The Portuguese Man-of-War

Penny Anderson

First Day
    They sit on mats assigned to names and say their names in bursts of glee or whispers. The Portuguese Man-of-War has no name. Its tentacles stick to its blank mat. It curls them in close and thinks wet thoughts.
    During recess it drapes itself from the monkey bars. Everyone else plays on the slides or swings, because their mothers have explained the dangers of jellyfish and they are, for the most part, obedient children.

    The Portuguese Man-of-War presses a tentacle against the window. The nematocysts do their best to paralyze cold glass. The gray world outside is filled with water.
    “No,” says its mother. “You know you can’t go outside in this.”
    The Portuguese Man-of-War wonders what it would feel like to have bones.

Know Thyself
    The Portuguese Man-of-War is not a jellyfish. It is four symbiotic kinds of organisms. Its sail has the iridescence of oily water. When you see it in the hallways, give it a wide berth. You wouldn’t want to risk anaphylactic shock.
    Beware of days with an inward breeze.

    The Portuguese Man-of-War tries out for the swim team. It’s slow and does poorly under pressure. No one asks what it really wants to do. It wants to be a pole-vaulter, to catch the wind with its whole body. But invertebrates aren’t allowed to go out for track. Soft-bodied organisms? Forget it.

    It’s difficult to find fossil records of soft-bodied organisms, due to the lack of hard parts.

    The Portuguese Man-of-War graduates from college. It goes to dinner with its parents and sees their age, how they sag around smaller versions of themselves. The room glows peach in candlelight. Congratulations, its father says. We are so proud of you, its mother says.
    The beautiful waitress looks at the wall. Her dark hair gleams like abalone.  
This Is Not a Love Story
    The Portuguese Man-of-War imagines being in love would feel akin to submersion in a warm ocean, one filtered with light. It has never been to the sea.

    The Portuguese Man-of-War wears a tie to work. It believes strongly in customer service. After one year they give it a brass achievement plaque to hang on the wall. The Portuguese Man-of-War looks at it while speaking to strangers on the phone. On the other end of the line it hears souls cracking like glaciers.     

    The Portuguese Man-of-War takes the bus to the beach. The gray expanse beyond the sand seems a new earth. The Portuguese Man-of-War wonders at the depth of the ocean’s sky, at the surface as the bottom of that world. It begins to feel dizzy and gets back on the bus. It leans its pneumatophore against the glass and waits to go.     

    So you want to legally change your name without a name to start. I see your problem, but why the fuss? You are a Portuguese Man-of-War. That’s a perfectly good name. It tells everyone all they’ll ever need to know.