I. Such Things Are/An Intriguing Teacher
When I said, Don’t call me baby, you said: You don’t get to choose your own name.
II. Natural Sense of Propriety Inherent in the Female Bosom
I am not a baby, I am a whale, great mossed hump and terrible eye, rotating my vastness in a grand pas de deux with the rushing green current.
III. What Might Be Expected
When I dance, I dance for me, each muscle cord bound around each bone. There is not a moment I am not aware of my own body. When I dance, there is pain and there is anger. When I dance, there is a brain, but I shout at it to keep quiet. When I dance, there is half of you inside me, dividing swiftly.
IV. Domestic Pleasures Planned
When it arrives, we will curl into each other like layers of a conch shell. I will tell it stories set in impossible lands and learn a new dance with it swathed to my heart. You will be banished from our kingdom.
V. A Wedding/A Mistake Discovered
Two of our friends stood smiling in a bower and you pressed your hand into the small of my back; sweat prickled under the lines of your palm.
VI. Conflict of Love and Duty
The friends would tell me to speak.
But the walnut in me twists and leaps: we are alone in the world.
VII. Reasons Why and Wherefore
It, too, will be a secret whale, and we will migrate together, and sing together, long haunting words no one can translate.
We will dance; it will spiral around me, doubling my helix, as I lead. We will nudge ice floes and clear loud breaths in the tropics. We will lurk, twin shadows, in the deep.
VIII. A Trifling Retrospect
Even as a child, I was serious.
IX. We Go Forward Again
Wherever I go, there you are. Around corners, over oceans, through hallways lined with books: your face and your body, disjointed parts. When I signal jeté en avant, you stand firm. When you signal pirouette, I turn.
I am used to taking cues.
X. A Man May Smile, and Smile, and be a Villain
There are a thousand thefts.
Every almost-orgasm, tallied between the layers of my skin.
Every time you accept a plate of food in silence. When you ask if you must attend my premiere. When you say before your friends, Not so much for the book smarts, this one, and clap me on the back.
When you laugh at my feet with tones I cannot surmise. Each of my cracked and bleeding toes flees my body.
XI. We Know Not What a Day Might Bring Forth
Today, I might keep walking. Past the train, past the taxis, to the sludging river. Today, I might slip between strangers and disappear.
Or I might ask a friend, Can I borrow your car? I might say, I plan to be cruel.
Or I might go home and shower; when you open the curtain I might say, Not today. I might sit with my walnut, with my twin whale shadow, and watch your consternation.
XII. Necessary Digression
In the blister-hot morning, a bird sings “secret, secret, secret, secret, secret, secret.”
XIII. When We Have Excited Curiosity, It Is But an Act of Good Nature to Gratify It
The city reaches through my aching feet and grips my knees; I go home.
When I walk through the door, I stretch and stretch, invert my body and send its blood rushing to the places that are shred and torn.
You watch. You say, Come here.
XIV. Unexpected Misfortunes
XV. Mystery Developed
The doctor says, Nothing to worry about, but I am still bleeding, and the hair on my underjaw prickles with danger.
XVI. Which People Void of Feeling Need Not Read
Have you ever had flesh part from your flesh? Have you left behind a torrent that was going to sing with you through the hollows of the ocean? Have you groaned and groaned and wished this pain over, though it means you are now empty?
The currents tore at my body; the salted froth did not let me breathe.
My teeth slid along teeth, and my whale twin sang a long farewell, slipping down from its inner sea, and I wished I could catch it between my fingers and lay it beside my cheek, and maybe it could find a pocket of my pelt to live in and grow until ready to face the world.
XVII. Maternal Sorrow/Embarkation
Being left was a brisé en arrière on crooked ankles, all gracefulness gone, but leaving was one small, lovely lap of an inexorable tide.
In the end, it was just a closed door.
In the end, it was a gentle bow, a determined turn, a final sounding into heavier waters.
Rebecca Orchard studied classical music at the Peabody Conservatory before spending seven years as a professional baker to support her writing habit. She now has an MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University, and is currently a PhD student at Florida State University. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming from Passages North, Tammy, The Pinch, The Moth (UK), the Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. Her research on the Voyager Golden Record has been profiled in the Guardian, BBC World Service Newshour, and Atlas Obscura. Much of her work can be read at www.rebeccaorchard.org.