Fiction Issue 15

Xenia Taiga- “Aquarium”

When I was a little girl I wanted a red ear slider, so my mama bought me one. Fluorescent yellow, pink and turquoise pebble stones dotted the bottom plastic cage. In my room I played God, flicking the lights on and off, creating day and night. I took the turtle out often. Once I poked a pencil in its eyes. Its eyes bulged and bulged, bigger and bigger they grew, until the slow-moving creature stopped moving. My mother told me I had killed it. Do you know what that means? she asked. I didn’t.

In high school we watched videos of sea turtles trapped in nets. Actors pleaded with us not to buy endangered turtle shell bracelets, but I blamed their deaths on the fishermen’s nets. Just yesterday we watched a film about recycling. The teachers, afterward, took us outside along the back chain linked fence to the big containers. They held up familiar items: batteries, a coffee cup, plastic straws, notebooks of our homework and broke them apart until they were no longer recognizable. In our homes with the trash in our hands standing in front of several opened plastic bags, we internally debated about the items. In the end, we didn’t bother. We let the beggars do the work. They looked happy enough.

When I had my first grown up job, my aquarium was sparsely decorated. There was a lime-green folding chair, a round orange table, and a pink toilet. I didn’t have enough money to buy things, let alone my food. Some days I would be two to three days with no cash, waiting for payday. That Folgers’ coffee packet was reused till it was weak and toffee-colored. On the mornings when I only had two dollars left, I saved it till nighttime for the McDonald’s special. A cheeseburger meal complete with a small soda and fries. Kmart was my favorite store to shop at. Kmart was my childhood.

The sickness comes and goes. It’s nothing, but hotness. Hotness and boiling. It’s a fire boiling within my bones, flesh and blood. They put me inside a white room. They say I will be safe here. Drips are needle-stuck just underneath my skin and plugged into my veins. The sheet doesn’t cover my feet. My toes grow. They grow till they’ve reached the ceiling; attaching and spreading like a moldy spider vein across the plaster. Someone brings jellyfish allowing their flesh to cover me. Their stings shock me awake from my deep paralysis sleep and my little toe breaks free from the ceiling. Someone shouts, Starfish! They can bring the stars to her head! But the jellyfish eats up the starfish. Up and down over my body are small strokes of electrifying fire bombs bursting in the air. The jellyfish and starfish vibrate, pulsate, and throb violently. Now the headaches are turning into migraines. White blinding flashing migraines. Can you see the stars? they ask. Yes, I can. The stars are everywhere, I say. I want them to turn it off, but no one can find the light switch.


Xenia Taiga lives in southern China with a cockatiel, a turtle and an Englishman.