Saturday, January 19, 2008


By Tully Standish McBride

No one had really wanted to kick Evelyn Rasmussen out of the building. She was a kind old woman who enjoyed baking pies and knitting scarves; she was no troublemaker. But the terms of her lease were quite clear: no whales.

Evelyn had described her recent vacation on the coast as little more than "looking high and low for that perfect bowl of clam chowder." Someone might have thought to ask why she had brought along a copy of Peabody's Guide to Capturing and Transporting North Atlantic Cetaceans, but that seemed trivial at the time.

Soon after she returned home, though, it became increasingly apparent that she had brought some whales with her. They could be heard clicking and grunting late into the night, along with the drone of Evelyn’s accordion. When they were hungry or excited, which seemed to be all the time, they slapped their flukes and flippers against the floor like giant, petulant children. Truckloads of plankton and krill began arriving several times a day.

Evelyn would never fess up completely. "Oh, there's a porpoise who drops by once in a while," she would say with a twinkle in her eye. "But that's about it." Judging by the fantastic amount of excrement that quickly clogged the garbage chute, however, it was more likely that Evelyn was cohabitating with several full-grown minke whales, though no one could say for sure; the mass of dark, shiny flesh visible through her living room window indicated only that several very large marine mammals of an indeterminate species were spending their days lazing on her sectional sofa.

One day, Evelyn was finally called before the tenants association and presented with the overwhelming circumstantial evidence. "Fine," she snarled, "I'll get rid of them all right." And then she marched out of the meeting room, leaving it suffused in a heavy odor of brine.

The next morning, the building's residents awoke to a strange silence. The door to Evelyn’s apartment had been flung open, nearly off its hinges, and the doorjamb was cracked and splintered, like something huge and unwieldy had been hurriedly crammed through it. There was no sign of Evelyn or her charges, just a hallway of sopping wet carpet.

At that moment, several miles away, a tugboat captain nearly swallowed his corncob pipe in disbelief. He had seen a pod of whales before, but never this far up the river, and never in the company of a wild-eyed senior citizen.

But there was Evelyn Rasmussen astride the largest of the whales, dressed only in a shower cap and her threadbare, floral-print nightgown. One hand was gripped tightly around the edge of the whale’s blowhole, and the other held aloft a freshly polished silver trident that gleamed in the early morning sun.

"Onward!" cried the fiesty senior, looking like the daughter of Neptune herself. The whales lingered for a moment, as if to give Evelyn one last chance to bid farewell. Then they turned and swam for the open ocean, their skin gleaming in the early morning sun.

(Writer, composer and choreographer Tully Standish McBride has long been a fan of nautical themes. The following story was written during the production of “Pole Position!” – his ice-skating extravaganza based on Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed Antarctic expedition.)

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