Rumpus Original Fiction: Purity Party


My fiancé wants us married in Seal City. He decides this at the aquarium, in front of the vampire eel and the blue-eyed socket fish. The blue-eyed socket fish is staring at me from the bottom of the tank, his two-dimensional pancake body looking like something for my shoe to step in.

“It will be perfect,” my fiancé says.

“But the splashing,” I say. “The smell.”

“It will be glamorous. It will be romantic, sophisticated—”

An immense jelly floats past. Its tentacles graze the glass and I realize that it must know, must have learned at some point that a barrier doesn’t mean the end. Worlds exist elsewhere, they just aren’t your worlds.

My fiancé is a tall man with plain features and an eccentric style to counteract this plainness. His mother named him something unusual, something hinting at an intellectual, like Homer or Aldwin or Babel. Names manifest, don’t mothers know this? My fiancé’s name means he wears glasses round as clock faces. It means he studied writing in college and once wrote a play that was released in tiny bohemian theaters with leaky ceilings and tip jars. And it means, though he is an accountant now, he still identifies himself to new friends as The Playwright.

These are the kinds of things mothers do to their children when no one is watching.

I think I love this man, this once-upon-a-playwright. I chose him when I saw him across a living room filled with smoke and streamers and other people whose names I didn’t know. I chose him the only way I know to choose anything. What is easy? What is soft beneath my fingers? What is warm?

“We will have to rent linens and flatware,” my fiancé is saying.

“Yes.” I nod my head. A sea snail is suctioning the glass. Its skin puckers and wilts, reminding me of sex organs. “Yes.”


I’m playing a new game. I call it Ethical Quandary, and when I’m doing it I’m deciding people’s lives. Right now I’m choosing between my future husband being killed by an oncoming train or the classroom of students I’m currently standing in front of. A pull of a lever, group A or group B. My chic widow’s grief, or the headlining grief of parents.

I am standing in front of a classroom of students because I am teaching a sex education course. That is my job. My trade. The state hires me to visit high schools and teach our children about body parts and where they go and when they should go there, which is never. Teenage sex is icky. Runt of the pickle jar icky. Worm halved in the screen door icky.

“Condoms,” I say to the students, “are very practical.” They blink in surprise. Though they knew this was coming, young people are always surprised when the adult in the room starts talking latex.

I say, “Condoms can prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.” My voice bounces along the wall of sunny lab equipment, beakers, bulky microscopes that have been pushed aside in honor of my visit. It is important to get the right tone. Emotionless. Business-like, verging on instructional. Not authorizing. Not encouraging.

The students stare at me the way young people stare. Dead-eyed. Shameless. They are watching me reach into my suede bag, expecting a banana, but I’m no amateur. I don’t ruin lives with produce.

“This is a phallic imitator,” I say. “It is shaped to resemble a penis. I’m going to use it to show you how to properly put on a condom.”

The dildo is puppet green and smooth as fruit skin. I bought it at a sex shop on Hawthorn Street a few weeks ago. The shop was called Pleasurable Foundations and was owned by an old woman with crimped hair and silver lipstick and massive breasts she pushed up with a corset worn over her clothes. When I entered, I found walls lined with hundreds of toys, everything from banal pocket vibrators to tacky blowup dolls to niche rose quartz anal beads. The beads were beautiful, like an expensive necklace some rich woman would wear to the opera.

“Good for the inner spirit,” the owner said when she saw me eyeing them. “Keeps the body in tune with itself.”

“The—anal beads?”

She nodded. “Vibrations from the stones. It’s very good for you.”

I didn’t know what to say. We stared at each other for what felt like a very long time. “You’ll need lubricant,” she said finally.

“Actually, I need a prosthetic penis. For demonstrative purposes.”

A man walked in the door. He slipped a pair of nipple clamps in his pocket and walked back out.

“That man just stole from you.”

“He has a membership,” the woman said. Then she pointed me to the dildo cabinet.


There is a hand in the air. This always makes me nervous. I call on a boy with wet-looking hair.

“Would you say that dildo you have there, would you say it’s average size?”

