S p rin g
2011 B rown & R IS D â€˘
Journal of the Arts
C L E R E S T O R Y is s u e
Will Mayner • Sical
Momo Ishiguro • Astronaut Wife
Slonk Donkerson • She Can’t Fantasize
Josh Garcia • Pockets Full O’Gold
Megalosaurus the Daffodil Killer • Hydralisk
Sophie Hawley-Weld • Tonight
Zach Alterman • drink water every day
Michael Danziger • Serif
Audrey Fox • I
Sam Rosenfeld • We Could Be Dumb
Ben Slater • Knife Without Water
Elexis Trinity • Not Without Love
Dorodo • Electric Youth
Berit Goetz • Moongazing
Isabella Giancarlo • Raccoons • photography
Kay Yangni • Untitled • ink & marker
Connor McManus Rorschach #5 (Meditation Man/Split Mind) acrylic on canvas
David Bryant â€˘ Fallen Antlers â€˘ ink, dye and charcoal on paper
Jill Silverbeg • The Jaws of Life • monotype
RE V ERSE : Andrea Nguyen • Whimsopteridae • digital
Emma Leblanc • House of Dignity • photography
REVERSE : David Hernandez • Heart of the City (Self-Portrait) • graphite
Mackenzie Younger • Jamrock cards • watercolor
REVERSE : Todd Stong • Krishma • oil on canvas
C L E R E S T O R Y B rown & R IS D â€˘
Journal of the Arts
prose, poetry, art & music
W H AT I S C L E R E S T O R Y ? Clerestory Journal of the Arts is a biannual literarary and arts magazine that draws submissions from undergraduates at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.By offering students an opportunity for publication, Clerestory hopes to inspire young artists to continue their creative pursuits, help maintain a high bar of quality for the arts at both campuses, stimulate conversation about student work throughout each school and beyond, and foster engagement between student artists and the wider community.
P E O PL E M a n a g eme n t
Emma Janaskie • Editor Tabitha Yong • RISD Editor Allan Sakaue • Marketing & Finances
Morgan Ritter-Armour • Editor Robert Gordon-Fogelson • Junior Editor Lucy Feldman Isabella Giancarlo Alex Jones Amanda Lucek Connor Mcmanus Nina Ruelle
P oetry Elexis Trinity Williams • Editor Vera Carothers Kevin Casto Jennifer Frary Christopher Janigian Allison Schaaff Katherine Van Brocklin Janet Zong
P rose Kate Holguin • Editor Adam Davis Samier Saeed Kayla Smith
D esi g n
Zach Alterman â€˘ Editor Michael Danziger Will Mayner Will Pearson Lee Saper Rosalind Schonwald Jonah Wolf Kyle Wynter-Stoner
Evan Brooks â€˘ Editor Fahmina Ahmed Isabella Giancarlo Jingtao Huang Cynthia Poon Judy Park Allan Sakaue Tabitha Yong
The editorial boards of Clerestory select pieces to be published through a blind democratic process over a period of several weeks each semester. Printed by Brown Graphic Services
CO N TE N TS Prose 6 12 28
Rebekah Bergman • Watching White Sails Disappear Antonia Angress • The Neighbor Chase Culler • Being Fish Poetry
8 10 17 18 22 24
Christopher Janigian • Do You Know What Eating Means Alexandra San Jorge • The Lizard Will Bite Those Who Do Not Dream Zachary Segel • Untitled Christopher Janigian • Armenian Tamzara Reva Dhingra • Whiskey Dreams • Highwaymen Aurek Kwiatkowski & Timothy Nassau • Untitled
ART & MUSIC Andrea Nguyen • Whimsopteridae Kah Yangni • Untitled David Bryant • Fallen Antlers Jill Silverberg • The Jaws of Life Emma Leblanc • House of Dignity Isabella Giancarlo • Raccoons David Hernandez • Heart of the City (Self-Portrait) Mackenzie Younger • Jamrock Cards Todd Stong • Krishma Connor McManus • Rorschach #5 (Meditation Man/Split Mind) See box for music tracks
WAT CH IN G WH ITE S A IL S D I S A PPE AR Rebekah Bergman
M yopia We start spending our days together letting the sea salt scratch our palms. And our nights on a sandy mattress. We start spending our kisses carelessly. We place them where they cannot be felt. On the beds of our fingernails, in the cresting folds of our ears. In this way we start forgetting to savor our pleasures, forget to store them for safekeeping, forget there might come a time later when we might
need them still more. Soon our skin is so gold it shimmers in the sun, distracting us from the fact that it is growing still darker. And darkness creeps into our days so gradually we fail to notice. We have a year of summers before it winters and when the first frost arrives we are not dressed for the weather. The sharp bite of air on ankle reveals how reckless we have been. I see us rushing
