On Whales and a Hidden Cylindrical Aquarium Tube in an American Park
Nina Armstrong

There is a cylindrical tank full of water, about a mile below the ground. The air inside the well is best described as concrete feels; if it had a color surrounding it, it would be black, because that’s what the eye registers when confronted with nothingness. A mile below, in the nothingness, there is a spectator ring surrounding the massive tank. There are people watching the tank underground, and they all matter very much even though they are just spectators. They are curious about the colossal size of the cylindrical tank and how it does not break under such pressure such as that that is present a mile below the Earth’s surface. The spectators watch inside the tank, between the blue, for the oddity of architecture and biological evolution that will emerge soon enough; bringing a chemical surprise to their eyes and brain, and spreading to their legs, arms, and feet.

The tank itself is an illusion to the spectators, but its size from above is noticeable. In a Northwest corner of an American park there is a break in the concrete, midway between the basketball courts and the grassy field. From the side, the opening looks to be three hundred feet wide, but if brave enough to stand before it, one may see it is much larger. The brave one would see not one, but two cylindrical breaks in the ground; unfenced, dangerous as leaning over a mountaintop. The stench from the inner cylinder is light and fragrant, like a luxury skincare store that passes around champagne to buyers examining freshly plucked mid-Atlantic seaweed. The inner cylinder is far larger than the outer, and even with the strongest of flashlights it is impossible to sneak a glimpse into the outer rim without striking pure blackness. The two cylinders, both a mile into the Earth, mirror a telescope focused on some blue planet, the black cosmos outlining it into infinity.

The blue planet is always lit, appearing to both brave spectators above and curious ones below. The lighting is soft from above, as a warning signal, but below’s only source of light, a movie in a crowded theater. Never has there been a minute when the tank’s lighting failed; it is always illuminated, even on winter nights and summer days. Even with bad presidents and hurricanes that ravage the surface but never seem to affect the focus below.

The first time I encountered whales was in a dream. I was alone, buried in the more aquatic parts of the Earth. The ocean was a desert with nothing above or below, not that it would matter. More a glassed business building than a work of nature, I dozed while various currents swept me more or less in the same direction, the same surroundings. Unable to move and now on the ocean’s floor, a Blue Whale, in all its fearsome serenity emerged above me. The business glass began to crack, first with an unearthly sound. Although I knew our time together would soon be up, my ears refused to register any further cracking noises. I could stare at the Blue Whale in awe without fear for my life, for my last breath was already gone, but with a fear that encompassed my whole being in that moment. A whale once saved a woman from drowning on the ocean floor, I once read. Even though that wouldn’t happen here, and we would soon be lifeless together, I saved hope for the possibility that this Blue Whale would save me if I still were living.

Cracks in the glassy deserted water continued. When it is complete, will I end up below my whale friend, smushed into the ground? Would I remember dying again or would I faint before death granted me a second round? If I could, I would breathe living air into my friend’s mouth, or nose, or blowhole, I’m not sure.

Thankfully enough, I fainted before we passed together.

The inner-blueness of the mile-long cylindrical aquarium is fit for a catalogue, at least in the perspective of the spectators’ view below. Braided seaweed and velvet rocks line select edges of the tank like a picture frame for the living inside. Red Snappers, tiny jellyfish, and orphaned infant hammerheads swim for a living up, down, and across the tank. They enjoy breathing through gills and don’t give the spectators below much thought. Emotional states are not known. Some peer into spectators’ eyes and try to convey, sometimes understood, sometimes not.

The main centerpiece, in humans’ eyes, of the independent ecosystem is the whale. For the most part, it drifts along the aquarium’s current. Although they reflect the illuminated blue, its eyes aren’t there. It hunts krill by slowly diving below to the deepest parts of the mile. This action is what the spectators await. Quiet gasps fill the outer circle of nothingness with noise and liveliness. Smiles greet the glass in the hopes of eye contact with the large creature. After the hunt, the whale dreads its next sip of breath; wishing to never again feel and consume the air that resides in the surface of the American park.