Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Winter 2022    poetry    all issues


Joyce McCown

Kristina Cecka

Jeremy Glazer

Richard M. Lange
Night Walk

Eleanor Talbot
The Calamitous Consequence of a Small Thing That Gets Big

Christopher Mohar

Nicholas Darmody
All Those Not Seen

Darcy Casey
A Hard No

Weston Miller
Dystopian Lit

Chelsea Dodds

Michael Sadoff
The Day I Saw Janis

Jeannie Morgenstern

Jeannie Morgenstern


If I saw her again, this is what I’d tell her:

You had it coming.

I swear to God. That’s what I’d say.

Sunk: That’s what we all are.

Deep down I thought it was going to be the kitchen’s crab legs that took me out. Maybe the water herself. I considered it could happen off stage, after the show—I’d bump into one of the creeps that lingered after our set, or maybe trip over the heels one of the gals left discarded in the hall—maybe even die on stage. It’s not like it hadn’t happened before. But it turned out not to be any of those.

I had survived a lot. That stupid conversation with Theo, which I’ll get to. Storms, men, the rocking back and forth and back and forth, that one time the food spoiled because one of the guys left the main fridge open and everyone ate rot—that was a nightmare. But I was strong. I can tread water real good. But I guess it all caught up to me, made me weak like ocean foam. Francine caught me just as I was beginning to get tired, that’s what happened. And now we’re sunk, each and every one of us.

Sometimes people recognize me before the show and offer to buy me a drink—but when she walked up to me, she didn’t offer to buy me a marg. She didn’t give me those sad pitying eyes neither. She tapped me on the shoulder. Theo had gotten me so on edge with his stupid talk, she’s lucky I didn’t bop her right then and there.

Before I could do anything, she said, “You remember me—don’t you?”

She had looked so eager. A smile splitting her face, and those deep, dark eyes. Made me wonder what toothy ocean creatures swam beneath.

“Don’t you?” She tried again. She was brave, that Francine.

“I do,” I lied.

I didn’t know her at all. But perhaps she had been on this circuit before, years ago. I thought I would remember seeing a beautiful woman like her, but—hey. Some people only get better with time. May we all be so lucky. Then she said she liked my top—a green, off the shoulder number. She said it reminded her of ice cream.

What else could I do? I cackled. Right in her face, you bet your ass I did. I didn’t know why on this big blue earth she saw me with my typewriter teeth and decided she wanted more. Why she looked at me and thought, that is someone worth loving. I wanted to take her breath away, I could have drowned her—but no beautiful woman comes to the Turquoise Escape alone. Their problems usually follow them here.

After I collected myself, made sure my tatas were in their homes and my teeth in their gums, I turned around and walked off over to the dining corridor.

“Consider this conversation resolved,” Theo called after me.

Consider this ass! But that would have been rude to call out—maybe not out on the deck, but I was already in the dining hall, which always felt a little like temple to me. The air tinkled with the sound of forks and knives. I’ve always loved that sound. Honestly, the thing I hate most about my job is that once me and Pinky and Goldy step onto that stage, people stop eating. Like they can’t watch us and eat at the same time. I’d rather they just keep eating their food. It’s not good cold. It’s barely good warm—they do offer you a lot, though, I’ll give them that.

It’s a shit cruise. No other way to say it. We don’t even go nowhere. That’s the truth: people just come out here to float. I always thought it would be nice if we went from New York to Boston to Canada. See some bears or glaciers or some shit. Or we could go down south, go tropical, but I doubt the water is really that blue. Even if it was, it’s probably ruined by now.

I always do the same plate. I’ve been here long enough to know my favorites. First, potatoes. A small mountain does it. Then a coral reef of buffalo wings, a yellow scoop of mac and cheese, a lake of ranch. Some broccolis planted around the edge. The girls always tell me to eat better, but I can’t be bothered. I tell them fishes come in all different sizes, don’t they? And besides, I saw what the spinach did to Goldy. Won’t forget that anytime soon.