like waves, swelling and swollen, breaking and broken. Suntans become windburns. We fear that this never will thaw. H yperopia You have a face like a clock’s, I said, and what did I mean by that? By now I have forgotten how your tiny hands flittered about like seconds or why I compared your smile to high noon. I photographed you at the edge of the cliff. Leaning away from me, you stared at the white sails in the distance and the more I forced my lens to focus, the more your image blurred. I used to imagine all these photographs lined up in albums with captions. A few maybe cracked at folds and wilted at corners, hung beneath refrigerator magnets. Sometimes I’d get lost with
distant visions of your frozen remnants. What artifacts of you would remain. When I lost my footing and stumbled you called out to me and your voice was almost muffled by the sea. C ataracts Gusts dance with your wild hair when I snap the shutter closed. In my mind’s eye, it is a clear day when we picnic. It is cloudless when the lighthouse beam turns on. I do not know what we thought we were seeing, staring out there so deep. So long. I know somewhere the white triangles are embedded in your iris. I know your eyes must sparkle in their frames of wrinkled flesh. I wonder if you can still see me. I wonder what you can still see.
D o Yo u K now What E ating Means Christopher Janigian
I. The Cerith and the Cochlea I take a sip of coffee and sit there absent, in a dead room dead because of the ear infection. As I draw a bright breath the room spins and the silence rises up around me like water, like a national security guard.
II. Vitreous Gel The mavenâ€™s daughter, her nervous form, dresses in a black gown for a throbbing one night stand and throws herself against the glass, before gulping down the sound of violets and her Luvox. III. Age Contributors Against the fireplace faĂ§ade a metal handle was missing. Caked toothpaste and rings of foliage, ticking and controlling. It happened when you were barefoot in the photo booth. It needs a pulsing optic nerve so alive it makes you sick.
the liz ard will bite those who do not dream Alexandra San Jorge I get my poetry in bilingual editions, the English beside the Spanish. It’s the only way I’ll bend myself to learn English. I mostly muse among the lizards that live in Central Park. I write to the lizards and read to them. They cannot teach me English, but I can teach them Spanish. It’s easy to teach them. The people here don’t like it when I try to teach them Spanish. They want me to learn English. They only know how to speak English. I keep to the lizards. Some days, the lizards are too tired to speak with me. Their melancholic eyes express a wish to stop straining their mouths. I understand. I begin to speak with them in other ways. We begin with our eyes. They scurry through the park, and I follow, watching the grass, watching where they are going. We scurry toward the moon. As we hurry, I look
away from them, am awestruck at the beauty all around me. My eyes fill with beauty. Arrested with beauty, I stand. “Federico!” One of my friends slides atop my shoe and calls out to me. We move on to the speech of the nose and the mouth. Two senses inextricably wed. I follow the lizards and inhale the grass where they stop, stain my teeth with raw blades and dirt. My body fills with beauty. Arrested with beauty, I make my home on the grass. I am so full of beauty that I am singing Spanish songs. A boy from English class kneels near me to hear my songs to the lizards. They simmer to a whisper after his approach but soon grow into shouts. He can’t keep the smiles out of his eyes. I put my hand on his left knee; drop a lizard on his right. It bites him. He bleeds. Eyes sprout shrieks as sweat breaks from his forehead. Both of us floored—it was the end. They want me to learn English. They only know how to speak English. Like I said, I keep to the lizards.
