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She dug her finger into the back of her mouth. Her middle finger because it was the longest. It could reach the furthest. She liked to do this sometimes. To scrape off the white, sometimes brownish coat that had accumulated on her tongue. The residue her toothbrush failed to remove. Probably some combination of food, saliva, and skin cells. She did not know the ratio of food to saliva or saliva to skin cells, not even the ratio of food to skin cells. Sometimes she would use each of her fingernails as scraping devices until there was a thick collection of dead, discarded material from her mouth under each nail and then, in the absence or even sometimes the presence of a sink, she would suck each fingertip and swallow the tongue scrapings.
This morning there was a sink and since the coating was especially thick and her finger nails were especially clogged with the waste, she decided to take advantage of the water pressure. There were dirty dishes covering the gaping hole that led to the disposal. She watched the water rise, dislodging dried oatmeal remnants and the cold eggs he said he wanted but didn’t eat.
While she was making the eggs, she had said, “I had a dream about cleaning the sink. What do you think that means?”
“Probably that you need to clean the sink.”
She picked the stray hairs from the shoulders of her sweater and sent them down the drain as well.
“The water is still running.”
“Are you doing the dishes?”
“Then you should turn it off. Conserve water.”
This is how many of their non-conversations progressed. He would notice something obvious. She would react with some variation of a verbal nod. Uh huh. Yep. Okay. Sure. Fine. Got it. And then they would go about their lives, that had at one point been a single life.
The fish raced each other to the surface, where they claimed their very own serving of flakes. That was it. That was the only rush of adrenaline they experienced, the only novelty to their day of floating, breathing, shitting, sleeping, though she had never seen them sleep. There were so many more verbs required in human life. Or maybe not required, but they were there, swimming above her head, treading the pool of monotony that swelled around them, waiting to be chosen, but she found there were often too many to choose from, so she chose none, nothing. To choose nothing was still a choice. Wasn’t sleep nothing? Wasn’t death nothing? Perhaps not sleep, but death was most surely nothing.
When he left for work, she masturbated on the couch, imagining nothing in particular. She never needed that. Closing her eyes, focusing on the black until it looked like rainbows and her head hurt, focusing on pacing, positioning, was enough. When she finished, she buttoned her pants and went to feed the fish. There were four now. There used to be five. But she had made the error of visiting her sister last weekend, and he forgot to feed them. On Monday, the angel fish were eating the black tetra. Whether it had died before the carnage commenced or after was unclear. With her hand, she had scooped the remains from the tank and placed them in a plastic bag, which she then placed on his pillow along with a note that read simply, “Fuck you.” When she went to wash her face that night, the bag was in the bathroom trash can along with the note. She remembered laughing to herself as she splashed water on her face. Her aggressive act had been met with a passive-aggressive response from him. She had won.
Nothing had a sweet, silent sound to it. It was hollow, unassuming, made of vapors. Nothing mouthed questions that she could not decipher, therefore she never answered. She could reach out and touch Nothing, but to do so felt futile, because she could not feel it. So, she neither addressed, nor felt, nor heard, nor saw Nothing but it was there in front of her all the same.
She watched residual flakes sink to the bottom of the tank. Somehow, they had escaped the melee of hungry mouths. The residual flakes had lost their purpose. They would decompose at the bottom of the tank. It would be as if they never existed at all. How dare the fish go about their days as if they hadn’t given the flakes over to the open arms of Nothing in just one moment of negligence. How dare the fish forget about the flakes. And how dare he forget about her. How dare he prostitute her to Nothing, without a thought, without a twinge of jealousy that she was at the mercy of another. It was clear what she would have to do. There was no way to escape her dwindling existence unless she resolved to kill him.
Will Wagner (@william.charles.wagner) is a composer, arranger and jazz musician based in Brooklyn, NY. Recipient of a Downbeat Award for Composition, his eclectic writing style aims to bridge the gap between jazz and fusion of days past with the progressive sounds of neo-soul and electronica of today. When he isn’t writing at the piano, you can find him playing around town with various bands on upright and electric bass. Wether it’s written down or performed live, he’s thrilled to be making music for a living.
Frances Timberlake (@francestimberlake) is a writer and theater artist from Cincinnati, Ohio. In 2018 she graduated from the School for Creative and Performing Arts with an artistic diploma in Creative Writing, and now attends New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she will receive a B.F.A. in Dramatic Writing. Frances has been named a National YoungArts winner, nominated as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, published by Samuel French, and earned recognition through the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Overture Awards. For the past several years she has been directing children’s theater at the Liberty Exhibition Hall, where she is the Co-Director of Youth Programming.