to her face. If you see the ivory pendant dangling at the line of Roberta’s cleavage, look away. Fast. Do not think about the hollow of your mother’s chest or the way she tries to hide it under baggy shirts and blouses. Make sure to ask Roberta questions. Questions that take time to answer, that fill space while your father orders lobsters from a silver airstream. Ask why she decided to study whales, if she still swims in the ocean, what she hopes to find off the coast of Maine. Do not listen to her answers. Hum inside your head. Do not picture the cobalt tributaries or the long stretches of ice that make up her Northern Territories. Look out at the wet, warm sand of Maine. Look down at the row of olive pits your mother is building. Do not make eye contact with either woman. Look at your watch, tap your sandaled foot on the cement.
When your father returns with steaming lobsters and clarified butter do not look excited. Do not let the thrill show on your face. When your mother stands and says she’s going to walk the beach, let her go. Do not laugh when your father calls her a softy. Stare him down when he tells Roberta how your mother won’t touch a lobster. How she cannot bring herself to crack their joints and tear them limb from limb. Make it clear Roberta should not laugh the way your father is laughing.
Know that—with your mother gone—you must sing for your dinner. Be ready to know their kingdom, their clade, down to their family, the part of the body you are about to eat. Start with the cheliped or your father will scold you. Pull the speckled meat from the cling of the exoskeleton; make it slick with butter. When the shell is picked clean, wipe your hands with a soapy wet nap, point out the yellow corn in Roberta’s teeth, and ask your father if you may be excused.
Follow your mother from a distance, watch her blue dress flap at her ankles. Stay on the wet part of the sand and feel the chill of the foam at your feet. Watch your mother bend to pick up smoothed rocks and broken parts of a shell. Ignore how drab she looks against the gray of the sky; do not wonder if your father notices that too. When the wind blows your mother’s straw hat into the water and she wades in—without grace—to retrieve it, love her more. Turn away, do not let her know you see her.
Go back to your father. Hear Roberta laughing at the picnic table. Watch them suck on small legs—the pereiopods—the last bits of the body that have yet to be eaten. Clear the tray of hollowed carcasses and remember that your mother ate only olives. When Roberta takes a thumb and wipes a smear of butter from your father’s face, point to the breaking waves and shout, “Whales!” Be the first to say, “Globicephala marcrorhynchus.” Say it how your father taught you. Take your father’s hand and rush him up the beach. Tell him you saw their dark grey bodies cutting through the blue curve of a wave. Tell him there are two, three, maybe five to the pod. Speak his language as you bring him to the water’s edge, as you pull him back to you, to your mother. Make him look out at the sea. Stare at the ocean, hold your father’s damp hand, and search the waves for the spray of a whale.
Jacqui Reiko Teruya is an MFA candidate at Boise State University where she teaches and is on the editorial staff for The Idaho Review. A lover of bookstores, a hater of Amazon, she worked as an indie bookseller before pursuing a degree in fiction. This is her first publication.