Rachel Lloyd | fiction | Blue Boy

Blue Boy

I had been with Amy most of the day, through lunch and a museum, dinner and a drive-in movie.
Lunch: overpriced paninis and coffee in a restaurant with low ceilings and exposed brick. She talked to the waiter – a lean middle-aged man who lived in a large house in a small town with his wife and disabled sister – a lot more than I thought necessary.

The Museum: art and a lot of walking. She pulled out a little notebook and wrote down the names of paintings she wanted to remember. She wrote some down for me as well, under the heading “James, sixth date,” in wild cursive.

Dinner: a tapas place our mutual friend recommended. Our friend had told Amy this place was great for dates: dimly lit, intimate, the small space and small plates encouraging the chance of fingertips touching. She pressed her fingers against mine amidst swirls of calamari. I told her I didn’t find fried squid all that sexy. She laughed.

The Movie: some summer blockbuster mess with time travel, a dog, Coca-Cola cans with the labels turned out, and romance – as enjoyable as it was forgettable. I can’t even remember the title. During the big kiss scene, Amy said she hated watching people kiss in movies. “They never look how kissing feels inside. Urgent somehow,” she said. “I like the kissing in old movies. You can feel how much they want it.” 

As I drove her home through a densely forested suburb, a single long road peeling out in front of us, I suggested that we go out again. “How about the aquarium?” she said. She loved aquariums and had been meaning to go for months. “I like to see myself reflected in the glass,” she said, “and pretend I’m swimming with the fish.”

She told me about a neon tetra she had seen at the New England Aquarium in Boston. It had been part of a school. The rest of the group zipped by, but one little fish had stopped right by the glass. It had lined up with the reflection of her eye. “I have dreams about that fish.” She laughed. I felt so light, buoyed in the wake of her laugh. That laugh lifted me out of my body, brought me to a place where I could see the broad wave of my life with amazing clarity, and in that space a memory surfaced, breaching consciousness like a whale. 

“I know what you mean,” I said. “When I was four or five I had this fish. He had a name like Blue Boy or Blue Belle or Blue Boat, Blue something, though I think he was orange. I loved him, and one day I saw my sister pick up her cat and take it to cuddle with at night. It slept in bed with her. So, I decided to try it with my fish,” I tried that laugh like Amy had: buoyant, floating.

“I was a stupid kid. I scooped him out of the bowl and cuddled him all night. Of course, he died. I woke up, put him back in the bowl and realized he was dead. We flushed him. I probably cried, but I don’t remember that. I remember that night my parents had a fancy dinner party. Tablecloths, caterers, suits, long dresses. There was this bowl of orange caviar, probably the same color as my fish even, and these adults, my parents and their friends, told me to try it and see what I thought. I took a big spoonful and put it in my mouth. It was so salty, and the caviar started popping, and as I’m eating this really gross stuff, someone says, ‘Those are little baby fish, you know?’ and they all laughed. I wanted to spit it out, but they were all smiling, and I just kept chewing.”

“That’s awful,” she said.

“It’s not a big deal, just a silly story” I said, suddenly embarrassed to have told it, realizing that it had been awful. I was almost afraid of her then. I felt like she could see my bones inside my body, bones I myself would never see, bones that would outlive me.  

“How can you say that?” she said. “It hurts just to think about.” She pulled her hands up and gripped her shoulders as if she were cold. She was wearing my navy-blue hoodie like a shawl over her sundress. The hoodie’s empty arms hung limply by her side. She shivered as though trying to shake out the dust of the past, the residue of whatever she was feeling on my behalf, and those empty arms shook along with her, swaying to the rhythm of her emotions. I pulled the car over when she started crying. 

The sweater sleeves swayed around her waist and hips, as if trying to rock her to sleep. I remember thinking how badly I wanted my arms in those sleeves, to be hung around her, to feel the vague electric intimacy of brushing a forearm, a palm, a fingertip against her bare legs or cotton-covered stomach, only to swing away again. I thought about how my arms had been in those sleeves just earlier that night. I remembered the gentle coarse rubbing of the worn lining against my arm hair. I remembered the sudden chill on my forearms as I pulled off the hoodie and laid it on her shoulders. 

She pushed her arms through the sleeves and brought her hands to face. The sleeves ballooned under the pressure of her full arms. I felt in that moment that we inhabited the same space, in those sweater sleeves, her arms laid perfectly in the echo of mine. We had both felt the warm interior of those sleeves, their pulling and caressing, the way they opened vulnerably at the cuffs, their elastic ruined by repeated washing. I felt very close to her then, like we were swallowing each other. My blood felt slow though my heart was racing. It was hard to swallow. My arm hair stood on end. 

“I’m sorry, I just feel like I am that boy, and the caviar is so salty and bitter and everyone else is smiling, and I just can’t stop thinking about my fish, but everyone is smiling, and I want them to stop. I feel so alone.” She looked at me, her hands falling from her face. The tears that lingered on her palms shone like sparks under the light of a streetlamp. A car drove past, lighting our faces with its headlights. The crickets seemed very loud. I looked at her wrists emerging from my sweater’s worn sleeves. I wanted her to swallow me. 

“Did you feel alone?” she asked. I had felt alone, like no one saw me, like I didn’t exist. With those words, she touched a chord in me that thrummed with unbearable resonance, a profound loneliness that seemed my life long. I focused on her face and saw that she was all feeling, her eyes all water and light: shimmering. She looked at once ephemeral, like a spirit which might vanish with a change of light, and ancient, like a god. She seemed the essence of mirage, from the Latin mirari: to wonder at. I wanted to know if I could reach out and touch her or if she would vanish under my hand, if she too would leave me alone. 

I turned away from her to look out the front windshield. Tears built up in my eyes, my vision blurring at the edges, and those edges moving in. Soon my vision was all salt water. I was underwater, the roar of tears mounting in me like ocean waves. I was swimming. A car sped by, but through my teary eyes I could only make out the bright unfocused streak of its headlights, like a school of neon tetras reflected behind glass, their metallic shimmer flashing past like a long exposure photo.

Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at bethpeddle.com and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram

Rachel Lloyd (she/her) is a Boston-based writer primarily of short stories and flash fiction. A late-to-the-literary-party dyslexic, Rachel is a voracious reader eager to make up for lost time. She enjoys cooking, everything about raccoons, and wearing warm socks.

Rachel believes that, as Mikhail Bakhtin said, “A word is a bridge thrown between myself and another.” It goes without saying she believes in building bridges.

You can find her online at rachellloydwrites.com