Issue #72

Fall 2019

Upon Discovering She Had Been Dating a Pilot Whale Disguised as a Woman

by Olivia V. Ambrogio

I was lonely and the bar was dark. We met on a Tuesday and the rain sliding down the windows gave the whole place a murky look, currents of light and shadow waving over our faces. She seemed solid. I liked her smile. We talked more about me than about her, at her insistence. That hadn’t happened in a while. She had a way of reaching over and touching my wrist, lightly, and her skin was so smooth.

We ordered oysters, lots of them. Looking back, she did eat them with what could be unnatural relish, but I just thought she liked oysters, or was trying to, you know…

None of it seemed odd at the time. Maybe if I had added it up—the hat she always wore, which I guess hid her blowhole; her agility in the water, that time we went to the beach; the fin—but you don’t, do you, when a relationship is just starting, and going well? When everything feels good, and exciting, and you’re just getting to know each other?

That’s why the worst part isn’t that she was a whale, or even that she was pretending not to be. It’s all my so-called friends who want to know all the details and then say, "Oh, I thought she was a whale? But I didn’t want to say anything..." Sure they did. Bastards. When we were together, they were full of praise: kept talking up her eye for fashion, her sense of humor. And don’t forget how she picked up the tab.

It’s true I was shocked when I found out, shocked and betrayed, and I told her to go during that first flush of anger. If I’m honest, though, what came first was a shudder of disgust, a sort of mixture of shame and revulsion, as if I’d found myself kissing a clam. For a while afterwards I asked myself what was wrong with me, how I could have been fooled like that, or, worse, if I hadn’t really been fooled—then what kind of twisted person was I?

Now, though, I miss her: her squeaky laugh, the way she gave me her full attention when I talked, the faintest taste of salt when we kissed. It was still early days—we hadn’t been dating for long—but it seemed so promising. Maybe it would have soured anyway, after the romantic dinners and fun day trips and adventures exploring midtown wore off: I would have complained each time she talked about work, and she would have criticized my relationship with my mother, or the state of my kitchen. And yet, every time I talk with someone new—someone normal, with nothing cetacean to hide—I can’t help thinking, with a little pinch of disappointment, "You’re nothing like her."

Author Bio


Olivia V. Ambrogio's work has been published in over 25 journals and anthologies, including Bracken, Sugar Mule, and Electric Velocipede. A native Detroiter, she headed east to get a Ph.D. studying the sex lives of marine snails. In spite of the surprising allure of this research, she ended up in the field of science communication in the D.C. area. Her story, "The Mushroom Incident," appeared in Issue #14 of The Cafe Irreal.