I've Forgotten the Word for Shelter Since You Left by Lindy Biller
In the morning, I reach out my feelers for you but there are only the folds of sheets and blankets, the softness of your pillow unpressed. You let me down gently. You are miles away by now. My body is slowly drying out, organs shriveling like halved apricots left out on a summer roof, but I can’t bring myself to go in search of water and find only the ocean, her salt lungs heaving. I hear your voice in the hiss of the stove. I taste you on the empty vessels you left behind: the milk-glass mug and the clam shells in the sink and the six gold prongs of my ring, which clung to their small stone until one day the diamond fell out, got swept up with the dinner crumbs and tossed into the trash, and you didn’t notice, took the bag down to the curb and stood there breathing the pink-sea light, the cold salt air, feeling your scales soften. You were the one who taught me that diamonds aren’t actually made of coal, that they come from somewhere older and more primal—pure carbon and unbearable heat, deep in the Earth’s mantle. You were the one who taught me that the whisper of conch shells isn’t the ocean, but my own heartbeat amplified. Last night, we stood side-by-side at the kitchen counter, running our fingers over the clams you picked. Searching for chips, cracks, broken parts. Come with me, you said, dropping the clams into the boiling water, one at a time. We can go together. But your stories of the ocean scared me. They were too strange and too wild, and I wanted to be more than foam vanishing on the waves. We won’t be gone, you told me. We’ll be everywhere.
This is when I should’ve known we were over. The last place I would ever want to be is everywhere. You coaxed me outside my shell, a little more each time, until I thought that I might finally adapt, might grow a spine, a tail, a four-chambered heart—but each time I shrank back inside again, confused by the shadowy interplay of light and darkness, home and free. Still. I could’ve done it. I only needed time. I swirled cream into broth, stirring until it all became one. I dug through the trash until I felt the hard edge of diamond against the curl of my palm. I went with you to the beach and waded in, first to my ankles, then my knees, then up to my waist, thinking of the teeth and tentacles and glowing lures under the surface. Thinking of the place you were looking for: apricot groves and vineyards and fountains, a flame that never stops burning, limestone houses so white inside they seem to glow. How can there be a fountain underwater? I asked. How can there be fire?
You gripped my hand, tight enough to hurt.
Never mind, you said, your lips a breath on my cheek. Let’s go home.
Looking back, I’m hardly innocent. I wanted you to stay. But it’s neither here nor there. If you missed me, you would find a way to let me know. If you loved me, you would’ve asked me again. I scoop out the meat from the clams, feeling grit against my fingertips. I sit at the window and bring the spoon to my lips, allowing myself to be nourished. I fall asleep on the sill, a conch pressed beneath the whorls and folds of my ear, but only my heartbeat rushes back at me.
Lindy Biller is a writer based in the Midwest. Her fiction has recently appeared in Nurture Literary, Milk Candy Review, Fractured Literary, and Cheap Pop. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @lindymbiller.