T H E N E IG H BOR Antonia Angress
I grew up in a little white house between a field of banana trees whose fruit never ripened and a wide expanse of guarias moradas, purple orchids that bloomed only in April. My next-door neighbors – who were also the landlords – were severe, hardworking, and devout Catholics. The husband was a taciturn dairy farmer and the wife was a cook at a nearby private school. They were the kind of Catholics that got up at six on Sundays, week after week, and
walked three miles to Mass. The kind that held prayer circles when a church member was sick, that said que Dios te bendiga when they passed me on my way to school. And I, bleary-eyed, heavy-footed, starched navy uniform stretched tightly over my flat chest and buttoned up to my chin, dutifully replied gracias señor, gracias señora, que Dios los bendiga también, although after so many years the words began to run together like the ink in a Bible that has been smudged
a thousand times by a thousand people. Diotebengidaseñora, Diosbengidaseñor, Diosbengida, quetebendigaseñora. We moved to the little white house when my brother and I were too tiny to walk. My father, the eldest son of haggard German-Jewish immigrants, brought his young wife to a country where they did not speak the language. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps to spite his parents. Perhaps to emulate them. My father arrived at the neighbors’ doorstep holding a SpanishEnglish dictionary in one hand and a map of the town in the other. My mother, pale-lipped and jet-lagged, grasped his arm a little too tightly, casting frightened eyes around the unfamiliar land. The neighbors did not know what to make of us but we stayed anyway. My neighbors had a daughter, a pleasantly round-faced girl named Karla. She
often babysat my brother and me when we were young. I was always jealous then because my little brother David was the one she cooed and fussed over, the blond one with the dimpled limbs and the shadows of freckles on his wide-open face. I was the black-eyed one, the dirty, tantrumprone muchacha terrible with unruly everuncombed hair. A devil-child. When I misbehaved, Karla pinched me. My hands were forever dotted with little red spots. Out of sheer childish malice, I pinched David when she wasn’t looking. His face scrunched up and he wailed pathetically, and though I always felt guilty afterwards I could not bring myself to stop. When I was in the third grade, all my classmates were preparing for their first communion. For a while I was too embarrassed to ask what that was, exactly. My father
finally explained that it was something like a bar mitzvah, although that was nearly even more mysterious because my parents had given up on Hebrew school after I had thrown a tantrum in the lobby of Templo de Jerusalén. I was scared of God. I secretly believed I was a sinner, and my classmates, noticing my absence in catechism, were quick to confirm this fear. Karla helped me braid my hair in the mornings before school sometimes. The dark dawn ritual: the comb running through my curls, snagging snarls on its journey down. You’re hurting me, you’re hurting me. “Are you going to catechism today?” Karla asked me, and yanked the comb, and yanked it, and again, and again. “Yes, yes,” I lied. “Ai Karla, me duele.” She put the comb aside and embraced me from behind and met my eyes in the
mirror. Olive skin brushing olive skin, dark hair fading into dark hair. The doughy roundness of her belly pressed up against my jutting spine. She was not much older than me, but there stretched between us a gaping chasm of unimaginable depth and blackness. She stood on one side and I stood on the other, and we thought we could see each other clearly, but it was really just a trick of the light. Sometimes I felt as though she was trying to coax me across, and although it looked inviting where she stood, my legs were frozen and I could not jump. That day I came home from school on the early bus, empty of its usual chatter and chaos because half the children were at catechism. Sitting beside me, David pressed the buttons on his Game Boy. His hair was darkening but it would never be quite as dark as mine. I stumbled home
from school and cried and gravely told my chanting “ungrateful, you’re ungrateful, mother I was a sinner. She laughed and ungrateful, ungrateful” until my mother said: “You are not a sinner, you are just yelled at him to stop. My father helped David set the nativity Jewish.” scene up in his bedroom, and at his insisDuring Christmastime one year when tence it remained there year-round, much David and I were still kids, Karla stepped to our neighbors’ puzzlement. In time we grew up, David and I, but across the sea of guarias moradas and came into our house. Ignoring the menorah in Karla never seemed to change. David’s the corner of the living room, she present- once-dimpled limbs sprouted long and ed us with a hand-painted nativity scene. A lean, and his freckles faded into the backwooden Baby Jesus, a Mary and a Joseph, ground of his lengthening face, and his plus a lamb and a donkey, all smiling be- downy hair darkened to a chestnut brown, but he was always her favorite, her golden atifically. “I don’t like dolls anymore,” I told my boy from a strange land, her machito lindo. I sullenly watched my hips fill out and father, but I said it in English so Karla my breasts begin to bud, and when that couldn’t understand me. “Don’t be ungrateful,” my father happened my neighbors thought I was a sinner because I brought boys home and snapped. “Gracias,” he said, turning to Karla. kissed them shamelessly, ravenously in David danced around the living room, the sea of purple orchids that lay patiently
waiting to bloom between our houses. One afternoon during the height of the scorching dry season, I lost my virginity, to my faint surprise, in the stifling silence of my dimly lit bedroom while Karla and her mother raked leaves outside my window. “Ai, me duele,” I whispered to the boy, but my muffled words were drowned out by the scratching of the rakes against the
dark defiant earth. Scritch, scratch, scritch, scratch. You’re hurting me. Outside, the rake dragged its fingers through the dirt and I whined in pain. I knew Karla could hear me. I pinched the boy’s bare back, hard, so that he would cry out and she could hear him too.