I sat alone at a table in the back like always. I liked to scope out the audience before the show while the other girls did shots and made themselves throw up. It was a shame, but nothing I could do.

This crowd had looked pretty good; nothing out of the ordinary. Just a bunch of old people trying to squeeze something out of the time they had left, a few colorfully dressed families determined to make their children like them, a few sad, single dudes who shelled out money for this shit because they know the girls here can’t run away. Why do they always wear the ugliest shit?

After I got settled, Francine came out from where she was peeking and sat at a table a few feet from me. I heard her order the oysters—she didn’t strike me as an oyster gal, but what did I know? She thanked the waitress. I liked that—good character. She patted her hair—short, cropped close to her head, and real dark, like she had just dyed it. I did not wonder what color it originally was, but rather, why she had chosen such a somber color for a place such as this. Francine, dark, holding something close, a clam—that was how I came to know her. I didn’t want to take from her. What I wanted to know was what she was thinking, planning, and perhaps even share with her my own story and maybe given her a kiss in the spot between her ear and neck where there was no hair, just soft skin and hard bone.

She hurried to the buffet once the waiter was out of sight. She smoothed her skirt while waiting in line like she was anxious. A seam along the side had split, like there was an actual body in there. She patted her hair again. Then, finally, she was able to grab a plate. It looked like the bottom of the ocean floor; I’m telling you I could see from my seat the amount of gravy she poured over her potatoes. Fried shrimps stuck out like bits of broken driftwood—but I’m not one to judge. My first year here, all I ate were stuffed mushrooms and crab legs. Couldn’t get a word out of me until I was done.

She ate quickly. When her plate was clean, she hurried back to the buffet and refilled it. I wanted to point out that they have a fresh stack of dishes ready on the side for this very reason, but she was determined. This time her dish exploded with lobster tails and creamed spinach and what looked like the chicken franchise. The waitress arrived with a huge platter of oysters. Francine picked one up and beamed, looking like a giant spotlight until a man sat down at her table. She knew him: her shoulders slumped inwards, glow dimmed. She pushed the plates—oysters and all—towards him, and handed over the oyster she had been bringing to her own lips. They did not speak. From over his shoulder, her eyes wandered around the room until landing on me.

I sauntered over to her table. She had a spot of gravy on her chin and I told her so.

“And you can stop staring.”

“Oh.” She wiped the splatter away from her skin and fiddled with her wrinkly fingers, not looking at me. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to. I don’t know what’s gotten into me—”

“Everyone gets a little awestruck on their vacation,” I smiled in a way I hoped was reassuring. “Did you have enough to eat?”

She turned to the man across from her. “Ted?”

“Oh, yes,” Ted nodded and smiled. He was almost handsome. “Thank you.”

“I’m not your waiter,” I snapped. I smoothed my face. “I just wanted to make sure you were comfortable.”

“Ted loves his oysters,” Francine smiled back at me, though her eyes remained dark. Me and her, smiling, converted into this secret code. Her wrinkled fingers gripped at the tablecloth—she had strong arms. I imagined she came from a farm or owned a shop where she did all the heavy lifting. Maybe, I thought to myself, she brought him here to kill him.

“We’re having a lovely time. I’m a little scared of the water, that’s all,” Francine said apologetically.

“I’m sure you’ll forget about it soon enough. Most people are dazzled by the show.”

Her fingers retracted from the table to her stomach. That dress was too tight on her.

“The show?”

“The gig. With the mermaids. Moi. That’s French. It’s part of the Turquoise Escape entertainment package. Didn’t you get a brochure?”

“Oh, I don’t know if—” Ted hesitated. “We’re not interested—Francine, you don’t want to go to that.”

“You’re supposed to get a pamphlet upon entry. Whatever. You can come here in an hour and watch me. Might as well enjoy yourself, right? Relax a little. The sea won’t get ya.”

I winked, though not before casting a look around for Theo. A few weeks ago, he made us promise not to talk about shit like that with the passengers anymore.

