Step Into the Fishbowl and Watch For the Cracks
I reached my hand under the flow of water, and somewhere in Romania a man burst into flames.
As I was testing the temperature against the back of my hand, fire licked at the ceiling above his head so quickly he didn’t even have time to put down his book. When found, the charred cover would be nestled in a scrap of pyjama sleeve, and the arguments in the card deck of spontaneous combustion would begin to gently reshuffle.
When I wound my hair into a knot on the top of my head, a boy lost his virginity in a car park in New Zealand. The radio spat out Nirvana as he pressed his face into the scratchy lace of her bra. She listened to the lyrics and watched a street light flicker through the back window, waiting for him to stop moving. He leaned back, wanting to get a look at her face. She turned her head, trying to remember how many cigarettes she had left in the bottom of a crumpled bag.
I chose the burgundy towel. I folded it over the edge of the bath as lightning tore the sky apart in Chennai, monsoon rain sending fish bones and cigarette ends coursing down faded stone streets. Two tourists stood under an awning advertising cola, jeans rolled up in the deluge, watching cats run along the gutters at the top of the houses as the night lit up.
I shook drops from a bottle of bath milk while a branch fell on a tent in the Republic of Congo. A couple was arguing inside. She was turned with her back to him, arms crossed, listening to him berate her. The branch slammed into the space between their sleeping bags with a crack so loud that all the animals within a mile lifted their heads. The man and woman couldn’t find the right words for the silence that followed.
I turned the tap off and dipped a hand under the water, fingertips wriggling like tiny fish. Somewhere in Seoul, a hitchhiker watched taillights flare as a car came to a stop in front of him. He felt the warm bitumen against the holes in his sneakers as he walked, the sun in his eyes. The driver tucked her hair behind her ears and smiled as he sank into the passenger seat, glancing at the hands in his pockets. As she pulled back into traffic she saw his gaze on her thigh and felt a flicker of hesitation she would have done well to honor.
I took off my necklace and felt it slither down my chest. When I caught it in my open palm, police were knocking on the door of a house in Brussels. Two bartenders without work permits hid behind an upstairs curtain, trying not to knock over empty bottles of cherry beer as they peered down at the cobblestones below. They listened to the Flemish being barked into the cracked red paint of the front door, and whispered towards it.
I unhooked my bra with one hand and slipped my knickers down. I kicked them back into the bedroom as an infant swayed back and forth on plump little legs. A mother held a phone out as her child took unsteady steps, grabbing the tail of the family dog for balance with fat hands and ferocious grunts as she waddled down the hallway of an adobe house in Albuquerque.
Steam dusted the bathroom mirror. I wiped a patch clean and saw damp curls of hair around my temples while high above Venezuela, two young women peeled the lids off trays of aeroplane food. They’d spent the flight sharing headphones and hand squeezes, with pesos in their pockets and rosary beads wrapped around a worn wooden Jesus buried deep in a backpack. They were armed with eight words of Spanish for their first step on foreign soil, in a land that would give one woman a broken collarbone and the other a green-eyed son.
I stepped slowly into the water and lowered myself, letting the heat creep up my skin. Three suburbs over, my next lover slid a finger inside the mouth of a woman with a short temper and a long memory, who would later stand outside my window and watch our shadows move behind my rice paper shades.
Somewhere in a desert country, a cat perched in the dust and wrenched the head off a mouse. It paused to lift its face to the sun, blood on whisker tips. Its tail flicked from side to side as I closed my eyes, and slid under the water.
All rights reserved to Rijn Collins.
Illustrations by Meghan Irwin.