Before my sister and I smuggled the baby piranha out of Chekhov’s Fish Emporium in broad daylight, he did not have a name. The only identifiers present on his cylindrical, isolated vessel in The Alien Exhibit had been a small label which read: pygocentrus nattereri, along with various other information about strange animal behavior, but none mentioned that their bad reputation was mostly caused by humanity’s ignorance. So I named him Samsa, after The Metamorphoses, because with any luck he might have his own transformation once we brought him back to fresh water.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” she asked.
“No,” I admitted, because it was true. “I’m not sure of anything, except that in 1885 Anton Chekhov wrote his short story, The Fish, and now he has an eponymous fish emporium.”
For whatever reason, this confession didn’t pass the conversation test.
“I wonder if there are any fish named after Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.” I said, as we maneuvered the stolen portable fish tank into the crummy backseat of her minivan. Samsa swam around by himself. This all seemed very new to him. The sudden uprooting of circumstances, how the only certainty in life was change.
“Do you think fish understand the literary implications of their existence?”
“Jessica,” Chelsea said, hands white on the wheel. Something else hindered her voice that I couldn’t quite decipher, like a swarm of sharks swam into her mouth, and it inconvenienced the way words came out. A pop song played on the radio about summer, with all its sublime possibilities and optimistic misunderstandings, but neither of us carried home any real meaning from it.
“I think fish are just fish.”
She drove on, the ride quiet.
When we arrived at the lake, parked near the public water access area along the pebbled shore, Chelsea helped me hide Samsa’s habitat inside her gargantuan knitted tote bag, push Grandad’s boat into the basin, and start off towards the sunset. There were less people than usual, despite the view. An elderly couple and a few teenagers I knew from school, each comely, who didn’t know me. I tried not to look at them while we motored away.
Instead, I recited the facts I memorized from work: young piranhas travel in schools to stay safe from larger predators, yet the more they grow into adulthood, the more they tend to hang out in loose groups. A few experts suggest they remain solo or with up to five others to avoid cannibalism. There were six teenagers, not all of them would make it. Piranhas can be shy, skittish, and distant, especially when first introduced to new surroundings. Piranhas never attack people unless provoked…
“Why did you get a job at the aquarium?”
“Because Dr. Cohen said I should find a controlled environment to gain stability and practise social emotional reciprocity. I think she meant for me to join the Autism Youth Group we talked about last session. But this is better.”
“What about the piranha?” She took him out of the bag and undid the roof, the algae already scraped off from earlier, his scales cold to touch, wide eyes avoidant.
“Samsa is lonely,” I explained. “Piranhas are only perceived as monsters based on pure misconception. Contrary to popular belief, they hardly ever attack humans. I think there is nothing more the piranha wants than to feel like he belongs somewhere. I think that is what we all want.”
“Are you projecting onto the piranha?” Chelsea asked.
“I am the piranha,” I said, then let him go.
Lara Boyle is a Jewish lesbian writer with Asperger’s Syndrome. She studies Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte. When not writing, she can be found reading or playing with her English Labrador Retriever, Boomer, who failed service dog training because he loves people too much. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Farside Review, where she’s a staff writer, Lesbians are Miracles Magazine, Herstry Blog, WomensAdvaNCe, and Signet Literary Magazine.
In the Blur of Night
Harsher’s “Lost” a black dress with lace sleeves and a Lily Munster bat necklace.
