“People Who Eat Salmon” By: Rachel Charlene Lewis

Alex and I could buy salmon instead of the tuna fish that sustains us, but right now we wear poverty as a cover for the middle class suburbanism that bored us, left us prey to boys with weed in their khakis and girls who wanted to experiment. Alex wants to change that, though. She wants us to move out of my parent’s house and into our own home. She wants us to be real.

“Hi,” I say. I crawl into bed in my sweater and winter coat. I drag my feet from her calves to her thighs.

“Hi,” she says. “Where’d you go?”

“CVS. Got cereal.” Alex cuddles up against me. She smells like smoke.

There is the sound of my parent’s footfalls on the creaky upstairs floor. “It’s raining again,” Alex says. Drunk and high, once, I heard my parents stomping around upstairs and I told Alex that it was raining. I pointed to the ceiling. She nodded, as if that made perfect sense. We laid back on the carpeted floors and stared upward, watching the invisible storm of my parents’ feet.

The phrase didn’t leave us, but with time it became less of a game and more of a survival, tricking ourselves into not being failures for being 23 and living with my parents.

“I’m sorry if I hurt you earlier,” Alex says. Her hands are sliding down my bare thighs. I recall how I had stared at her, wordless, before grabbing my fur coat and shoes and leaving.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah?” Her almond-eyes set onto mine. She doesn’t want it to rain anymore.

“I mean I think it’s kind of shitty.”

She stares at me. The little mole between her nose and her upper lip frowns at me, its moon-shape deepening.

“Mm.” Alex slips away from me, stands. The flannel she wears falls from where it was bunched around her hips. She walks to the bathroom, and I watch her ass. Beneath it rest moon shapes, too. I think Alex may just be made of moons.

I listen for the sound of Alex peeing, or shitting. I hear nothing. Not even crying. I worry that she’s painting herself again.

Alex paints in acrylics on her body. I told her once that it would kill her. That didn’t stop her. She just moved her art projects from our bedroom to the bathroom. I know she still does it because I find drips on our white cabinets, white tiles, white bathtub. I find streaks on her white thighs, can feel the hardness in the nighttime darkness when we fuck.

I stare at the ceiling.

I fall asleep.

I wake up to Alex bouncing on the edge of the bed. I see blue and green smears on her thighs from where I lay on my back. I say, “Alex, you’re actually going to poison yourself.”

Alex crawls on top of me. I don’t sit up. I just stare at her. After four years, I still never know how to handle her like this.

She points to her thighs. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, they say. The rr’s on her left knee smudge, look more like an m. I’m sorry, I’m somy. I rest my hands on her thighs, away from the paint. “I like painting myself.”

“You’re beautiful without it.”

“It’s not about beauty.” Alex draws her hair upward, lets it fall. Another strand falls beside my cheek. I force myself not to flinch. I don’t want to break her moment with my flinch. “I am art.”

“Nap with me,” I say. The alarm clock plays quiet jazz. There is a low buzz beneath the music. It’s one of those with the dial that’s impossible to ever fully enter a radio station with.

“We live a life of static,” I say to Alex.

“What?” I think she’s sick of me saying things that don’t make sense in her world. I think our universes overlapped at some point in time but maybe were never meant to merge for this.

“I’m sorry,” I say to Alex, and we let my words hang in the air, watch them dissipate into rainbow-tinted, sparkly air particles. It’s mid-afternoon, now. The sun is bright through our curtains.

Alex looks at me. “Let me paint you,” she says. I look at the somy on her thigh and think about how if today her acrylics decide to enter her bloodstream, her death will be my fault.

Our hamster’s wheel creaks from the kitchen. We both look, as if we can see Sara struggling to keep moving in the kitchen that reeks of Thai food and romance and misery and stagnancy. We are stagnant. We are miserable. We are lovers, 105 years old. We are five times more miserable than we have earned the right to be.

I think about how, if today breaks us up, Alex will find someone else. They will lay together on a leather sofa that didn’t come from a thrift store and she will put her long, skinny feet on her new girlfriend’s lap. She’ll be named Olivia, or Veronica. They will eat Kraft mac-and-cheese from the pot and lay in bed all Sunday. There will be no rain coming from upstairs.

“Green,” I say.

“What?”

“Paint me green,” I say, and I try to convince myself that I’m not going to die and that, if I do die, it’ll be worth it, because she’s still mine, not Olivia/Veronica’s.

I don’t know what this says about me.

I still don’t know what to tell her about moving.

I decide not to care, decide to become green, made into poison, her fingertips blurring me not necessarily into something better or worse, but into something different than who I am the moment she sets brush to skin.


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