Online Art Gallery: Volume 25

Fish Mouth

by Elle Klock

I dress for therapy this morning pulling shirts from the closet and then throwing them on the floor. I settle on a beat up white t-shirt with denim jeans, tattered holes dotting the legs so parts of the tattoos covering my thighs peak out. I hope this reads: don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. Walking anywhere in this city feels like being in a zoo. Something about my abundance of tattoos compared to my small frame and shiny blonde hair makes even the most liberal of mothers gawk. Once when John and I were quietly enjoying the Anthropology Museum in British Columbia, an elderly woman audibly gasped in my direction, clutching her 1,000-year-old husband’s arm for support, as if I were the devil come to steal her morality. “My heavens! A girl in a skirt! In public! Knee high socks! Doesn’t she know there are children here?”

I grab my keys, wallet, and sunglasses and dart out the door towards my therapist’s office. She says it’s best that I walk when I can, something about vitamin D or endorphins (or did she say estrogen?) or osteoporosis, women’s issues. The sun is bright over my head, I squint to see if cars are coming and stop in my tracks. The ringing is sometimes paralyzingly sharp. I steady and take a deep breath, my vision blurs but I can smell the lawnmower near by, the burn of oil, smoke. My throat spasms.

The thought of explaining my emotions today to my therapist invokes daydreams of driving off the Morrison Bridge, of falling off the roof of a 15th floor building, of falling, falling, falling into nothing. I should tell my therapist about all this, about the twitch behind my left eye that has gone on as long as 78 hours since last week. A record breaking streak! About the dreams, especially that the one with the fire and man in the doorway is back. The dreams fluctuate with intensity. Sometimes they slide into bed with me, slick and discreet, leaving only a chill on my neck and the anxious writhing, pillow turning, sheet tangling. On the worst nights, they thunder through the roof, possess my sleep with howling, nip at my heels. There’s no way to escape the Bad Things, they find me, sweaty, wide-eyed, somehow surprised. Then pounces. I wake with skin on fire, the sheets threatening to tie me down. Sometimes I scream. John tries to calm me, he tries to pull me in close but my skin is electric. Every touch feels like a shock; his hands are
live wires. I don’t know how to tell him this. I let him console me while I twitch in his arms, a fish on the dock, a rabbit in a trap.

I dread telling Dr. Stenner any of this. She says I circle around the Bad Things, protecting them like a well licked wound. I prefer to bring her small offers of the Good Things I’ve done: gone on my runs, woken up without wanting to die, went outside, drank water. The Bad Things are there, we both know this, but I keep them safe, out of sight. To talk about them would mean a direct shot, a burn on the hand, a flashing neon sign pointing at all my fuck ups.

In Dr. Stenner’s office the walls are sterile and decorated with measly Target art. Framed photos of flowers in vases, fictional landscapes with prescribed calm waters. She’s sits in her chair expectantly. I stare back at her.

“Am I supposed to start?”

“Would you like to share anything about your week?” She isn’t ruffled by my defensive patterns, my icy walls. Admittedly, I find this both irritating and comfortable.

“The dreams are back.” She nods, affirming my ludicrous reality.

“What are they about?” As if on cue, my throat closes up and my eyes go fuzzy. My ears sting, an electric buzz pulsates through the blood behind my eyes. The couch underneath me falls away. I see myself at a distance, floundering for air. No words come out of my mouth, just two big, puffy lips opening and closing.

Dad used to take Michael and I fishing in the Rocky Mountains at the first signs of spring. He spent an entire day packing the car, making turkey and yellow mustard sandwiches, and letting us pick out bait in the store. The glittery rubber insects, each with a different display of gaudy allure; florescent pink tails, bouncing green guts, a sparkling set of wings, and a hook discreetly nested in the plump belly. I picked each of them up, rolling them over in my hands, careful to pick the prettiest, brightest imposter bugs, unaware that their attractiveness was a trap to set, it would almost always end in violence, in death. When we got to the lake, Michael would remind me to be quiet.

“The fish don’t like loud noises.”

Meaning we intended to surprise them. Meaning we are the hunters. Michael caught a rainbow trout the summer he was ten and I was seven. I remember this in small fragments, moving pictures staring through the car window. When he pulled the line and it tugged back he looked back at Dad and yipped, “I got one! I did it!” He fought with the line heroically, Dad coaching him from the sidelines while I sat on the rocky shore watching the water’s surface bulge and dip. It looked like a tango; it looked like flirting. A little drop here, a small tug back, and then in a tremendous force and all at once, the shimmery dancer lifted from the surface. It’s mouth gasped while it’s body thrashed back and forth, open mouth, confused and disoriented. I didn’t understand why we took a picture with it after smashing the head against a rock, as if to say, how easy it was, as if to say, look at what we can do.

