I waited until my husband and I were alone to ask him. (In the car. On the way home from Target.)
“I need to ask you something,” I said, “and I need you to not make me feel stupid about it.”
“Okay . . .” he said.
“Okay . . .”
I cleared my throat. “You know, um, narwhals?”
“They’re not . . . real, are they?
As I said it, I realized that this was exactly how our oldest son framed his first question about Santa Claus. (“You know, um, Santa Claus? He’s not real, is he?”)
My husband turned away from the road to try to figure out whether I was kidding. I made my best I’m not kidding, just TELL ME face.
He looked back at the road. Then back at me. “Um. Yeah.”
“No, they’re not,” I said. “How can they be real?”
“I . . .”
“How can they be real without me knowing that they’re real?”
“Um . . . ”
“Oh God,” I said, “you must think I’m an idiot.”
“I know you’re not an idiot.”
“But how can narwhals be real? Have they always been real? Wait. Don’t answer that. How could I not know this?”
“I blame your education,” he said. “Why are you asking this now?”
“Because I saw some photos on the Internet, and they looked really real . . . but I thought it must be Photoshop.”
“I blame the Internet,” he said.
“I thought they were like unicorns,” I said.
“They are like unicorns.”
I shook my head and started typing “narwhal” into my phone.
“This is blowing your mind,” he said.
“I feel so stupid.”
“You’re not stupid.”
“If narwhals are real . . .”
“If narwhals are real,” I said, “then why aren’t we talking about them all the time?”
“Why aren’t you and I talking about them all the time?”
“Why isn’t everybody talking about them all the time. They’re whales with horns. That’s amazing.”
“It is,” he said. But I felt like he wasn’t getting it. My husband thinks all animals are amazing; he was a biology major.
“No,” I said, “they’re actually amazing. Like, people get all excited about unicorns and dolphins – but nobody’s talking about the fact that there are unicorn dolphins out there. . .”
By this time, I’d pulled up the “narwhal” Wikipedia entry on my phone. Which seems like a fake, honestly. I mean, it leads with an illustration of a smiling narwhal – why would a real animal have an illustration on its Wikipedia page?
Narwhals aren’t just whales with horns, by the way. They’re whales with gorgeous spiraled horns — they look like something Lisa Frank made up. They’re the sort of creatures that get drawn on the margins of pirate maps.
“If narwhals are real . . .” I said.
“Then what else is real?” At that moment, he could have said hippogriffs, and I would have believed him.
“Umm . . .”
“I feel so stupid,” I said.
“You’re not stupid. I can see why you were confused. It’s the sort of thing that the Internet would create if it didn’t already exist.”
I nodded. “Like the honey badger.”
“Umm . . .”
“I’m kidding,” I said.
He glanced over at me to make sure. “Of course.”
All narwhal illustrations stolen from Kai’s sketchbook.