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Fishbowl Brain

/ Riley Sutton (Writer), Caroline Tjoe (Illustrator)

Nonfiction — 4 min reading time

No. 2


A filled fishbowl replaces a lady in yellow's head. She places her head against the bowl.

If the summer of 2016 had a smell, it would be hydrangeas. Hydrangeas, and moss, and whatever those green little weeds are that sprout out from under the dirt, whenever you walk loose-toed hiking trails. Because yes, we were hiking that summer. We were in Arkansas, and that was the only thing to do that didn’t involve stuffing ourselves with various meats. You were a vegetarian, anyway. So we hiked.

Your dad had all of the best sights to see, logged in the notes section of his old, cracked-up iPhone. They were all far. Home was just one nauseating car ride away, and we complained, and held our hands out in erroneous prayer. But the sun was shining like daggers down on us, and the caves were cool and wet, and that’s where we found the moss. And so you and I stuffed our gangly teenage selves into those slanted, claustrophobic caves. There was water dripping, somewhere. It felt like a sweat on your upper lip, but all over the body instead, a constant shiver. We pressed on. Your sister was so young that she could slide through the cracks in the rock and run ahead, without letting us know that she’d left. When I realized that we had lost her, my heart jumped into my throat like a frog. The cave started to squeeze a little bit tighter. I used my tiny purple flashlight and illuminated every orifice of the rock, and the faces of quite a few unsuspecting people. They grimaced, sneering at the tiny beam of my flashlight. And then your sister was sitting next to the waterfall drip, toes dangling in the pool as though she was vacationing in the Bahamas.

My shirt was soaked clean through. The cave was pitch black, so dark that you couldn’t even see your hands, couldn’t be sure that they existed. It felt like the hollow at the end of the universe. But if you closed your eyes, and stood against a wall, you could hear the roaring thrum of the water. It vibrated against the rocks, and into our fingertips. The air was tangy, and it smelled like sweat and dust and salt. We left; but this time, I kept my hands on your sister’s shoulders.

Your dad said that the last hike was to a hidden lake cove, and that it would be so short that we would laugh at him for calling it a hike. He lied. We walked uphill for two hours, and my shorts were soaked through as well, and when we finally stopped walking I collapsed in the hydrangeas. There was a sign there, saying not to step on the flowers. I didn’t. So technically, I told you, technically I never broke any rules.

The lake was gorgeous. Sparkling aquamarine in the midday sun, and so tranquil that a rock would bounce right off, up and into the atmosphere. Your sister dove in first, little water wings cutting off any circulation to her grubby hands. She said it was cold. But still, the water beckoned. And so you and I, we peeled off our disgusting sweaty clothes, because we had bikinis on underneath. Do you remember those swimsuits? We had gone to Wal-Mart, in the middle of Nowhere, Arkansas, and we got cute matching bikinis in pink and lemon colors. I was so happy. We looked like a couple of lollipops, floating on top of the cool lake water, and doing everything in our power to become one with the hot, summer day.

Everything was so perfect, and beautiful, and I splashed water in your face and we laughed. And what now? You have carried yourself and your memories and your matching swimsuit, and you have taken them so far away that I can’t begin to search. I can’t even say that I miss you. It’s not right, not enough. Do the flowers miss the rain? No. They need each other, attached by some mortal coil that even God himself could not break, but you did. Painting faint blue watercolor all over my life, because now I am at the bottom of the lake, and I am alone. The flowers will wilt without the rain but you will be fine. My thoughts return to you like a frantic goldfish, swimming in circles over and over again, I can’t see where the bowl ends so I just keep spinning.

I fought for you tooth and nail, with scratches up and down my chest as you shoved me out of your life. Maybe you don’t need my best-friendship in college. Maybe home is just a footnote in your book, and so am I. You don’t want me anymore, and my heart snaps, every day. To have mouthwatering victories and bitter defeats, to know that you will never care. Never again, at least. I hope that back then, under the bright Arkansas sky, you loved me just a little bit.

We floated, with hair cast out around our heads like halos. Your sister giggled from the shore. And as our eyes met across the water, and the wind sung through the petals of the hydrangeas, I felt like I was home. Not the temporary, ramshackle kind, but a home that would forever last.

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