Untitled Zachary Segel How smattering-sweet is life? A bird flapping in a painted box.
A rmenian Tam z ara : A Meditation Through Mo v ements Christopher Janigian
I. girl flying kite in barren gray savanna trees surround her like people lifting their arms In a village, two women are painting fresh pottery: Like these stars shimmer softly, Iâ€™ll put the light on you. Like the fire shimmers bright, bright, so I want to light you my dear.
Around your delicate waist I’ll tie seven knots and in your heart, I’ll give you the moon bare. II. man makes pottery in front of woven tapestry his hands are brown and old stop what you are doing and come to me now. The time has come for the tamzara— the Armenian tamzara. she shows off finished painted pottery III. dancers lined up arm and arm swinging and swaying handkerchiefs in air Tamzara—Armenian tamzara heads turning from side to side drums beating in the bare air of the village people IV. I don’t know what he’s doing or who he is but his eyes call me
Tamzaraâ€”Armenian tamzara women dancing with scarves like wind men stomping mud and banging on anvils V. the fire sings listen to its music Did you mean to do what you just did? Listen with your heartâ€”the voice of the star. little music for the ear little music for the heart VI. he moves half closed curtain to reveal her face long braids she looks down at his lips and then at his eyes he smiles Heâ€™s spinning the grain with a large stone. She watches. little music for the air little music for the heart
VII. one love for one love day and night unwinding and unraveling arms outstretched one lover no longer alone Green and red are unraveling too. Green and red are becoming one.
W hiskey D reams Reva Dhingra Here I hallucinate to the vibrations, the indistinct rumblings that brought us here, Twisting in some recluse, drumming motion into steaming floorboards, dim lights reflecting Opaque bottles, counters varnished with gin so that we whose eyes connect over half-empty glasses find something solid to hold on to at this hourâ€”
Highwaymen Reva Dhingra Gaze into the dregs of empty cups, scanning the plaster of kitchen walls under the shadow of fluorescent light, or out somewhere, traveling asphalt highways just to feel some soul like yourself, some beat-up pilgrim in dark jeans and faded shirt, cheap watch, on some adventure to where the desert hits the sky and rebounds, climbs in, breathes deeply the dust of the road until it spins out and leaves you staring under the violence of the rising sun they say, “Man, don’t do this to me man, I’m telling you it ain’t me you want I got nothing for you, man, nothing,” and you say nothing.