“Act like we’re in a giant floaty in a big pool. Or a bathtub,” he said at our last group meeting. He really did say that. I swear, it’s always the idiots that move up the rank. One of the chefs belched. Another asked if we should all take our clothes off.

“For Christ’s sake!”

“Where are my bubbles, boss?”

“Hey!” I called to one of the waitresses. “You wanna go swimming? Take off your—”

“Shut up!” Theo cried. “Just don’t scare our guests. No storms. No monsters. No lore. We are on vacation, capiche?” He shot me a look. “Back to work!” And that was that.

Francine looked up at me as Ted devoured what had been Francine’s plate. “Are you—who do you play?”

“Who do I play? I’m one of the mermaids. Didn’t I say that? The green one.”

Ted slurped another oyster. I wanted to smack him.

“What’s your name?” Francine asked.

“I don’t have a name.”

“Your name in real life.”

“This is real life,” I replied. “Come by at 8.”

Her lips twitched. “Okay. I’m Francine.”

“Okay, Francine. See you in a few.”

I didn’t really expect her to come. Ted didn’t seem the type to want to watch a bunch of mermaids sing about love and pearls. Maybe he would have been interested in our last number—we were sponsored by some boring-ass company to do a circuit on extra-absorbency towels. We had to wear them during the whole act—what a shitshow, I tell you. What mermaid needs towels underwater? And they didn’t even let us keep none at the end.

The music started. When we climbed out of our clamshell and onto the stage, I wanted to turn right back around. The hot lights caught the green sequins of my top, plunging everyone’s faces into nausea, and then they went to Pinky, dousing everyone in sunset, leaving me cold and dimmed. I did not see Francine—just strange eyes in stranger faces, staring. Boy, are men ugly. But then there she was, hovering in the doorway holding a new plate by her chin, shoulders up by her ears.

I sang with my mouth wide open and hurt my ears with how loud I was. Francine did not smile, holler, or clap. She went back and forth between chewing her food and staring.

Pinky shot me a look afterwards. “What’s gotten into you? Can you even hear yourself? You just about blew out my eardrums,” she spat. The lipstick on her teeth made her look like she had just taken a bite out of someone’s cheek.

“Leave her alone,” said Goldy. She turned to me. Gold eyeshadow flaked all over her face. “You’re about close to retire, aren’t you?”

“You’ll find out when your daddy tells you,” I retorted.

Pinky didn’t laugh. Goldy’s chuckling followed me from the dim hall out to the fresh air.

Francine stood on the deck, a damn chimney. She flicked the ash from her cigarette away with a thick finger. It splattered into falling stars that hissed upon hitting the water.

“Did you enjoy the show?”

She nodded and threw her cigarette overboard. “Can I tell you something?” She asked, still facing the water like she was in a movie. She probably didn’t get around a lot. I pitied her. “Your voice is lovely.”

Too many stories for this body. Loosen my strings, and we’d have more time. When I was young—believe it or not—we were hosting a get-together.

My daddy was sitting in his green chair, listening to my aunt tell some story. He looked so old, hunched over like that, barely even nodding. Everyone else was standing, holding their plates of cheese and crackers and laughing. All of a sudden, he sneezed real loud. His legs shot out before thudding back onto the floor and a big drop of silver spit hung out of his mouth. The cracker he had just been chewing spewed from his mouth. My aunt jumped and dropped her olives. Seeing my daddy lower his head and try to suck his explosion back inside of himself made me feel the same way I felt as a young thing looking out at the sea, at its comings and goings that don’t actually go nowhere.

My mama jumped into action.

“Go on and sing something for everyone,” she had said. “I hear you in your room. She sings all the time,” she explained, turning to our guests.

I was sure they could hear the tears in my voice. But afterwards, my aunt came up to me and asked me, same as Francine, like my time meant something to her: “Can I tell you something?”

I hung my head. I looked at my shoes, at my daddy’s shoes.

“You have a beautiful voice.” She really did say that.

