Shayla Frandsen

Fish Out of Water

When using a fishbowl to fake her pregnancy, she put a thin cloth on her waist first, then wound duct tape across her back and around the fishbowl over and over again. The cloth ensured that the tape wouldn’t rip her skin off when she removed it all at night.

Once the round aquatic home was secured to her stomach and her clothes were adjusted over and around it, she was off. Her new co-workers cooed over her silhouette. She’d curve a gentle smile and cradle her swollen belly, the unyielding glass slope smooth under her fingertips.

The baby was a girl, she told them.

People gave up their seats on the subway for her. She chatted expectant moms at the bodega, bonding over their upcoming due dates and various baby essentials already collected. She was allowed to leave work early on Fridays. Asked what she wanted for her upcoming baby shower. An older coworker brought her maternity clothes in a Bloomingdales bag, roomy ossein-hued shifts, subtle empire waists, stretchy black cotton.

The game soured, grew too easy. She started filling the fishbowl with water in the mornings before pulling her shirt over it, just to know if she could. Only an inch or two of water at first, then more. Never all the way, but enough that the dense weight pronounced her waddle and whitened her knuckles when she clutched at stairway railing.

She bought a fish and dropped it in. Soon she became so deft that she could tape the fishbowl to her stomach while the fish and water were both inside. She could hear people’s voices changing when they spoke to her, infused with a tenderness in the presence of such unsullied maternal potency. She got a raise. She thrilled at the thought of the unblinking goldfish, no larger than a coin purse, rounding lazy circles only inches away from everybody in the world, a little friend known to her alone.

So pleasurable and immersive was her little pageantry that when she slipped and caught herself hard against the edge of a wooden crate in the back room, she stared at the water dripping between her legs the way someone might watch a basement flood from their place on the roof. Generations passed as she watched the water leak down to wet her heels and advance in a slow arc across the floor.

Shayla Frandsen (she/her) is an MFA student studying fiction at BYU. She previously earned an MA in English literature at The City College of New York. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Under the SunBlood Orange ReviewJAKEWayfare, and others. She can sometimes be found on Twitter @shayla_who.

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