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September 25, 2023 Fiction

The Branzino

Greta Schledorn

The Branzino photo

My thighs have teeth marks on them, green ones. I fucked this guy the other night who had a thing for biting. First he tried to teach me how to roll a cigarette in the middle of the sidewalk, and then he sank his teeth into me.

“Did you like it?” My sister asks. We’re tucked in the back of this Uruguayan restaurant in Bushwick, where we go when we don’t know where to go. I sip my drink and my drink’s green, too.

“I liked the part after,” I say, “Where he had to lie there and listen to me talk.” We’re splitting the branzino and I can’t quit looking at it’s face, it’s eyeless little eyeholes.

“That wasn’t even the craziest part,” I say. “Right before he came, he hit me in the face.”

She shrugs. “They do that,” she says.

The waiter comes by to bring us plates of string beans and little round potatoes. He has a tattoo on his arm peaking out from his shirt that says mom inside of a heart, and I wonder if that means he loves women, or if his mom is just dead or something.
“Was he short?” my sister asks.

“Not short short,” I say. Our dad was short and so we hate short men. Growing up, there was a constant competition — who could make our daddy love us more. I always won. I always worked the hardest. She didn’t want it the way I wanted it. She was smart like that, on to something early on. Or maybe she just let me have it, let me believe our father’s love was somewhere within reach. Back then, I wanted to be her, to live inside her, let her climb into my skin and live inside of me.

“Mom texted me,” I say, “for international women’s day.” Our mother hasn’t texted us in months. She’s been setting boundaries.

“What’d she say?” my sister asks.

“She said happy international women’s day,” I say.

“What did you say?”

“I said happy international women’s day, too.”

“Remember when she broke a ping-pong paddle on my ass?” I ask. She broke a ping-pong paddle on my ass once, and it turned into this big family joke, that time our mother broke a ping-pong paddle on my ass. It was poorly made, she’d cry with a laugh. We didn’t have the money for a well-made ping-pong paddle.

“That wasn’t very international woman of her,” my sister says.

And I ask, “Did anyone even play ping-pong?”

And my sister says, “Who knows?” She pulls a piece of flesh off the fish with her fingers and chews. The waiter comes by again with a silver pitcher and fills our glasses up with water.

“My problem with dating,” I say, “is that I don’t know what I want.” I’ve always wanted someone to tell me what I want, to sell me on a life I want to live. For years my sister sold me, let me follow her around and told me where to stand. Everything I wore she wore before me. Everything I did she’d done.

“Yes you do,” my sister says.

“Well,” I say. “I want someone to love me more than I love them.”

“Maybe you should date a woman.”

“I don’t like women,” I say.

“No one does,” she says.

I drain the last of my glass, my sister drains the last of hers. I look at the skeleton left on the plate, its spine and ribs laced together like something that’s washed up on a shore. I think about smashing it up with my fork, but I don’t. I aim instead for the last little round potato, but I miss, and it rolls off the plate and onto the floor and I watch it roll.

“What do you wanna do now?” I ask. My sister shrugs.

The waiter walks over and he smiles at us like he knows us, like he’s heard the whole conversation. He hands us the check.

“How are we feeling?” he says like a shrink.

“So good,” I say, and my sister says nothing. He gathers our plates and stacks them onto his arm. I look up at him and smile. Big, with my teeth, but he’s already turned away. Eyes fixed ahead, he carries our plates back to the kitchen, removes the bones from the table.

image: Greta Schledorn