Aika had gone before I woke up. All that was left inside our place was my box of clothes, the last of the tools in the garage, and the Colt .45 I gave her for our anniversary last year. Never fired. I looked the place over to double check whether she had left anything behind. It occurred to me that our place was too big for us, and now it was especially too big for me. Hopefully Aika finds a place that fits her better.
It was when I reached the kitchen that I found the final trace of her. A squat can with a red label that sat toward the back of the pantry, hid behind the cans of beans and jars of bamboo shoots we always bought but never cooked. A little blue whale jumped from the background and met me face to face. KINOYA’S hung above its head and the rest of the label was Japanese. It said WHALE in some way, I’m guessing.
I don’t know where Aika could have gotten it. My best theory was that she picked it up on our honeymoon in Honolulu, perhaps from a corner store with old import stock. She probably ran in, picked up sunblock, and grabbed a can of whale meat off the shelf on the way out. Dropped it into her purse and had a little contraband souvenir for herself. How she got it though the airport is beyond me. It’s like what people say when they don’t have an answer for the past: “It was a simpler time.”
I stood in the kitchen staring at the can, wondering all there was to wonder about it before I went to the garage and found a screwdriver. The can punctured easy, either from age or it being cheap material. I peeled the top back and peered inside. The whale meat hunkered down below oil that went to the brim. There wasn’t much of a smell, which I found surprising, and the oil was thick in a way that reminded me of varnish. I took it back to the kitchen and stood at the windowsill, looking out to our yard. It was mostly bare save some sod around a lemon tree with a white stripe painted around its trunk. The oil was warm as I dipped my fingers into the can and when I pinched into the meat it felt like an old tire. Aika’s whale. I thought I’d eat it.
With more scratching around its surface I found that it had been cut into strips. I tugged one loose and let it hover above the can and waited for the oil to drip off. The smell was stronger as the whale hit the air. It wasn’t all bad. As it dripped I thought about whether Aika had really ever wanted to eat it at all or if the can was something she kept for herself, a secret behind the cabinet. I thought about where she might have been as I slid the whale into my mouth, probably headed up to somewhere like Amarillo and not needing her keepsake any longer. Maybe along the way she’d find another cheap corner store with a surprise inside. Meet a fella that looks more like her, has a better sense of what makes her tick. Maybe they’d even have me over for a barbecue once things settled down. The whale chewed like fat taffy and had a way of sinking all the way down to the bottom of my gut. I didn’t really understand it but I didn’t hate it either. Looking back, it was decision I shouldn’t have made. I could feel a deep hurt coming on but when a man is hungry he takes what’s right in front of him without thinking about much else. I sat down facing the empty cabinet and chewed every last strip of meat. The oil never really wiped off my lips.
The whale on the label was painted with oil drippings by the time I was done. I turned the can slightly. It wasn’t quite smiling—just looking off into the distance, ready to take whatever came its way. I reckoned I had a little more time before the realtor would show up and kick me out. There was a small pile of cinderblocks on the side yard for a retainer wall that I never built. I stacked them in front of the lemon tree and put the whale can on top. The can glimmered in the sun like it might have on a bright afternoon over the Pacific. I went back into the house and pulled Aika’s Colt .45 from the bedroom closet. I took it outside, crossed the yard, and fired at the can without taking too much time for a second thought. The oil streaked like it came from a blowhole and the can shot into the air, breaching the sky before crashing into the dirt just past the sod. I thought I’d have more of a revelation, but all that came to mind was that the Colt had gotten a shot off. Once was enough.
Simon Nagel’s short fiction has appeared in The Glasgow Review of Books, The Gold Man Review, and Flash Fiction Magazine. He has written artificial intelligence for Samsung and pilot episode of The Future with Dan Kaufman for CNBC. Simon was the inaugural winner of The Hasty Pudding Institute Screenwriting Fellowship. Twitter: @simon_nagel Website: simonnagelwrites.com