Albino

by Melissa Slayton

Cassie has a fish tank filled with reeds, purposeful light, and Chinese fighting fish. I say “purposeful” because this light is all she ever allows. Black tapestries cover the windows. No lamps, no ceiling lights, not even the hope of sun.

But I like it. I’m not sure why. In the middle of the day, so hot in California, we turn the fan on, smoke in her room till the steady hum of the fish tank seeps through our pores. We lie on the floor, count the dots in the ceiling and make up our own constellations.

The lack of light turns our skin white as oleanders. But her Chinese fighting fish transform as well. One, impressively scarlet and turquoise, devours its cobalt and navy brothers. Then it embarks upon the process of turning white. Now an albino, even the eyes appear limpid ivory. It skirts delicately behind the glass, bubbles rising from its mouth like steady fireworks.

Once I get to a place, to that bright place, I stare into the walls until I reflect their entity. I imagine I am the dust between each paint chip.

 

Dust mite: No longer reflecting sunlight. No longer the glint on a wine bottle, the film over the fish tanks. Part of the room’s gray coating. Wake only to the rattle of the beads that hang from the door as Cassie darts in and out in her dark clothing.

You are a sponge to the silence. Eat mascara and nail polish. Listen to her movies, her quiet music, breathe her fumes. Sometimes when she sleeps, settle on her face and wonder how she grows. When the ceiling fan turns on, fall through the air like rain.

 

Cassie buys more fish. It’s as if to fill this desire, this need for glittering. She lights a soy
candle and sits on her rug. She prays for love, an old Druid chant. Sixteen years old, toothpick
arms, we’re mourning the death of those not yet born. Tabs go on our tongues and we draw with
markers on our fingers. Scarlet on her face, turquoise on my arms. Maybe one night, we’ll go
out.

The new fish dart about like glitter, magnetic eyes following us about the room in their
separate tanks. If we stripped their scales we could put their shimmer on our skin. Do boys like
that these days? We don’t think so. We don’t look in mirrors. We walk trails to where the
neighborhood begins. The mythology of day. If I look into your eyes deeply enough, can you
tell me about sunlight?

Melissa Slayton graduated with a degree in creative writing from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC, and has served as associate editor with Apalachee Review. Her poems and stories can be found in San Pedro River Review, Apalachee Review, Lyric Magazine, Comstock Review, The Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, The North Carolina Poetry Society’s Pinesong, South Carolina Yearbook, and TINGE, among others. She is currently finishing a magical realism novel called “My First Love is Dead” which she workshopped this summer at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Albino”?

    With this piece of flash fiction I wanted to try to capture certain aspects of youth and also of the entropy that pulls at anything bright. This story was based on a fish I saw that turned white. Even when it was in a cage by itself, it would bang itself against its own tank because it thought its reflection was another fish. That got me thinking about the dangers of introspection and isolation and yet how those are factors of the adolescent as well as artistic experience. This was written in a few drafts, and each draft seemed to get shorter and shorter. To me, it is a good thing to have tension and things left unsaid in any form of art, and I feel like flash fiction is a great vehicle for that.
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