I Swallowed the Whale Before It Could Swallow Me
I swallowed the whale before it could swallow me. It’s sitting in my belly now, asleep with one eye open and watchful. When the whale is awake, it swims around in my stomach until it’s aligned with my esophagus and blows white froth up into my throat. I spit out salt water in meetings. When I rock my son to sleep, the whale’s low song overpowers my lullaby. I know the whale is angry with me. I have upended the natural order. I don’t know how to fix it.
I go to the pet store to buy plankton as a peace offering. At check out, the store clerk asks me if I keep soft corals or clams.
“They love this stuff,” she says.
“You don’t have a saltwater reef tank?” she asks.
The whale headbutts my liver.
“No,” I gasp.
The clerk doesn’t ask any more questions. She places the nuclear green bottle in a plastic bag and tells me to have a good day.
In my car, I uncork the bottle, throw my head back, and gulp the liquid. I taste kelp rotting on a beach. A bed of coral swells in the folds of my stomach. Orange krill with transparent shells burst from eggs bobbing in my gastric acid. The whale opens its toothless mouth and breathes in.
Virgie Townsend is a fiction writer, essayist, and reporter from Syracuse, New York. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Tin House online, SmokeLong Quarterly, the Washington Post, Harper’s Bazaar, and other publications. She is a staff reader at SmokeLong. She is currently working on a collection of short stories about fundamentalist girlhood. Find her online at virgietownsend.com.
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