“Gleaming like a Bluebottle Among the Waves”

Published by The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society (August 2014).

Gleaming like a Bluebottle Among the Waves

When Kevin thinks of Jason – of his curly brown hair and burning blue eyes, of the cute upturn in his voice and the way he would reach over and squeeze Kevin’s hand or thigh no matter who was watching – he also thinks of those goddamn leggings that Jason wore basically all summer the last year they were together, the ones that almost glowed from the purple and hot pink crests of the man-o-wars printed on them – and then of the marine biology professor Kevin had for “Principles of Hydrozoan Adaptation” the year he and Jason met, who taught an entire lesson about the “jellyfish that isn’t a jellyfish,” the Portuguese man-o-war, which is “actually a siphonophore,” he could hear Dr. Casings saying, “a collection of four different entities so evolutionarily tied together that they can’t live on their own: they are adapted specifically and solely to a life of companionship.”

Kevin figured he really only remembered this specific lecture because of the time he saw his tio stung by a man-o-war in Brazil while visiting his mother’s family – during an excited trip to the beach on a bright-hot day in December that was cut through by sudden shrieks as his tio lunged for shore, kicking like mad. “The stings hurt much worse than a jellyfish’s,” Dr. Casings had told the class, “and if the victim – be it fish or human – thrashes, the tentacles move about and the man-o-war’s nematocysts envenom the victim further.” Before being pulled away and cocooned in a towel by his tias, Kevin had seen fat tears rush down his tio‘s face as he cursed in three languages, his legs laced with red welts. “They float on the surface, after all, though they can deflate to drop below,” the memory of Dr. Casings chimes, face awash in light from a projector, “and the pneumatophore, or the sail, is perhaps their most recognizable feature.”

In Brazil, the delicate tentacles beaded with sand as they tugged along the bright blue air bladder like a deflated balloon that Kevin saw was already drying, the Atlantic leaving behind a thin layer of opaque minerals. As muscular twenty-somethings in little red shorts and large black sunglasses cleared everyone from the water, the slender woman who brought over thick gloves from the lifeguard hut to help treat his wailing tio‘s leg said that it was probably dead, that sometimes they float for a while after they die, but dying doesn’t make their poison any less painful. Now, Kevin imagines that: wind and sun battering the gas bladder that crowns the colonial being; the luminous colors of the man-o-war painted along the delicate bubble of the sail; the twenty, thirty, fifty foot long tendrils spiraling down to where the water gets cooler, the man-o-war’s venom still potent though all the life connected to it is gone.

The vision of those coiled tentacles always gives Kevin a sensation of cold water down his back as his mind submerges into the cooler depths he loved to secretly visit on those family vacations – out further than his tias told him he was allowed to go, past the lagoon’s sandy peninsulas, where the bright green turned to blue and darkened as you looked toward the horizon, and then under, where the bottom turned to rough coral and the current pulled at his thin limbs like a spirit, a lemanjá beckoning him onward, deeper, onward – except now he sees Jason floating there in those fucking leggings, gleaming eerie blues and purples like colored glass in the gloom as he reaches out for Kevin, tentacles drifting forward. “And inside their venomous arms are muscles that contract after a sting, pulling paralyzed fishes up to the man-o-war’s gastrozooids to be digested,” Dr. Casings reminds him.

Each time, despite everything, Jason looks somehow ethereal and inviting and familiar, even as Kevin struggles toward the wavering circle of the sun shining through the watery haze, his eyes burning and lungs shuddering as he beats his limp arms against the current, feels Jason stinging along his legs, searing across his skin as the muscles underneath tremble and seize, as he looks down through the pitch at stingers anchoring, tying themselves into knots around his ankles and thighs, binding Kevin as close to another living thing as he can be, then the scorching yanks and jolts of tentacles contracting like needles tearing his skin, pulling him further from the dimming spot of sun and into the gaping cold of green-black water below, dragging him deeper, closer, onward.

“About the Girl”

Published in Flash: The International Flash Fiction Magazine 6.2 (October 2013).

About the Girl

walking down the side of the road during suburban rush hour – saffron and bulgar in a bag hanging from her fingertips, hair wrapped in the same silk her mother used to wear – only her rosewood-colored face and hands revealed from behind a dress of black cotton. As she steps carefully along the road’s gravel edge, she wonders about what she looks like as the breeze from the cars pushes the fabric of the dress against her. She imagines what the wind shows the drivers trapped in traffic – a shadow of her naked form – and smiles just barely, feet moving softly forward, as in the minds of the men she sees, she allows herself to dance – moving to the rhythms of hips and hands – and she is stunning – turning on her toes, opals nestled and gold threads braided into her hair, her glistening skin under lacy mist – looking in these men’s minds the way she will feel, she knows, when she finally dances with him – whoever he may be, me or the guy in the orange Mustang, Azhar in the neighborhood two blocks over or someone she has yet to meet. She makes a left onto the street where she lives – her hair showering down her bare back – and stumbles for a step – my hands rushing out to catch her, lift her back up and follow her body’s movements – before regaining her footing. At her house, she turns again, walking up to the stoop – her shadow still dancing and smiling, revealing the goddess just beneath her skin – before pausing to smooth the fabric over her head and step gently through the doorway into the sound of her grandmother’s singing.


