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The Life of a Seal

An Aquarium Tale

By Stephanie HoogstadPublished 4 months ago 6 min read
The Life of a Seal
Photo by Alan Rodriguez on Unsplash

A little one used to visit me when I was a pup. A male, I believe. Gangly appendages and pale skin with only a patch of black fur on his head—and his eyes, his beautiful dark eyes. I could have stared into them all day. When I put my flipper against the invisible wall, he would do the same. After the first few visits, he would be the one to put his misshapen flipper up first, and I would press mine against his. The big one with him always laughed at this. I could never hear her below the water, but I recognized the motions from my trips to the surface to breathe and eat and enjoy the sun. I bet she had a beautiful laugh.

I don’t know how much time passed between the little one’s trips. I just know that the big line of the circle on the wall would point all the way up and the little line would point all the way to the right each time he came. Yet it seemed that those lines came into those positions more and more often between each of his visits.

Then, after a visit when the big one did not seem well, I did not see the little one for what felt like a long, long time. At first, I waited by the invisible wall, watched those lines move around the circle. But other little ones and big ones visited. My kin offered to play, and play I did. I ate the fish the big ones gave me, soaked up the sun, and did what I could to draw the laughter and cheers from the little ones. Still, I would move to the invisible wall when the lines came into position and wait for my little one to stop by.

Many times of the light-on, light-off cycle passed, too many to count. I almost forgot what my little one looked like, lost in the wave of little ones who came to see me. Soon, I would probably even forget why I waited by the invisible wall at all. Then, during one light-on cycle, in flooded a group of mediums. Not quite little ones, not quite big ones, many mediums seemed bored when they arrived in large groups, and this one was no different. Most of them trailed off to the colorful fish or sharks—I still don’t understand why I recoil at the sight of them—and others went to the octopi and squids. Few ever seemed to want to visit me and my kin. At least the little ones and the big ones always want us.

But this time, two mediums—one male and one female—came to the invisible wall, holding each other’s flippers. She looked at me in wonder and laughed with joy, as I often saw the little ones do. She was a beautiful specimen, healthy and thick enough for bearing pups but not as big as many of her kind I had seen. The brown fur on her head flowed freely down her back, and her dark eyes sparkled. The male—he was very thin, with long, skinny, awkward appendages. His black fur grew close to his head, and his eyes were dark, like the female’s yet different. Familiar. Sad. Very sad.

He looked at me. He did not laugh like the female, but he made the small facial gesture that I had heard their kind—the humans—call a smile. He raised his flipper and, to my surprise, placed it against the invisible wall.

I could’ve leaped for joy. My little one. My little one. I raised my flipper and touched his. His smile grew bigger. I thought it would split open his face. His sad, beautiful eyes were no longer so sad. My little one had returned.

Then it happened. As with all groups of mediums, one of the big ones with them called, and they all gathered to leave. My little one and his mate—my little one had a mate!—lingered for as long as they could, but finally, they had to leave. Until the last moment, our flippers touched against the invisible wall.

It has been so long since I last saw my little one. This time, I did not watch for the lines to get into position. Like my little one—my medium, now—I found a mate. We had pups. All the humans loved them. Even the mediums seemed to visit us more often after I birthed them. They were fed plenty, and we swam and played and lay in the sun to our hearts’ content. Some light-on cycles, I would go down to the invisible wall and search for my medium, but I never saw him. With my pups and mate to care for, I did not have the time to wonder about him for long.

Now, my final cycles are upon me. I can feel my body slowing. My pups are now big, and my mate has already left for the Great Waters Beyond. I spend much of my cycles—both light-on and light-off—on land. I am too tired for much else. My pups make certain that I eat, but it gets harder each day. I would not mind leaving for the Great Waters Beyond, but something keeps me here. I do not know what.

One of my pups insists that I come down to the invisible wall. I am too drained, I argue, but she will not let me be. So, I go with her into the water, her half-carrying me, and we swim down to the invisible wall. There, I see group of two big ones—one male and one female—and four little ones—three male and one female. The male big one looks at me and smiles big, pointing at me with more excitement than any little one ever could. His dark eyes twinkle. So familiar…my medium! Now a big one, with little ones of his own!

I can swim no faster than my pup, but she gets me to the invisible wall as fast as she can. I nudge the invisible wall with my snout, unable to believe that my big one is there. He laughs and nudges back with his snout, making their entire group laugh. I finally recognize the female big one as his mate from the previous visit. I knew she would be good at birthing pups.

I slap my flipper up on the invisible wall, and my big one does the same. He looks down at one of his male little ones, whose lips are moving, before moving aside to let him stick his flipper against mine. Then that little one moves over to let another do the same. Then the other. Then the female big one. Yet the female little one does not move. My big one strokes her back, and his lips start moving. He points at me, but she shakes her head. I tilt my own. What is wrong?

My big one’s lips continue to move. A drop of water strolls down his cheek as he pulls out something rectangular. He moves a part of his deformed flipper over it. Just before he turns it to the female little one, I see an image of something—the big one who used to bring him to visit me when he was a little one. The female little one looks at the rectangular object, then at me. Finally, she slowly walks up to the invisible wall and carefully places her little flipper on mine.

I stare into her eyes. So dark. So beautiful. So hypnotizing. Just like her sire’s. I could stare into them all day.

Short Story

About the Creator

Stephanie Hoogstad

With a BA in English and MSc in Creative Writing, writing is my life. I have edited and beta read as a freelancer for a few years with some published stories and poems of my own. You can learn more about me at

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