Untitled Aurek Kwiatowski (translated byTimothy Nassau) Niedobitki (The Remains) was founded in 1959 by Aurek Kwiatkowski while he was held in solitary confinement at Mokotów. Kwiatkowski was the only known member of Niedobitki. After his arrest, he sought to continue fomenting unrest by publishing poems with instructions on how to construct various weapons and organize clandestine resistance embedded in oblique imagery. His poems were discovered in his back pocket written on toilet paper when his corpse was sent to the state’s doctors. They were published by Wziernik, the small vanity press of a physician, as a novelty item: the works of a deranged prisoner. They enjoyed little critical success, but there is no evidence that his small readership—mostly academics and other poets—understood the true aim of Kwiatkowski’s work. As far as anyone knows, Niedobitki ceased with the execution of Kwiatkowski in 1960. Today his reputation as a poet, paltry as it may be, has occluded Kwiatkowski’s subversive exploits. -Wikipedia
GAIA If you cut the necks of a million matches and stuff their heads in the hollow of a tennis ball, the frictional falling of a cosmic sphere onto the cement back of a turtle will set the world ablaze. INSTRUCTIONS FOR A REQUIEM It is not hard to make a bomb if you know the code: two parts extracted from the wooden hull of a steel ship three parts ash from a public burning four parts chocolate and one part lint from my pockets.
PORRIDGE For breakfast today I was served a bowl of cold cereal that my stomach did not agree with. I looked again: the light must have tricked me, for I had eaten a bowl of glass. GRA W ZIELONE My brothers and sisters (and I) would play a game when children whereby we sought to overthrow the tyranny of our parents There were four of us and Micah, the eldest, would regale us with stories of other clandestine bands of children who were also deep in the struggle
against parents and always came in groups of four He knew this, he said, to be the absolute truth because the whisperings of changes we could not yet understand (he himself did not yet understand) told him it was so As I now know, we all hear these whisperings, but some listen with their left ear and some with their right Micah took to the collar and the razor and found a girl whose whisperings he could understand and, brothers and sisters, we were only three Yet the day Micah became a parent, a new child is born. All poems by Aurek Kwiatkowski, translated from the original Polish
Being F ish Chase Culler
Sometimes when I am at work, sitting for a really long time watching the people in the pool and doing absolutely nothing, I start thinking really mean things about the people I am watching just because I can. And they will never know. Like Ms. Hiatt wears her sunhat on backwards. I know because the bow is in the back when it’s supposed to be in the front. This is something that all girls know, and I’m at a complete fucking loss as to how this old woman could be so misinformed. And I think about
going up to her and saying “Ms. Hiatt, you old bitch! Your sunhat’s on backwards and it’s not like you even really need it anyway, since your face couldn’t possibly get any more leathery from baking on this same goddamn deck chair for years!” And I think about how surprised she would look. Then I start laughing, and to the people I’m watching it looks like I’m laughing either at them or at nothing at all, since they can’t actually know what just happened in my head
and how Ms. Hiatt’s fat legs sounded like they were splashing together when she crossed them and turned her whole body away from me. Because she was surprised and was embarrassed, too. And the fact that all these people have no idea and that to them I probably look insane makes me laugh even harder. So when the pool’s manager comes over at the end of my shift and says Ms. Hiatt wants me to stop looking at her from my high chair because it makes her uncomfortable, I become a fucking hysteric. Laughing still, I say I am surprised she can see anything from behind that goddamn enormous sunhat that is on backwards anyway. On the last night of lifeguard training Julie sat by the pool, her anxious limbs knotted and folded up like a praying mantis’. She surveyed the four large men who were all standing around the training
overseer—men who were nodding and pensive as this compact woman in lycra shorts explained to them how to fake drown. The lifeguard trainees had been told to think that one of these men, whichever one they were assigned, was something equal to a family member. It was Julie’s job to save this man’s life, and the idea that he might be someone else, someone dear to her, someone other than a hairy thirty-year-old stranger with nothing to do on a weeknight but get paid for pretending to drown, might “expedite and familiarize”—her overseer’s words—an otherwise uncomfortable situation. Now Julie, tightened shoulder blades opening her back into a grid of spine and sinew, shuddering with each anxious breath, considered which of these men bore the most fitting likeness to someone
she knew and loved. Maybe one of her uncles or a former teacher or someone. The one decided for her made eye contact and waved once the overseer had pointed Julie out to him. She smiled back, clenching her toes on the rough deck concrete, and watched him slip feet-first from the side of the pool out into the water. He began swimming toward the middle of the pool, and Julie, in preparation, rose up and edged toward it as well. Before this man even started, it was clear that he was willfully eschewing the conscious, self-aware part of the simulation. He appeared to be a man entirely unaware of his pretending to drown, as if he had determined beforehand that an acknowledgement of his performance would in some way compromise its efficacy. His face was unsuspecting and confused but still deliberate. And so he prefaced any
