On a catamaran, I think. At twelve, I knew nothing of boats, but I knew my father’s new wife minded being my new mother. Shoving off from shore, we ordered goldenrods of French fries, rimmed with salt and served with pillowy mayonnaise. I ate a full plastic basket while, on an open sea stop, the family snorkeled among the silver fish shoals. The family: my father, his new wife, and a friend’s daughter they’d brought along too. She deserved a trip, my father’s new wife said, this gapped tooth, vivacious girl, smarting from her mother’s newest love affair. My father’s wife didn’t mind playing mother to her.
The captain brought me another basket of French fries out of pity. I ate one after another, trying to dull my cramps with fats and salts like I’d heard helped. My pad chafed, wet against my baby pubic hair, but no one had taught me much of tampons. My father’s new wife said I could use one if I wanted. It was an option. But mine slid in and then out, slick with remorseless blood. So I would not swim, even for the sea turtles and the stingrays in ominous drift and the fields of defiant coral, because I imagined the blood from my pad dissolving into the water and into shark nostrils. I imagined myself bitten and sinking, my pad an anchor in my suit, dragging to me the sand to be embalmed. It frightened me.
On their return, my father and his new wife shared a beer with a lime stuffed into the top. My father’s new wife’s new daughter dabbed salt off her lips once she’d stolen one of my fries. I wondered who’d taught her to be a woman already, as she tanned expertly with my father’s new wife and complained about a chipped manicure and commanded my father’s attention with her complimentary jokes. Seeing the empty fry basket, my father ordered another one, but somehow it didn’t feel like it was for me.
After the catamaran my father was sullen with me for being sullen all day and all night. In bed, I stuffed the blanket in my mouth and cried. The salt stung my skin. The blood in me stung the way only resentment can, with the pounding recognition that a person’s suspicions were right the whole time. My father’s wife left the room, but my father dragged the blanket from between my teeth, the spittle leaving long silver tentacles of grief in the air. He said, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, and then said the same for years afterwards.
Eshani Surya is a writer from Connecticut. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in [PANK], Catapult, Paper Darts, Joyland, and Literary Hub, among others. Eshani is a Co-Flash Fiction Editor at Split Lip Magazine. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Find her @__eshani or at www.eshani-surya.com.