Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Whales of Cleveland

In the beginning there were no whales in Cleveland. Lake Erie was too young; it had only recently been cut from the bowels of the continent. There were large shadowy things to be sure, giant fish with gaping jaws and rows of impossible teeth. You can see them now, in museums, encased in dried mud, or you can see them in the depths of today’s lake, down in the bottoms, sucking on the souls of sailors. But there were no whales then, in those troubling times. Nothing resembling a whale. No snub noses and wide wise eyes.

The whales were created by a magician. He wasn’t a real magician, not naturally. He was a man who had once decided to master only this one spell, the creation of life from a special mixture of ground up sand and glass and plants. All around the world he went, conjuring whales in places where whales shouldn’t be. Sometimes the whales were lucky, and their canvasses were at least close to warm waters, in places where sun could get to them, and they could imagine one day of being real whales, for the magician hadn’t really mastered warm and wet life yet – only imitation.  He was missing a dimension. Poor two-dimensional whales, swimming forever in the graceful arc.  The ones in warm places, places of natural habitat where one could expect to see their species, watched the waters so close and so far away, and from the waters they heard the gasps and laugh of real whales. They could hear the bedtime stories the mothers told their calves, to stay away from the coast, or they too might end up trapped on warehouse walls.

One day this magician, this man, who maybe didn’t know what he did or maybe cared more only that people appreciated the small skills he had, his fake art – this man came to Cleveland. As pointed out above, there were no whales in Cleveland, only small fish and larger fish that ate them. But this magician had run out of invitations from cities to show off, so he made up some rigmarole and flashed some shiny things at a few CEOs and councilman. Thus, the Whales were born.  

After it was done, the magician disappeared, never to be seen again.
The Whales were left on the side of an ugly concrete and tin building. Next to a busy and loud highway. Next to a freezing-even-in-July lake. In the summer they burned and the mosquitoes bit at them. In the fall, the wind bit harder. In the winter, their flippers ached with ice and snow. In the spring, cold gray rains melted the ice and left them raw and exposed.

This was their life for years. The car smog built up on them like varnish.

For 10 years, 50 years, 100 years, the citizens of the city gawked and the seagulls laughed.

But one day, oh one special wonderful day, the city fell silent. The cars went away. The weeds took over the highway, and the wind and rain, suddenly deciding to be helpful, whipped especially hard at the building on the lake. The water ate away the breaker rocks, threw them to side, and then gnawed at the piers. 
Oh one day, that building fell with a resounding crash into the still very young lake. And the whales were born again, released into the cold clear waters. Whales are used to cold waters. They bred well.

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