I pause. I can feel the dildo swaying slightly in my fist. Not a good look. I set it down. “I would not say this phallic imitator is average size. The average male penis is five inches when erect.”

There is giggling now. “Relieved, Caleb?” yells a different boy. More giggling.

I decide I will take the students out with the train. Save the fiancé. I picture them all, forever virgins, a bloody pulp on the tracks.


My sister Lotte has been leaving me messages. Long messages about her ex-husband, whom she cannot stop loving. Our mother used to take these calls, but now our mother is dead and so the duty has been handed down to me. I’m sure this is common, inheriting responsibilities no one ever thought to make succession plans for.

“Did you remember to cancel Mom’s pill subscription?” Lotte asks when I call her back, “And also I can’t stop thinking about Troy. He just posted pictures from his vacation with that woman. They went to Hawaii and she’s wearing a thong bikini, which is really distasteful, and I just never thought Troy would be into someone like that, who would wear something like that. I bet he didn’t want her to wear that. I bet he’s unhappy.”

“Lotte,” I say, “Lotte.”


“He gave you bruises.”

“That isn’t how Mom would say it.”

“How did I say it?”

“Like I’m being stupid. I know I’m being stupid.”

“Okay,” I say. I breathe into the phone. I think about my fiancé’s hands. At night I cover them in olive oil and rub along his lifeline. He gets sore from typing up financial reports every day. He has carpal tunnel syndrome. When his fingers are inside me, they sometimes quiver and spasm and it feels like I am a cave of tentacles. There is porn about this sort of fantasy. I know this, but I’ve never clicked. “Lotte. Troy wasn’t right for you. He hurt you. People who love you don’t hurt you. Not like that.”

There is a lot of silence.

“Okay,” my sister says. “You are right. Okay.”


A few days later I am at the aquarium tasting wedding cake flavors. This is how things happen with my man, suddenly and decidedly. He has decided. And so we are here. The cake is part of the aquarium’s Legendary Lovers Lobster Package. They have seated us beside the roaming hammerheads. I think the hammerheads would like to eat us. I think they are stalking us with their alien eyes. My fiancé hands me a fork shaped like a crustacean claw.

“I’m thinking three tiers,” he says, “and a dessert bar.”

This is a time for nodding, and so I do. I am thinking about the prosthetic penis and my dead mother. I used to have the kind of brain that could keep these kinds of things separate, only pulling out one thought once the other was safely tucked away. I used to be able to teach sex without thinking about sex.

I chew on a slab of lemon buttermilk. “If you had to choose between killing someone you love or a whole room of strangers, which would it be?”

“Who’s the someone?”

“You pick.”

“Is this about your mother?”

I don’t answer. I take another bite of cake, this one full of coffee grounds and salt and bourbon. Everything is about my mother. There are no borders between her and anything else. She lives in the air now.

“I think carrot cake,” my fiancé says, “and chocolate.”

Yes, alright, I think. Then I say, “Yes, alright.”

It was at her funeral that I discovered Ethical Quandary. It came to me during the hymnals, which were being sung by my mother’s best friends since college, tall women with frog voices and loose pantsuits. I wanted to know who I’d pick to die if I had the choice: Mom, or everyone in that room who was grieving her. Aunties, uncles, cousins, the neighbors who used to babysit me. Was I the type of person who would sacrifice a room of people I loved for the one I loved the most? The most seemed important. The most seemed like a quarter that only lands on heads. With a coin like that you can win all sorts of things.

I take my fiancé’s hand in mine. It’s cold and clammy and all I want is it inside me.

Next to us they are pouring bloody fish parts into the shark tank. Triangular heads and halved bodies and loose eyeballs. The cake baker shakes his head at the timing. I take a bite of buttercream as the hammerheads tear up their small world.


The state sends me to a new school in a new district. I have to drive forty minutes past yellowing farmlands and fields full of rotting squash. When I arrive the principal is standing in the parking lot. She looks nervous. She wants me over and done with.

“Listen, Mrs.—” she says.

“It’s Ms.” I say.

