[40] Fingerlings, Tessa Ellison Rossi

I had a penis once, in a dream. I was strong. The day on the water, golden. My brother stood, pissed off the boat. I did too and savored the unremarkable act.

Fucking fish, take that. To them, we were gargoyles atop the cathedral. Couldn’t catch a one, nor a single crab, not even with chicken backs and all our sleep lost from rising in the dark. Our mother’s rage, the men. Sweet stench of liquor, the house airless. How we had to show respect.

Cal read me like he always could. We didn’t talk much; it scared the fish. But each knew the other’s thoughts. No one knows me that way now.

It’s Friday. He’ll come around. You can stay with me, Lou. He laid his voice on my shoulder, gentling. In Cal’s room I’d lie between him and the wall, listening to big bands on the kitchen radio and not those animal noises underneath. His bed smelled like him: warm, strong, almost-grown. I could sleep there, Cal between me and the darkness. We’d stay out past supper, curse those fish who took our bait and left us only emptiness, burned skin.

He’s dead now, my brother Cal. Drowned, sort of. All his life on that boat and he never learned to swim where it most mattered, the merciless current of drink. I immerse myself and pray. The spikes with their brandy-eyes don’t take more than nibbles, cuts not deep enough to gouge out my fish-belly shame.

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