Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Eyes Are Your Eyes

When I say that you can use the internet to get your writing out there, I mean it.

Let's share a story. My story. About Jonah and the whale.


Jonah was named after the man in the whale, but he did not actually meet a real whale for a very long time.

He had seen them on the Discovery Channel and had even once heard a tape that a girl he knew had which played whale sounds. The girl used it to fall asleep at night. Jonah didn’t have trouble falling asleep so he had no use for the tape other than it did make him think about his name some, but that was all.

Jonah often wondered why his parents had named him Jonah – was it because of some misplaced religious interest? No, Jonah’s mother said, religion had nothing to do with it. When he asked her to explain further, she just shook her head, a small, strange smile on her face then she went back to ironing his father’s shirts.

When Jonah was twenty, he was invited to go along with a friend to Sea World. He had never been to Sea World before, but because the friend promised a free ticket, he decided that he probably needed to go. He didn’t think about meeting a whale. In fact, whales were the furthest thing from his thoughts.

He had just graduated from high school – a year late, but that was because he had trouble with Maths – and he did not know what he was going to do with his life. He had never really thought about life after school. School had seemed like a prison that would never end and then suddenly it was over and he was free.

Jonah was not the kind of person who did well with freedom, but he didn’t know that about himself. He actually believed himself to be the opposite, in fact. It wasn’t until school was done and he was left to his own devices that he discovered how incredibly uncomfortable he was with his freedom.

That was the other reason he had accepted his friend’s free ticket to Sea World. It was an interesting way to fill up an otherwise free day.

He woke up early the Friday of the trip to Sea World and brushed his teeth twice. He had discovered at an early age that the number two was magical, so he tried to do everything important in twos. That meant he always washed his hands twice, wiped his mouth at supper twice, smiled at people twice…the list went on and on, but it was such a part of his life now that Jonah didn’t even recognize it anymore. He just did it.

Other people looked at him funny when he smiled at them twice, but he had such a sweet, innocent face that they dismissed his strange behavior and smiled back. This exact thing happened when he gave the woman at the entrance to Sea World his free ticket. She paused then smiled back. Her exact thought was: “What a strange young man, but he looks harmless.”

She was right. Jonah was harmless. What no one knew – not even Jonah – was that after that day no one in the entire world would ever think of Jonah as harmless ever again.

He followed his friend through the crowds of tourists, mostly little kids holding hot dogs and balloons at the same time. Everywhere they went Jonah saw more and more hot dogs and balloons, but after a while he decided that that was okay because they were in pairs. As long as he didn’t see a lone hot dog or a single balloon, everything would be all right.

At one o’clock Jonah lost his friend in the crowd. He didn’t mind at first because he had found a place where sharks came up to a large convex window in a pretend coral reef and stared at him. Jonah liked their silvery unblinking eyes and the way their teeth overlapped. He tried to count one Tiger shark’s teeth, but the shark moved away from the window before he could finish. He stayed at the window for a long time because every time he thought it was okay to leave another shark would come to the window to say hello.

Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime no more sharks came up to greet him. He waited for two minutes and when no new shark took the last one’s place, Jonah made his escape.

That was when he realized he was alone, that his friend was long gone.

He sat down on a bench near a sign that had a clock on it. The unmoving hand on the clock was pointed at the number two. This made Jonah feel better. His eyes followed a large red arrow on the sign that pointed east. There, he saw a long line of people waiting for something. Since two was a magical number and Jonah couldn’t resist it, he got up and went to the back of the line.

He got yelled at immediately. He realized that he had gotten the line confused and that the back was really the front, so he went to the front of the line (that was really the back) and stood behind a bald man and a little girl. The little girl did not have a hot dog or a balloon, but there was paint on her face: a star on her right cheek and a fish on her left.

He tried not to stare at the little girl with the double-sided face, but it was hard for him. She looked up at him and he smiled at her twice.

She did not smile back.

The line started moving and Jonah followed it inside to find a big open-air pool with bench seats growing up all around it. Jonah sat down at the end of one of the benches beside the bald man and the little girl. His seat was wet, but since no one else seemed to mind, he pretended not to mind about it, too.

Once everyone was seated a woman came out from behind a big rock and she was wearing a black wetsuit, but no divers mask. Her long hair was tied back in a wet ponytail and her face was white with brown freckles on it.

She had a microphone in her hand and she started talking. Jonah found himself distracted by the little hot dog and balloon holding kids sitting quietly in their seats as they intently watched the calm, wet, watery face of the pool, but when the woman said the word ‘whale’ it was like a shot of pure adrenaline to his psyche and he looked up instantly, his distraction gone.

There, not twenty feet in front of him, was the most beautiful creature Jonah had ever seen in his life. He knew what it was because of the Discovery Channel and the picture on the tape the girl he knew had, but in truth, he would have recognized it anyway.

It was his soul mate.

It was a killer whale.

He started to stand, but the lady behind him hissed at him to sit down again, so he did. He sat rigid in his seat for the next twenty minutes as he watched the woman in the wet suit put the whale through its paces. The woman had the whale jump through a hoop and she made the whale swim backwards on its tale. Finally, as the climax of the show, the woman in the wetsuit got into the water and then rode on the back of the whale around and around the edges of the pool, sending waves of water crashing out of the tank to douse the audience.

The whole exhibit made Jonah sick. It was like he didn’t want to watch it, but at the same time, he couldn’t make himself stop watching, either.

