June 21, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Anna Gates Ha
I am eleven when I go with my mother’s sister to see the beached oarfish, two of them, dredged up from the deep, black part of the sea. From the dunes, they look like fat silver ribbons, winking party leftovers.
We are already barefoot, paused on top of the sand dunes, looking down, and then—as she will do again and again throughout my life—Auntie Nora runs, her long hair a kite, her feet squeaking in the dry sand so loudly that she turns to look at me and laugh. I take out my scrunchie and pretend I’m flying. At the bottom, when I land, the sand turns wet and solid. The only other people are far enough away to be silhouettes. She takes my hand, and we step over caution tape that is stretched around four orange cones, half-buried.
Up close, the two oarfish are giants. Longer than me, longer than her. Their bodies—flat and iridescent with orange tendrils sprouting from the crowns of their heads—are covered with flies. Their eyes are eroded. Necks twisted. Fins missing. I want to cover my nose, but I don’t. Nora kneels.
Sailors, she tells me, used to think these fish were monsters.
She places her hand—thick and short but elegant, soft—over the shining scales, plucks one like an artichoke leaf, and puts it on her tongue.
She plucks another for me. It is like a giant’s toenail, a mermaid’s sequin. I hold it up to the sea, like a monocle, a telescope, and then I slip it inside, embarrassed to be as bold as her but ready to hold something ancient and monstrous on my tongue, to let my mouth close up around it, to taste the sea and those men’s fear.
Anna Gates Ha earned her MFA in creative writing, fiction, from Saint Mary’s College of California. Her writing, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared in Harpur Palate, Milk Candy Review, Literary Mama, Watershed Review, and elsewhere. She is an adjunct instructor and Writing Center Instructional Assistant. More of her work can be found at annagatesha.com or on Twitter @annagatesha.