My Psychic Baby Was a Werewhale
Coming to the beach had been their Crystal Man’s idea. The Crystal Man was recommended to them by Jeanne Anne’s mother, and Pedro Diamante had not fought, despite instantly pegging the man as a charlatan and ultimately trusting him less than he trusted his junkie mules, who had to be paid upfront to fix, and then flew in and out of the states with warm balloons full of heroin nestled heavily – happily -- in their bellies like sweet gherkins.
“Or nestled like baby boys,” whispered Pedro.
Baby boys were heavy on Pedro’s mind, and heavy on Pedro wife’s bladder, if you believed the noises she made in the morning. It was definitely a baby boy. Yesterday, Jeanne Anne’s sonogram had showed a little penis under the baby’s umbilicus. The Crystal Man had been right about that, at least.
“Hey Jeanne Anne,” shouted Pedro from the wharf. “Don’t swim out past the second sandbar. The undertow could kick in and it would drag you out to sea and dangle you out there, snacks for the seagulls and manta rays.”
“What did you say?” shouted Jeanne Anne between mouthfuls of salt water. “I can’t hear you because of the motorboats.”
“I said don’t swim out so far!” said Pedro, trying to be cool about it, but still acting every bit the nervous father. Jeanne Anne still had two months to go in her pregnancy, but it was their first and it had been trouble every step of the way. Pedro and Jeanne Anne had never wanted to breed, but there it was, and they had never looked back.
“I’m getting out,” said Jeanne Anne. “I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”
Pedro closed his eyes and let his mind flutter. As Jeanne Anne walked slowly in from the surf, he relaxed by degrees until his hands unclenched at his side and his swim shorts uncrumpled from where he had knotted them into two balls astride his hairy glutes.
The Crystal Man was a seventy-year-old retired bartender who amazingly had no wrinkles. Yes, his face crunched and rutted into a billion little lines whenever he frowned or smiled or winked -- which was often -- but no wrinkles cropped up whenever his face lay placid between ejaculations. His face was as smooth as his voice. And his cerebellum, suspected Pedro.
“Man, this baby is putting out some wicked VIBRATIONS,” said the Crystal Man. “Look at what he’s doing to my Scarlet Spider.”
The Crystal Man had placed a deep crimson shard of glass on Jeanne Anne’s belly, and he was holding up a tuning fork to his ear, occasionally banging it with a piece of lead pipe he held in his other hand.
“I’ve never seen this before in my life,” said the Crystal Man. “I am freaking out, guys. Freaking out. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe this little guy just wants to party. But I don’t think so. Wow.”
“Is he healthy?” asked Pedro, squinting, ready to seize on any assertion of fitness, no matter how outlandish.
“Oh yeah, man, yeah, sure, healthy as all hell,” said the Crystal Man. “But lookit!”
The Crystal Man pointed. True enough, his Scarlet Spider crystal was hopping and shaking like a little red lab rat detoxing under a bell jar.
“It tickles,” said Jeanne Anne.
“Man, this baby is putting out WAVES like you wouldn’t believe,” said the Crystal Man. “I think your baby might be prime plus, you guys.”
“Prime plus?” asked Pedro.
“Oh yeah,” said the Crystal Man. “You guys spurted this sucker on some heavy drugs, right? Maybe you took some of those mushrooms that grow on acid? Or maybe you guys were chewing on whale adrenaline, huh? Chowing down on high-grade Shamu?”
“What is prime plus?” asked Pedro, evading the question. Frankly, he wasn’t sure when the baby was conceived. Or what they had been doing at the time. Jeanne Anne could have been high on paint thinner, or smoking the welcome mat. She’d do anything, as long as she wasn’t paying.
“Prime plus, guys! It’s my word, and it’s not technical, but it means the new evolution! Directed mutation at the hands of random chemical processes! We can change our very own DNA, nowadays, you know it? Wow! Your baby is totally psychic.”
The Crystal Man banged on his tuning fork again and pulled another handful of rocks from the pouch slung low around his waist. He carefully placed them in rough semicircle around the Scarlet Spider, humming some kind of noodly guitar solo and making arcane hand gestures that lacked both sense and consistency.
“Say, you guys need to take this little cat to the beach, you know? The ocean is totally wild for babies. He’s going to love it.”
“The beach?” asked Jeanne Anne. “Why the beach?”
