Dawn Raffel ~ Three Micros

Aquarium

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.
Salted apple
Sulfured plum.
Cured fig.
Brimstone.

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.