Being a narwhal with two tusks sounds fun, doesn’t it? Special. That’s what I thought too, once. Granted, it’s better than the crushing embarrassment of being a male with no tusk. You don’t see many of those round here, cast off as they are, frigid water and darkness their only companions as the sting of shame forces them into a life of bitter solitude.
Of course, when the second tusk started to grow I was delighted. ‘Get a load of this!’ I gloated, thrusting the gnarled stub at the others. It was a bit sore as the new growth began to push the existing tusk to the left, but it didn’t bother me. I had notoriety, you see. Everyone suddenly knew who I was. Mothers would pull their calves in close as I went past, as if I were dangerous. Other males were jealous: I could tell. Oh, they’d make a grand show of crossing tusks with me as we went about our business, brandishing them in a way I can only assume they thought was intimidating. I just rolled my eyes and moved on, my gradually lengthening appendage doing the talking.
Those days were heady, an endless carousel of girlfriends, including one ill-advised dalliance with a walrus, if you can imagine it; but that’s perhaps a tale for another day. I was ocean famous, swirling across miles of inky water with all eyes on me, everything I wanted at the very tip of my fins. Life was one big party, as sparkling as the vast expanses of ice that gleamed diamond-bright as I popped out of the water to breathe.
Sasha and I got serious a few months after my tusk had reached full length. She was a total babe, sleek but with blubber in all the right places. I’d lured her in with an outrageous display of cod-stunning, my two tusks slapping those poor bastards into submission in double-quick time.
‘Do that again,’ she’d said. The flirt. I decided it was time to settle down.
Easier said than done, though, let me tell you. Fame is a drug as much as anything else, although I was putting away enough of those. Powdered kelp, have you ever tried it? Not many folk can say no. I certainly didn’t, which was fine at first: fun. I was the proverbial life and soul. But it became harder and harder to feel enough when I took it and my tusks would tingle with frustration as I tried to chase that buzz. Sasha told me I was doing too much, of course she did. Said I was getting boring, that she couldn’t deal with my moods. That we were running out of cash, and hadn’t she standards to keep up now she was part of a celebrity couple?
It didn’t take long for it to all fall apart.
‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ she said, twirling her fins, except that I knew it was me, really. I was a bloated monster, eyes pinprick tiny as I guzzled gluts of oysters, blowhole smeared with telltale trails of pistachio green. I was Elvis in the twilight years, destined to die on the toilet. All I was missing was the studded jumpsuit.
So Sasha swam off into the sunset; last I heard she was with a regular one-tusker, a professional snowball player (naturally). Unsurprisingly, the tabloids made a meal of it all. I took to diving deeper and deeper to submerge myself among shipwrecks and seaweed, to escape the popping flashbulbs and prying eyes. Whenever I made the journey to the surface to breathe, mothers still pulled their calves in close, but I no longer found it funny. And I came to understand that the other males weren’t jealous anymore.
These days I lurk deeper still, grazing the ocean floor with the belly that I haven’t been able to lose, despite cutting back. It’s murky as death down here, and that suits me: it means I don’t have to look at my own reflection. From time to time I experiment with holding my breath until my lungs burn and my vision blurs; anything to cut out extra trips to the top. When I start to feel myself slipping away I force myself to torpedo upwards and take the deepest gulp of air I can manage before plummeting to the depths again, towards the merciful dark; away from the harsh glitter of the ice and the life I let slip through my fins.
The second tusk? Oh, I had that surgically removed a few years back. Would have cost me a packet, except that I went on one of those reality shows where they pay for everything provided they let you film the procedure. Not the wisest move in terms of privacy, granted, but all the money was gone by that stage and short of snapping it off myself I was out of options. I keep it mounted on the side of an upturned boat I’ve taken to sheltering beneath, as a reminder. A lesson to others. Just occasionally, daring youngsters make their way down, eyes wide and goggling as they try to catch a glimpse of the mythical beast they’ve been warned about. They take in the hardened mass of scar tissue, my remaining tusk veering wildly off-centre, the sorry mess of a creature that I’ve become. And they turn straight back around: back to the comfort of their mothers, where they can bask in the ice-cold good fortune of not being a narwhal with two tusks.
Katie Oliver has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and the Bath Flash Award, and was awarded an honourable mention in the Reflex Fiction Flash Competition. She has further work published in various places including Popshot Quarterly, Molotov Cocktail, X-R-A-Y and Dust Poetry, and is a first reader for Forge Literary Magazine and Tiny Molecules. She can be found on Twitter @katie_rose_o.