Jennifer Lauren


The goldfish get fat in summer because I feed them lightning bugs. They live in the pond my dad put in. He builds a bridge, too. It’s round like a honeydew rind and stained to match the mulch. I am a child and I am surprised he can build, surprised there is someone in my own house who can make things out of nothing. I haven’t learned yet to worship my mother’s body or the parts of myself that can throw ropes from one world to the next. When I make my First Holy Communion, my mother hosts a party, and I take a picture with her, curled up on the bridge over the pond.

At York Fish and Wild Bird, we buy one-cent goldies that swim in black, pond-shaped pools in the back of the store underneath the snake and spider tanks. When the goldfish sleep, they drift at the bottom of the pond and have to be imagined. They are the color of oranges and lemons, and they are wild to me. Goldfish have teeth in the back of their throats that fall out unnoticed like tiny, white sweater buttons. Around the pond my parents plant bleeding hearts, periwinkles, hens and chicks, and pansies.

During the Communion party, my mother and I put down our paper plates and find someone to take the picture. My mother wears a sleeveless polka dot dress that she arranges over her knees. Her blonde wisps fall to her shoulders, and she smiles. She shows her teeth. This is the only picture of its kind. In all the others, she hides the stains and crookedness behind her lips.

When I am thirteen, we live in a house without a pond. I stand behind a door, left parted, and listen to my parents fight in the garage. Your teeth are disgusting, my dad tells her. That’s why I don’t kiss you. He stomps his feet and bites down so hard I can hear the snap of his thirty-two tiniest bones. When I leave for college, my mother gets invisible braces. I don’t listen behind parted doors anymore, so I can’t tell you if he has reached for her or if she still sleeps in a place where she has to be imagined.

In the Communion picture, my dress is denim with a collar that shows freckled shoulders. I can smell the heat and the hairspray and the honeysuckle of my mother’s skin. I can see the periwinkles and the bridge. I can’t see the fish. They are there, though, underneath the water, circling with the juice of a hundred lightning bugs in their throats and stomachs. When they swallow the bugs, the webbing of their gummy mouths light up neon for an instant before turning to black. Like the flash of a camera.