I eat the yellow stripe trevally fish whole—the tail, fins, eyes, head, bones—the calcium is supposed to be good for me, although what I really care about is the crunch, so I tell myself as I bite through the head, hoping the meat will turn to a cohesive mush before I can make out the soft, gel-like consistency of the eyeball. About a year ago, I was still able to suck the flaky meat off with my tongue, bite the spine into small chunks of vertebra so I could suck the clear, jelly-like marrow, then toss the remaining shard-like ribs into the compost where all the inner guts and head brains fester. But the organs and bones stopped decomposing in August, piling up in holes I’d have to dig deeper and deeper, the rotting scent of fish and sulfur permeating the ground and air above. Then they began to grow: caudal fins budding from the ends of vertebral spines, the ends of skulls forming jaws and brain cases, and when the skeletons had become whole again, they slowly filled with gills, hearts, livers. The fish blossoming from the compost holes haven’t yet loosened from the earth and escaped to the ocean: carcasses growing in mass but not life. To avoid adding to a potential zombie fish army, I now swallow trevally and smelt whole.
When you swallow a fish bone, you’re supposed to eat rice to wash it down. I think this is the easy way out: not only blunting the bone but also diluting the fish. Rob used to force me to practice bone swallowing with a bowl of congee so thick it resembled mushy rice more than soup. He said it’d help with my blowjob technique because if my throat could handle needles, then it could handle a sea cucumber-penis too. I kicked Rob out of the house before the fish started regenerating from discarded scales and bones and guts. He complained about the smell and would’ve been all “I told you so” and “this is what you get for turning the backyard into a dumpster ground” but he’s gone now so I don’t worry about him getting on my case. I monitor the fish for developments but otherwise continue picking at the latest cold sore erupting around my lips. I bundle myself tighter with another layer of blankets and sneak a hand out an opening to grab onto my bowl and spoon. The spoon is sharp and sturdy enough to snap the spine, cut through meat and ferry into my mouth. The jaw exercise makes me feel slightly less cold; I forget how I can’t feel my feet. Rob calls this behavior stupidity, and doesn’t understand why I won’t crank up the heater. He stops operating like a functional human as soon as he’s the slightest bit hungry, and starts blaming people for the weather when he’s too hot or cold. He never ate fish bones, always sticking to perfectly marbled, bone-free cuts of pork and beef and lamb, sliced thinly like paper rolls that’d cook instantly in boiling beef tallow soup.
The day after I donate Rob’s old socks and sweaters he left in the closet, the fish begin to tear away from the earth. They remind me of walking taiyakis, too cute to mow over or incinerate. They congregate in the backyard, under my lawn chairs and below my snow pea plants that have overgrown their sectioned area of land, wrapping around the evergreens and over the bush of hydrangeas. I’ve got two trevally fish left in the freezer, the two whose faces I don’t seem to have the courage to chew, not while its resurrected brethren stand on the patio, watching and judging.
I open the backdoor and wait for the fish to flop into the house. They don’t notice at first. They’re too busy learning to take in oxygen, which way the ocean is, how to get there even though it’s at least an hour’s drive away. I slosh a mug of green tea between my hands and let several droplets plonk onto the ground, just barely echoing enough that I can wait several seconds before the sound subsides and I swish the tea again, waiting for the fish to uncover the source of water. It doesn’t take long for them to flop in, stampeding over each other to get through the door to the illusion of survival. I fill a bucket with water and place it on the floor, waiting for the fish to muster their remaining strength to fling their bodies in. As soon as they hit the water, it’s like they’ve found some sort of inner peace—their calling to the ocean—even though it’s tap water without a single crustacean or plankton to devour. I bring another bucket and take the fish-filled one into the kitchen, leaving the back door slightly open for the remaining trevally to find their way.
If you ask Rob why I kicked him out, he’d say he left voluntarily because he couldn’t handle the responsibility of taking care of two people. The responsibility was all mine though, and I kicked him out because he kept wasting food that I paid for, even insisting that I was the one wasting, and expected, after all the arguments, I’d still have enough energy to satisfy his sexual appetite regardless of how drained and lackluster mine had become. The day he left, he made sure to take a thirty-minute long bath and leave on all the room lights and crank up the AC even though it was the middle of winter. I returned home to a tundra.
I slam a wriggling fish into the cutting board and toss it into the freezer for future meal prep.
Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in The Offing, The Rumpus, EcoTheo Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook HOLLOWED is forthcoming from Thirty West Publishing, and her micro-chapbook ABSORPTION is forthcoming from Harbor Review in 2022. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.