you know there was a time when whales were terrestrial beings, these cousins of the hippopotami; even if they may now pretend they are of a world separate from ours, born from light refracted through thousands of leagues of ocean blue, once they slithered through the mud with us, rose onto long legs and walked with us, breathed air not salty from the sea but sweet like loam from inland fields, yes, like us; but they are one of those branches of the family tree that lost touch when they left the old country, the ones who left the land of their birth and never bothered to write or call, much less send the occasional check—but back then, in the before, at the beginning of the world, it all looked different, you see:
for a while everything was the sea, until the waters receded and the land appeared, and some of us climbed out of the ocean, long enough ago to forget where we came from; and even if they hate to admit it now, maybe have even forgotten it themselves, the whales came up onto the land with us, too—
indeed, the first whales walked on land for hundreds of years, never stopping, until their legs got so tired they turned gelatinous, melding into singular limbs, feet splayed into cloven tails; too exhausted to balance upright any longer, they slid on their bellies into the sea, where the cool salt of the water soothed their aching muscles, disinfected the scratches carved into their skin by the rocky beach, where the gentle moving hug of the tide calmed the anxieties borne of life on land: never again would they have to worry about falling down from their great upright height, about breaking bones on rough terrain, about being overtaken by those who could run faster, since they were never great runners (top heavy, you know)—in the water they found that where their two legs had failed them, their tails never did, and sure, sometimes they missed the feeling of the sun and the wind and the air on their skin—who wouldn’t?—and sometimes this need grew so great, the burn of it set their lungs aflame, pulled them up up up, out of the water if even just for a moment, long enough to take a deep breath and remember what separates them from us, which is
Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Her work has been published in Mental Floss, Fast Company, The Cut, and elsewhere, and you can find her fiction in Gravel, The Blotter, and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Stony Brook University.