Whales spout at the lagoon’s mouth to the Pacific. In the sun, the water is turquoise and jade, but clouds turn the water to corrugated steel. The sky arches above, a dome enclosing us.
Our guide, Luis, kills the panga’s motor and we drift. Only Luis can see I’m sitting too close to River; my father and Kate, River’s mother, scan the water through binoculars.
I yawn. I can’t believe we drove two days through the Baja desert to a campground in the middle of nowhere to see a bunch of stupid old whales. It wasn’t until a VW van pulled into the campsite next to ours and River and his swimmer’s shoulders jumped out that I thought this trip might get interesting.
River disentangles his finger from mine. “Mom wants to kiss a whale.”
Is kissing a whale even a thing? Can’t you get some gross disease from that? Does that impress him?
“Me too!" I say. “Can we?”
“In Mexico, anything goes.”
I press my thigh against River’s. His body is a magnet attracting mine. Last night, while Dad told Kate his sailing stories, I tucked cans of Tecate under my jacket and tugged River from the campfire. Outside the shuttered Visitor’s Center, we crawled under the whale skeleton into the rib cage to shield us from the wind. Like the whale swallowed us. Stars shone between the whale’s spine and ribs. When we kissed, bones dug into my back. I slipped my hand into his waistband and his penis hardened in my palm.
In the panga, my father points to a whale breaching. A pale circle still bands his ring finger; the sun can’t erase twenty years of marriage. “Did you see that?”
Yeah, I saw it. This is so boring. Will River kiss me again tonight?
But Dad’s not talking to me. He pushes a curl of Kate’s auburn hair behind her ear, like he’s got rights to her body.
“Cool!” Kate says, her voice breathy. Her hair doesn’t stay put; it whips around her head like the tentacles of an octopus. She turns to Luis. “Will we get any friendlies?”
“We’ll wait here. Yesterday, a male came up. You’ll have a chance for your kiss.” Luis winks at her.
River whispers, “Your dad’s going to strike out with Mom.”
“He’s just being gross,” I say. A dark shape bullets through the water, impossibly long. The whale slips under the panga. I hold my breath. Nothing’s stopping it from overturning this boat, throwing us into the water to pick us off; it can’t miss us in the neon orange PFDs the Mexican Park Service issued. Gray whales don’t even have teeth but can anything so big not hunger for us? I’m a fraction of its size and I’m full of want.
“The friendly.” Luis nods.
The whale emerges, rolls against the side of the boat. White mottles its gray skin; star-like barnacles cling. A scar curves around an eye. The skeleton at the Visitor’s Center was no preparation for its actual size.
My breath catches deep in my chest, like when a hot guy smiles at me.
Dad and Kate have stupid grins on their faces as if seeing this whale is the best thing that’s ever happened to them.
River strokes the whale. “It feels like an eggplant.” I’ve never felt an eggplant. I reach out toward the whale, slowly. It rubs against me. The skin is rubbery, solid. I exhale in River’s ear, “It feels like a penis.” Perhaps he’ll blush again.
He looks away.
The whale swims, crenellations along its back undulating through the waves. Long ago when the world was unknown and bigger, sailors would have mistaken it for a sea-serpent. Then it dives again under the panga, surfaces on the other side. We unbalance the boat rushing to the edge and Luis moves to counter our weight.
Directly below me is the blow-hole, two parallel slits in the wet gray flesh.
“What a perfect boy,” Kate breathes. I can’t believe that Dad’s gaping at her like she’s the perfect one.
“A teenager. Too young to mate.” Luis laughs at Kate.
“I’m still gonna kiss it,” Kate says. “Comin’ at ya.” She leans out and kisses the whale’s side.
From its blowhole, the whale sprays water as intangible as steam. Kate catches the brunt of the exhale on her face. She grimaces.
The spray smells like fish and salt and seaweed, like the beach when the tide pulls back to expose the seafloor.
“That whale has bad breath,” I say.
“Pucker up.” River’s brown eyes skewer me. It’s a dare.
“Be careful,” Dad says. I’m sure he’d hate to tell Mom that I died in Mexico.
My hands grip the cold metal railing and I lean forward. My heart beats so loud in my ears I bet the whale can hear it. The whale moves towards me, head and long jaws jutting out of the water at my height. It’s meeting me half-way. I’m unstable but River holds onto the straps around the back of my PFD. My lips touch what I think is the whale’s cheek. The skin is wet, giving. As the whale dives and the boat rocks, River pulls me back. I lean against him. I want more. I want more kisses with the whale, more kisses with someone brave enough to meet me half-way, looking up under the ribs of the whale skeleton, the sky opening up.
About the Author: Lori Sambol Brody lives with her sweet and crazy daughters and husband in the Santa Monica Mountains. Her stories have appeared in, or are forthcoming from Tin House Flash Fridays, the Atticus Review, the Mojave River Review, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody. As for the whales, she doesn't kiss and tell.
Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone