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Lizi bought the fish on Craigslist. She told me she was going to raise a fish farm and fatten them like her fists and sell them to grocery stores, but the species she bought wasn’t edible. They were goldfish, and not even the pretty kind: they weren’t even really yellow, more like the color of the roots of your teeth, more like the color of a pus-glazed mosquito bite. They were skinny little fish, bright as a handful of safety pins, and they swam at the bottom of the wok she borrowed from me. They shied from the surface even when we scattered sofa crumbs into the water. Lizi told me she had a plan: she would hum to the fish until they fleshed out. It’s all in the frequency, she said. There’s a special way to sing to them, you’ll see. Every morning I watched Lizi wake on the kitchen floor and bend over the wok on the stove, humming something circular, a song that lay cold against my chest like a silver necklace. But the fish were the same size the next week, and they looked slower too, their fins curdled against their bodies, and I asked her how much she’d paid for them. She said she’d traded her boots for them, the ones with the bible-thick soles, and I realized I hadn’t seen her leave the apartment all week. She’d been one of my brothers’ girlfriends, I don’t know whose, and she came to me months ago saying she was pregnant with my niece and needed a place to stay. She didn’t look pregnant – she was shaped like a blade handle – but I hadn’t turned her away. How do you know it’s my niece, I said, meaning which brother did it belong to, but all she told me was that she’d always wanted daughters. Her mother said that daughters were like sails, they only worked when unpunctured, so stay away from boys. I didn’t really understand it, but I let her stay anyway. Lizi still claimed she was pregnant, even telling me one night that she’d felt a kick, but when she pressed my palm to her mole-flecked belly, all I could feel was her indigestion. She had diarrhea every morning, unfurling a ribbon of shit that looped the sofa-bed to the bathroom, but she always mopped it up herself and said she’d take a fistful of Tums. I got her the off-brand kind at the dollar store where I worked. We also sold firecrackers illegally for the Lunar New Year, but kids bought the firecrackers all year round and Lizi hated the sound, said it reminded her of my brother, the way his car always backfired, the way he loved wildfire-chasing, driving far up into the hills to get close to one, goading the smoke to enter his bones. Which one, I asked, and how close did you get, but Lizi never answered me. The fish in the wok flickered like flames, and sometimes I saw her reach into the water before withdrawing it quick, afraid of what might she might touch. I brought the fish some things from the dollar store, like canned peas, but they sank straight to the bottom of the wok. I tried mac-and-cheese powdered flavoring, but two of the fish died from it, and Lizi said there was probably lead in the powder, that’s what they did in China, do you remember that year all those babies died because of lead in the infant formula, and I said no, that wasn’t lead, that was melamine. Right, she said, but the babies still died, didn’t they, and I said yes, they did. Since she got the fish, she talked less about being pregnant, but sometimes at night, when I got out of the shower – she always used up the hot water and claimed it was everyone else in the building who was wringing it away – I saw her on the sofa-bed, her shirt furled up to her chin, her hand pressed to her belly button like a stethoscope, roaming. When she was reclined, her belly buckled into a bowl. Sometimes she tried to bag her breath and inflate her stomach, but eventually she had to exhale again. She stroked her belly as if sanding it into shape, humming the same song she hummed to the fish, nothing I recognized, and I wondered if maybe the song wasn’t working because there were no words to it, and words were the active ingredient in music, the thing that would grow teeth inside her. She asked me to hum with her, saying the baby would get sick and die if I didn’t, but I didn’t want to collaborate on whatever was inside her. But at night, in my mind, I tried to make up the words to her humming, words I’d heard in every song, like heart and bird and beautiful. Lizi looked at me as if she’d heard, and then she turned over onto her side and said goodnight, wan’an. While she slept, I looked at her face, at her shirt still rucked up around her ribs. When she first moved in, I warned her that I liked women, and she’d laughed and said so you and your brothers do have something in common! I tried to laugh too, and she said don’t worry, I know plenty of dykes, but I knew that was a lie. Lizi was pretty the way my mother would define it: her teeth were so close together, she could strain dust from light. Historically, in my family, teeth went loose in our mouths, spilling out of their slots. She was light-skinned as a morning. In the morning, it was the eve of the Lunar New Year and there were new shipments of illegal firecrackers hidden in my bathtub. Next week, I knew, there would be kids cinching around my counter, showing me the bone-stubs of their thumbs, laughing as wide as their wounds. It was worth losing a finger, they told me, to make a fist around that light. To let go at the last second and hold something of the sky. Be careful, I’d say, you’ve only got nine more of your fingers, but next year I’d count their cash again, storing it in a plastic bag I kept in the toilet tank. I was careful only to count that cash when Lizi was out, but ever since she traded away her leather boots, Lizi was always on the sofa-bed or kneeled over the wok, cooing a vowel I’d never heard before, like a hummingbird caught in my palm. That evening, clouds grew wiry as beards and the firecrackers went off like gunshot in every doorway, the street sleeping beneath all that smoke. Lizi was pacing the apartment, both hands gripping the wok full of water. She told me that all this noise was the wrong frequency for her baby. Don’t you mean for the fish, I said, and she said yes, them too. Listen, she said, setting the wok down on the stovetop. She pressed both fists down on my shoulders until I kneeled, then lifted her shirt and thrust her belly against my face. It’s gone, she said, I lost it, I lost it, now he’ll never take me back. Which one, I wanted to ask again, but I knew she wouldn’t answer. Instead I thought about the bag of cash buoyed in toilet water, about a baby with one of my brothers’ mouths, about fire outside. Tomorrow we would turn on the stove and boil the fish alive, suck out their bones slim as eyelashes. I tugged her jeans down to her ankles. No, she said, and pushed me onto my back, opening my legs. I shimmered on the tips of her fingers. She lowered her face and entered me with her tongue, and I wondered if this was the song she’d been practicing, the one without words. I wished I’d hummed to her baby when she asked. Later she placed my head in her lap, plucking strands of pubic hair off her tongue. It was almost maternal, the way she tugged back my hair, the way she said nothing. She stood in front of the counter while I watched her from below, striking the match for the stove, light licking her wrists as she fried the fish, tossing their bodies like confetti, and outside, fireworks fracturing the night.


image: Laura Childs Gill