Dad meets me at the apartment after my appointment to help install the new fire alarms I asked for. I fumble with the keys and let him lead the way inside and explain my therapist’s new plan for my treatment.

“It’s called Prolonged Exposure. She called it the ‘Gold Standard’ of trauma treatment. Have you heard of it? Is that named after some white dude with an ego problem, John Golde or what?” I ask him, handing him the batteries for the alarms.

He sighs, “No, Sunny, it’s the ‘Gold Standard’, as in it’s got the most data supporting it. It’s well researched. I’d suggest it for my patients as well.” A pause. “Do you trust her?”

“What’s not to trust? She’s the doctor, right?” My hands shake as I press the test button on the alarm, wincing at the high pitch confirmation from the disk in my hand. My father’s eyes watch me, pained. He asks, “Can I pray for you?” He knows how I feel about this gesture; that for me it’s a warm, heavy blanket, regardless of the religious symbol. I quickly nod my head once, not wanting to crumble. He prays and the tears roll out over my eyelids and stream down my cheeks. He’s asking for steadiness, for healing, for faith. Faith. The middle name they gave me in some ironic plot twist. I promise him I’ll get some rest as he kisses me goodbye, I have to get to work. He recommended earplugs to drown out the noise. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the noises are in my head; he’s already worried enough. I check the clock, 6:00. Shit, I’m gonna be late.

Walking to my car is always a game of hide and seek, keeping an eye out for predators, watching over my shoulder, listening to whispers or catcalls. Men remark on my tattoos or leer in my direction as we cross paths, freely drinking up my appearance, sometimes even reach out, as if I’m behind glass, as if to show ownership; a child picking up each of his toys and then throwing the ones he doesn’t want to play with on the ground.

Entering work, I numbly greet my coworkers who have already begun setting up the bar for the evening. Each shift is the usual scene of sloppy whiskey poets with tentacle arms and sticky eyelids. I flirt, arch my back just so, telling myself it’s feminist to play into their game, to squeeze a little more out of their wallets. Regardless, I still feel like I need a shower at the end of the night. Tonight my boss walks up to me glassy eyed, a little flushed in the cheeks.

“Sonya, you’re one of my favorite bartenders.” His words tumble out. He puts a meaty hand on my shoulder and begins to massage it, it feels like he’s trying to start a car, or crank the engine. I slide out from under it’s pressure.

“You need a shot, Ron?” His eyes are scanning my chest, my stomach; he teeters closer to me. He nods his head like a toddler waiting for his afternoon snack. I pour out a bourbon and push him away.

“Take it easy.”

He snorts at my suggestion and throws back his drink. My hands
aren’t steady; my sight flickers. Ron stands closer behind me and whispers hot, swampy breath into my ear, “Everything okay, sweetheart?” He sets a hand on the back of my neck and breaths deeply, a predator on the scent. I feel dizzy as he works his hands up my neck into my hair, tangles his fingers into it and then slowly pulls my head backwards towards his chest with a heavy breath, his mouth open, teeth bare. I feel my knees go slack, my stomach churn. His hands linger, clammy and greedy, then he walks away. As if to say, look what I can do, without remorse.

Dying Wings

by Saqif Maqsud

When poets roam the skies, they have given up on nature, humanity and reality.
They roam with their wings exhausted.
They roam solus. Disconnected from everything they once held dear.

As they soar the skies, they watch the world burn-
For they have given up their ink,

For their papers are all ashes now.
They fly the skies, not with broken hearts but with fractured souls.
They try in vain to stay one with the air.
To stay afar from reality and from society.
To get as close to fiction and not be fake.
They are the last of a dying breed,
And only the good lord knows,
When their wings will die and they come crashing down.

Wandering Spirit

by Hannah Ly

In a world so beautiful
how did I find you
the most radiant of all
beauty running down a waterfall
I wanted to keep you all for myself
Tried to grasp you
but instead,
fell like sand in the gaps of my fingers
Someone like you
belongs to the universe
not me
There was never a moment
that I had you for myself
but thank you
for letting me think so