hard truth

The dead whale had washed ashore in the night. A small crowd gathered on the beach after morning tide to admire it, to whisper among each other and try to solve its mysteries. It was a captivating creature — immense, beautiful, alien. I had an open umbrella in one hand to shield me from the sun, my daughter’s little hand in the other.

Is it dead? she asked.

I looked at her and nodded. I wondered what she thought it meant to be dead.

Waves of foam crashed into the rear and side of the whale’s dark gray mass. The sun blasted the scene with light and heat.

He’s no more, said my daughter.

I paused and said: It’s part of life.

Part of life? she asked.

I nodded. I loved how she’d repeat my words by rearranging them into questions. I loved how all kids performed some iteration of the same act, and that my kid was like other kids in that she was inquisitive and reckless at times and could enjoy her childhood like other kids.

We stood in silence again. I looked into the dead mammal’s eye, a dark snow globe emptied of particles, a black mirror in which my reflection returned to me — the reflection of a father and his daughter beneath the umbrella’s canopy peering deeply into the earth’s hardest truth: that everything in that domain would be born, thrive, and eventually perish, including the domain itself.

I saw some of my father in that reflection, too. I didn’t look exactly like him but more like a lost brother, a bookish cousin. My father will be dead 21 years next month.

Everything is waves, I thought. I invented a story for the whale, imagining its long life and how it came to rest on this beach, half-in, half-out of the water.

A small plane flew overhead. Its engine droned in the haze. The whale lay there unaffected by the water, the people, the sun, the air. I thought how strange the surface must be for aquatic life.

After several minutes, I led the little one away from the whale and the crowd that had grown handsomely. I hardly needed to lean down to reach her hand anymore.

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