“She’ll be a siren when she’s older,” she said to the other adults. My mama let out that tight laugh of hers that meant the conversation needed to end. But I didn’t mind. I was so happy, I decided right then and there that I’d become a singer. And I would always hold onto that blue feeling I got from that memory of my daddy hunched over, the shape of a shrimp, so every time I opened my mouth it would be with that beautiful voice my aunt so loved.

I made sure to look into Francine’s eyes when I next spoke. They were dark as secret. “Come day after tomorrow. If you liked tonight, this next one will blow you away. There’s always a special show on Wednesdays.”


“Helps people get over the hump. Even on vacation. They start to think about returning to land.”

She turned her eyes to the sky, as if contemplating what I said. “I’ll be there. I love your outfit, by the way. Green is my favorite color. Like sea foam.”

“Seafoam is shit white. Unless there’s some kind of seafoam I don’t know about.”

She laughed.

“You’ve only been sweet to my clothes. Sweet talk me. Or something mean—call me out,” I pouted.

“I can’t,” she stammered, mortified.

“Can’t say I’m surprised.” I took hold of her hand and pulled her towards the empty dining hall.

All they had left at that time of night was warm honeydew and the little tower of chocolates they put out to be fancy, though I knew they were just regular chocolates spray painted with a little airbrush full of blue paint.

I watched her pick up a chocolate. She didn’t use the silver tongs they left next to the plate, and I didn’t correct her.

“Tell me about yourself,” I said.

“I’m just a lady on a ship. On vacation,” she corrected herself.

“Why this one though?”

She laughed. “Do you really want me to start from the beginning?”

She placed her hand over mine. The chocolate on my tongue grew heavy. I had dreamt that it would be warm, but her palm was cold, dry. She pinched into me, softly, then harder, digging into the tender webbing between my thumb and pointer finger. When she stopped, there was a small blue moon there, almost like a bite mark.

That’s how I’d like to remember her: black and blue chocolate in her teeth. Neither of us knowing nothing that would come. Honestly, it must have been love because I could have sat in that creaky chair all night and into dawn while the night crew vacuumed crumbs from the floorboards and listened to her tell me the story over and over again.

I wanted to know how she ended up with those deep eyes, that little furrow she had seared into her forehead. I wanted to know how she could stand to wear those bras that gave you gills on your sides, and why she had been carrying around some book by Chopin since the day we shoved off. Never knew he wrote.

“It was my reward.” She must have seen the look on my face, because she continued: “I had been on a diet, see. And I hit our goal. Ted said, once I reached my goal weight, we could go on a cruise—”

“You picked this one?”

“I didn’t care which one. I just wanted to get out.”

I had to give Ted credit. He saw the fractures in his life and instead of doing the work, decided the best thing to do would be to tap into what his father and his father’s father gave him—the audacity.

“Is this it, then? You’re done? You’ll spend the rest of your life celebrating?” I was angry because this beautiful woman across from me was married to a coward. Because that was how it always goes. People come here, expecting to be rewarded—but this isn’t paradise. Wherever you go, your shit follows. And then they take it out on us.

And Ted! Afraid of his own wife’s hunger. He thought the proper solution would be to hold something over her head: threaten her with the ocean, because everyone wants to be skinny for the ocean. It’s not really a good idea, of course—have you ever been collecting on the shore and looked for a skinny rock? Good luck. Yeah, some seaweed is horizon-thin, but then you pull and pull and it’s like you got the world’s biggest root in your hands. And the most exciting waves are the big ones that could kill you. Bigness is the ocean, and that’s that.

Francine hadn’t been to the beach since she was a child, didn’t remember that the best stones are the ones that fill your whole palm, that even skinny lines of melting vanilla ice cream end in fat, heavy drops. She didn’t have to explain to me. I knew her, and I told her so.

“I see you,” I said. “If you don’t go hog wild on this vacation, I’m going to call in a favor and have Theo bop you and Ted both. Make the most of it.”

She giggled. Said they met through mutuals. On their second date, they were walking through the park. All Francine could do was look at the flowers and feel queasy. But that was nothing new; she said she been nauseous her whole life.

