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by DeMisty D. Bellinger

Free Fish

We sampled the sushi though it was suspect. What did white people know about sushi? “What white people don’t know?” Adam asked.

“They know every fucking thing if you give them a minute,” I said.

“We’ll feel this later. We’ll have sour stomachs and we’ll retrace everything we ate.”

“Then one of us would remember the white people sushi.” We were aware that the vendors could hear us, but we didn’t care. They pretended that they couldn’t hear us. We watched them straighten out their wares and smile uncomfortably at nothing. Out of a sense of obligation, we bought two fish that were supposedly caught just that morning. I don’t even remember what kind. And we bought fresh sea salt in a clay pot. Adam asked, “Can salt really be fresh?” and the vendors gave him an answer that we didn’t listen to.

Halfway through our excursion at the farmers' market, we realized that there was so much fish and seafood because we were on the coast, on the Cape. “It makes perfect sense,” Adam said. “Why didn’t that dawn on us before?”

I didn’t answer. We walked around and bought last fall’s apples and New England apple cider donuts. Then we took our packages of fish, apples, and donuts and sat on one of the many piers on the bay. We ate the apples after rubbing them clean on our shirts. Then we ate our donuts. “We can’t take fish back to the hotel room,” I said.

“Maybe they’ll fry it up for us.”

“Who? This ain’t the Caribbean.”

Adam shrugged. “Should we set them free?”

“Free? Adam, honey, these fish have been dead for a long time.”

“How long?” He took the fish and unwrapped them carefully. The creature on his lap lay lifeless. Its opened, unseeing eye stared out. The other eye lay against Adam’s leg. A whole life in profile. “You want to touch them?”

“I’ve touched fish before.”

I watched as Adam rubbed a finger the wrong way across one of the fish’s scales. “I don’t know fuck one about fish.”

“Me neither,” I said. “Why don’t we set them free.”

“When do you think they were caught?”

I shrugged. “Adam, I want to kiss you.” Were we back home in the Midwest, at this time of day, we’d hear the cicadas buzzing in spite of the mess of the city. The water would be fresh instead of full of salt. And there’d be no reason for Adam and me to be together. As it were, we were in an uncomfortable spot. I made it that way. But we had tickets to Massachusetts and plans, so we kept them.

Adam shook his head no.

“I’m still in love with you,” I said.

He dumped the fish in the ocean without ceremony. Without another word. I was tired of apologizing, so I didn’t. We watched the fish float on the little rippling waves that lapped against the curated boulders. Later yet, we would watch horrible television that was mostly flipping through channels, not knowing the network schedules in a strange town. We would each sleep awkwardly on separate hotel beds.

But in the meantime, the farmers' market fish floated a little further away from us. Their glassy eyes looking upwards at everything. Their silver-scaled bodies reflecting the sun just like the waters did around them.

An Opossum Tale

“Do they eat cucumbers?” Ryan asked. He tried to scratch at the opossum’s neck. She recoiled and hissed.

“Don’t give him any cukes,” Toni said. “Then he’d be coming in my garden all the time. I don’t want that.”

“She. It’s a she.”

“You an opossum expert now? Just a big, ugly rodent.”

“It’s a marsupial. One of the few marsupials in North America.” Ryan reached at the animal again and she hissed again. “I only know because I see her nipples. Preggo.”

“Shit. Can’t we move her? Would her ol’ man be looking for her?”

“I don’t know if they monogamous, you know? I tend to see them solo, or the mama with her babies.”

“Hanging off her like Christmas tree lights. I seen that before. At night, they get red eyes. I seen that, too. Can you move her, Ryan? I don’t want her in my garden.”

They were in her garden now, down around the cucumbers, tomatoes, and the marigolds that kept pests at bay. Magic socks, which were old socks filled with what Toni was told was animal deterrents, hung from a clothesline. Piano music softly played from outdoor speakers. “What’s that you listening to?” Ryan asked.

“Not me, the plants. They like Baroque. This is Scarlatti. They like Bach and Corelli, too.”

“I forgot you knew all that white music. That and gospel.”

“Can you move her, Ryan?”

He sat back on his haunches. He looked around at the garden, at the sunflowers starting to bloom and the squash filling out. “I need more than vegetables this time, Toni. You got any money?”

Toni sucked her teeth. He knew she had money. She was all but retired, just working part time. And although he didn’t have to, Rev. Saunders paid her under the table for playing organ at the church. She was one of the few homeowners on her block. “I can write you a check if you show me the opossum.”

Later that night, Toni went over all her regrets: leaving her husband when she caught him cheating, not telling her daughter why she left her father, not fighting to see her grandkids, not remarrying though she had ample opportunity. Eventually, she’d be dead, and she’ll leave everything to her daughter and grandkids, though they’d have nothing to do with her. For all they knew, she was just an old, bitter woman.

Her newest regret was falling in with Ryan’s grandmother, a woman even older than Toni. When Toni went to her, she was surprised at how ancient the woman looked. Her wrinkles cut deep furrows in her skin, and the skin between was more grey than brown. An ancient woman. “You like things that ain’t you,” she had said to Toni. “Europe. You like Bach, Caravaggio, and all the Baroque-era art. How come?”

“I don’t think it’s not me. Race is a social construct.” Toni used to teach that when she was still teaching social studies at Malcolm X Academy. “Still,” she had told her students, “racism can exist because that, too, is a construct.” To Ryan’s grandmother, who preferred the name Bunny, she said, “and I don’t limit myself to dead white artists.”

“Of course not. You like rap music, too. That, too, ain’t you. You lived a life that belonged to something else. What it is that you want?”

“Only for the animals to stay out of my garden.”

“You say that, but that ain’t all it. That’s all you’ll tell me.” Then Bunny filled a satchel with various things and gave it to Toni for a fee. “Hang that up around your garden. Socks work as a vessel for most folk. The magic comes as an animal. If you take it away, you’ll lose something dear.”

Remembering this conversation, it dawned on Toni: the opossum is the animal. She was protecting Toni’s garden! Toni started up and wondered if she could stop Ryan, hoped that if he was going to trap her, he’d use a no-kill trap. She swooned with the thought of using magic, was sure that she was losing her mind in her old age. She rushed outside to find Ryan, drinking on her porch swing, dressed for bed. “I just want to see,” he said, “how she living.”

“Just leave her, Ryan.”

“Are you scared of me?”

“No. I don’t want to kill the possum.”

“I still want my money.”

“I have forty dollars. I’ll give you that and a bag for vegetables. Just leave the possum.”

Ryan chuckled and shook his head at her. “Batty as Bunny,” he said, then took a sip of whatever he was drinking. But he took the money and the bag that Toni handed to him. “I hope you get some sleep tonight,” he said.

“Good night,” she said, then turned and reentered her house. She readied for bed and before her eyes were completely closed, she dreamt of her daughter and the two grandbabies that she only heard rumors about.


DeMisty D. Bellinger is the author of the poetry collections Rubbing Elbows and Peculiar Heritage, and of the novel New to Liberty. She teaches writing in Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and twin daughters. You can find her at


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