“Oh man,” said the Crystal Man. “He’s got fish roots, this one does. Fish are all totally psychic. I bet this kid is mostly whale, deep down. Not to -- you know -- IMPUGN on you, Daddy, but semen is salty -- you know -- for a reason. And this kid’s ETERNAL father had something to say about that. Wow. You should name him Whalon. Whalter. Walter.”
“No,” said Pedro.
“We have family names,” said Jeanne Anne. “The beach does sound nice, though.”
“It is no problem to go to the beach,” said Pedro reluctantly, responding to a quiet, plaintive look from Jeanne Anne. Jeanne Anne popped her gum and grinned.
“I’m gonna put on some whale songs,” said the Crystal Man. “Watch him kick. He’s gonna kick REAL hard. I know it. Like he’s breaching. Babies are all fish, deep down. Some dudes say people are reptiles, but nah, nah, nah. Some of us are fish, and some of us are birds, and SOME of us are reptiles.”
The Crystal Man lowered the needle on his dusty old record player, and cranked up the volume on an album of noises that sounded like ghost sex, or glaciers breaking thickly against one another. It was whales. Whale songs, slowed down so that human ears could hear them.
Sure enough, the baby kicked and danced so hard that you could see ripples across Jeanne Anne’s abdomen like a cat twisting and hissing under a blanket.
“This baby is a fish,” said the Crystal Man. Pedro rolled his eyes, but no one saw.
It took Jeanne Anne so long to sit down in the sand on the blanket next to the Diamante’s prim green convertible that Pedro had time to walk down the entire length of the wharf, trot over to the scrap of winter beach they had staked out, and butter a slice of French bread, which he handed to her as soon as she was comfortable.
“Thank you,” said Jeanne Anne. “But I don’t think I can eat anything.”
“No?” said Pedro. This was news.
“I feel terrible,” said Jeanne Anne. “Bloated. Expanding. Exhausted.”
“Expanding?” asked Pedro, fishing around inside her purse for a tube of chalky magnesia capsules.
“Mmm,” said Jeanne Anne. “It’s like if you were to stuff one of those antacid tablets in a piece of bread and feed it to a seagull. That’s how I feel. Like I’m about to explode.”
“That’s just a myth,” said Pedro. “It doesn’t work like that. The seagulls die, sure, but they don’t explode.”
“Well, that’s how I feel,” said Jeanne Anne. “Maybe it’s the full moon, but the little guy won’t sit still. I think he must have soaked up half the sea. Our little miracle sponge.”
Pedro nodded thoughtfully, but didn’t say anything. He traded Jeanne Anne an antacid tablet for her piece of bread. Then, quietly, he rolled a joint on the beach towel and tucked it behind his ear.
Jeanne Anne looked at him with a level gaze, and he went ahead and lit the joint and started smoking it.
“Just trying to be respectful,” said Pedro.
“I like the smell. So what were you yelling about, anyway?” asked Jeanne Anne.
“I was warning you about the undertow,” said Pedro. “It’s been known to drag people under boats and into reefs. People who aren’t expecting it.”
“You are always so worried,” said Jeanne Anne. “It’s annoying. I am a great swimmer. Who do you think you are, anyway? You never even get in the water.”
“I don’t like the water,” said Pedro.
“Where is this undertow, anyway?” said Jeanne Anne, leaning backward and then struggling to her feet, pushing up on Pedro’s shoulder.
“You can see the water whirling past the second sandbar there,” said Pedro. “If you are standing on the wharf.”
“I can see it from here,” said Jeanne Anne, walking back toward the surf. “So that’s what’s got you all worked up? Back I go!”
Pedro held out his hand to stop her, but then decided against it, and held his palm straight up in the air instead, taking a deep drag of weed smoke.
“Be careful,” said Pedro.
“I won’t be,” said Jeanne Anne. “Because I am a great swimmer. I don’t NEED to be careful.”
“But you are PREGNANT,” said Pedro.
Jeanne Anne couldn’t hear him. She was already under the water, scissoring forward into the ocean. Whenever she came up for air, she hooted and laughed, and then looked back at Pedro with the devil’s smile curled across her lips.
“Jeanne Anne,” whispered Pedro, shaking his shaggy grey head.
Never taking his eyes from her gyrating back and powerful arms, Pedro walked back over to the wharf and dangled his legs, scanning the motorboats and cursing them whenever the wake of their aggressive, stupid arrogance splashed over his wife.
