It neared the sacred hour of lunch, and no one had accomplished anything for the day. Though they all began the shuffle-off-to-buffalo motions, No one really had a particular place they went to for lunch at Portman-Braff. Most seemed to hover over the break room counters and the desks of others. Some went in pairs and threes to fast food places. Richard had slightly fancier food delivered, or dropped off at his office via his offspring or, on rare occasions like today, his wife, Deborah. Lisa liked it when Deborah came into the office, though she never spoke to the woman. Richard's wife, as one would guess, always dressed well and though she carried herself somewhat like a camel- shifting her extra pounds from one side to another- she had a great deal of dignity. As soon as she entered the office Lisa's radar perked up and she kept a subtle eye on her boss's wife as she shifted from one side of the office to the other, bag from famous pizza kitchen in hand. Lisa wondered what made people like Deborah happy to bring her husband lunch, and if Richard ever appreciated it.
As Lisa trailed Deborah to Richard's door with her eyes, she began to sense Elton behind her chair. She tilted backward to give him her template judgmental look that she always had at the ready. At the sight of her, the small-statured copyeditor tilted his head to one side in an effort to match Lisa's stance. Lisa smiled in spite of herself, enjoying the game that Elton had always been so keen on- using as few words as possible. Finally, Elton came out with "Whales? Lunch? Soon," in his unusually nasal voice that seemed to make everyone but Lisa queasy. Lisa sighed, somewhat disgustedly. "Aren't they dead yet?" Elton shook his head vigorously. "Don't you want to see a real whale up close?" Lisa turned her attentions back to her computer screen. "Not particularly." Elton looked down at the floor, then back at Lisa. Lisa's face fell. "I'm your only ride, aren't I?"
Elton was named after Elton John, He spent a good deal of his life, probably about a forth of it, trying to convince himself and others that this was not the case, but eventually he came to terms with it. That's really all you need to know about Elton.
Just then, a jovial-looking Richard emerged from his office, patting his pockets as if he were either very full or searching for his keys. "Attention, everyone," he said in his regular voice which reminded everyone of Mr. MoviePhone, "I've been thinking and I think it's fair to allow everyone the day off in order to see the beached whales. You all have been very productive this week, and I think it's only fair." Richard looked as though he had eaten the proverbial canary, and Deborah nodded along beside him, as though she were listening to some happy music that only she could hear. Elton noted that old people tended to do that a lot. Lisa reminded him that Deborah was not all that old, and with that the office began to shut down; a chorus of sputtering desktop computers outputting their death rattle, a faint breeze from the office chairs exhaling as they were relieved of their burdens. The office was nearly clear within five minutes; Richard leading them out as though he were directing a parade or freeing zoo captives from their meals of frozen raw fish.
Elton was practically hopping on one foot by the time Lisa had finished her last desk check. "Can we go now?" Lisa smiled at Elton's enthusiasm. "Yeah, yeah, okay."
As George's characterless Toyota Corolla passed the pier, Jeremy squinted through rays of the sun to see the crowd that had gathered. They looked as though they were bursting at the seams, from the foundation, from the woodwork and pressing against the guardrails. These were the curious and the fearful; they kept a safe distance, just in case the whales were to spring to life and spout at them or turn carnivorous. Jeremy thought he saw Leslie, or someone with Leslie's red shoes, perched on the corner, watching the helicopters hovering, blowing aside hair and hats and the lines and poles and tackles of the innocent fishermen who were giving up on the waters for the day. They kept driving. George ate his subway sandwich as the tomato slices slipped out and onto his lap, with a few smatterings of mayo, and Donovan, the office trivial pursuit champ, started to wax poetic on how much the day reminded him of Bridge Over The River Kwaii, his favorite movie. Jeremy liked Lawrence of Arabia better, but he knew if he pursued the topic of movies that George would automatically bring up pornography, and Jeremy wasn't in the mood. He wasn't really sure what he was doing here, especially riding shotgun, especially going to see something that was starting to scare him a little bit.