When the show was done and the rest of the crowd was filing out, Jonah remained in his seat. The people around him, especially the bald man and the little girl, were annoyed with him for not moving, but when everyone realized he was staying put, they climbed down to the next row of bleachers and exited that way.

Finally, only Jonah remained. He didn’t know what to do, so he just sat there. A man in a blue jumpsuit, carrying a garbage bag asked him to exit the theater, but Jonah ignored him. The man got more insistent and Jonah got up and pretended to walk toward the exit, but when the man’s back was turned, he walked over to the edge of the pool and stuck his hand in the water.
He moved his fingers around like seaweed, hoping to attract the whales attention, but before anything like that could happen the man in the blue jumpsuit grabbed a hold of his shirt and pulled him away from the edge.

Jonah was forcefully ejected from Sea World and had to go and stand by his friend’s car until the park closed.

His friend was angry with him for wandering off and swore that he would never invite Jonah anywhere again. Jonah didn’t care. Jonah had spent his time waiting by the car deep in thought and those thoughts had led him toward a course of action that would have very deep and lasting ramifications…only Jonah didn’t know that at the time.

Jonah was very pleased with his plan because it not only gave him a direction for his life, but it was selfless, too.

That night he began his planning in earnest. He did not share the plan with anyone. Not his mom or dad or the girl with the tape of the whale sounds that she used to go to sleep at night. None of them had the slightest idea what Jonah was planning, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Jonah was on a crash course with his destiny and no one could stop him.

He did not go back to Sea World for fear that he would be recognized by the man in the blue jumpsuit and ejected again. Instead, he bided his time and sent positive thoughts to the whale in its clear blue pool. Two months went by and on a night that seemed auspicious because it began with a T – Tuesday – Jonah set his plan in motion.

He put on a pair of black pants and a long sleeved black t-shirt. He slid a black woolen cap over his hair and applied his dad’s black shoe polish to his face so that he became unrecognizable, a shadow of his former self. He grabbed a black garbage bag from the freezer and slung it over his back.

He left his house and locked the door behind him, quietly, so as not to wake his parents. He walked two miles to a construction site he had passed every day during his last two months of school. He threw the garbage bag over the top of the chain link fence, then followed it, ignoring the rip he heard when his pants got caught on the barbed wire at the top. He found his way to the foreman’s office and almost busted the window to get inside, but something stopped him and he tried the door instead. It opened right up.

He found the keys he was looking for on a pegboard and took them. The earthmover was waiting for him like a silent dinosaur. He climbed aboard and put the key in the ignition. The yellow dinosaur started up without protest.

Jonah drove the earthmover across the construction site, avoiding all the open ditches with their rebar bones. When he got to the gate, he put the earthmover in park and hopped off to unlock the gate then he climbed back on and took off down the darkened street.

Jonah avoided the highways, taking side streets instead. He tried to steer clear of the streetlights, but accidentally hit one anyway. He liked the feel of the wind on his face as he drove the earthmover through the blanket of darkness that gave him cover. The only problem was that the shoe polish he had smeared on his face made his skin itch and no matter what he did, he could not keep it from getting all over his hands and the steering wheel.

Sea World was closed when Jonah got there. That did not deter him. He just crashed through the gate and continued onwards.

Everything looked different than he remembered. It was night now and he had only been to Sea World once. Luckily, he found the shark tank and from there was able to find his way to the whale pool. He drove the earthmover past the sign with the unmoving clock face on it and the arrow pointing east. He followed an imaginary line (with its back as its front) up to the pool with the bleachers growing up around it. He stopped at the edge of the pool and got down from the drivers seat. He peered into the pool, but could not see the whale anywhere.

He was not surprised. The whale did not know he was a friend. He opened up the black garbage bag he had brought with him and took out a long piece of tuna steak. He held it out over the water then slowly let it drop. It sat on the top of the water for a moment and Jonah thought it was going to float there forever, but slowly it began to drop to the bottom.

Suddenly, a dark whale head emerged from the darkness and snapped up the tuna in its giant mouth. Jonah pulled out another piece of fish and let it go. The whale came closer now, snatching the fish away almost as soon as it hit the water.

Jonah lured the whale toward him like this until it seemed comfortable with his presence. Then, without a word, Jonah climbed up on to the earthmover and started the engine. He pushed a button and the arms and scoop of the thing dropped forward into the water. When he lifted them again, the whale and its surrounding water had been caught inside.

Jonah, his catch in hand, turned the earthmover around and headed home.

The drive home was much faster. Jonah stopped to open the back gate to his parents’ house then he drove the earthmover into his backyard. He stopped directly in front of the family pool and released the whale into the water. He watched as it sunk to the bottom then suddenly came to life and began to swim around the tiled bottom in a frenzy. Luckily, it wasn’t a large killer whale, so it fit into the pool just fine.

Jonah watched it swim for a while then he climbed back on the earthmover and took it back to where it came from. When he got home, he washed his face twice in very hot water to get the shoe polish off then he climbed into bed and said his prayers twice before falling asleep.
That night he dreamed that he was in a pool, swimming around, but all he could see were the pale blue tiles that lined the pool’s walls. The walls were endless and no matter where he turned he could not escape them.

He realized he was trapped in a watery tiled grave forever.

When Jonah woke up, he went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth twice and washed his face twice, too. Then, with a spring in his step, he went out to see his friend the whale.

But all he found floating around the inside of his pool was a freshly bloating corpse.