kind of pathetic, noncommittal flailing with a stern gaze and an idle tread. Then he sank, then he panicked. Even reaching for the ring buoy that, in a real situation, would typically be thrown to him first was a waste of effort. As Julie saw it, he was already lost in his performanceâ€”snorting in, choking out water. Eyes closed. Expectant and fully immersed. Forgoing the preliminary buoy step, then, Julie loosened her body, quietly pulled arms above her and went forward all at once. She met him in mid-trajectory: her underwater glide stopped at him and they collided. She found that her arms did not fit all the way around him, though, nor would he really let them try to; as if he did not realize that his sentinel was here, reassuring him, so he struggled against her instead. And they fought, Julie gripping
whatever parts of him weren’t intent on slamming against the water and against her. Meanwhile she moved forward slowly, painstakingly, with one hand reaching out for the plastic white nodules of the gutter on the side of the pool. I will save you, she thought. Even if you don’t want to be saved. And she clutched one of his few immobile areas, some fleshy part between his right thigh and his groin, and pulled him closer to her—pulled them both closer to the edge. Her legs, taut and pronounced, were woven between his, constricting them. Now she swam forward and he was fixed behind her. Her legs were still gripped around his, but now she had wrapped one of her hands against his upper back—this one hand keeping him close as the other paddled, propelled forward. His slippery, hairy chest sliding against her rigid back,
his full penis pressed against her tensed left thigh—and he was still fighting, but less so. And Julie’s free hand reached out and met the gutter. Somewhat anchored now, she led the man from behind her over to the ladder beside of her. He had given up; he was crying a little, and Julie felt that she might have hurt or scared him or might have been more aggressive than she should’ve. Her grip had left dark red marks on his lower back, and with this same hand she touched his chest, then face in apology. She quietly put her mouth to his, and the demonstrators and the overseer, all impressed with what had just happened, didn’t see much. They were still talking about it, without realizing that it was not yet over. That Julie, pressed between the side of the pool and the ladder, was still
cradling his head as he cried and kissed into her neck. “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.” There is another lifeguard who just started here named Julie. She doesn’t talk. The only thing I really know about her is that she takes long breaks to swim in the pool by herself, so all of the kids don’t really like her that much. If she is on break for a certain amount of time then that means that the kids cannot swim for that amount of time unless they are over sixteen, which of course none of them are. So they say they like me better, the kids do. Better than Julie. They say I am their “favorite girl.” And I don’t really like her very much either, but it’s not because she takes long breaks. I actually think it’s fun to watch her try over and over to swim back-and-forth across the pool without coming up for breath at all. She does that a lot. And I like it when she does make it
all the way down and back without coming up but her private victory can’t even be celebrated because by that point she’s too tired and gasping really hard and holding onto the edge, crying off the water that drips from her hair and face. But she does smile a little, though—a flash of pride at her triumph—then she fucking starts all over again. But the reason I don’t like her is because whenever I go up to her to talk she looks at me in a weird way before I can even say anything. And her look says something like “don’t even try to talk to me.” So I don’t even try to. And I think about that look as she swims back and forth, completely unconscious of the kids who are all lined up on the side picking their blisters and scabs, waiting for that moment when she’ll bring her head and arms up over the side of the pool and onto the concrete in a way that says they can swim now, or maybe five minutes from now (if she also has to pee before she goes back
to her chair). And I’m not even supposed to be working today but I’m here. I’m here because I can’t stop myself from thinking about the one time when her head will bob up along the side to take a big breath after she wins her own race again—but this time she won’t smile like she usually does because she’ll see me waiting there, and I’ll push her back under before she can get a breath that’s big enough and I’ll hold her head down until she promises to never smile like that again. Not today, though, because she is already out of the pool now and headed to go pee, and the kids in formation at the side all shudder together in anger and impatience because they have been poised and ready to jump in for some time now. So they throw themselves backward and rub their little, bony legs with their soft hands. We are waiting and waiting longer.
