The channel was so narrow the manatees could only swim through in single file, and we took turns diving into the water, riding their backs for a few seconds before surfacing. Their skin was soothing to touch, the globs of creatures that they were. Their blubbery bodies galumphing through the water filled us with a sense of comfort that if these ridiculous creatures were somehow still alive then we, too, were assured survival. Only Linus refused to go in, saying he couldn’t dive that deep. We pointed down the line at a slow one hovering near the surface, a carcass to be sure, but we didn’t say anything. When he still tiptoed the edge, we pushed him over, and he hit the water like a harpoon, sinking faster and deeper than we imagined he would—plunging straight through the manatee’s spine and carving a colossal chunk out of its rotting flank. One of Linus’ legs lodged itself deep in the blubber, and when he tried to free himself, his hands pushed through the soft skin, sucking him under.
On our hands and knees we watched, waiting for the right moment to jump in. A murky pulp had filled the water, and we took in the fecund musk with deep breaths. The line of manatees continued to float by despite Linus’ thrashing. They sailed straight through the slime, bumping the bits of carcass out of their way as they went. We couldn’t help but sit on our heels and watch, reassured at how little they cared.
Notes from Guest Reader Kim Winternheimer
‘Manatees’ does everything a good piece of flash should do: it tells a great story in an economical way. In particular, I was drawn to how well the story layers groups. The children telling the story, the herd of manatees swimming through the water, and the use of a collective voice elevate the piece beyond a story simply about children and animals. ‘Manatees’ explores a passive attitude about death. How easily a group can move on from losing a member and what that means for the individual who is lost. A great question. All of this in just under 300 words. Wow.