MOTHER AND MON­STER

The Walrus - - BOOKS - By Lisa Moore

And in the af­ter­noon? Stealth. A ru­mour. A momma and two cubs. The Zo­diac swings on the crane, an ink blot in the mid­dle of the sun. Hits the wa­ter, and the chain coils up, and an­other Zo­diac sways down. The driv­ers zip out. The ocean is a bed of harsh, sharp sparkles. Ev­ery­thing lit up, hy­per-bright. The bay is calm; it should be cold but it isn’t. Five Zo­di­acs, an­other hang­ing up there, and sway­ing like a cra­dle. En­gines idling, driv­ers stand­ing with legs apart, braced against the tiller, sil­hou­ettes. Splat of ra­dio static, but the driv­ers are talk­ing low. The driv­ers are us­ing bed­room voices. Copy that. Nine­teen Zo­di­acs in all, load them fast, hurry up. Fast, but quiet. That’s the first ten. Copy that. Go, Tina, to the left. That’s the next ten. Let’s keep our voices down. Go, go, go. We won’t get too close. So, we zoom up to the wa­ter­falls. Fans of spring melt, thick as con­crete where it spills off the black rock, and then shrap­nel, bul­lets or feath­ers or glass beads far flung daz­zle, icy cold. Drilling the wa­ter be­low, drilling down to where the phy­to­plank­ton at the bot­tom of the food chain gorge on what­ever bil­low­ing en­ergy the tum­bling wa­ter stirs up and the other sen­tient be­ings, blind or numb scoot around the boil­ing tur­moil to feast. There was a po­lar bear in the wa­ter as we en­tered the fjord, swim­ming. The smooth pel­let of a head, tiny in the dis­tance, imag­ine the churn­ing paws, the drive and power, hold­ing up all that weight maybe a mile from shore. All that power con­cen­trated in the work of keep­ing his black nose up above the sur­face, held high, sniff­ing. The Zo­di­acs ap­proach the shore. How blue and eye­hurt­ing the ocean is in the binoc­u­lars when you touch the fo­cus dial, and a sin­gle sparkle bursts like a bomb in one of the lenses and a tiny bump makes the moun­tain blur in a slo-mo jerk, so the solid rock goes un­solid and seems to pour. Squish the two sides to­gether, fold them in and the vis­ual shock of the shore, as it be­comes crisp, close, and clear. Vivid, sharp enough to cut. You can see each blade of grass for an in­stant, then an­other bump on a wave and it all goes liq­uid and runny again. We stop, we idle. Nine­teen Zo­di­acs and you can hear, on the wind, pas­sen­gers say­ing: I can see them. I see them. A momma and two cubs. And the shuck-shuck of the cam­era. But, oh god? The el­e­gant, awk­ward clam­ber­ing from the wa­ter, stand­ing now, and the shim­mer the binoc­u­lars make of mist and dis­tance. Stand­ing now and turn­ing her head, look­ing back over her shoul­der. Shaggy and shape­less and big­ger than you thought. Much big­ger. And the cubs, some­one says, have got to be two years. The cubs are big. Turn­ing to sniff the air, turn­ing to ac­knowl­edge. And the cubs be­side and there is no hurry. Hand the binoc­u­lars over. There, there. But it’s yel­low, it’s not white, and big­ger than I thought and slow/fast. Dan­ger­ous and peace­ful. Mother and mon­ster. Silent and ar­ro­gant. Pow­er­ful and en­dan­gered and soli­tary. The fur has no pig­ment. Each hair is hol­low. The skin be­neath is black. So what is that colour, why white? Why does it look an­cient? It might be made of ice.

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