Wispers of the Cosmos

Wispers of the Cosmos

Leaning against a tarnished railing aboard a ferry, Katherine watched ocean waves curl into themselves. Close to her chest, she held a blue-greyjar containing her mother’s remains. She breathed deeply, the taste of brine caking her tongue like damp ash. The midday sun reflected in droplets that trembled on the handrail, then trickled down like little streamlet, only to reappear from the periodic spray of waves breaking against the prow. Other ferry goers chattered around her, though Katherine was only hardly aware of them. Her thoughts were on the last conversation she had with her mother. All this time out on the ocean, chasing fish

“Mommy, do you think we’ll see a whale today?” asked a little girl in polka-dots and a wide-brimmed straw hat, her voice somehow cutting through the din.

“I hope so,” her mother replied, dressed in flowy linen pants and wearing lipstick the color of strawberries.

The oversized straw hat reminded Katherine of a cowboy hat she tried to wear when she was young. It was oversized too, and quickly made her forehead sweat. It would shift down over her eyes as she galloped around the house, pretending to be a rancher, or cowboy, or sheriff chasing after an outlaw who was always a beautiful woman who smiled deviously, smoke curling from between her teeth, bullet holes perforating her own rawhide cowboy hat, an image that caused Katherine to grow warm and, inevitably, trip or bump into a wall, a table, her mother’s legs.

“Take that thing off,” her mother had said.

“But I’m a cowboy!”

“Cowgirl. And cowgirls don’t need to wear boys’ hats like this. Take it off, I’ll buy you a prettier one.”

“But I like this one. It was daddy’s.”

With a sweet smile, her mother gently lifted the hat away from her head, and Katherine will never forget the noiseless way she turned, almost perfectly on an axis, as though a steel wire ran through her core connecting her floor-to-ceiling, or the white of her knuckles she crumpled the hat into the kitchen garbage can.

The little girl in the polka-dots bumped into Katherine’s leg accidentally; her straw hat fell atop Katherine’s feet.

“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry!” her mother exclaimed.

“It’s okay,” Katherine replied.

“Melissa,” the woman said, turning to her daughter, “say you’re sorry. We can’t go around bumping into people, especially not on a boat.”

“I’m sorry for bumping into you on a boat,” Melissa said, looking down so her tangled mass of curls covered her face.

Katherine bow down and retrieved the hat, handed it over to Melissa. “You know, I used to have a hat kind of like this. It was a little too big for me, so I’d run into stuff all the time. The trick is you’ve got to angle it up, like this.” She placed it on Melissa’s head slantways, the front brim almost perpendicular to the sky. “Plus, if you keep the brim away from your eyes, you can catch sight of a whale better. Around here, you’re looking for a gray whale. They leave big splashes that you can see from miles away, so watch the horizon. Or sometimes they’re sneaky, and do this thing called spy hopping, where they’ll just peek their heads out enough to see where they are. Watch for that too.”

Melissa’s mouth gaped. “How do you know so much about whales?”

“I’m a cetologist — a whale scientist.”

“That’s so cool! Mommy, did you hear that?”

“I did,” she replied, her voice lilting as her gaze lingered on the urn Katherine rested.

“Well, it was nice meeting you Melissa. Keep your eyes open, there’s bound to be some whales out today.”

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Melissa said thanks and returned to her mother’s side, who mouthed thank you, then parted her strawberry lips as though to give condolences, but decided better, and instead smiled with crinkled eyes that said sorry for your loss as she turned and meandered further along the railing, pulling her daughter close to her side.

Echelon. That’s the supportive position a mother whale takes with her calf while swimming, to reduce the water drag. This means, of course, the mother must take on excess water drag. Katherine looked down at the jar, sunlight glinting off its smooth edges. Her mother had loved whales — cetaceans, as Katherine now thought of them. Her mother’s favorite was the gray whale, in fact. She had known little to nothing about gray whales, however; the preference was purely sentimental. She’d tell Katherine she went whale-watching with her father on the happiest day of her life, pausing for effect before delivering her coup de grace: that it was the day she found out she was pregnant. She said this often enough that Katherine could recite the second half of the phrase, rhythm, inflection and all, and would do so with rolled eyes, much to her mother’s chagrin. As a cetologist, Katherine knew that the average gray whale was approximately forty-five meters in length. She knew they weighed between thirty and forty tons, and that they were bottom feeders, turning laterally to skim the ocean floor, sifting stirred up sediment through their whalebone, keeping the food and sieving out the rest. She knew their lives revolved around two things: one half of a year was spent gorging themselves, hopefully storing enough fat to make the long migration south, where during the second half of the year they would mate and rear their young. Once the calf was grown enough, it was time to make the treacherous journey back north. Had her mother known all this, she may have loved them more — or disliked them. Similarity breeds either camaraderie or resentment, there isn’t really any in between. Katherine’s mother had devoted her life to supporting her daughter, never remarrying, always working, and always, always keeping her in echelon. It’s part of what made their last conversation so difficult to stomach.

“Mommy, look!” Melissa cried.

