by Naphisa Senanarong
The day my mother and her three sisters floated out to sea on an inflatable raft, the jellyfishes were on their annual, fatal pilgrimage to shore. A sea of white, she’d described. The storms parted, like in an animated children’s movie, revealing poison lotuses blooming as far as the eyes can see. I picture them: Ariel’s sisters, muted mermaids drifting onto a patch of hostile ocean—round eyes and naive parted lips, like posters of girls in the fifties congregating around some kitchen appliance. They were too young to register that afternoon as their first brush with mortality. No matter, because life had many more for them—at the hands of loved ones, behind doors too heavy for small fingers, Ohioan winter closing like cracks around frozen throats, in rooms with too many people, hospital beds with too few, restaurants that smell like chicken oil, bathrooms that smell like old blood—leftovers—fine mixtures of rust and self. Smells that linger—how they got used to those, always finding them in unexpected places: hair, collars, breaths.