I thought she was saying she had a bad stomach, but then she blamed it on the green woman.

“The green woman?” She said it like she was someone I should know: Madonna, the moon, my mother.

“Yes,” Francine looked off into the distance dreamily. The green woman was some unsmiling lady she saw in the park once when her mother took her on a walk as a child. She was wearing a mint-colored dress with lace all around the edges.

“It could have been real silk,” Francine sighed. “Moved like water but was the same color as the leaves all around us.”

“Who wears silk to a park?”

Francine shrugged. “She had style. Taste.”

They had been sitting on a bench, sharing a cup of vanilla ice cream. Her mother was impatient and wanted to help her husband close up the store, but Francine threw such a fit that they finished their ice cream there on the bench.

“It didn’t look like she was working,” Francine said. “Just sitting leisurely.”

When her mother finally dragged her away, the green lady was just beginning to open a book. Francine cried in the car and moaned for as long as she could until her mother threatened to leave her on the side of the road. She moaned because she was sad; she moaned because it felt good.

When they got to the store, she wiped dust off the tchotchkes like she was told.

“Tell me,” I interrupted. “You’re the expert. Why does dust always gather in those little bitty windows of Christmas houses?”

She grabbed my hand. “Take me serious.”

She said she imagined what her life would be like if she and the green lady lived together in one of the little Christmas box scenes they sold for $9.99, sharing hot chocolate and eating mint ice cream by the fire. The lady would suck on the little chocolate chips until all the ice cream was gone, and then she would spit them into a little dish for Francine to eat.

“I thought about her since then. The green lady saved me, time and time again,” Francine whispered. “Whenever I was sad or lonely or just bored, I thought of her. At night, when I couldn’t sleep—I dreamt of her. We’d wear matching dresses that flowed between our legs. We’d garden together, and grow peppers, parsley. Big green tomatoes, chives, cilantro—ivy pouring over all the shady spots. We’d move from our little town in New York, live somewhere warm. We’d lay in bed together—she brought me comfort,” she shook her head, almost mournful. “And then Ted and I met through our friend—and he bought me a mint ice cream.

“It was a sign!” She rolled her eyes. “I never should have believed that anything was ever given to me. I thought—”

“What happened to her?”

She shrugged. “I only saw her that one time. But I never forgot.”

It grew quiet after that. We realized we had picked our treasure clean, so all that was left were a stack of dishes with smudges where the chocolate had melted and a light coating of green glitter. I was shedding.

I reminded her to come back tomorrow. She said she didn’t need to be reminded. Well, that really did me in. I went to sleep that night thinking about her in that dingy room with Ted, laying on the bed, and imagined that each time the boat rocked it was from them, from Ted, trying to capsize everyone with their celebration. It shouldn’t have bothered me—Francine was obsessive. She must have seen this green lady over 30 years ago.

But weren’t we all like Francine, in some way? How can we get anywhere without clinging to things? Who doesn’t love that hard? Each and every night I can hear Pinky working away at herself like her life depended on it. Goldy swiped passenger’s pearls (usually fake, but she didn’t care), and the only reason why she wasn’t fired the first or second time she was caught was because Theo was in love with her. Some guy had to sit down and think of the word for rainbow. Hell, I had just met Francine, and I had gone to bed every night that week dreaming of her: Ted and Francine, in a room sprayed with air freshener so the smell of the ocean didn’t get in, flopping on the duvet. Her hair sticking up in a million directions, sharp, wicked. Him reaching out for her like she was an anchor.

For the first time in years, I drank with Pinky and Goldy before the show. I still went to the buffet, but it felt like I had swallowed a bunch of sea urchins and after one plate I had to go into that dark room to drink. Shots, shots, shots—boring, only the repetition made it seem like worship. When we emerged, I was dazed by the light pointing at us. Goldy had cracks around her lips she had forgotten to cover. Pinky threw her pearls at the crowd and didn’t seem to care. We lamented over our love for humans. I thought I saw a tear on Pinky’s cheek.