“—we’ve made some changes to our policy. Parents wanted more balance. You know what I mean?”

I nod even though I have no idea what she means. The principal switches her weight from one foot to another. A teacher walks past us, eyeing me like I might have called her a bad word behind her back. A newspaper in her hand headlines a boxing match someone recently died in.

Would you rather: accidentally murdered or accidental murderer?

“So you will be teaching alongside Randy, Mrs.—”

“Ms.” I say.

“Yes, alright.”

“Who is Randy?”

“Our new abstinence coach.”

I flash on the importance of the scientific method and dogs drooling for bells and the center of an atom full of floating chunks of nearly nothing, which is in fact all that is required to be something. Teaching abstinence isn’t science. Teaching abstinence is Bibles on desks and lunchtime prayer circles.

“Principal Fay, I have to stick to the state’s requirements.”

“Yes, we know. So Randy will be filling in the gaps you can’t.”

“Abstinence gaps,” I say.

“Yes.” The principal smiles wide as a coat hanger. “Abstinence gaps.”


I meet Randy outside the classroom, in a hallway that smells of teenage body odor and the perfumes young people think successfully cover it. Ocean spray and strawberry mist, blends of freesias and violets, oranges and melons turned holistic with tea tree. I take Randy’s hand when he offers it.

“I hope my position is okay with you,” he says. His skin is rough, aged. He looks like a retired athlete, boring now. His glasses are shaped like my car’s rearview mirror and his hair is the color of barnacles. He must be someone’s grandfather.

“I have no problem with you,” I tell him.

He smiles with teeth too white and straight to be real.

There is a poster hanging above Randy’s head of a chipmunk riding on the back of a turtle. The sign reads: “Help Each Other Out!” in a red font reminiscent of warning labels for narcotics. I reach into my bag and pull out two dildos. This is me at my most facetious. I get this way sometimes when I’m trying to tell someone things I can’t actually say out loud.

“I’m guessing you won’t need these for your part of the presentation? You can borrow one if you want. But you’ll have to remember to give it back to me after.”

Randy swallows and I watch the roll of his throat, like someone sliding fingers down a piano. “I don’t think that’s appropriate for children,” he says.

“They aren’t children,” I say, “They’re teenagers.”


I want to keep arguing, but I like the tone Randy uses when he says “youngsters.” Like he’s talking about some stupid animals crapping up a field. And if that’s how he feels, then he must think he and I are a league above. A league where dildos and weird sex shops and thong bikinis and tentacle porn are appropriate pastimes.

I put the dildos back in my bag and go into the classroom. Randy follows a few steps behind. Thirty faces stare up at us. It’s a girls-only freshman class in rural America, which means fourteen-year-olds who know next to nothing except what they can get from basement parties and internet searches. I like it best like this. It gives me more power, meaning I can say any terrifying thing I want and they will believe it. I can say, “Gonorrhea will kill you,” or, “Condoms fail eighty-nine percent of the time,” or, “STDs are commonly passed through hand-holding.” I won’t say these things. But I could. And I can think about saying them as much as I want.

I go to the center of the room. Randy stays near the door, which means I get to go first.

“Hello!” I say. I smile. Nod my head. Thirty planets bobbing on a gridline. I pull out my government issued three-ring binder and begin.


I tell my fiancé about Randy over dinner, which is at a caterer’s studio loft in uptown, where everything is either black or made of metal. The caterer is serving us melon balls in garlic sauce and shrimp tails wrapped in pie dough. He is on a list of approved vendors for the Legendary Lovers Lobster Package. He might be a famous caterer. He might help with celebrity award show after-parties. My fiancé mentions this to me as I’m biting into a salad constructed of flowers.

“I’ve heard of couples being shamed for the food they serve,” he tells me. “That won’t be us.”

I feel a surge of heat between my legs. My fiancé cares about our status within our community. He wants our loved ones to keep loving us and not to say bad things about us behind our backs. This is what makes a strong family foundation.