As they crested the tip of the highway, before George was struck with the frenzied dilemma of parking, they saw it- them- the whales. Their great, sighing bodies stretched the entire width of the beach, their eyes- slanted and tired, looking over their basin- betrayed abandonment. Such was life, the marine biologists to the rescue seemed to be saying, standing around, shaking their heads. "Such is life," said George, as he struggled to pull into a parallel parking spot. Such is life, thought Jeremy. But he did not especially want to get out of the car.
Lisa got out of her red Geo, small enough to park in the most compact of spaces, and looked over the scene. In the distance she thought she saw Leslie, leaning over the guardrails of the pier, gazing at the whales. In the opposite direction she spotted Donovan, and Jeremy, and that George guy. She thought she saw Richard's Lexus, sparkling in one of the paid parking spaces. She wondered why she'd never be able to get over Richard. He really was not so great. She looked after Elton, watching him dash towards the crowd that surrounded the giant fish, and saw him retrieve his expensive camera. Lisa looked at the pebbles by the road. The boats in the distant harbor- had one of them caused this? She looked at the children, enraptured, the growing gloom of the sky, the man selling hot dogs. She looked everywhere except at the main attraction.
The Whale-ologists were conversing amongst themselves and seeming to grow far more agitated. As George and Donovan settled in to finish their lunch on the rocks with a view to the big scene, Jeremy knew he had to move closer. He left them, kept walking without a word, with Donovan's speculation as to why Richard Dreyfuss won the Oscar over Richard Burton in 72 droning on behind him. George watched after Jeremy for a moment, pondered where he might be off to, but because he was, after all, George, he resumed his sandwich and assumed all would be well in the world.
Jeremy's eyes seemed locked with what looked like the lone portal into the abyss of the largest whale, and he had to get closer. As he walked on- that heavy step that one must make as they become seeped in the unreliable terrain of sand- he became more and more determined to free this monster, to set it back to sea, to make it live. As he approached his new friend he saw more and more the flickering of its life, its own resigned nature. It was gentle, even in death, Jeremy realized, and as he gazed at the whale and its mate, he wanted to cry. He could not believe that anything could gaze at the immediacy of death so easily- and here, all of them are here with their picnic lunches, their hot dogs, their vacation time spent at the beach, come to watch the whales die, the dying whales, the whale death- how could they choose to die like this?
As a mist cast over his eye- only his left one, which was more prone to draining than this right- he saw someone he knew. It was her, the girl whose name he did not know, could never remember, her slenderness casting a beautiful silhouette over the the eye of the other whale, the smaller one. As Lisa turned to meet his gaze, Jeremy saw a dark, mascara- tipped tear slipping from her right eye. The two of them stared at one another for a long time- maybe a minute, maybe longer. Before either of them knew it, they were standing together, looking over the scene, watching the glass pass before the gaze of the giant whale, and shortly thereafter, the smaller one. They stood in silence, they stood together as the sun began its decent, as the pier- which had sustained a guardrail break due to high traffic- cleared, as the hot dog man packed up his earnings, as their coworkers shook off the glory of the day and went back to their great-mileage making cars. They stood there forever.
Finally, Jeremy spoke. "I'm sorry I don't know your name." "That's ok," said Lisa. "I know who you are." Jeremy smiled, knowing what she meant. "If I had to guess," he continued, "I'd call you Grace." Lisa laughed, not really knowing what he meant, or if it was corny, or if she even wanted it. But as the fish by their feet became objects, she understood. She would not be his suicide hotline, he would not be her first. But even so, as if it had been rehearsed for days, she slipped her hand effortlessly into his, and his grip tightened around her small wrist, protectively. For a minute the two of them gazed over the beach at the death to match their life, and suddenly Lisa felt tall in a different way, in a beautiful and furious way. They were the giants, she and he, and the graceful creatures ceasing to live before them were their shadows.
On Monday, Jeremy did not come in for work. Nobody noticed Lisa was also absent until a week later. It was only for one moment, on a Thursday, three weeks since the event, that George paused to look at cubicle 12, remembering Jeremy's determination to get closer to The Sight. Momentarily, George wondered if there might be some connection, but in the end he shrugged his shoulders, admired Leslie's leather pumps, and punched out- and once again, all was well in the world of George.