The lights dimmed. I was not used to drinking so much; my stomach sloshed and I pressed myself together as we finished the first number, trying to hold it all in.

“Do you hear that?” Pinky cried. All the eyes in the audience shot up. It was Wednesday. We had to give them something.

Pinky repeated herself, louder. “I think—it’s Poseidon, calling us home!”

“Poseidon!” We cried. I lifted my arms up to the ceiling, still sucking my stomach up near my heart. The lights looked like two giant eyes, light green. Goldy told me to never look straight at them, but I couldn’t help myself that night.


I always thought this gig was stupid. Maybe not as bad as the towels but still. Crying out like we weren’t real until someone heard us!

I got on my knees and the girl’s smiles froze in place. I stared at those green lights. My eyes were burning but I was afraid if I blinked, she’d go away. Sea urchins swam in my belly, and now my bladder felt completely full, close to bursting.

“Who is he calling?” Pinky continued with her dialogue and held a hand to her ear. She pointed at a sap in the crowd. All eyes moved from me to him. “Can you hear him? Who needs to return to the sea?”

Lately, the audience had been picking Pinky to go outside. But that night a man in the back stood up. The other fellow Pinky had chosen closed his mouth with relief.

“The green lady!” The figure cried. I didn’t realize it was Ted was until I saw Francine next to him, looking mortified.

The girls looked at each other and then at me. Normally everyone liked to watch the young pretty girl die. Whatever gets your heart going, I supposed.

When the lights dimmed, I swam through the crowd, not looking no one in the eye. I made it out the door and the air felt good. Cold.

This was what made the Turquoise Escape so spectacular. We advertised a show of surprises and that’s what they got. Only the bravest and warmest dressed followed me out to where Theo, minutes before, had set up a nice board for us to sashay out on. The rest stayed inside and watched Pinky and Goldy sing half-heartedly about missing moi.

There were no stars out that night. I thought of Francine’s cigarette and shivered with the air all around me. Finally, I reached the edge and looked back at the crowd. Francine was watching and now had one foot on the plank. I wondered if she had pushed through the crowd to get there.

Go back, I mouthed.

I turned and faced the empty sky. The cold wind howled her tune.

Honest: I thought, briefly, you were trying to kill me. When I hit the water, I let everything go. The world around me turned warm. And then you were all over me, pushing me deeper, wanting more. Body landing in the water: sounded like the wind had found its way beneath the surface, following me. A rush of bubbles, hands grabbing at us. Theo shouting.

“That didn’t go as planned,” Francine later sighed.

“No. It didn’t.”

We looked up from our plates at each other. She was grinning maniacally, invigorated by her stunt. Her hair, so short, already drying, forgetting the sea. When she placed her moist palm on my hand, she did not pinch, but let herself rest, lightly, so that I knew we were both thinking the same thing:

Kissing. No puke taste, just salt and brine. Unpeeling. I’d pick the seaweed from her skin. I imagined her nipples like big barnacles. Maybe we’d knock teeth like we was kids. When I’d open my mouth to laugh, she’d let herself in. Then we’d celebrate the new show, and our love, at the buffet. We would hold hands under the table. I’d feed her baked salmon with a spoon and convince her to try something other than the damn gravy and wings.

“You’re lucky I got my wits about me,” I said. “Jumping in after me—such a stupid idea, I thought Ted had put you up to it.”

She grinned over her plate. “Something got into me. Inspiration—is that the word you artists use?”

“I don’t use no words,” I scowled. My chest hurt. My lungs ached from the water. My knee ached from where I had banged it up, scrambling with her in my arms, trying to suck in some air. “Always been a singer. But if I had to choose, I’d prefer stupid. You’re lucky Theo didn’t save you just to throw you back out himself. And that’s the last time we’re doing this gig, that’s for sure—”

“You didn’t even like this show—”

“It was better than the towels!”

She pulled her hands away from me. “You’re just trying to scare me.”

“Your days are numbered, honey.”