“Listen,” I say, “Earlier today when I was at work, I taught with an abstinence-only teacher, and at first I thought it was a terrible idea—exposing teens to that kind of conservative trash, you know—but it wasn’t trash. It was the most thrilling ninety minutes of my life.”

“You have a begonia in your teeth,” my fiancé says.

“It was amazing.”

“Right there, between your lateral incisor and your left canine.”

I dig the petal out. The famous caterer sets two bowls of grape stew in front of us. We’ve invited Lotte, but she’s late, as she often is. I text her three times before she answers with a waving astronaut emoji, which means, “I’m on my way; stop bothering me.”

I put my phone away. “The abstinence-only teacher’s name is Randy, and he did such a good job. He made them laugh. I never make them laugh.”

“Abstinence-only? Like celibacy?”

“Yeah. Like virginal.”

“Aren’t they all virgins?”

“No. Well, maybe. But probably not.”

“So they’re already having sex?”

“Some of them.”

“Then what do they need you for? They seem to be doing just fine on their own.” My fiancé holds his arms out as if he is carrying something, which might be the uselessness of my job. We are sitting next to a floor to ceiling window that overlooks the city. Nearby skyscrapers blot out any stars the light pollution failed to erase, which means the sky appears as empty and lacking in miracles as cartons of unfertilized chicken eggs.

“They need me because I teach them how their bodies work,” I say finally. “And how to have sex without getting sick or making a baby.”

My fiancé shrugs. Maybe my job is useless. If the kids listen to Randy, then they don’t need to know all the ways to stopper their bodies, to navigate hormones and edit themselves with bits of metal and sponges. The girls wouldn’t be so worried about creating accidental hearts and ears and noses in those belly biomes they ferry around. And, free from those worries, the girls could focus on other things, like their sparkling futures in a post-feminist society.

It’s important to protect the girls.

Lotte arrives in a brief gush of fuss. She is wearing a faux-fur coat and silver booties. Her hair is dyed chlorophyll green and fits around her head like a bubble. Lotte likes attention and she often gets it. Sometimes when I’m walking next to her I feel like I’m only half-there, like a houseplant at an estate sale or the hundreds of sunken ships sharing ocean floor, miles apart from each other despite their numbers.

Lotte sits down and turns to me. “Mom’s dead,” she tells me.

“Still?” I say.


The caterer brings out three grape stews. Little orbs float in the violet broth. The air smells like bad wine.

“We were just talking about virginity,” my fiancé says.

Lotte makes a face. She’s just taken a bite of stew. “I don’t know anything about virginity,” she says.

I jump in. “What he meant was, today I worked with an abstinence-only teacher, and at first I thought having him there would be awful, but then it turned out to be just the opposite.”

“I find abstinence disgusting,” Lotte says. “The only kinds of people who want teenagers not to have sex are the kinds who are angry they can’t sleep with teenagers. So they can’t stand anyone sleeping with teenagers, not even other teenagers.”

“Creeps,” my fiancé says.

“Well Randy’s not like that. He’s great, actually. He made up a funny story about being haunted by your past lovers. Like they’re ghosts and you’re stuck with them forever. Ha.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad to me,” Lotte laughs. My fiancé is frowning. I picture his old girlfriends—the stage actresses he dated in college and the coworkers he dated afterwards—all of them floating around our bedroom, reaching out to stroke his stubble as we make love.

The famous caterer brings us our last course. Five petite crab cakes shaped like the phases of the moon.

“I can’t believe you’re getting married at the aquarium,” Lotte says. “It’s a health hazard, first of all. Fish shit everywhere.”

“You just don’t want me to get married because you’re not married anymore,” I tell her. Lotte nods. She looks relieved that I’ve located her sadness. I pat her head.

I love my sister more than I love my fiancé. I know this and I’m okay with it. Between the two of them in a round of Ethical Quandary, I choose Lotte. This is the unspoken promise I made to my mother when she decided to invent another child for our family.

“Delicious,” my fiancé says as he finishes his meal. He looks at me with the understanding of someone who fills an essential role in the universe. Accountant. Husband. Man. He doesn’t know I’ve just sent him off fifty floors. He doesn’t know he’s falling right this second.


