By Elina Taillon
There was a woman standing at the sink, scraping scales off the side of a fish. They covered her arms like dandruff. The kitchen smelled like oil and oregano. The scales covered her like, like, snow on the garden outside. Her face in the window was small, growing smaller, smaller.
I write little stories. Small enough to hold with three fingers. There was a woman who lived in a house of strangers and wrote smaller stories than before. Hundreds of pages. Now the stories are small enough to hold with one hand. I started a sentence and then some little stories rustled in the branches outside my window.
There was a book with many numbers, too many numbers to remember. That’s why they were there. You could open it and find whatever you needed. You could open it to the entry on aphasia or aphantasia. Did it count in a game of Scrabble? The book had so many letters. No cheating—I know how to spell aphasia. I know about pluripotent and ensorcelled. And the one that starts with H and has to do with the wind. I want to call my lover but I can’t find her name in the pages of the calendar, and I know I had something to do, something to be.
I am a woman standing at the sink. Or I think I was. I can’t remember if that was me or my lover standing at the sink and flaking scales. Her strong arms work back and forth and a layer of scales make her a sea thing, glittering in the cold sun. There’s a fish in her hands and it wriggles as she scrapes its side. But it’s still cold. Except it’s summer, it’s summer, and I saw her in a picture or a movie somewhere. Her freckles.
That’s right, I have to brush my teeth. She was yelling at me. I don’t want her to do it herself; she is rough. She says often that it would be easier if I had dentures. I don’t think she likes touching me. Well, no wonder, I probably smell of fish. Yes. Whichever nurse it is, she yells until winter comes and throws its cloak on the chair, even though I said to hang it on the hook.
No, it was summer in Italy, the old Italy, back when it was one country. Or is it little states again? A boy was playing in the sand. Grass kept blowing in his face and he laughed, fell over. He was allergic to the grass, or was it the sand? Was he allergic to himself? He was so beautiful the starlings hushed when he drew near. He is on a beach. A wave rolls in and sweeps him in a rush of foam and fish and the scales give him a thousand papercuts. Maybe this is why I am so sad. My baby boy. My husband.
There was a cat watching a woman as she washed vegetables in the sink. Atop the fridge, I mean. It was a short fridge and a long cat. A silver tabby with orange eyes like the devil. This is in Oregon, I think. He waits for his sliver of fish on a fork. Two quick licks and his chest expands like a lion’s. His tongue rasps. Such a beautiful old cat, tricky, ill-humoured. He is safe from little hands and hugs.
I miss someone but I’m not sure who. Maybe it’s more of a feeling that I miss. I still remember some of them, like the woodsy camping and collecting and treasures out of nothing greenery. Or the musty cushions and sunlight and a book and ice cream. But they seem shorter whenever I remember them. Does a feeling get shorter? I think I miss more of a feeling than a person.
Once upon a time I read about a woman standing beside a sink in the winter sun and thought it strange because I’d just been thinking of it. I think some words just stick with you. Even before, words would follow me around. Numbers, too. You’d pay attention to a number and it would be right everywhere. Just because you’d seen it in a phone book.
She held a knife with three fingers, my lover, so she had to put it down when her boy came running into the house. Outside was Algeria. He was a fragile thing. His body was trying to eat itself from the inside. Or was it that he had scales inside him, lining his mouth and stomach? He was healthy running in, chasing the cat. His face was so smooth. But later he would be crying in bed because it hurt too much and she would rub his small back. If only she’d put the knife down sooner, he wouldn’t have been born sick. If only she hadn’t had him
Once there was a woman living far from home, in a bitter cold place. She met a man living far from home, in a bitter hot place. He had fish scales in his mouth. Together they swept dust in the attic and their fingers touched. He kept saying, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I am sick; his tears ran over his lips. She held him there and shushed him because shadow monsters were outside the door. Anger took over her. She stood and went to fling the door open. But the monsters were inside him and the hallway led to a different place, a distant kitchen.
I thought there was a cat resting on my feet, but it’s only a big warm blanket purring. I miss Rocco. Or was his name Michael? I miss Karim too. I think my child was supposed to visit me yesterday. I feel like I have a lot of charcoal in the pit of my stomach and I don’t know if it’s all burned up or ready to light. I wonder what happened to the woman scaling the fish, and if she feels lonely at all. Her love served no purpose. It’s like that sometimes, I believe; you hold an exquisite sculpture in your hands, but too tight, and drop it on the floor and it breaks. Someone said that things breaking was just a sign of time running its course. But if we just turned around, we would see burned houses unburning themselves. I don’t know which way I see it. When she comes tomorrow, I’m going to give her all the paper out of my drawer, even the receipts, and see what she thinks of it.
Elina is a neurodiverse student, writer, and editor for PRISM Magazine, living and working on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. She holds a MA in French Literature from the University of Toronto and is working towards her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. She can typically be found brewing tea in unlikely vessels or playing Dungeons and Dragons.