Leviathan: Monster of the Deep, fiction by Michael Gills

This was the Dix­ie circuit–it was noth­ing for a Peter­bilt to pull off the inter­state with a six hun­dred pound rat, two-head­ed goats or a Don­key Woman nurs­ing horsey-faced twins. Leviathan was the first whale me or Jimmy'd ever seen, coat­ed in a slick lay­er of cot­tage cheese look­ing stuff. It just lay there. No posters of liv­ing whales or Shamu with a beach ball on his nose or instruc­tions on how to behave in such a beast's pres­ence. Just a bloat­ed whale in a bed of formalde­hyde, get­ting hauled through towns like Lonoke, a skin­ny boy stand­ing on a ply­wood plat­form bark­ing, "See Leviathan, Mon­ster of the Deep. Today only." Right there in the Knight’s Gro­cery park­ing lot on a Fri­day after­noon, peo­ple cash­ing pay checks, push­ing sil­ver carts right up to the tick­et booth to lay mon­ey down and see.

This was spring­time, and every barbed-wire fence in Lonoke Coun­ty was blown over with hon­ey­suck­le. I was six­teen, get­ting dri­ven around in Becky Mallison’s Gold Grand Prix, ZZ Top play­ing out the moon­roof. She was a senior cheer­leader with cold black hair, and my moth­er had hit the ceil­ing when she’d showed up at the front door in cut­offs and nip­ples show­ing through her hal­ter top.

"Would you like to dri­ve around?" she asked through the screen door, the car keys jin­gling in one hand. 1976, the year the great tor­na­do ripped the roof off our post office, so mail got up in the jet stream and they found our stamped let­ters on the glit­ter­ing ice fields of Canada.

I said, "Can I, Mama?"

O.W., my step­fa­ther, was dead-head­ing home, his truck emp­tied of slaugh­ter­house turkeys.

"Okay," she said. "If Jim­my goes."

Becky said, "Fine," and the three of us walked out and got in her Grand Prix, drove over the rail­road tracks and there it was on the left, a slate grey trail­er with a scarred head paint­ed on its side.

We cut into the park­ing lot, cruised into a park­ing place and pulled the E‑brake. "Want to see?" she asked, and smiled this wide smile. One of her hal­ter straps had slipped and she was tan already, and her teeth were white and even. My kid broth­er and I got out, fol­lowed her up to the fold­ing table where the truck dri­ver sat with a cig­ar box, twen­ty-five cents mag­ic mark­ered on the flap.

My pock­ets were empty.

"Here," Becky said, and passed over a dol­lar. "Go first."

I climbed the steps, Jim­my at my heels. Leviathan's arrival was an annu­al deal. Some­how it'd got out that the thing could com­mune with the spir­it world, so every­body and their mom­ma came to stand in line.

Jim­my point­ed. "These idiots believe it talks to dead people."

A lady up ahead of us lay down talk­ing to the whale's head. She'd got down on her hands and knees, put her mouth up close to one of the filmy eyes. "Dad­dy?" she was say­ing. "Can you hear me? Are you listening?"

"Shit," Jim­my said. "Who'd p‑pay for that?"

Behind us, Becky said, "Me."

The woman on her hands and knees was crying–the grief was hard on her, you could tell. I won­dered what I'd have to say to the whale's head when my time came. I was think­ing about the oth­er-world­ly feel of get­ting your ass kicked, how Momma's face looked like inside the car the time O.W.’d killed it on a rail­road track, got out, shut the door and walked away, how Momma'd sat there and hummed "Moon Riv­er." until he disappeared.

"They sing," Becky said, the three of us up to the twin blow holes now. Above, a sign said Leviathan was also known as Dev­il Fish, Gray Back, Mus­sel Dig­ger and Rip Sack. The fifty-foot cow was per­ma­nent­ly blind, the sign said, from swim­ming over mus­sel beds on her side, scrap­ing up Goliath mouth­fuls. "They can hear each oth­er for a thou­sand miles."

Jim­my and I looked at each oth­er. Out­side, some­body racked off muf­fler glass-packs– O.W.'s Chevy, it sound­ed like.

The woman cut us a hard look. Then she turned back to the whale, put her lips to the fetid face and kissed it. "I know. I know you didn't mean to, Dad­dy. I fer-gid you."

It was embar­rass­ing, the whale's eyes like greasy saucers.

We didn’t talk on the way home. The car was qui­et and hot. Sum­mer was on us. I had a job in concrete–a car was in the works. O.W. was mow­ing the grass when we got home–that look in his eye.

Becky let us out. "That lady was bonko," she said, looked me square in the face. "Call­ing that thing Daddy."

Michael Gills was McK­ean Poet­ry Fel­low at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Arkansas and Ran­dall Jar­rell Fel­low in Fic­tion in the MFA Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Greens­boro. He earned the Ph.D. in Cre­ative Writing/Fiction at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Oxford American,Verb 4, Shenan­doah, Boule­vard, The Get­tys­burg Review, The Greens­boro Review, Quar­ter­ly West, New Sto­ries From The South and else­where. Why I Lie: Sto­ries (Uni­ver­si­ty of Neva­da Press, Sep­tem­ber, 2002) was select­ed by The South­ern Review as a top lit­er­ary debut of 2002. A 2005-06 Utah Estab­lished Artist Fel­low­ship recip­i­ent, Gills is a con­tribut­ing writer for Oxford Amer­i­can and a board mem­ber for Writ­ers @ Work. He is cur­rent­ly a pro­fes­sor of writ­ing for the Hon­ors Col­lege at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah, and is mar­ket­ing a sec­ond col­lec­tion of sto­ries, THE DEATH OF BONNIE AND CLYDE, the title sto­ry of which appears in the cur­rent South­ern Human­i­ties Review.

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