They pulsated. Like pale, gelatinous hearts (though of course, they had no hearts). Like dancers whose music had been swallowed by the solid tubes and cubes of suspended ocean. Like birds in slow motion.
We watched. Breathed alongside them, separated only by glass. It was dark but they glowed; lanterns, northern lights, miniature moons in a midnight sky.
She's still deciding about zoos, she told me when I showed her the tickets. The polar bear in the 80-degree heat nearly convinced her, but I couldn't think of a better way to illuminate the heartbreak of climate change. And now we're here and she's unsure again.
Here, in this broken piece of the world, we are alone in our humanness. If I stare softly enough, I can see the land below us as it once was, thick with grass and sky, see people drawing together to chop down trees and mountains and sea, see them arranging them just like this. I think for all of us, in time to our swaying: how did we end up here?
We are side by side, perfectly matched. I don't hold her hand, I am afraid it will feel like I have starfish at the ends of my arms. But the sweat and sunshine of an hour ago are quickly fading, replaced by goosebumps and the sudden feeling of nakedness beneath my t-shirt, and my pulse no longer matches anything else.
They don't have brains, you know, they are only nerves, only feelings and responses, the way I wish I could be.
The way I am now.
Her palms are on the glass as one drifts by, and I put mine there too, so that our pinkies are an inch apart. I expect it to sting, when she touches me, to burn, but it doesn't. It's cool and soft and smooth.
They continue to undulate before us.
A sign on the wall tells me that for more than 500 million years they have existed in one form or another, as small as a centimeter or as long as 120 feet. I try to focus on it, try to remember that I too am young and old and tiny and gigantic. We are together and timeless, existing.
One species is immortal; after reproducing it shrinks back to babyhood and though I wish we could live forever, I wouldn't go back for anything.