The rust-colored stain ran intermittently across the little granules of pavement, as if having chosen which ones to settle on and which ones not to, desultorily. It started at a tiny mass caught under the heavy men’s bathroom door and stretched all the way to the grass that tucked around the concrete path. And on the grass a little boy was humped over, wincing. Julie saw him there while on her way to the women’s bathroom. She first noticed that he was shivering, despite the July weather. Before going over to him she paused and looked down at the small thing, the origin, caught under the corner of the door, still keeping its big steel frame propped open despite its pulpy diminutiveness. Julie saw it better once she crouched down and was closer: a chunk of rigid nail and attached moist tissue, lodged against the raised floor divider that clearly
differentiated the wet bathroom linoleum from the hot, absorbent pavement outside. Opening the door further, carefully, toward her with one hand, Julie pinched the little piece up and carried it over to the boy. Both of his hands cupped the front of his right foot and his freckled knees had pulled themselves up higher than the head between them. Julie sat down next to him and put the small chunk beside them both, and he did not notice her at first. Or didn’t seem to. But when she started her hands through his hair, what little of it he hadn’t hidden between the folds of his legs, he didn’t seem to startle much, either. His swimming trunks had bright yellow and blue fish on them. Some were striped with both colors and others were just one color, but since the trunks had a similarly blue background the solid blue fish were a lot harder to see.
She took her hands from his hair and put them around his own clutching hands, and he loosened them, interpreting her unspoken, motherly command. And the toe beneath them, now revealed, would have seemed funny—a top corner of it scooped cleanly out—if it weren’t for the blood around it and for the small, tensed little face that stared at her. Julie pinched up the little, missing piece between her fingers again and hovered it over the spot where it should’ve been. The boy almost nodded as he took a big crying breath. She put it back down. Quietly scooting, both hands on his knees, she sat and faced the front of him. And he wasn’t crunched down anymore but he wasn’t looking up at her either. So she waited for him to look, and when he did she glanced down and back almost imperceptibly at his toe
and his eyes, and he shrugged a little, she thought. As she brought his injured foot up in her lap he asked her why there weren’t any fish in the pool. It was a small, rough foot, she noticed while thinking up an answer for him. A boy foot. One that the grainy concrete on the bottom of the pool had worn down and callused as he had danced and pushed against it. Quietly, she said that there were some fish in the pool and pointed at his trunks. She expected him to laugh a little, but he didn’t. So she asked if he really liked fish, attempting to recover the conversation, to distract him from the situation, and he said yes. She opened her lips and placed them around the toe as her mother had always done for her cuts and scrapes. She couldn’t talk now, of course, but he had started
going on about certain types of fish he liked, unaffected by her action. He was situated at the edge of the grass and Julie was on the pavement, facing him. She thought a little about how much sitting on the hot pavement burned, but she still didn’t get up for a while. His toe was salty and he was talking so much now about fish and other animals that she thought that simply by having her mouth there she had somehow undone the little scrunchedupness of the boy she’d found at first. When she finally stood, there was a stain from where the wet film of her had shed itself, running all down her sides to leave this dark gray spot. The mark was drying up quickly now that it was exposed and the sun could beat down on it. After it was gone there were no more water spots on the pavement, but there remained a little rust stain that would
go away as other wet, shaking, impatient boys ran fast to pee now—before the tall girl finally got back in her chair—and ran fast until their wet, shaking impatience washed off the impression of the slightest rust-staining limp of the other little, shaking boy. They brought me in to talk to me about the fish in the pool. I said I didn’t know anything. They said they didn’t believe me because the pool manager had told them I was one of the ones who caused trouble. So they had immediately assumed that it was me who did it. I said, once again, that I didn’t know anything and that they should probably be questioning one of their new hires. They didn’t really understand what I meant. And the whole time I was thinking about how much I wish I could’ve run into her last night while she was on her way to the pool.
