Katya learned to peel an apple before she learned to ride her bike, but before all of that she learned to skin a fish. Her bone-thin hands flayed long strings of entrails, which only the fluttering caress of a child still in love with themselves, or the kiss of a moth is delicate enough to achieve. She would watch the last shining gasps of its lungs before they sunk, fanning metal in the sun, and then wait impatiently to peel back the folds and search below.

The body was more than a cavity to her, and more than flesh. A body was the world; it was all she knew.


She would never know a greater treasure than using the stubby curves of her pinky nail to quantify and categorize every organ sheltered beneath. How different the stomach felt, compared to the brain, compared to heart!  And yet it never occurred to her this experience would be the same for her. Anatomy was purely aquatic and death merely the invisible rainbow of a fishing line cutting through brine-warped air, nothing more, nothing less.


It was her grandfather who taught her about fishing, and about everything else she valued at that age. He was the one who steadied her tea-cup hands in his, hands more baseball mitt than hands, and helped her coax the knife into burning fast the bubbly fat and sever the ridges of the spine. The lifeless fish had mirror eyes, unseeing eyes. Together, they tossed the head and severed shell.


Childhood was summer, seagrass fields that flew more like wheat, salty sand trapped beneath the webs of the toes and hidden on the scalp, flecks of bonfire leaving tiny scars to prove the nights were not simply imaginary. Memories didn’t slip from these spaces; they rose from the earth, wiping away dirt with tender hands made rough by sun. Young limbs were taut with sinew, made strong by swimming in the sea and racing fireflies.


When he got sick, she visited him in the hospital room. There, he was drowning in antiseptic and clinical abrasion. His heart, they said, was leaping like fly-fish against his chest, winged fins thrumming beneath drained flesh. It was a place of rectangles and sharp angles, as far from the organic curves of the ocean as possible. She hated it. She hated the way the lights stole color and replaced it with a greenish hue, an alien glow, that made his skin look like chipping paint. He was the bottom of a dingy, riddled with barnacles and algae. His limbs were not strong from darting amongst the waves, they were weak. She hated it. but never him.


When he died, they burned his corpse, until a man that had been a mountain was nothing but ash. She took her share of the remains, as if a body could be sectioned and quartered like market fare, and carried the car like a child in her arms. This is how a child first learns maternity, after taking care of one they love, one weaker than them. This is how a child begins to become an adult.


The water kissed her feet. She stood on the slopped surface of the jetty, exposed toes grasping the stones half-submerged in sand and snails. She still wore her church clothes, but her hair was down and teased by the wind. For once, she didn’t smell like sunscreen here, and she found herself missing the sheen of a second skin, of another layer of protection. From the shore, her parents watched.


She stared at the ocean, thinking only of the amount of times she had done this before, offering a carcass to the currents, watching as the crumpled ridges of a spine stripped of everything, of flesh, of skin, of life, sank to the dredge below. It sickened her to think that someday, the dust of his soul she was about to pour could be ingested by the animals flitting below the reflection, only for that same creature to be caught by her and brought back to the land of sun. Her grimace turned into a smile, so slight the glare of the light almost masked it. He was not gone, she realized. Sooner or later he was coming back. Death was not a goodbye, it was a home.


With fluttering hands, she dumped her grandfather into the water.


 Taylor Bond is a 2014-2015 Lannan Fellow and a freelance photographer. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in various publications such as Carcinogenic, Underwater New York, and the Belle Reve Literary Review.


What began as a poem quickly developed into a distinct narrative, tapping into childhood experiences of growth and loss. The story takes the perspective of a child, a girl who lives in the shadow of her grandfather and then must learn to let him go. It is a lesson that everyone must experience in their own lives, and often something that shifts one's view of the world, especially when they are young. This tenderness and painful realization was something that I wished to explore in my writing. 



Copyright 2009