Over a ton of bone white blubber floats by us for the third time and we are no less gleeful at this creature that transcends his ugliness and becomes unbelievably cute.
"I think he is looking at us!" I exclaim, still feeling like a five-year-old after the long drive to the Mystic Aquarium. This atavistic mania persists long enough for me to pull Daniel and Melanie most of the way in front of a blue screen so a man can take our picture and for me to hop in front of the whale tank before I return to a reasonably sensible human being who does not feel the need to chatter at an aquatic mammal bigger than my car.
He - Inuk the mystic beluga - does look at us and then rises out of the water just enough to try to spray me with his blowhole. He repeats his circuit - swimming an oval, turning just before a cliff, and cresting the water to breathe in hopes of spraying those watching him - a dozen times before we decide to see the rest of the aquarium, acknowledging that this alone is worth the price of admission. The beluga tank is merely the first stop upon entering and, though we do not know it yet, this will be the high point of our trip. Everything has to be a letdown after a beluga plays with you.
"Inuk has a head like our nephew, Aydan," Melanie pronounces, motioning to a different whale sticking her head out of the water in hopes of getting fed. Indeed, belugas have the same protruding forehead he so recently did. Henceforth, Melanie states, we shall call Aydan "Baby Beluga" and hope we don't give him a complex about his weight when we are really only referring to the craniosynostosis so recently fixed. Later, she will insist upon our buying our convalescing nephew a beluga doll from the gift shop in preliminary penance for the nickname.
We go on to pet stingrays, surprisingly sweet and sociable fish given that they killed the Crocodile Hunter, and then lose ourselves in a dim, round room containing thousands of other fish.
I can well understand why Hannah finds aquariums and zoos so peaceful, though it puts into sharper contrast that she isn't here. I assume her absence is a combination of her inability to get tickets to ComicCon for today, my writing an entry that made her sound like she was joining the Navy to run away, and the presence of Daniel (who she invited, but who we like quite a lot, but who has a complicated cohabitating relationship with her). Still, this was at least partially her idea and I snipe a couple of times at her nonattendance once Daniel lets it slip that she isn't at ComicCon, but rather home baking bread for the whole of the day. He warned her not to tell him things and most definitely not to order him not to share with us, as that is what he does the moment the topic is broached, twenty minutes into our two and a half hour drive.
Time becomes more fluid than anything in which the fish swim and we lose vast quantities of it noting how odd sea life can be. It almost seems that we are studying aliens, a sentiment I can't believe to be unique. Everything is simultaneously madly stimulating and oddly meditative, feeding into this sense of timelessness. Small moments are filtered out - Melanie and me hiding in a children's lobster enclosure to steal kisses, communicating with an interested eel by making fish faces, watching Daniel communing with an iguana, and explaining the three plurals of "octopus" (octopuses, octopi, and octopodes) to a stranger who dared to ask the air and then excusing that I know this not because I am a marine biologist but an editor who deals with science tests, amusing the people at the photo booth by saying "this would have been better if I didn't have to wrestle you two!" - but the moment I know we will be referencing for as long as we know one another comes when we leave the aquarium proper to see the penguins.
"Morgan Freeman has ruined a generation of children," Melanie says.
"The duck presiding over the ice seemed okay with the weather... or her feet froze to the ice," I said.
"That's Beth-Anne," says Peter. "She killed her husband Henry a few weeks ago. She drowned him."
"How do you drown a duck?" I demand.
"Carefully," says Peter.
The story continues, as he details that this wasn't the first Henry. We fill in that Henry was looking a little too keenly toward the penguins and Beth-Anne realized he was hoping to push forward evolution by mating with a couple of the penguins, creating the perfect aquatic bird. Peter practically begs us not to go, as this was easily the most stimulating conversation he has had all day.
As we pass back over the wooden bridge, discussing how much of Peter's story was just gibberish, the duck overhears us and quacks aggressively toward us. We promise Beth-Anne we won't tell her secret and scan for ducks trapped beneath the ice, staring blindly in death.
We leave but are not ready to go home yet, instead opting for the shopping plaza across the street, where Daniel sees a shop offering fried dough. The sign make no mention of the size of the aforementioned dough, which ends up being about half a pizza and carried on multiple paper plates. Melanie and I just stare at it, bemused as to how one eats such a thing.
"I think it is best to just get on your knees before it," Daniel says. "Worship it as an idol." And we do, until we are covered in a coagulant of cinnamon, powdered sugar, and old fashioned American grease. As I look at my white hands with dark spots, as my body processes the fat, I realize I am becoming a beluga (it does run in my family, apparently). Maybe the aquarium will let me play with Inuk more and then nothing will ever be a letdown again.
Soon in Xenology: Intermediaries. Stalking prey.