This story appears in my new book A Creature Wanting Form available now.
I was telling Joe about a video I had seen earlier of an osprey hunting a fish. It was a magnificent and terrifying thing to behold I said. The type of thing you’d say holy shit about if you saw it transpiring in real life. I said holy shit anyway even though it was just there on the computer.
No one wants to hear about a video you looked at but it was either that or talk about the war and that was all any of us had talked about for weeks now and there are only so many variations on the theme of powerlessness. You mostly wanted to cry about it all but then it would just be the two of us sitting there crying.
The way it usually goes with these ospreys is they circle above bodies of water and they can spot a fish from up to 100 feet in the air I said and when they do see one they hover and hover then begin what looks like a headfirst dive bomb but at the last second before impact they adjust their bodies so that they’re leading with their feet to complete the strike and next thing the fish is absolutely fucked.
In this particular instance the osprey was successful and it grabbed what looked like a pretty sizable fish.
I read the comments under the video and some people said it was a shark but then other people said it was a dogfish and then other people still said a dogfish is actually a type of shark fucking dumbass why don’t you go kill yourself etc. You know how conversations go online.
So it has the fish now and this was a curious thing to me because I would have figured it would have flown off directly to its nest or a perch somewhere to begin eating it but instead it circled around and circled around over a beach where people were swimming and sunbathing in the reddening shadows oblivious to the drama overhead. You would assume the shark or whatever would be dead or close to it at this point but then you see it wriggling around like it’s still alive and I got the idea and I know that I am anthropomorphizing things here that the bird was giving the fish something like a tour in its final gasping minutes of a world that it had never had cause to know existed. A serial killer with a sense of sadistic showmanship. This fish that had never even seen land was perhaps beholding albeit briefly the entirety of the sky. I thought there could be worse ways to go all things considered.
I thought of fish Jodie Foster struck dumb with awe thinking they should’ve sent a fish poet.
That reminds me of when we were down on the shore last year Joe said. Where we go there are ospreys everywhere. We found a dead fish on our dock that had clearly been dropped from a great height. My daughter said that this was actually good for this particular fish because at least the fish got a sense of what it was like to be up high.
The Steve Earle song about the salmon and the eagle too he said.
I don’t know that one I said.
I can’t believe all these animals we have are real and we just take it for granted I said before drinking half of my glass. Growing up our parents tell us there’s no such thing as monsters so we’ll go to sleep but a bear is a monster and a moose is a monster and a bird is a monster too. Every bird in the world would rip your head off if it were somewhat larger and you were somewhat slower.
Imagine if whales didn’t exist and then one showed up out of nowhere? We’d never stop talking about it Joe said. We would never get over it.
It’s probably no coincidence that the most famous novel ever written was about how fucked up a guy got after knowing about one particularly angry whale.
It’s just that we get used to the things that are scary Joe said. The real action is in novelty.
On the TV they were showing some buildings that had been bombed but it was hard to know if they were different than the ones they showed yesterday. You could tell all the reporters were very excited about getting to cover their own war because they got to put on the little helmet and vest and they love that shit more than anything.
Did you ever read that book On the Beach I asked.
The bartender was looking over sizing up our glasses and I gave one of those head nods that is only perceptible to a server’s heightened senses. How a fly knows you’re about to move to kill it before you try.
People had been talking about the idea of nuclear war lately so I took that book out to poke through it here and there this morning. It’s set in the 1950s and it’s about an American submarine officer and a group of people he meets while stationed in Australia after war has broken out across the globe and they are waiting for the fallout to reach them.
They get to live a little while longer than everybody else does.
So the guy Dwight Towers befriends this woman named Moira Davidson who reacts to the knowledge of impending doom at first by drinking heavily and despairing I said.
Joe said I can relate to that that’s how I spend most of my time and it’s not even the end of the world yet haha and I laughed but only a little.
This guy tries to keep his shit together for the most part even though he knows his family back in the States are likely dead by now. At one point the two are discussing how the winds will eventually carry the radiation southward toward Australia. If they had blown more directly they would all be dead by now he tells her early in the book.
“I wish we were,” she tells him. “It’s like waiting to be hung.”
“Maybe it is,” he says. “Or maybe it’s a period of grace.”
I suppose those are the two ways you can look at a normal life in general as well. We’re all born waiting to be hung and we can either despair over that fact or consider the interim a gift. Every day a last-minute reprieve from the governor.
Then we were quiet for a while after that.
What is a fucking whale?
Fuck if I know.
We live inside of a sci-fi universe we’re just bored by its tropes Joe said. He was clever like that. He was a good kid but a real piece of shit which is one of the nicest things one guy from the south shore can say about another guy from the south shore.
Maybe that’s why we have to fight each other all the time. To move the plot along.
There’s a common thing in sci-fi when humans first arrive on an alien planet after traveling an unfathomable distance where they slowly take their helmets off and realize they can breathe and there’s all manner of majestic looking plants and rock formations around them and sometimes waterfalls and so on. Some kind of space bird flies overhead and cries out. A tree that is much bigger than you would expect a tree to be. Sometimes the terrain is harsh and desolate and they’re like ah fuck what now but they have nonetheless arrived somewhere else. They are standing on another planet millions of miles away and they are alive.
I never understood why they don’t all fall to their knees and weep every time. Every space movie should just be scenes of people crying in awe for ninety minutes.
Would you want to do that if you could Joe asked. Go to another planet?
Maybe the world is ending or maybe you have an idea it is going to soon and someone tells you you could get on a ship and while there is no guarantee what will happen you have a very good chance of reaching another Earth-like planet. Of getting out and walking around for who knows how long. Maybe for the rest of your natural life.
Then again perhaps you’ll be immediately snatched from the ground by a space pterodactyl and hoisted up into the sky screaming.
In those last terrifying seconds you might see the expanse of the new planet for miles around you toward the horizon blushing in a color you couldn’t name and think my god this is beautiful.
Ok I think I’d do it I said finishing my beer then standing up to pop outside.
If only to at long last know for sure that this right here wasn’t all there ever was.
The next round came just then. I made a motion like I was going to pay but Joe got to it first.
Wait though do they let me smoke on the spaceship?