When I was little, a big, blue semi-trailer was parked outside of the Piggly-Wiggly. It claimed to have a whale inside. I had never seen the ocean, and I was very curious about an animal as long as this truck. I couldn’t imagine how they’d gotten it inside, but I did imagine that there must be a giant tank filled with water inside and that this giant of a fish lived there. I really wanted to see it.
I think there was some amount of debate between my parents about it: if I should see it, and who should take me. I believe it was just my dad that ended up walking me in after paying a small fee for admission.
We went up the stairs and stepped into a dark and cold trailer. It smelled like the stinky fish and meat counter in the grocery store. Where I’d seen shrimp and fish on display in beds of ice. I couldn’t have known then that there was a particular funk associated with the fish section of a landlocked grocery store. I realized it much later in life. All supermarket fish counters smell of fish, but those nearer to the ocean don’t necessarily have a funk.
There was a window running through the trailer, cutting the interior space in half lengthwise. I stood on the viewing side of the window, lights were on within the window, illuminating a huge specimen. It just layed there. Its great tail folded up at the end of it, leaning awkwardly against the far wall. The trailer wasn’t even long enough to hold its full length without the unnatural and forced bend of the tail.
I don’t recall how long it took for me to realize I was looking at the corpse of a whale, but in the time it took to walk the length between the entrance and the exit, I became disappointed in myself. As we stepped out of the cold, dark trailer and into the light of the day, I remember thinking, “of course it wasn’t a live whale, that’s stupid”. It was just a fish out of water, no different than the fish on display in the store.