Fiction & Poetry

Beached

By ARIELLA REIDENBERG

After licking the sand

her face became turgid

 

tongue swelling it almost

exploded out of her mouth.

If that tongue could talk

it’d tell me, it tastes

 

so different without water

that living up here is so dry.

 

Even through the hailstorms.

Have you ever seen a tongue up close?

 

Red bumps in a pond of smaller, gray one

with a slime line right down the middle.

 

Hers doesn’t look like that anymore.

I can’t even find the line.

 

Brought here on the backs of plastic bags

she didn’t know

 

she would suffocate.

The idea that your own body can suffocate you

 

just the pure weight of it alone

makes me wonder what the whale song is really about

 

Ribcage crushed by tons of blubber

lungs deflating under salt-like hail

 

The tide recedes and she slobbers soundly

Calling to mermaids for help.

 

I wanted to be a mermaid when I grew up

Not a scientist, like my mother.

 

Now look at me

following her in gritty footprints

 

to the bloated carcass

I bet it was once a Mom too.

 

Bobbing in and out of the horizon,

swims her family of three

 

Sea creatures communicate through song

as water carries a tune better than air.

 

Beneath the wet sand, her flippers sink in snug

but the two-leggeds mark her for dead.

 

And carve out her innards

for museums.

 

What did they see that scared them so

much that they return to the sea?

 

See the remains of pelvic bone

floating around in there?

 

They had legs, once, just like us.

But tide pool bathtubs suited them better than porcelain.

 

My  mother is shooing away the bad guys cutting off fins

kids playing on the blubber — like trampolines

 

She waves her knife and yells for everyone to get off

the ticking time bomb

 

I remember the video of the whale exploding after one cut.

Mommy is super careful with her knife.

 

The blade goes in, a hiss comes out

the first warning

 

Only a few hours of daylight to defuse the tension—

men arguing about who keeps the jaw bones

 

With the bickering, the hail, the balloon expanding

and my mother carving on top of it all

 

I look to the ocean and

wish again to be a mermaid.

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