Katherine saw it too — something gray and sleek, gliding just beneath the waves, not far from the bow. Her heart leapt; she leaned over the edge, taking care to redouble her grip on the jar. Was it a porpoise? No, too large. A whale? The size was right, but this was unlike any whale she’d ever studied. Whales lumbered. This, this shot through the water like a torpedo. After a moment, it disappeared abruptly into the depths, like a dumbbell dropped into the ocean.

Katherine shook her head in disbelief, peered closer to be sure nothing was there.

“Mommy, where’d the whale go?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’ll come back up! Let’s keep watching.”

“But where did it…”

Katherine had no idea what they had just seen, but she knew it was no whale. Her breath quickened as the slap of the waves against the prow and the conversation between Melissa and her mother became muted. Dark and ominous, the deep whisked past with a cool urgency.

Then, an explosion of water nearby, too loud to be a whale’s breach.

Heads turned. Melissa’s hat fell to the deck. Out of the ocean, a matte gray object slid silently toward the sky, impossibly fast. It had already reached the clouds by the time droplets from its breach began falling into the bay, their pattering deafening compared to the absolute silence of the flying object. The craft stopped half-in half-out of cloud cover’s edge, immediate and precise, yet with an ease that indicated it carried no inertia. It hovered, then began slowly rotating. It was oblong, with small teal lights pulsing in a steady line down its center, as though it were breathing.

Everyone aboard the ferry was silent. The sky itself seemed to lurch with the waves. Then, a mass of cumulus above the craft began to warp, as though God was pressing his thumb through tissue paper. But instead of a great whorled print, what pressed through was the long, rectangular nose of another craft, twice as large as the first. The smaller oblong craft attached to the bottom of it. Blue electricity arced along their fuselages, then the two craft, reunited, alighted soundlessly into the generous clouds. Melissa began to cry. People looked at one another, back at the sky, down at the ocean. Murmurs began rolling across the deck like pebbles preceding an avalanche.

A searing white light flashed across the bay, so quickly that Katherine had no time to shield her eyes. For a brief moment, there was intense pain, then utter silence. Everywhere, a pure infinite white. No ocean, no sky, no way to orient. Katherine couldn’t tell if she was floating, standing, or lying down. She did know that she was alone. She hugged herself close and began to shake, panic welling up rapidly.

“Hello,” came a voice, gentle and sonorous, surrounding her yet also within her.

A outlined figure appeared in the distance, like an inky black pupil in the infinite white. It seemed humanoid; but, when it raised its arm there was the outline of a chitinous claw where there should’ve been fleshy fingers and a meaty palm. The figure’s arm, upheld, moved gingerly left, then right, then left.

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“What — what the hell is going on?” Katherine shouted.

“You may be at ease,” assured the being, and against her will Katherine’s feelings immediately released into a deep sense of spacious warmth. She knew this feeling — the feeling of curling up next to her mother when she was very young, a plush blanket covering them both, her mother braiding her hair as they watched The Beauty and the Beast for the fifteenth time. Safe. Space, warmth, safety, they seemed boundless then, as they did now.

“What are you doing to me…why can’t I be scared right now?”

“Do you wish to feel fear?” asked the being, cocking its head inquisitively.

“I — I feel like I should.”

The being paused for a moment, as though to consider its next words carefully. “How do you know what you should do?”

“I — I don’t know. I just… It’s what I’ve been taught, what I’ve always known.”

The being’s chitinous claw gestured subtly, like a comforting pat. “Sometimes what you’ve been taught may not align with what is truly best for you. Fear can be a guide, but it can also be a shackle. What if you were free to decide your own path without the weight of external expectations?”

Katherine’s thoughts began to untangle as she contemplated the being’s words. The familiar warmth enveloped her, and she felt a newfound clarity, a detachment from the shoulds and should-nots that had governed her decisions thus far.

The being was within arm’s length now. “How do you know what you truly desire?”

“I… I’m not sure,” Katherine admitted, feeling a sense of vulnerability she hadn’t experienced before.

The being’s form shimmered, its outline shifting to mirror Katherine’s own features. It extended its clawed hand, a gesture of shared understanding. “Perhaps it’s time to explore your desires, without the constraints of judgment or fear. Embrace the unknown, for it holds the potential to reveal your true self.”

Katherine hesitated, then reached out and placed her hand in the being’s clawed grasp. In that moment, a rush of emotions and memories flooded her consciousness — her mother’s loving support, the weight of societal expectations, and the unfulfilled dreams she had set aside.

The being’s voice resonated in her mind. “You are not alone in this journey. We are here to guide you, to help you discover the depths of your own desires and passions.”

As Katherine embraced the being’s guidance, her consciousness expanded, weaving through the threads of her past, present, and future. She saw herself not just as a daughter, but as an individual with boundless potential. The white expanse began to shift, revealing a tapestry of vibrant colors, swirling patterns, and endless possibilities.And so, in the embrace of the being’s enigmatic presence, Katherine embarked on a voyage of self-discovery, untethered by the shoulds of society, and guided by the wisdom of her own heart.

The End.