Cold Fish

I am staring at two dead fish on an iron skillet. I put them on before the skillet really had a chance to warm-up and they stare at me coldly, casting their blame. Smash-cut, and there he stands, with his finger crooked at me like the hook waiting for the fish. Afterwards, I found I couldn’t tell a soul. It was like a secret pact with myself, something I carried around with me, like the child on my hip, or the laundry in my arms. There are times when I can feel his arms, broad around, hairy, all encompassing. I remember his smell. His teeth. His rough jeans. These memories, these images, are written all over my body like a map of the world, but like Atlantis they are submerged beneath my surface and do not seek for discovery.

There are days when he does not visit me, days and sometimes whole weeks pass were I smooth my dress, look in the mirror and smile. There are times when I forget, touch my own body and bring him back to me, crooked finger, cold fish. I never heard his voice; he was silent as he operated, workmanlike even. I lay on the forest floor with the scent of earth and decay working their way into my hair, my clothes, my fingernails. I made noises I had never heard myself make before, sounding just like a wounded animal that had failed to realize, that men can dish out pain as easily as they can dish out love. I stood on the forest path and watched the hook with my mouth open, getting closer and closer.

The pan is finally sizzling, the pleasant aroma of fish and butter and garlic mingling fills the house, and like little dogs sniffing the air, my children enter the kitchen. They press their hands against me, push their heads into me and rub their hair into ingenuous little peaks. They wander in and out of me on a whim and leave me standing bereft when they move on.

Smash-cut, I’m lying on the ground and he’s walking away, I can hear his footfalls as I lie, broken, on my chilly earthen bed. I am as quiet as the forest now. I get up and collect my things, smooth my dress, walk home. I am glad that no one will be there when I arrive. I take a bath, try to wash him away, but under the water is his essence and floating on the top is his scent.

He is with me now wherever I walk, whenever I drink coffee or make bread. He is with me in the kitchen cooking fish, staring with me into the cold fish eye, admiring his reflection captured in its lens. The children are calling, and I run as I have run a thousand times before to discover torn skin, or a broken tooth. This time the tears are light, my husband and I meet over the battle scene and exchange looks of relief. “No harm done,” he says. “No harm done,” I echo. My son stands up and runs off with his brother. We smile, and move apart, but the space between us seems diminished slightly and I return to the kitchen in wonder.

Paula Thomas

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