“My father is a walrus,” Mary was convinced. Each day, when classes let out at exactly fifteen minutes past three, she tied a length of polka-dotted ribbon around her schoolbooks and trekked to the Bloomsberg zoo. “Your father is not a walrus,” her mother repeated each morning, as she spooned two level dollops of oatmeal into Mary’s favorite orange bowl. But Mary insisted, to any seventh-grader at Bloomsberg Junior High who would listen, that her father, in fact, had tusks.
When she was not looking at the walrus swim through the granite caves, Mary was looking at the pages of books. “Did you know,” she often inquired of her mother, “that the walrus prefers red algae to green?” And soon Mary was asking for red food coloring in her peas, as her walrus blood gave her strong aversions to the bitty green globes. “Did you know,” she would begin over dinner, “the walrus is a close relative of the cactus and octopus?”
“The vitamin and mineral levels of cactus are superb,” answered her mother, the nutritionist, who soon began to serve cubed cacti with cumin once weekly. After reading Under the Tuscan Sun, Mary strongly believed the sun was a giant burning walrus, tusk-en and golden, and she was sure this was her father’s God. Since her mother was more concerned with the caloric content of goat’s milk and the merits of one bleach over another, Mary took up the religion of “Walrusism.”
At Mary’s parent-teacher conference, all the faculty of the school expressed concern. “Mary is a bright girl,” hemmed and hawed the biology teacher, “but she is misunderstanding one of the basics of mammalian mating. That is, Homo sapiens does not mate, and never has mated, with Odobenus rosmarus.”
“Mr. Heeby,” interrupted Mary’s mother, “is that a particle of a curly fry caught in your mustache? Fried food is one of the worst culprits of heart disease, and I think you would do well to abstain from such indulgences. If biology is the study of life, you must really show these students how to live wholly and healthily. Mary, you know, has never eaten a curly fry.” Mr. Heeby fiddled a bit with his mustache, which was neither wide nor full enough to hide the tickle of pink that crept into the folds of his cheeks. He had been meaning to shave his sideburns for a long time, and watching Mary’s mother adjust strands of her hair behind her ear, he thought now might be the time. Her horn-rimmed glasses, which framed her deep, slate-grey eyes attractively, made Mr. Heeby feel inferior. With some mutterings of “Well, I suppose you know best,” he quickly ended the meeting.
When Mary came home from the zoo the following week with a package of curly fries, her mother sat her down for a lecture. The talk lasted the better part of an hour, and included the words betrayal and disappointment at least five times each. But when Mary came home a week later, with two piercings above her lip holding thin, white bones, her mother washed out the pans and laid millet & cauliflower casserole on the table without a word. “She’s an odd one,” said her nicer classmates. “Yeah, but exactly ‘one’ of what is she?” replied those not as nice.
Mary began offering tours to her classmates, who joined her in watching the great grey animal circle its aquatic dome. The zookeepers befriended Mary, and asked her if she might like to conduct “Walrus Observations” on Saturdays. “My father,” her talks began, “is a walrus.” They wrote up an article on Mary in the Bloomsberg Gazette, titled “Walrus Child: At Home in the Dome.” Her mother, who was busy advising the town’s mayor against eating processed corn, did not notice as Mary carpeted her room with dried seaweed. She also did not notice as Mary brought home driftwood to surround her bed, and painted the walls a deep cerulean blue. And when Mary traded her wooden desk for a rusty anchor and iron chest, she noticed nothing.
“Please,” she began one Saturday, “help me bring my father home.” Three hundred and twenty-nine local children signed a petition, and they began planning. Eight-year-old Ezra, whose father owned a fishing supply shop, brought the biggest net in stock. After nine, when the zoo closed, three hundred and twenty-three children (six were home sick) snuck past the lion, past the giant tortoise, and past the gobbling turkey. They set up a ladder against the walrus’ cage, and Mary climbed up. She lassoed the net around the walrus and caught him up. “Oooooeeeeee,” he bellowed. “He said his name’s Huey,” interpreted a young boy with a feather in his cap.
Seventy-four kids yanked on the net at once, and sent Huey flying up over the rim of the glass. As fast as they could manage, the mob of kids pulled Huey back to Mary’s bathtub, which was overflowing with salty water and padded with a sandy bottom. She thanked each of the kids with one of her mother’s carob and rice milk “Oreos,” and bellowed “Ooooooeeeeoooo, long live the Walrus!” The kids threw fist pumps and tiptoed home, while she sat on the lid of the toilet, teary-eyed and gazing at Huey.
“Excuse me,” interrupted one boy with particularly long arms and legs, and what resembled black lip-liner at the corners of his mouth. “I have been wanting to meet you. You know, my mother was a squid.” In the dim light of her bathroom, Mary’s tusk-bones glimmered. “Why should I believe you?” she asked finally. Her round eyes were half closed, and she rested an elbow on Huey’s back. “Because my mother was a squid,” the young boy answered seriously. He flapped his arms and squirmed his legs, and she realized that he sat three seats behind her in biology. Mary couldn’t remember if his name was Kurt or Squirt, and so she looked at his pitch-black eyes and tried not to think about the dark trail squids left, or how it felt to swim through warm ink.
“Did you ever look on the other side of the walrus cage, and see my mother?” he asked. She hadn’t. Mary had no idea they kept a squid in Bloomsberg. “Let me kiss you on your tusks,” Kurt or Squirt pleaded, and Mary, though she had never been kissed before, knew she had to say yes. His two dark lips touched each of her tusks, before they moved to her mouth, filling it with ink. This was his proof, his squid liquid swirling over her tongue, and this is exactly what her mother found when she walked into the bathroom.
“The zoo called,” began Mary’s mother, not looking at any of Mary, Kurt/Squirt, or Huey, but at a place on the shower rod above their heads. “They want their walrus back.”
“But Dad belongs with us,” retorted Mary.
“Your father was not a walrus,” sighed her mother, removing her pristine glasses, obviously exhausted. Mary’s lip quivered and she fiddled with her two semblances of tusks. “Your father,” her mother looked far away, her face clouding and eyes glistening, “was a manatee.”
You may also enjoy reading: