“Think of it,” the mother said, “as if it were a secret, hidden city underwater.”
“Think of it,” the mother said, “as if it were a moving sculpture in time.”
The daughter said, “I think of it as fish.”
The fish in the gift shop are orange and stuffed. The daughter says she wants one.
The mother says, “Maybe.”
The mother says, “We’ll see.”
The lunchroom is serving sustainable seafood and no plastic bottles and also no straws to go with no soda.
The mother and daughter keep saying the same things over and over, as if pre-arranged.
The mother tells the daughter, “You ought to pay attention.”
The daughter tells the mother, “I am paying attention.”
The mother retrieves a napkin (recycled) and mops up the liquid the daughter has spilled.
“Mom!” the daughter says.
“I said we’ll see,” the mother says.
The daughter thinks the mother sees all the wrong things.
“Think of it like pumps,” the mother says, explaining the mechanism of gills, the counter-current exchange. She is handing the daughter her purchase after all.
“Stop,” the daughter says. “You are always comparing one thing to another.”
Many years later, after the mother stops breathing while asleep, the daughter will reconstruct this scene.
“Why is that so bad?” the mother says.
One Thing Is Not the Same as Another
The women were given a drug to enable them to sleep while their babies floated in the womb.
Were the babies dreaming? That would be fantastical.
The women bore babies without any limbs.
The women were given a promising hormone.
The daughters grew tumors, but not until later.
The daughters could never give birth themselves.
The women were sedated, cut open, sewn up. They were instructed to relax.
Can you hear the body sing?
The women awoke to find their ovaries discarded, wombs cast off, and really, why not. What use for them now?
The blood is not a sea. The eyes are not stars.
A pause is not pregnant.
The City of Salt
The City of Salt is crowded with so many pillars there is scarcely a path for a visitor to walk, should one ever come. Lot’s wife is at the center of things, and well-preserved, despite a bit of crumbling, a few lost inches of height, a slight tremor when the wind blows wild. She is surrounded by souls who looked where they oughtn’t: in corners, askance, between the sheets. Into the mirror. Under the bed. And who among all of us, really, has ever resisted to urge to look back? So here you are:
A tree of dried life.
A desiccated garden, crystalline in sunlight.
Each and every pillar—short, tall, thick, thin, pregnant, or pinched— has her own exquisite shape, unlicked by either animal or lover, nor tongues of raging flame; no rotted flesh, no withered bone. And as for the heart—the heart is sentimental, and there is no sentiment in salt.
Dawn Raffel is the author of five books, most recently The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies, which NPR cited as one of the great reads of 2018. Her stories have appeared in BOMB; O, The Oprah Magazine; NOON; Conjunctions; The Mississippi Review; The Iowa Review; New Letters; Big Other, and in the anthologies Best Small Fictions, New American Short Stories, New Micro, Orpheus XO, and Short, among others. She is the recipient of a 2019 Christopher Award and has been cited in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies.