SHARKS AND LAMPREYS: A STORY IN TEN PARTS / CHRIS SMITH

 

I.

Under the pebbled moon, it hurt. The way their teeth clink together, crystal glasses toasting to long life and love. With the stars posing and moon spying, they glow blue, phosphorescent blue that leaks into shades of blue-black and—finally—black. Their friend laughs, peeling his hands from the backs of their heads, letting them split from kiss. “Your lips are soft,” she says. “And bleeding.” He smears the cut on his mouth, clearing room for more crimson liquid to burble to the surface. “Tastes like a battery,” she says, then licks her lips with the precision of a lunar landing.

 

II.

They walk, fingers tangled, the rocks crunching underfoot. “What would you do for me?” she asks, “if I needed you to.” He stares out, beyond the edge of the precipice at the blurred houses and ancient ground. She waits for an answer as he shuffles his feet closer to the edge. Shrrrrrrrrk, shrrrrrrrrk: gravel scraping mountain. Without a word, he leans out; she grabs the back of his shirt and holds tightly, tighter. Further and out over the edge he goes and she tethers him with her fingers. “I could drop you,” she says. Still wordlessly, his arms stretch as if he was trying to give the world a bear hug.

 

III.

She holds him down, straddling his chest, bending over, pinching his nose closed and cupping his mouth with her own. She had told him, “This is an experiment,” then pushed him into the drying grass and settled dirt. “When I pinch you, I want you to breathe out,” she says. Pinch. He lets the air slip from his lungs, a trickle from the stream; and she sucks until every drop is in her own reservoir. The shared air tastes like almonds and marmalade—but stale. He can feel his lungs wither and bend. All he can think about is breathing. But she won’t let him. With tightened fingers she pinches his nose harder and pushes her mouth further over his. Trees and sky begin to slip from view, sliding into a purple and white ocean. She lets the air from her lungs, allowing him to inhale the twice stale nuts and jelly. Repeat. Inhale/exhale. Repeat. Exhale/inhale. Each cycle: she: pinching, sucking, holding; he: twitching, gasping, fading. Until a fit of coughs breaks the two apart and she rolls and stills beside him, both quaffing the flavor-free sky through nostrils and maws. Clouds puff overhead, fish in the sea. She sits up, giggling between hacks; he brushes the grass from her back.

 

IV.

The shark fades in from the darkness behind it, swaying through the water a stroke of cartilage and muscle at a time. A lamprey, suckered to its underside, remains below the rows of snaggle teeth. They watch it swim, back and forth, forth and back, with only a few feet of glass between the couple and the monster. Her fingers slip from his as she steps to the engraved panel. “The sea lamprey is a parasite,” she starts, “It attaches to fish with its suction mouth and sharp teeth then uses its tongue to pierce the skin of the host, feeding on its host’s blood and bodily fluids. An anti-co-ag-ulant in the lamprey’s saliva keeps the wound open for hours or weeks, until the parasite is satisfied or the host fish dies.”

“Why would they put one of those in the tank?”

“Because it’s romantic.”

 

V.

A constant tinkle of water sifts over, under and around the rocks embedded in the stream. She crouches, knees popping; her hair dangling into the soft oscillating water, the tips drifting and dripping. “Do you have a penny?” she asks. He digs in his pockets and pulls a few coins out to rest in his palm. “You only need this one.” She points to a shiny penny, polished bronze and burgundy. Her hands form a bowl as she drops them beneath the stream’s mirror-skin. “Quick,” she says, offering her leaky fingers out to him, “make a wish.” He does. The penny plops into her small flesh-basin and drops to the bottom. In one languid moment, she brings the make-shift bowl to her lips and slurps the liquid and wish down her throat. Cold and copper in her tummy.

 

VI.

“I know it wasn’t the best of ideas,” she rasps as he brings her an empty puke bowl and damp cloth. He nods and dabs her forehead, watching her pale face twitch into unwanted dreams. She dreams of parasites, nibbling her innards and hissing at one another through suckered lips and jawless mouths. He thinks about the drawn out fashion in which she sounds out polysyllabic words and wonders whether she went to public or private schools. The room smells of white and she continues to twitch while he continues to wonder.

 

VII.

Bubbles and sputters pop and sound on their left and right sides. Each tank lit with a fluorescent light, giving the whole room the incandescent glow of water. Inside, the tetras, gouramis, betas, sharks, suckers, goldfish, turtles, snails and crabs swim listlessly, unaware of the fact that they can only go to and fro. “You like ‘em?” She points to two tetras, neons, glowing blue and red, their insides visible through transparent scales, “We need those.”

 

VIII.

In the evenings, when boredom keeps them indoors, they sit and watch the two swimming fish, darting together and looking frightened by the size of their world. “Do you think we need more?” she asks. He kisses her bellybutton. “I thought not.”

 

IX.

“You never answer me,” she says.

 

X.

“I’d die—if you need me.”

“Lovely,” she replies, then bites his chin, where she remains until his blood dribbles down her own.

 

 

 

 

 A user and abuser of Dr. Pepper, Chris Smith is currently a nomad with his traveling nurse wife and two cats. At the time of this publication, they will be in Oregon but will soon be headed out East. He’s a video game and film addict, but writes when/where he can, his short stories appearing at various online and print venues. He’s currently shopping around his first solo novel and one he coauthored with his writing counterpart, Holly Cagney. You can find out more about him at his blog: Press Start.

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