Naturally, the fish jumps to it. Perhaps it’s because the small dangling cross looks like the reflection of a lazy dragonfly in the semi-darkness of the grove. Even though the grey carp is not particularly hungry, it darts and swallows.
The girl gasps, jerks the chain and out come fish and gold, wedged into one another. It falls flapping onto the greenish concrete and she stares, terrified. All she can think of is to step on its slimy body to keep it from tumbling back into the water. The movement underneath her shoe makes her knees weak. It won’t die; she tugs at the chain but the metallic angles are successfully hooked in, it’s squirming, it’s bleeding, it still won’t die.
She’s here because grandmother once said that these river springs are sacred. When you come again, dip your cross into the water three times. You don’t even have to pray.
The boy watches. He has strolled down to the springs to smoke unnoticed, and now stands across the water. He’s wearing a baggy polyester suit, the left shoulder has an angular patch of dust from carrying the coffin. Their eyes meet: they recognize each other with the familiarity of youth in a day consisting entirely of old people. He has long dark lashes that flutter in confusion as he takes in the thrashing fish, the bloody mess.
Only the trees and the river are talking, but the two of them don’t speak this language. The fish refuses to die, though the spasms come weaker. The boy follows her movements as she grits her teeth and lifts the shivering fish, digs her bloody nails into its skin and slowly begins to tear, pulling the flesh of the underbelly apart while the gills heave and gleam. In the future the boy will masturbate to the image of this girl, splitting open the fish with her bare hands, dipping her fingers into its darkness.
Perspiration runs into her eyes, the black clothes make the evening insufferable, but she feels for the gold through the pulsing innards and pries it out. The delicate chain is sucked through the limp mouth and drawn out of the gaping belly, sticky and red. She lets the fish fall into the river and it sinks in a rosy mist.
The girl wants to rinse the cross, but discovers she can’t move. The boy rushes to her side and helps her down to the slimy ledge that’s level with the surface. Together they squat and lean precariously while she washes herself, her thick tears salting the water, and he keeps a lookout for more fish.
It takes a while. Afterwards he helps her fasten the wet chain under her sweaty hair. Coming out of the dim grove the day still lingers, fresh. On their way back they share his remaining cigarette, and they forget to ask each other’s name.
Clio Velentza lives in Athens, Greece. She is a winner of Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best Small Fictions 2016 and was anthologized in Rethinking The Plot (Kingston University Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in several literary journals, including Airgonaut, Bitterzoet, Atticus Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and Wigleaf. Find her at @clio_v.