Julie. Her car full of little bags of fish. And maybe a few big bags of fish, too. But still full. How the accident would’ve looked so strange to whoever found it, because I would’ve run into her car with mine just right so that mine didn’t get too hurt and so that hers would’ve flipped over. And all the bags in her car would’ve burst also, I think, and there would’ve been so many little fish flopping all over her upholstery and some flopping outside on the pavement, too. And if her car windows weren’t actually closed and I hit her just right maybe the car would be at an angle where the water from the busted bags and the fish all went rushing against her, and she would’ve been hanging from her seatbelt, irrevocably twisted into position, looking at a lot of water and flopping goldfish and maybe dying, too, if the airbag had hit against her fragile bones hard enough. But I still have no idea where the fuck she even got them. All of them. Upwards to three
hundred fish. “If it was. In fact. Her. Who did it. After all.” The pool board said. They smiled after I told them just how astonished I was at the feat. And I’m still fucking astonished. Maybe they were left over from a carnival. Or special ordered from a pet store. But what pet store is gonna sell some spaced-out bitch three hundred fish for her own mysterious doing? And the only alibi I could offer to management was that I couldn’t have been the one who was gradually dechlorinating the pool in preparation. Some people must have seen me checking the levels and measuring that goddamn toxic mercury color-indicator stuff. Someone must’ve seen me doing my job. But apparently no one did. So now I am on thin ice according to the higher, higher-up management and will probably have to end up paying for the price of the clean-up from my future checks. And when I come out of the meeting she’s just starting her shift, as if she’d had no idea that the pool would
be closed today because there are still some three hundred goddamn fish in it. Like she’s some goddamn shocked actress. And the only reason I know what happened is because I did come to the pool last night, but later. I usually like to come on late nights because I have keys to the pool and to the car, too, which my dad doesn’t ever need after ten. But when I pulled up around the parking lot I saw her from in between the fenceposts— standing above the pool and smiling, opening each bag one by one and shaking its contents into the pool like some manic chef or something. After a while she dove in, and I sat wondering whether or not I should go up there and confront her or just stay and watch for a while. And I wondered there for so long that my dad’s car was the one actually seen and reported by someone—probably the people who live near the pool. Julie’s car was, I later found, tucked away behind the far bathroom the whole time.
Now she’s back, walking around and obviously faking concern, talking to the pool manager while the knotted mass of fish all twist on top of one another. And I see it flash a little on her face, that alien smile as she looks away from the manager and toward the pool; I’m seeing her through the fenceposts again. I could have walk up there and smacked her face so hard as long as she had pretended to be upset about what happened. As soon as she smiled to herself, though, I completely lost the impulse. I can’t even give it the time of day anymore, that smile. That private, personless smile that I and no one will probably ever know. I want to smack it, but I can’t. That goddamn smiling uppity little bitch with her goddamn tiny slimy fish. I want so badly to hate. Julie sat on the side of the pool with only the two huge, warming underwater lights
on. Lights that refracted on the bottom of the pool and on the yellow-orange scales of the fish and on Julie’s feet, submerged, and on her chest. A light that played goldenness through the water as the small, moving fish and the ever-changing little spots between the ever-moving fish shifted into one inseparable mass. They tapped against Julie’s feet as she wove them around and stirred the water, fixing a hole in it for herself, one that she would lower herself into. Not all of them made room for her as she went in and felt their diminutive, cartilaginous, weak-boned form slide into and against her legs, chest, arms. And they didn’t accommodate her much as she took a labored breath and had to bury herself within them, arms out front then brought back to her sides—gradually sifting through as she made her way to the other side of
the pool. Her head was down and when seen from outside the pool she was lost between rolling knits of golden scales and stark black protruding eyes. And the sound of her movements was overcome by the slow buzz of their moving all on top of one another, rubbing their scales. Displaced in ripples by Julie, indiscernible, moving forward and back. Her head resurfaced not far from the small, open circle she had made. She pulled herself up by her wet, clutching
elbows, gasping and heaving in. Careful not to squeeze any little, fragile thing between herself and the white concrete siding. And the fish rubbed against her thighs and calves and back, finding paths between her legs and around her chest. And after a while her head lowered itself and disappeared againâ€”only noticeable now by the gold clusters it made rise upward and around it, and by the few accustomed spirals that began to make room for it all by themselves.
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Published on Mar 2, 2013