You were baking shrimp. It was evening in Brooklyn in late October. Yellow leaves were falling off of trees and smacking the bay window. Your mother had just died. Pete was gone, too; had been gone.
The oven dinged. You checked your phone: four missed calls from your father. You walked over, made sure that the cat wasn’t around because he always hopped into the thing, and opened the oven. It was almost time for honey.
Your mother had taught you to drizzle a dark honey onto them just before biting into the shellfish when you were young. It made them syrupy and gooey. Thinking about it made your mouth water, made you miss your mother.
Your phone chimed. Another text from your father: Honey bear—call me when you can. I have news on the service.
He shouldn’t call you honey bear. He shouldn’t call you anything at all. You left the shrimp in the oven and picked up your fluffy lump of a cat. He was purring. You felt his chest move with this rhythm. You put him down, leaving your phone on the counter and the shrimp in the oven. You walked out of your apartment.
You walked out onto the street and it was cold. You hadn’t changed out of your drawstring shorts. You looked down: pink, veiny legs. You paused at the bus stop, telling yourself that you’d wait only five minutes then you’d head home. You’d return your father’s text. Hell, maybe you’d call him.
A bus came barreling down the street within a minute and you walked on, pulling your shorts up past your waist, something your mother had always told you was “unladylike and quite odd.” You missed her.
You swiped your card onto the reader and waited for the approving noise to chime. You sat down next to a family of four.
You used to be part of a family of four. You were nineteen when your little brother killed himself. You knew it was an accident. You hoped it was an accident. Pete was addicted to Xanax. The little blue pills you tried a couple of times in high school took your brother and killed him. He’d buy them by the bag-full and take five pills a day, but it was mixing that really got him, your sweet baby brother. You walked in on him.
It was over Thanksgiving weekend and you remember walking down the basement. Uncle Charlie was staying with you and so Pete spent most of his time down there. You had found him passed out before so when he looked unconscious on the floor, you got angry. You yelled, “Pete! What did you do now?” and you stomped over to him, kicking his side with your fuzzy sock-covered foot. You kicked him again. You kicked him harder and harder until you rolled him over with your foot and saw his eyes. They were open, bloodshot, full of something you’d never seen before. Pete was gone. You kicked your dead brother.
At the funeral, you couldn’t stop thinking about how you kicked him hard down your family’s basement. Pete looked so peaceful in his casket and his fluffy brown hair was tufted to the side just like your mother used to comb it when he was younger. Your mother and father were overcome. They sobbed and you were the one shaking hands, thanking them for coming. Your parents were standing behind you just sobbing. And you understood. You did. Losing a child must be the worst thing. You blamed Detroit for a long time. You blamed living in a small suburb next to Detroit. You moved to New York City the June after Pete died.
Where were you headed? You looked at your arms and they felt smaller, shorter. Your feet were pointing up toward the sky.
You looked at the family of four. There was a young girl and a boy. A mother and a father. The boy kept picking on the girl, pulling her hair, poking out his tongue. The girl cried. She looked like you.
You remembered when Pete and you got into a fight in the backyard next to the basketball hoop. Pete got so mad at you. You don’t remember why. He was so angry, full of something you’d never seen in him; only in your father. You remember Pete slapping your face. And then you got angry, too. You slammed his small head into the metal pole and he turned around. He turned around and pulled out a chunk of your hair. You cried for weeks. The bald spot on the back of your head was terrible, but it grew back.
The bus wasn’t hot or cold, but just felt right like when you feel nothing. Not sweet, not salty. Nothing. Nothing on your tongue but spit. Nothing in the air but you. You looked down at yourself: pink. You could see your reflection on the opposite side of the bus. Your eyes were bulging. You were hunched over at some strange angle. You needed help, you needed help, you needed honey. You wanted honey.
You pulled at the wire above your head with small arms, curled over hands, eliciting a stop. You’d made it to Brighton Beach. How’d you get here?
You hopped off of the bus and began stripping down. The bus hadn’t left yet, and the driver was sitting in his bus driver chair watching you. You shot him a look and he drove away, the family of four still inside. Still safe.
You had about a ten-minute walk on sand to the ocean, but there you were, naked, pink, veiny. Your toes were red and shelled-over. With each step, you felt your eyes bulge further out of your head. You felt your arms retract and spread until you had many, many small ones all down your abdomen. You began hopping.
Your father left you and your mother four months after Pete died. You came home from class one evening to your mother sitting on the porch next to the concrete statue of a dog, the one that Pete and you climbed on top of and rode until it’s neck cracked off and bits of its head painted the front yard. Your father had it put back together. Your mother was smoking a cigarette, the only cigarette you’d ever seen her smoke, and offered you one. The pack was half empty and looking up at you, she only said, “your father left.”
He took the blanket that his mother had knit for you, the coffee machine, all of the hanging pictures of Pete. You were left on the walls. He took Molly and left the other family dog. He took the wooden ducks that adorned the fireplace. He took Pete’s baseball card collection. His car was gone. He took the good suitcase.
You felt like a shrimp. You really did. You saw the ocean at your toes and they weren’t toes anymore. You had a tail. You were different shades of pink, different variances of shell. You were veins. The ocean felt so right on your new body. It felt like the time Pete and your mother and father and you rented a cabin in northern Michigan. You brought Molly, too, and had a neighbor watch Frankie, the other family dog, because he was blind and could barely breathe anymore.
“He’d never make it,” your father kept saying on the drive up.
You had a small boat on the lake there and Molly would let her tongue hang out the side of her mouth. Or maybe her tongue let Molly do it. Pete cannonballed out of the boat into the center of the lake and didn’t come up for a long time and you remember your mother jumping in after him. She was wearing an extra-large Beatles t-shirt and orange drawstring shorts. She was so much wetter than Pete was when he finally came up from the water, gasping for a breath like Frankie used to.
You waded into the water until you were shoulder deep. You could feel your body calling them: Pete and your mother. You let your head sink into saltwater.
You were under there for a long time. You could breathe and you could move and you could see Pete dancing under there with you. He was young again. And you saw your mother jump into the water, too. She was wearing her Beatles t-shirt and she was searching for Pete. He just stared at you. He just loved you.
Laura Manardo is a whale-loving MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago. She spends most of her spare time in coffee shops writing about bodies of water and the people who love them. You can find her newest work in her poetry chapbook entitled “Lemon Water in Lake Michigan” on the Grandma Moses Press website or on the link on her Instagram: MoreSangria.