I always thought I had the theatrics fit for a prophet.

It was quiet after that. Mia, a waitress I’ve always been fond of, came over and asked if we would like anything. I turned to Francine, whose face was pinched into an expression of resignation.

“Oysters, please. We’re celebrating you not drowning to your death,” I hit the table, jarring Francine from her glum disposition. “So you better start acting like you’re alive.”

“What kind would you like?” asked Mia. She cast a glance at our hands, intertwined. She had heard about Francine’s shenanigans—the only secrets that exist in this place are those we are too afraid to look upon.

Francine and I looked down at the laminated menus. Unfamiliar words swam up into our faces. I looked back up and Francine was staring right at me, her lips about to burst.

We exploded into sweet laughter.

I gathered myself and collected my teeth and wits and said, “Whatever you think, Mia. Then come sit down and join us. Get off your feet.”

She did not. When she brought the oysters out on a large silver dish with lemon and a small pot of red sauce, she disappeared before I could say I had hoped we ourselves were going to shuck them.

“I had been looking forward to that part,” I said to Francine.

Francine ate like she had swallowed some parasite when she jumped in the water after me, or like she only just now realized she was starving. She lifted one oyster, then another, and another, up to her beautiful mouth.

“We’re not going nowhere,” I chuckled. Francine paid me no mind. I reached for an oyster, uneasy, feeling like I should catch up to her. The cold bottom of the dish peeked through as more and more shells disappeared.

“You think Theo will seek revenge? Push us into some fog? Or no—” I reached for her hand, and she blinked, throat moving up and down in a swallow. “What about Ted? You think he knows about us?”

The oyster was salty. When I squeezed lemon onto it, it moved, as if still alive.

“You think these guys are still alive? Is there a brain in there?” I squinted at it.

“He’s always known,” said Francine between gulps. This surprised me.

“He knows—”

“You don’t care,” she sneered. “Soon I’ll be gone, and you’ll find someone new.”

“Hey.” I put my oyster down. I felt like I could choke. “I care about you, Francine. I was thinking—I could come visit you.”

“You’ll never leave,” she sneered again.

“Hey.” I wanted to put my hand on her cheek, cup it, feel the soft bit of stubble that poked from her chin. “Don’t you drift away. Look at me, Francine. I will.” I stood up. “I’m ready to get off this damn boat. Find my legs again. I’ll go with you—how’s that?”

“No, you won’t.” She shook her head feverishly, eyes now on something in the distance behind me. “You won’t. Theo needs you.”

“That’s true,” I laughed now, imagining the man’s face when I left. “He does need me. So if I leave—he’ll come get you,” I teased, switching tactics, desperately trying to get her to look at me, stop slurping those damn oysters, saving me none. “We’d have to hide away together—”

“Stop!” She cried. She threw her head back and lifted another shell to her mouth, opening herself in the only way she knew how.

If only I could have gotten her to look at me. Just for one damn second. If I could have stopped her, if I could have made her believe that all of this would remain, well—maybe she never would have. It’s not like it’s easy to believe this is all here, for us. I still sneak chocolates and wine into my room at night. Theo has been talking about chopping jobs in half. Every night, passengers take pictures of the moon with their shitty phones, and though it never comes out right, they won’t stop. Deep down, we know the moon will fly away one day. And the stars—they hide from us now.

When the sound from her throat stopped, I thought at first she was having one of those deep belly laughs. I tend to have that effect on people.

“Don’t!” Theo cried, having been retrieved by another passenger. I froze from where I was standing, leaning above her, ready to thrust my fist into her soft stomach. Francine’s eyes rolled around her head as the oyster choked her. “Wait for the medic!”

A liability. That’s what he had said, as if the medic off giggling with a guest in the freezer wasn’t.

The only indication of a new week was Goldy’s grumbling. They were late with our checks. This wasn’t new, but still, Goldy complained.

Theo came up to me and said I was on thin ice. I could have been smart and said something like, Actually, we’re all on fire and the ice is gone, but I didn’t because he knew and I knew he knew and I also knew he could not afford to care.