It didn’t take long for Jeanne Anne to make it to the swirling waters that Pedro had called dangerous. She stopped swimming and doggie paddled, treading water and waving at him. Pedro waved back. He was paranoid, perhaps, but it had gotten him this far in life. There had been so many betrayals. So many serpentine corridors of mistrust and lies, where only the slightest clue could mean the difference between walking into a trap, and walking back out again – bloody, perhaps, but victorious.
Pedro put his head down and drifted.
But when he opened his eyes again, something was wrong.
Jeanne Anne was gone.
“Jeanne Anne!” shouted Pedro.
A hand shot out of the water near where she had been hovering. It snapped back into the water just as quickly, sending up a sharp plume like the dorsal fin of a shark.
“Jeanne Anne!” shouted Pedro again, pacing back and forth along the wharf.
The truth of the matter was that Pedro couldn’t swim.
“Help!” shouted Pedro, a jumping jack now, signaling to the boats and kicking up his knees.
He turned back behind him to look at the beach.
It was out of season and empty. A raw looking man who was wearing three layers of coats was eating popcorn out of a red and white striped box and rocking back and forth next to a trash barrel. He did not look up when Pedro screamed at him. Further down the beach was a family packing up to leave, but they were upwind, out of earshot, and too far away to run to.
Pedro watched the swirling waters where Jeanne Anne went under. And now, to make matters even worse, the buzz from the joint was kicking in and his wits were going. Blood rushed to his head, and panic started to seize hold, making him unable to tell time, or assess the severity of the situation.
Who knew they were out here on the beach today? It was an accident. It was all an accident. Would there be an investigation? Would his house be searched? His car?
“Oh. My. God,” said Pedro. “My baby boy.”
There was a spot of color in the water, and Pedro yelped. It was bright red – the color of Jeanne Anne’s bathing suit!
The spot of color surfaced again, closer inland. She was coming back! Pedro sat down on the wharf and crossed himself.
But something was wrong. Jeanne Anne was on her back. Her arms weren’t moving. Her eyes were closed. Her hair trailed back behind her, like the tendrils of a jellyfish. And yet her insensate carcass sped through the water as if there were an outboard motor attached. She glided through the crashing waves, and Pedro stood up, confused, scanning, biting one shaking thumb. There was blood in the water, too, which even Pedro knew was dangerous.
Soon she was close enough that Pedro could make out the features of her face through the water. She was definitely unconscious. There was a huge, bleeding gash across her forehead, and her limbs were limp and useless. How was she moving in the water?
Pedro knew what had happened. It was the only explanation.
Something inside her had come alive, and had pumped her back to the beach, pushing against her belly and creating a vacuum engine inside her gut that churned water through her vagina at steam-driven levels.
Pedro could see a jet trail of bubbles following Jeanne Anne for nearly a span. Proof.
She carved through the ocean belly-first on her back, her arms, legs, and head pulled back behind. Her swollen womb pulled her along in a corking surge, kicking up froth and seashell crumbs around her as she docked onto the beach.
Pedro ran down to meet her at the surf. One leg was bent behind her at a breaking angle. He carried her on to the dry sand.
“Speak!” shouted Pedro at her motionless body, her stomach and breasts making three silent hills like a bowl of ice cream. “Why won’t you speak?”
He banged her against the ground by her shoulders. Time was still hazy, and impotent. He turned her on her side, and pounded her back between her shoulder-blades.
Jeanne Anne coughed up a black mouthful of water, made licorice-colored by bile and a rag of seaweed.
For countless frenzied seconds, Jeanne Anne and Pedro stared at one another.
“I saw the piece of driftwood coming, but there was nothing I could do,” said Jeanne Anne. “I tried to turn away from it, but it must have got me. You saved my life, didn’t you?”
Pedro put his hand on her stomach.
“He saved your life,” said Pedro. “He grabbed you by your intestines and swam you to shore.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Jeanne Anne. “You are so stoned. I am bleeding here.”
“I could do nothing,” said Pedro, hanging his head. “But it didn’t matter.”
“I think I need to go to the hospital,” said Jeanne Anne.
Pedro’s hand shook on Jeanne Anne’s stomach, and his gold rings knocked against one another. He bit his lip and found a fleck of cannabis there, which he chewed thoughtfully, waiting for Jeanne Anne to speak again.