Published in Blink-Ink (June 2014):


Myra – her mother’s name now listed – reads articles on regenerative medicine, imagines a sterile lab, starched white coats shuffling by the incubator, a cluster of cells – her mother’s new heart – beating, blooming in a shallow plastic dish.

“Atrophic Scars”

Published in Blink-Ink (June 2014).

Atrophic Scars

Since the surgery, Val doesn’t remove her shirt, will not show the flat, jagged marks across her chest. David says, “I just want to see you again,” holds her hands as they sit on the bed, while in her mind she traces the simple contours her body once had.

“On Fault”

Published by Oblong (May 2014).

On Fault

Allen stood in the bright morning light spilling through the narrow doorway of their bedroom, looking at the patched blanket across the bed where he and Elaine slept, the skin of his bicep molding around the corner of the door frame. His arms were folded and he stood in silence, one leg relaxed and behind him – as if it was dark out and he was pausing sleepily as he came back from the kitchen with a glass of water or a Tums. The bed – that same wooden, four-post frame where his grandfather had been conceived; the sheets Elaine usually smoothed after he had left for the auto shop; the quilt her grandmother had made when Elaine was still in diapers – sat empty, seeming very flat and far too large, as if a body should be resting there, as if a body should always be there. Even the sunlight that fell across the quilt was gray, Allen thought, as his eyelid twitched; all the blues and reds and oranges looked muted.

Across town – in another bed, with a white sheet pulled up to her chest and clear tubes making graceful turns out of her nostrils – Elaine laid awake, nestled between the dull whistles and murmurs of hospital machines. She had been home a few days before while Allen was still at work – after teaching her three piano lessons for the day – when she collapsed from a rare sort of seizure pattern that can pop up in mid-life without warning, a tangled string of syllables that the doctors said quickly and without relief in their voices. Allen had told Elaine that he’d be home at five-thirty, which turned out to be just a half-hour or so after she stopped walking and began falling down the stairs – laid there with her forehead daintily on the bottom step, her dark blonde hair fanned out around her – but Allen had forgotten she was making chicken parmesan and renting a movie – honestly – and went out for a beer with Dave after work.

Allen had not arrived home until six-forty, a full hour and fifty minutes after Elaine’s thigh jerked and her eyes rolled back, and by the time he found her – so still and beautiful, her face relaxed and eyes closed, like she had decided to nap in the strangest of places – her face was slightly puffy and a string of dried saliva ran out of her mouth, up her cheek, past her eye, and onto the carpeted floor. The saliva was specked red, like the glass pendant he had bought her for their last anniversary, and her tongue sat limp against her teeth, pushing slightly against her open lips. Allen had called 911 and rushed around the house, turning off the oven and fanning smoke from the alarm, trying to pin down how long ago it had happened, if he could’ve been home to catch her, how far she had fallen and if it caused any extra injuries, if lying upside down on the stairs like that for long enough could cause brain damage or encourage blood clots. She had been in the hospital ever since on doctor’s orders, despite Allen’s arguments, despite his adamant claims that monitoring Elaine was his job.

Allen blinked against the suddenly harsh light of their bedroom, turned his head from the dust motes settling on Elaine’s quilt, and coughed roughly as he straightened up. He didn’t know how long he’d been standing in the doorway, staring at the bed as if waiting for movement, for Elaine to pop out from under the impossibly flat quilt, smile at him with her twisted grin and apologize for taking the joke so far. Allen scratched the side of his head and decided to go out for a smoke, thinking of what Elaine had said on Monday as she laid between those pale hospital sheets: “We can’t blame ourselves, Al. Some things just happen.” She had smiled at him after she’d said it, rubbed the back of his hand with her soft palm. He’d told her he had to go, had errands to run and a few things to do around the house. “Okay, baby,” she’d said, reaching out for a hug. “Be safe.”

Now, on their front porch, Allen snorted out smoke and crushed his cigarette on the wooden railing, leaving a tiny smoldering pile of black tobacco on the clean white surface. He walked back into the house, past her coats hanging by the front door, the slippers she left in the living room the week before, the pan in the sink filled with crispy, blackened chicken and burnt cheese, before stopping by the answering machine and its blinking red light. He lifted the old cordless phone from the kitchen wall and scrolled through the missed calls – four over the past two days from the auto shop’s main number and three missed today straight from his boss’ private line. Allen reached out and held down the delete button before setting the phone back in its cradle, listening absently to the shrill pealing tone even after all the unheard messages had gone, and then padded back down the hall toward their bedroom doorway.