He demoted me to a side role on the stage. No more singing. No more walking the plank. No more dinner with guests: remember my place. And I said: I don’t care. I’m done.

It’s time. I was going to retire before Francine came, but something stopped me—don’t ask me what, because I won’t say. I should have quit. I should have known, the second I spoke to Theo—I told him I don’t like my name no more. Is that such a crime? It’s my name, ain’t it?

“Fine,” he said. “If you have to be so dramatic. At least you’re not one of those.”

“Those what?”

“Those. You know.” He waved his hand in the air. Didn’t know what he was saying.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. All I do know is that I don’t like my name no more, and I don’t like ‘she.’ It fits weird on me now.” I crossed my arms over my chest.

“Have you been eavesdropping?” He sneered. “We’ve had an influx of young passengers—young people with these ideas—”

“40 ain’t young, Theo! We’re surrounded by old hags, just like you and me. Young people don’t want to be on this ship. They can’t. It freaks them out. They got anxieties, and the water—”

“Slow down.” He put his hand on my shoulder and softened. “They’re valuable patrons of ours. But the show is the show. I can’t do nothing about that—”

“But you can talk to the crew, can’t you? Or at our staff meeting, I’ll just mention it real fast—lots of people have nicknames—”

“No.” His hand squeezed my shoulder. The ship rocked underneath us. “Let’s talk about this another time. Go get your food. The rest of the girls have already eaten.”

Those girls don’t eat no more, I wanted to say. It’s just me.

But I didn’t. Not because I was afraid, but because something stopped me—Francine’s hand, tapping on my skin, like I was going to drift away if she didn’t grab on fast enough.

If I could tell you one thing, Francine—actually, two things. Just two things. First of all—why did you have to go and do that? Didn’t I say, didn’t I say not to act like you was going to die? Because then shit like this happens—you go and die.

That should have been me. It always was meant to be me. Or not just me, but all of us stinky people working this shit ship. We all smell like sweat and seaweed. We could have disappeared and it would have been easy. We could have been sucked in by some fog, gone missing, and no one would know because none of us on this ship had anyone on land to worry about us. It should have been us. But now—it’s you who is dead.

Ted wasn’t crying when they wheeled you out. I could have slapped him for that, but I realized I wasn’t crying either. My mouth was hanging open for so long that when I shut it, my tongue was cold and dry against the roof of my mouth.

The second thing I’d tell you would be that I stay awake at night thinking about the ocean. It’s rising. Some guy told me that over a drink last night. I told him he was horrible at flirting and he said he wasn’t flirting. He bought me another drink. I didn’t tell him Marco behind the counter would have given me one for free anyway.

When I took off my clothes, he stared at my knee, where it was cut from the little stunt you pulled. I was really scrambling to get out of that water, I tell you. My bandage had been turning gold, and the cut underneath oozed neon green. I was infected.

I got down on my knees.

“Open your mouth,” he said, but he was so slanted it came out sounding like myth.

“That’s good,” he muttered to my gaping face.

I went back to the bar after the whole thing was done. I can’t go back into my room, there’s something wrong with the lighting and the fake ass silk cover itches my skin and I never should have peed in the water, I feel sick. Still sitting here. My ass hurts on the chair but I like listening to the boat’s moans.

I’d like to get away for a while. And then when I come back, the water will be up past my eyeballs, risen so fast everyone could lie and say they never saw it coming.

But that’s just a dream. I won’t speak it aloud. I’ll always be here, thinking of you and that stupid green lady, until the water covers my feet and legs and eyes and I see you again.

Jeannie Morgenstern is an emerging writer based in New York whose work orbits abjection and the body. Her fiction and poetry have been published in The Rational Creature, Nosh, and Spoonfeed. She has worked as an editorial assistant for the Berlin-based magazine SOFA and currently works at NYU’s Bobst Library as an Access Services Assistant. When not writing, she likes to spend her time eating Hot Cheetos and daydreaming.

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