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October 3, 2016 by The Citron Review

by Jennifer Fliss


The sea is so small, it fits in my hand. With a turn of my wrist, I can unravel the waves and the froth and be there. In Sicily. In Greece. On the Cantabrian coast. My feet dug into grainy sand, licking salt from my lips.

A squeeze of lemon, the citrus drips between salty flanks in perfection; sunshine alights on the surface of the Mediterranean.

As a child, I pulled at the circular handle and drained the extra oil. With a fork and a can of hot sauce-adulterated tomato juice, I set down to eat; a picnic on the kitchen linoleum.

Scientifically, they are called Clupeidae and this bulky word encompasses numerous types of small fish. But, I am only focused on this one, the sardine. The one that calls forth Earth’s loveliness on a summer day on a beach, perhaps with a loved one. Perhaps there is wine and it is white and in its not-white but gold hue, I will drink to life.

My two year old daughter will also drink to life, but she doesn’t know it yet. A drip of olive oil, a piece of the fish’s backbone on her chin. She has not seen the Cantabrian coast or the Mediterranean or my own childhood kitchen. But she has felt them all, tasted the wildly disillusioned and the madly beautiful. On the banks of a lake, at a playground bench. She prefers the small fish on a cracker, the latter of which, she discards after using it like a spoon. I ask her how the sardines taste. She says happy.

The sardines are oily and their delicate spines I turn into chalk between my teeth. They are too elegant a fish to eat with a fist. Between two fingers and onto my tongue, the sea is revealed. I swallow. Down into my gullet and belly I feel the swells. Under moonlight, a phosphorescence glows on the surface. Further down a cyclone school of fish, but not like any cyclone here on land. Lower, coral of the most vibrant hues, at our mercy. Lower still, sharks lurk and seaweed spins. Below are depths we cannot plumb. They are probably too beautiful, even for us.


Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming with Prairie Schooner, Necessary Fiction, The Rumpus, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. More can be found on her website,

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