The Water Ran Off With Her Dirt
David Aichenbaum
Break
Lexi kept a puddle of a pond in the backyard with some water lilies and a mermaid weathervane. A goldfish slipped the boundaries and wound up in the pump system. She spotted the fish while replacing the rotor. The pond had always been Ray's to deal with. She knew from his mother he was out now, just released. She dialed on her cell.
"He won't let me catch him," she said. The fish shimmied, stirred up sediment. "For food there's some algae, I guess, but who knows how he got there. I'd like to know. It can't be much of a life."
"This fish really has you thinking," Ray said.
"I'm a thinker," she said. It was cold living lonely, cold like inches below ice where river water remembers to move, and thinking was movement for her, churning into being a desperate, compensatory warmth. She thought about Ray a whole lot— ex-con, ex-husband. Nothing made much sense since Ray. He was smart and strange and stupid in ways she couldn't muse together.
"There's the one kind of living that won't get you anywhere," he said.
She sold the house and the fish with it. She moved to Boston. Ray's new place was thirty minutes down the road. She rented a room above a gelateria and worked the counter every other day. The gelato was frozen through, impossible to chip out. Ray agreed to drop by for a bit, so she set up a table by the window and poured him a cup of coffee. Why had she come? He wanted to know.
"Job opportunity," she said.
He snatched a pack of Sweet'N Low and slipped it in his shirt pocket. His thumb was missing its nail. Neosporin shaded the sore like scum over a pond.
"Lex," he said, "you won't get me any better this time around."
She drank some water. It slid down the wrong pipe and she coughed. To live only with his body. To have him but never get.
He took to bed more than anything else. Napping was his thing now. She fixed him in her eyes and grew warm and thoughtless in his immediacy. The weekend came and she wasn't working and Ray, sheathed in blankets, was dozing with his head beneath her pillow. She went alone to the aquarium by the harbor. It was an old aquarium with not much in the way of light and there were concrete pillars and sections empty of people. She climbed the ramp in a long circle up. She followed the plaques. They all had Latin headings. Below the headings were explanatory passages printed in lettering too small to read. With the fish so close, she didn't mind not knowing. Fish full of color, brushing sides flame-like, upsurging in unison.
At home, Ray was gone and her pillow was gone. In the kitchen her blender was gone and the light bulbs were gone. The sockets were gone too. Red and blue wires dangled haplessly. In the living room the dictionary and encyclopedia were gone. Her phone was gone. Her window shades were gone and the room was awfully bright. Her sunglasses were gone. Dust was everywhere but where objects used to be. The lock for the bathroom door was gone. She took a hot bath. The shampoo was gone and the soap was gone. He had left one bottle of conditioner, which she used on her hair and under her arms and between her toes.
David Aichenbaum lives in Medford, Massachusetts. His work has been published by SmokeLong Quarterly, decomP Magazine, Dogzplot Flash Fiction, and Hobart (Web).