The nuns at the hospital in New Orleans knew they could not raise him, but they could not let him die either, so they allowed a couple named Cole to adopt the boy with flippered limbs. The pair told of a sign from God to find a stray lamb separated from the fold, so the nuns released the child they had named Sebastian, crossing themselves and mouthing a grateful prayer.
From the moment Stan and Alma Jean brought the boy to Memphis, he took to water, tiny fins splashing in the bath. Emma told him his uncles would build him a throne. She called him “Little Prince,” and said he had come from Poseidon, god of the sea. When he turned five, she pronounced him ready, and true to her promise, the Beasleys built him a platform with gold ribbons and his own curtain that opened and closed. He had to sit shoulder-deep in a glass tank of blue water for hours at a time. Emma told him it was the way his true daddy, the water god Poseidon would find him, so each day, one of the colored workers lifted him into his tank, where he sat until his lips turned blue as the water. His tiny nipples tightened and his skin wrinkled, but Earl and Stan made sure Ewell and Cheever fed him cotton candy and popcorn whenever he asked.
Flipper Boy always garnered the most oohs and ahhs. Since he was so young, Emma insisted they shorten his display time, which worked to the Beasleys’ advantage since the supply never quite met the demand. The line for the Oddities of Nature Pavilion snaked around ropes set up outside the tent. As Flipper Boy came and went, he studied his rendering—one he did not fully recognize—and mouthed the words, “Son of Poseidon, God of the Sea.”
At night, in the dry warmth of his bed positioned next to Tiny’s, the dwarf woman who looked after him once he joined the show, Flipper Boy pulled his fins in close, wondering if his father had fins, too.