florence arno (40)Jacques Cousteau and his son, Philippe, circle the thirty-foot stone Moai heads of Easter Island. I sit on the matted carpet of my Oakland apartment. He squints and purses his lips and nods towards each elongated face in some ritual of recognition he usually reserves for communing with aquatic life.

I bounce somebody else’s baby on my knee. In Oakland, it’s afternoon. Winter. The baby and I have watched the video three times in a row.

The first thing I learned about Jacques Cousteau was a lie. A fairytale. It didn’t matter. I’ve been madly in love with him since. It doesn’t matter that he’s dead and his son is dead and his wife is dead and the Calypso, his vessel, is dead. It’s somehow preferable.  The baby spits up on my calf.  She cries the whole time she’s away from her mom, which is the whole time she’s here in the drafty, brown apartment I share with my boyfriend.

Jacques Cousteau confers with Philippe, who wears the standard red wool cap high on his forehead.  I can’t hear what they say because the baby is howling, but they laugh and throw their arms into the air like little arches from a water fountain.  Behind and all around them the hundreds of big-nosed faces watch from their ancient necks.  They don’t have any legs. They’ve been stuck on this island for nine hundred years.

I shake a rattle for the baby, increase the vigor of my knee bounce.  She has lovely, thick eyelashes coated in tears and, I wonder, sometimes, when I look at her face for a long, long time, if I will ever be able to love her in the way I’m supposed to.  I’m not sure. I’m only twenty-four, I tell myself often.  I could be an aquatic explorer. I watch Philippe and Jacques Cousteau clasp hands on either side of a head. The baby burp-smiles.

Jacques Cousteau is the master and commander of everything in his kingdom. If Jacques Cousteau had been me one year ago, and Jacques Cousteau had entered the conversation I should not have entered, I imagine it would have gone like this:

Boyfriend: I have something to tell you.

Jacques Cousteau: Mon Dieu!

Boyfriend: I’m going to be a father.

Jacques Cousteau: Adieu!

And Jacques Cousteau would have hooked his full, dumb, bleating heart to the end of a fishing line, taken it to the furthest reaches of the abyss and caught a shark. A tiger shark. Great white. Something wild and fierce.

Tessa Fontaine is in the MFA program at the University of Alabama, where she frequently writes about Jacques Cousteau and lake monsters. Her work appears in the Winter 2011 issue of Creative Nonfiction, and she is Nonfiction Editor for The Black Warrior Review

Photo by Dinty W. Moore