“We Meet Witnessing a Woman Get Stung by a Jellyfish,” by Erin Piasecki
The thing bobs like a breast implant in the water. Someone pees a thin, dark stream onto the woman’s leg. We murmur from twinned fold-out chairs, stand up, walk closer through the sand. Talk about what we saw, a shared interest in the ocean, giant squid. Repeat, that was nuts. When he pissed on her? Shit.
The evening ends with his tongue snaking my molars.
I am a magnet for events like these. Childhood friends losing minor fingers to hamsters. A throng of bees dappling the track team in red. Someone from the social media department coming back with a stripe of stitches across her shoulder from a bear that wandered into her kitchen. They let her run the press Twitter after that.
Under a sun-bleached umbrella, he programs his number into my phone.
So you have to text me, he explains.
The next day, I do.
He and I have been dating for a month the first time someone dies. I find the woman whose novel I am editing with a snake wrapped around her neck. Its snot-yellow underbelly. As I wait for the police, I keep a close eye on the wall of cages. Pastel blue pythons and drab gray ratsnakes and inky boas separated only by glass. The one conspicuously empty. The novel goes unfinished.
After, I begin to have dreams of snakes and jellyfish skirts and other veined, fibrous things. The mucus of the jellyfish; its embryonic pulsing. That I am myself but have gone see-through. Blood sliding up the exposed seams of me. I recline across blooms of pink jellyfish-breasts but wake up in bed.
Trauma, the psych says. Stress.
The dreams subside. Two months. We go on more dates. I coif my hair and wear a crepe dress in an erratic herringbone print. The collar is choked up my neck. He brings me places I would never go, where we eat lamb with malt reduction, raw cuts of sea bass, translucent jellies clotted with berries. We delight in the quiver. Spoon it into mouth. Later, I suck down his tongue while he ham-fists my breast. I cannot help wishing his tongue were softer, slicker. He fucks his salty finger into my mouth. I’ll take care of you, he says. Forever. I know he means it. I almost drown myself inside him.
We move in together. I ask, What can I do? but he says he has it all covered, Not to worry. He decorates. Polycarbonate dining chairs. A white lambskin settee with a hole through it like an open eye. Fluted glass vases empty of flowers. I press him into the settee and glide along his thighs. The wood floors hurt my knees. I say, Maybe a carpet, before opening my elastic mouth. I hold him inside until his breath comes fast and I go and spit his salt into the kitchen sink.
In the new place, it happens again. Snakes writhe like bowels. Jellyfish fall out of my bra. Shoals of fish navigate my lungs. There is a slipstream through me. A waterlogged heart.
Risperidone, the psych prescribes. Fluoxetine. Lithium.
It is two years post-jellyfish when he begins to look for things in my mouth. Asks that I present my tongue to him each night. I speak through his meaty fingers. What are you looking for? I ask, but he will not say. He wants to see inside me. It frustrates him, to not know the innards of things. I suspect for him that is more literal than not.
He grows obsessed with tongue, me with animals. I watch videos online. Funny Animals Attacking People. Swans slapping up water. A boar snuffing before it knocks over a plastic lawn chair. Softshell turtles throwing their weight.
After that is not enough, I begin to parade him by the zoo. Under the ropy hammocks and foliage, we wait for a monkey. Nothing. Lithium. More lithium. Put pill in mouth and swallow.
I say, Let’s go to the beach. We pulse our legs all the way to the deep end, where there are sightings of sand sharks. None.
All the grit of the beach wedges itself between my toes. I sit on the gingham towel and gingerly pry them apart. It’s noon, he says, and produces the rainbow-bright plastic box. After I swallow the spit down, he pulls my tongue out of my mouth. Inspects. Maybe it is an incriminating hue. Maybe it is fine. He gives no indication.
We stow the towel, the faded beach umbrella, the cooler. He locks the trunk while I extract more grains of sand from between my big and second toe. We stop at the corner store and get a ham sandwich with miry lettuce (my request), a Coke (also me), some saltwater taffy (him). A ribbon of purple snaps across the horizon.
After dinner, more tongue. He holds me steady between thumb and forefinger. As reward we spoon lime jello with gobs of suspended raspberries. The rest of the evening runs together, sodden. He laughs and spills red wine over the carpet I bought. It runs a narrow river where the fibers are pressed thin. He moves to kiss me below the skirt. I do not want to be touched. To be reminded of body. To think of breast, or tongue, or the hole in the middle. I imagine him holding both my kidneys in his hands like twinned lamb shanks.
In the bathroom the fan exhales against my face. There are bands of dark beneath my cheekbones. I twist my hand into my mouth and spit out pills, slimy bits of lunch meat, water. Electric green. Prod the lips up over gums. Stretch my tongue out, unspooling until it spills and thrashes into the clawfoot tub. Oh, I say.
I run the tap. Water swells up my thighs as I get in. The snake wraps around an ankle.
It is green as a jewel and pocked with white. It flourishes across my calf, winds up the leg. Something drops out the middle of me. The jellyfish, veined and translucent and stretching to fill the tub. Its arms like ruffled tongues. Dangling red threads.
I kick at it. Water sloshes over the lip and takes the jellyfish over the edge. It sits on the bathmat and shrivels. A plastic bag. Once it starts to crisp I drape the long threads of it over my arms and carry it out into the living room.
He sits on the settee. I arrange the jellyfish like a runner across the acrylic table. He looks at me and his face turns milky. Let me explain, I go to say, but have forgotten. The snake still twists green in the water.
Two years minus one month. I am happy. We eat ice cream cones and sit on a bench in the park and watch the sun erase itself. I take a big lick and press my mouth against his. I push the malted vanilla between his teeth. He laughs as it dribbles down his chin. We totter home and slowly dress for a work event. All those interior decorators, people obsessed with sparseness and clean lines and translucence. He needs to find a tie, the perfect tie, the only tie. Jason will get the joke, he says. He rummages in the closet while I perch on the end of the bed and relay the reality TV drama unfolding onscreen. My heart is in my throat, pulsing beyond tongue. I know before he says because of the sound of them hitting the floor. I peer around the threshold, between his legs, and see the dented edge of the old shoebox.
And then, all around him, in a wave across the tile: Pink and burgundy and white and blue. Some still threaded with saliva. Pills and pills and pills.
Two years. Three years. I really don’t know. Things go down but are reluctant to come back up. What he might see inside the barrel of my mouth:
Swarms of honeybees / a runty bear / snakes knotted like shoelaces / a hamster named Rodrigo / softshell turtles with aimless, flare-gun anger / a bristly boar / swan feathers.
A normal pink tongue / some papillae.
Or maybe only open / dark /
About the Author
Erin Piasecki is a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Design Assistant at The Believer. Born in Fredericksburg but raised in Albuquerque, she returned to Virginia to receive her B.A. in Theatre from the University of Richmond. She has work forthcoming in The Adroit Journal and is currently working on her first novel.
Erin Piasecki will be publishing another story with The Conium Review in our next print edition. If you enjoyed this story, watch for “Several Ways to Remove Yourself” in The Conium Review: Vol. 9 later this year.