Ashley Kunsa creative work has appeared in or is forthcoming from more than a dozen journals, including Bayou Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. She has been awarded the Orlando prize for flash fiction from the A Room of Her Own foundation and tied for first prize for the Eastern Iowa Review’s Experimental Essay award. Currently she is finishing a PhD in English literature at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her husband and son.
There are maybe times when you could be anybody, but it’s important to recognize this isn’t one of them. A good neighbor, a long-distance runner, the vice president even, or, better, the vice president’s wife. What was it all the gifted girls carried on about in middle school—marine biology? Saving sad, fleshy creatures from the doom wrought upon them by other sad, fleshy creatures? Manatees and walruses etched in purple pen across the fronts of spiral-bound notebooks, purple hearts on lassos leaping out of the waves, looping their wide, fat necks.
As if chaining a thing with love could save it.
Those girls thought they were so smart, with their essay prizes and A’s in algebra. How smart would they be now in this too-warm waiting room, with all the choices whittled down to two? Someone will drown here: you decide who.
And of course I say you to distance myself from all this. To prove I had nothing to do with it. Which is untrue. I said stay. I cried and whispered and purred it—Stay. But it was like talking to myself. Please, I tried, and Don’t leave me. My words were water balloons slapping the pavement. It had never been a matter of words between us anyway. It was biology. His and mine. Selves opening into each other, a thing that needs, a thing that feeds.
So, too, at the end. Knowing words had finally failed us, I sought our salvation in something deeper, its roots spun together, our humanity inextricably linked. Ticking the days off the calendar, I stared at the tiny pills, secure in their foil packets. Stay, that night just inside his apartment door, stay, my tongue begging his to speak our language again, stay, our bodies cleaved to one another until long afterwards, stay, when six weeks later I stood outside his building in the angry November wind, the test stick in my hand. Stay stay stay.
And of course the gifted girls, budding saviors, would never find themselves in a rumpled cotton gown, waiting to spread their legs before a stranger. They were born to soar. Only a fool believes she can bind biology with biology.
Of course he didn’t stay.
When the door opens and the woman with the tired eyes shuffles in, you will tell her. You will say the words that feel like screaming beneath the water’s surface while the whole ocean fills you up inside.