Remember when we drove out to the coast to see that whale carcass? my sister asked on the sixth or tenth call I’d had with her that week.
I did remember.
We didn’t have a car so our mother used the rest of that
month’s welfare cheque on a taxi to take us out there and back. We ate noodles
with margarine for the rest of the month.
My sister wanted to know what kind of whale it was.
Killer, I told her.
The undertaker sitting across from us at the funeral home
has a tight perm. It’s fresh. You can still smell the chemicals, or else that’s
embalming fluid. Her curls look like they’re causing her physical pain. She has
a tense, stretched smile like she’s on the Gravitron at the fun fair.
Cremation is the hottest thing, she says.
My sister picked me up at the airport the night before. She didn’t want me to take a taxi. A waste of money, she told me. Don’t be like our mother, she added. She didn’t want to talk about her partner’s death. She didn’t know which exit to take, where her car was parked, what time it was. She got us lost on the way to her house. A fox ran out twenty metres in front of us when we were on the wrong exit. She braked harshly, but too late.
There’s so many creative things you can do with ashes these days, Funeral Home Perm Lady says to my sister. You can put his remains in a teddy-bear, or you can get his ashes tattooed into your skin in the shape of a rose. I have a friend who sprinkled his wife over the vineyard he bought with the life insurance money and now he names his prize winning wine after her. Were you two married?
My sister nods. I can’t gauge what my sister wants, or
needs, so I focus on Perm Lady as she keeps talking. I’m worried my sister will
be annoyed with me for not intervening, saying more, doing whatever it is that
I clearly am not doing and will surely piss her off because that’s how our
relationship works. When Perm Lady’s back is turned my sister sticks out her
tongue at me. I want to laugh but can’t. My sister smiles, then covers her
mouth and looks down as Perm Lady twirls back around in her swivel chair. She
reaches across the table and takes my sister’s free hand.
I’m so, so sorry for your loss, she says.
When we were little we each had our own dogs, the only pets
we ever had. Our mother refused to look after more than what she already had to
after our father left. My sister named her dog Dickens after Charles and I
named mine Laurie. I tried to claim later after Laurie Anderson, but that was a
lie. Laurie got hit by a car when I was eight, but Dickens lived to be
eighteen. The day after Dickens died my sister called me to tell me that our
dad had sexually abused her.
Years later she told me it was trendy to have your
therapist convince you of an oppressed childhood trauma that never happened.
My sister is high as she gives his eulogy. She’s talking
about a trip they took to Mexico, when a monkey stole his hat and put it on its
own head. But she switches gears and goes off script. She starts talking about
how we can’t judge an animal’s intelligence just because it resembles human
intelligence, like playing Simon Says and peeling a banana, or mimicking back
the same inane facial expressions, and also how we can’t judge their
hierarchies to be male-dominated aggression based, and reliant on the females
use of sex as currency because of our own culture’s male-dominated aggressions
and our own use of sexual currency.
Then slowly she says: We have it all wrong. We think killer whales are super smart genius Einsteins, but who are we to judge? They aren’t even fucking whales, and Einstein invented the A-bomb.
I wait until I see her go to the bathroom, follow her in and take the bag out of her hands. I tell her that I can’t be her enabler. She tells me, You don’t even fucking know what an enabler is.
Last Christmas, before his death, my sister sent me a
postcard of a beaver in a Santa hat. She said they were both doing great. I
could tell by the loops of her letters that she was lying. I wondered if she
just meant the beaver.
After the funeral, after I went home, she sent me a long
mail about all the things that I’d done wrong to her our whole entire lives.
She added a p.s. that Laurie should have been her dog and that our father did
what she said he did, she just didn’t want me to remember him as a pedophile.
Months later I will see her on the news talking about
losing a loved one, her partner, to fentanyl. She will be crying.
Our mother was flirting with a local fisherman when my
sister and I attempted to crawl inside the bloated carcass of the killer whale.
My sister brought her small hunting knife and held it over its corpse, lifting
her shaking arm up dramatically in the moment before the blow.
The blade, blasted blubber, she yelled.
The fisherman sprinted towards us screaming, It will explode.
My sister stabbed violently. The fisherman pulled her away.
I grabbed the knife and tore it out of the whale as he grabbed me next. Our
mother stood shaking her head at us as the fisherman told her about how a whale
had exploded in the seventies, parts of it smashed a car. Part of it blinded a
That night we slept to two in her single bed, our heads under the covers, holding our fingers up to our noses to smell the dead whale. Then we pressed our fingertips into our closed eyes until they stung and until they watered.
That was a very long time ago.
AMBIKA THOMPSON is a writer, musician, and parent. Her favourite colour is rainbow and she has a black cat that is a witch.. She has been published in several international publications including Electric Literature, Riddle Fence, Crab Fat Magazine, and Fanzine, and has been in several amazing bands that nobody’s heard of such as The Anna Thompsons, Tschikabumm, The Honky Twats, and Razor Cunts. She is the founder & managing editor of the literary journal Leopardskin & Limes, and has a MFA in creative writing from Guelph University. ambikathompson.com