Vandal Moon’s “The Bomb.” Peter Heppner’s “Vielleicht.” Goth clubs in which I’ve danced: The Lovecraft. The Castle. Wax. The Black Cat. Spellbound. His hands: on my hips. His hands’ roughness evident through the black dress’s thin fabric, our faces obliterated by laser strokes, fiber optics, smoke, our ears, our emotions octane with Ego Prisme’s “Once You Get There,” our bodies fading into reemerging from fading into one another like the meshed weaves of the spiderweb-patterned fishnets I wear. Fishnets he later smooths from my tanned, muscular calves as quietly as spilled black India ink seeps from an overturned jar, and I, lying on my back on the backseat of some unidentifiable car or the never-made bed in our simple bedroom, think how spilled ink never returns to its jar: paper towels, tissues, a frayed-edge rag sops the ink, absorbs it; the ink takes new forms in the fabric, develops a new existence within the paper, the rag, continues until Mr. Kitty’s “Hold Me Down” blares like a benediction recited as mourners exit a church and make their way graveside, where they stand: dressed in black suits, dresses, skirts and blouses, shoulder to shoulder, wiping their eyes with tissues, linens, smearing make up while others hold themselves together ignoring the paper towel, the tissues, in their coat pockets. Eventually, the paper towels, the tissues—thrown away. The frayed- edge rag—thrown away or washed. My fishnets—tossed onto the tan-carpeted floor or a cluttered dresser piled with war poetry collections, foreign erotica; flashlights; a single Swiss Army knife—drooping like an uncoiling black snake rolling from between two logs aching with wet, age, lichen long its seascape green.
The Birthday Massacre’s “Nothing and Nowhere”: the night’s final plea, leaking through a cell phone like night air with the open, screened window, and we curl beneath purple sheets, two commas forming an opening quotation mark to unwritten/unspoken dialogue, not relevant until morning when TWINS’ “Recoiled” plays as I rinse—hot water and peach-scented hand soap—the fishnets, notice a tear in the heel.
The scent of manufactured smoke, sweat, and a spilled Cabin Fever whirlpool in splashes down the staring unplugged drain.
Nicole Yurcaba is a Ukrainian-American poet and essayist. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Lindenwood Review, Whiskey Island, Raven Chronicles, Appalachian Heritage, North of Oxford, and many other online and print journals. Nicole holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University.
My daughter is six years old when she finds it: spiraled shell on a slippery gold chain, tucked in my dresser under a chlorine-bleached swimsuit. I come upstairs from making dinner, find her on my bedroom floor, my mother’s shell pressed into the hollow of her stomach. I have kept my daughter from such things: seashells, seafood, sea salt, seaweed scrubs. Anything that might remind her of the old place—the home that isn’t ours anymore, that never was. Shhhh, I whisper, rubbing her back, pressing my face to her kelp-forest hair, and I think of my mother’s rule that grief should be held inside until it ripens, I think of how my mother walked—light and careful, as though every step hurt, as though she had practiced it. When I was pregnant, I tried to keep my daughter from such things: ate only earthy foods, steak and hamburger, baked potatoes, rye bread with butter, winter pomegranates—went to prenatal swim yoga, bobbing in greenish chlorinated water with other pear-shaped, off-balance women—avoided sushi and seafood and ocean breezes and white noise machines and the push and pull of moon phases—on my most anxious days, reminded myself that my baby was not only mine—remembered her father, all green soccer fields and April sunshine and reliable child support checks; her grandfather, a mostly kind man, a ship captain turned teacher, who used to press my mother’s emptiness to his ear like a conch shell, fascinated by the rush of his own heartbeat thrown back at him. For six years I watched my daughter closely and she seemed okay, seemed happy, and now she is crying, her grief cold and heavy against my chest, now I am thinking of my mother, who wore her voice on a chain around her neck, who took it off that day at the sea, who left me on a beach blanket and waded out into the breakers, a little farther each time, her mermaid hair spreading over the swells like spilled oil, like squid ink, and my daughter is crying, my daughter is hungry. Shhhh, I tell her. Not to quiet her. I slit open my palms, extract the sand dollars from inside, string them up like paper moons, and shhhh, I remind her again—like ocean water, three times saltier than blood, four times saltier than tears—and when my daughter looks up at me, I kiss her briny palms, one first and then the other, I feed her saltwater ghosts, cracked open along the hinge, watch as she tilts back her open mouth, swallows them whole.
Lindy Biller is a writer based in the Midwest. Her work has appeared at Longleaf Review, Perhappened, Chestnut Review, Flash Frog, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter @lindymbiller.
Uncovered logs from the distant past and the future beyond.