BUTCHERY • by Jordan Emilson

Cutting away the bad parts is important. Mama takes the shears and snips-snips-snips.
I take a note in my head to cut close to the bone, avoid wastage, and not let the scraps
go unused.

She cuts further, gliding her knife along the bones of its ribs and down its stomach. At
the end of her slice she pushes her palm down stiffly and the fish breaks into two, flayed
in a wishbone shape held together by a tail.

The body plops down on the counter, nesting between a pile of yellow ginger and green
onion stalks. When she points to it she means for me to take a note. She wants me to
remember what being a proper woman who butchers fish and bears children looks like,
but all I note is the distant look in her eyes.

Tonight she will cry in silence at her bedside, softly and sweetly so that only I can hear
through the house’s old walls. I will take note of that too.

On the counter the fish’s marble black eyes stare at me. They stare at me like Dad did at
the dinner table when I told him Stephanie had a boyfriend and he replied that I wouldn’t
until I was eighteen. And though I hoped he was joking, the darks of his eyes said no.

It stares like it knows I hit that vape the girl in the church parking lot offered me last
Sunday. I inhaled deeply, with intent that went beyond being able to say, “I was tricked.”
And I laughed up at the sky hoping to be heard by either heaven or earth.

Stares like my L?o Lao when she tells me, you can’t have both fish and bear’s paw. And
no matter how much I ask she never reveals her answers, insisting I will one day know. I
will know the riddles, how to be a lady, and how to clean a fish like women do.

A tangle of fish guts comes free. Mama tosses the twisted clump out of the crack in the
window and into the dirt. Her fingers twist with certainty, grabbing, pulling, and gutting
until the fish is clean. She flicks on the little powder-blue fan on the counter, then gives
me a look that says she knows my mental notes have stopped. And she’s right.
Because she’s always right.

I told her that I didn’t mind the fishy smell, that it reminded me of L?o Lao’s house when
I visit in summer.

“Your father does, though. You know him.”

And she’s wrong.

She hands me the knife and a fish still cold from the fridge. With any hope this one will
be Dad’s for dinner tonight, but inside both me and Mama know that mine will go cold.
That it will sit until after they both serve themselves hers and I am made to eat my own.
Because my notes are just of tears and Mama’s face when she sings, of her voice when
she cries and mine when I cry too.

We will eat in silence. If Dad asks about my day, I will say it was good. If Mama asks for
more I will say, it was really good. If L?o Lao calls I will eat those words and tell her
everything inside of me. And when the front door opens I will choke down fish scales,
fins, and marble eyes.

Jordan Emilson is a writer and English teacher residing in New Mexico. His work has appeared in 365 Tomorrow and issues 6 & 7 of The Lookout Literary Journal.

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Every Day Fiction