I have this recurring dream about fish, dozens and dozens, in reds, golds and greens, pouring out of the bathroom faucet. In the dream I am trying to fill jars with water to contain them, but they are overflowing, the fish unwilling to follow the trajectory I have planned for them.
It’s to do with mothering, my friend Sam says, it’s to do with an overabundance of something and a lack of something else. I know, I say, and I do but also don’t, and it’s the don’t that seems infinitely impossible to comprehend.
“I mean maybe I’ll just move to Ohio,” I tell Sam one morning over brunch in a diner, with the exact same energy that I might say, “maybe I’ll kill myself.”
“There’s a pretty cool music scene in Columbus now, you know. You should move with me.” Sam, a lifelong New Yorker, looks horrified.
“You know what these pancakes would cost in Ohio?” I press on. “10 cents. You know what rent is? A dollar.”
She flicks her straw wrapper at me. “Shut up.”
We sip pulpy orange juice out of flimsy plastic cups and talk about the different rooms at our friend’s party last night, and how none of them were quite right. Neither of us can figure out why it didn’t work, whatever that means. There were enough people there that we liked, just enough people that we knew and that we didn’t. It was a good house that generally had good energy, and yet nothing seemed to move in the way that it should have to have been considered a good party.
I woke up the next morning needing to purge something out of my body in a way that I hadn’t before, not in a way that I could so specifically identify. Head pounding, I went to the bathroom to drink water, and decided to shower to try and wash something off. Suddenly with the mirror un-fogged I could no longer pretend like it was a hangover that had started that morning. It was an itchiness, almost. It was the desire to peel off all my skin until I could uncover something underneath. It was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to find anything. In the mirror I tried pushing on my collarbone, just a little.
“…and then I was like, it’s clearly not a date, you know, like, I feel like he’s chill like that, like he just wants to hang, but what do you think?” Sam finishes. There are a lot of things that can’t easily be fixed for both of us, but to voice jealousy at the concreteness of her issues, their eminent capability for resolution, would come out callous.
I have a hard time focusing on what she is saying. I concentrate instead on the texture of the mayonnaise, how nauseated I feel looking at it. It feels like pus and vertigo. The inside of my stomach. I want to grab it from her and throw it across the room. I want to smear it on the walls and make everyone notice that things are not alright. That it’s fucked up to dip your fries in mayonnaise like it’s just the same as ketchup.
“I think he’s probably down for whatever you want it to be,” I say. A stock answer and she knows it. She rolls the wrapper of her straw back and forth like an accordion, eyeing me suspiciously, knowing I’m not really listening.
“I don’t think you should move to Ohio,” Sam says. “Just because nobody would see you doesn’t mean you wouldn’t exist.”
I know she knows I mean Ohio as a metaphor, the same way I know that when she talks about boys it’s usually less about the boys and more about the way she wishes she could walk through the New York streets without men’s eyes boring into her back. The way I can, almost.
In my dream I give up on the fish and the jars and the broken faucet. Instead I try to sketch in windows while Sam works on the walls—blue, red, violet. As usual I am peddling in bad metaphors and she is going for something like permanence.
Hey, I tell her, this apartment is too small.
No, she says, I want to be able to see all the corners. And then my window starts to leak. Slowly at first, then in smudgy circles that get larger and larger. They seep into the room gently, carrying me on their crests. Soon I am being tossed through the air like a child. Slow, buoyant.
It’s not that I mind the powerlessness, I realize, just that I wish it was a little less lonely. I call out to Sam, but she is too distracted, and just keeps on filling in the contours. Soon the walls are so dark they’re almost black.
Dani Smotrich-Barr is from Ann, Arbor, Michigan and is currently studying English and History at Wesleyan University, where she is an Arts Editor for The Wesleyan Argus, works at the local historical society, and plays bass in a very bad band called “Yikes!”. Dani has interned for the Prague-based publication ‘Transitions Online,’ and is currently a fiction/non-fiction reader for Bodega Magazine. This is her first publication.
Lead image: “66860023” (via Flickr user _katattack)