Once upon a time, a lighthouse off Ano Nuevo State Reserve was taken over by sea lions.
The sea lions romp in the sealed house where no humans are allowed. Where once was a lighthouse-keeper’s bed is now a pile of seal shit three feet high. The sea lions treat the house as would a pack of wild dogs — they’ve settled in, it is theirs now. Alpha Male rolls in the bathtub, his pleasuredome filled with 20-year-old bathwater, as he surveys his harem on the second floor. Only the plumpest, brightest-eyed of females are allowed on the second floor. The rest are on the first floor, or outside with the junior males. They pretend they don’t care, but they do. The seals on the first floor talk continually of the seals on the second floor. The seals on the second floor talk only of themselves. Some female pups, if Alpha finds them promising, are allowed upstairs to bring offerings of fish, and the Alpha Male regards them lustfully, tasting their necks with his eyes, picturing how he’ll bite them, just so, as he reaches ecstasy.
The trouble is, in the last few years Alpha Male has grown too big for his tub and is now wedged in, like a proverbial sardine in a can. He needs more and more fish with each offering, and he is afraid of dying in that tub, ignominiously. How would they cart his carcass for a proper burial? So he has begun pretending he has a bad back, mumbling about a tingling sensation in one flipper — whatever it takes, as long as the fish keep coming. He is so afraid of dying he is no longer depressed about never fucking again. Never pumping his autocratic blubber over a squealing cow, never seeing a young cow turn to look at him coquettishly as she lumbers down the hallway. He’s tried snouting them, but it’s not the same. None of it’s the same anymore, and what was the original point of this porcelain trap in the first place? How did he get to be the Alpha Bull anyway? Aren’t there other things he’d prefer to do with his time besides braying his domineering bellow throughout the sealed house and snouting up all the cows? Why, if he does indeed live, he’ll hop downstairs and play in the waters by the sand, rumble around the whole house, even swim all the way around the island. If he lives, he’ll be a changed pinniped, and someone else can rule the damn house for a change!
With that thought he emphatically throws his head back to roar and finds he can move the slightest bit to the right.
When he found he could move he was so overjoyed that he called for a celebration of fish and ate so much that he got even more firmly wedged in. Eventually his breathing was restricted and even then he called for more fish, more fish. It was his only pleasure and he choked to death on it and died an ugly gluttonous death.
He pulled and tugged and freed his right flipper and called for a young cow to come to him. With the only movement he had he stroked her and talked to her, and complimented her clear eyes and smooth head. She basked and rolled beneath his flipper and he found that by pleasuring her, he himself began to get pleasure too. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced, and the glow it gave him was incomparable. He began to muse more and more, thinking about why he was in the tub, why they were all in the sealed house, and why he never went to the first floor. The more he thought, the less he needed to eat, and in a few weeks he found he was smaller and able to leave the tub whenever he pleased. He didn’t tell anyone and continued to pleasure the cows with his now very dextrous flipper, and he began dreaming about making designs in the sand with his flippers and wondering how he would decorate them, with shells, seaweed, bits of driftwood? He would slip out of the tub at night and carve sand paintings when he thought everyone was sleeping, but of course they weren’t; especially the cows on the second floor. They didn’t want to say anything for fear he would change back.
He pulled and he yanked and he rocked back and forth until the tub itself smashed on the tile and he rolled out, barking and roaring all the while, red-eyed with rage and embarrassment. He had all the cows, even the old ones, four or five times until he could calm down, and then it took three days of straight eating before he was himself again. He looked back at his musings in the tub and growled. And called for more fish.
With that one movement he realized that he could indeed be free, could indeed leave the tub and frolic in the water, play with the other bulls on the beach, and enjoy the feeling of the sun warming his blubber. He made a mental list of what he would do first, then revised it, then added to it, then added to it again, trying to remember each time every detail of what he would do when he got out of the tub and how much he would savor it. His brow furrowed as he kept concentrating, and thinking, and rehashing, and planning. Then he had a stroke and died. The surface of the grey water smoothed.
He got out of the tub, waddled down to the beach and lay in the sun, enjoying the feel of it on his blubber. He no longer needed the throne of the tub. Any seal was welcome to it. He no longer needed to make any decision, do anything, he would just be. Four days later he died of starvation, the other seals puzzled as to why he had lain there, unmoving.
He could move a flipper. Well, now what? If he could move that one flipper, what would be next? What should be next? Wedged in the bath water, he mused. I vowed I would have a whole new life, and now I can. He sighed and sank further down into the water. If I need to fulfill my hero’s destiny, for surely that’s what this is, do I need to leave the second floor? Then the seal house? How will I know what it is I am called to do? How will the good works present themselves? What if I choose the wrong thing? The weight of his thoughts kept pressing him down until his snout was under the water, still musing. He drowned an hour and half later.
The realization that he could move filled him with lightness. He quelled it, and began to think about what he should do, what would be his first act upon leaving the tub. As he thought about his many choices all his old desires resurfaced. First, three bellyfuls of fish, then — the cows! He mused on the possibility, then he let go of that too. He wriggled some more and began to feel that he wanted to leave the old grey water of the tub. He wriggled and rolled and inhaled until he was able to slip out of the tub, not making as much noise as you would expect for a large bull. He whumped down the hall and flopped down the stairs, outside, into the moonlight. The rocks were cold and the sea loud as he made his way down to the water. He was listening as hard as he could, for he thought he would hear his instructions. He listened all night to the ocean, the gulls, the melody the sand sung to the tide, each stroking the other without end. He watched the stars, looking for signs of something, anything. He fell asleep in the sand and woke in the morning, clear and hungry. As he went into the water looking for fish, he thought, Why, I haven’t done this for years! He swam.