When my mother was sixteen years old, she married my father.

My father was a two-faced kind of man who made families all over the place without telling anyone. Now he lives in some foreign country with some foreign woman who can’t have children and writes romance novels about mermaids and sailors.

I once asked my mother how many men she’d slept with, forgetting her age when she married, and forgetting that mothers like to keep some parts of themselves secret from their daughters.

“Just him,” she told me, “and he was always very nice about it.”

A few months later I found a box of tiny vibrators shaped like goldfish beneath her bed. Their tails were for sandwiching a clitoris, and their plumpy, orange heads were the buttons for pressing on and off. I reached my hand in the box and pinched brains one by one until the box was full of tiny, vibrating goldfish. Then I dipped my fingers in and felt the fishes kiss at my hand, dumb and loving as mid-summer bumblebees.

That’s how my mother found me. She shrieked. Then, laughing, yanked the box from me.

Later that evening, I asked why she needed so many of them. The world suddenly felt full of tantalizing mysteries like this. My mother smiled and turned red and said nothing. She eventually mumbled something about selling the vibrators to friends, but I knew she was lying. My mother didn’t have any friends, especially not friends close enough to sell sex toys to. I pictured her alone at night, lying spread eagle on the bed with the fish set all over her body, swimming paths up and down her skin, turning every inch of her erogenous.


Later in the night when I am in bed beside my sleeping fiancé in a room turned aquamarine with our devices, I think of those goldfish and I think of Randy. His calm, reassuring voice echoing off the drywall. His hands conducting a great and terrible story about self-respect and safekeeping and lust withheld. Where I say yes with my charts and my statistics and my references for health clinics, Randy says no. He denies people what they want, regardless of how badly they want it.

This makes me wonder what he’s like in bed.

And after some tossing and turning, I am dreaming about him.

In this dream my body is a doll, limbs loose and dead as furniture. Randy is standing above me with a fishing net, dripping it towards my mouth. There’s something residing inside me he wants to catch. Something squirmy and frantic, a finned, scaly animal who has made a sea of me. The animal thrashes between the pleats of my organs, in the small, empty worlds there are no names for. Randy dangles the net over my lips and I unbolt my jaw. The netting falls against my tongue, turns wet and massed. He keeps lowering it and I feel the net budge against my tonsils, slip down my throat like a string of pills. It keeps descending, expanding out into the wilderness of my chest, trapping the animal in my lower torso, where it spins and spins, searching for escape.

I wake up hot in a cold bed, feeling up and down my body in the salt-light of morning.


The sex shop on Hawthorn street is closed on Sundays, but I find the owner stripping mold from her gutters and she is kind enough to let me in.

“Make yourself at home,” she says. She’s wearing a giant butcher’s apron and her hair is pulled back into pigtails that jut horizontally from the back of her skull like a pair of scissors.

“Do you have anything involving nets?” I ask.

“Fish nets?”

I nod.

“Tights and stockings are over there. You can’t try them on, but you can take ‘em out of the packaging to get a better look at the patterns.”

“No, I meant more like the trapping variety.”

The owner raises her eyebrows. “Trapping? We take consent very seriously here.”

“Of course you do.”

She looks as if she’s regretted welcoming me in. There’s an octopus sitting on the corner shelf whose legs are eight dildos of various sizes, colors, and textures. It’s priced at six hundred dollars. I think this is the kind of thing you would bring to an orgy and everyone would applaud. It is not the kind of thing you buy if you are planning to enter marriage. I don’t think using sex toys means you aren’t a good monogamist. But I do think some fetishes are so fantastically bizarre and self-serving that once you’ve fulfilled them you’ve undergone something akin to having an affair.

Besides the octopus, I look at a tray of locally made kegel balls, a pair of embroidered handcuffs with grey flowers trailing off the keyholes, and flavored condoms of black pepper, hibiscus, and fennel. The owner watches me as I peruse her shelves. I pet a patch of stick-on pubic hair.

I leave the shop empty-handed. The owner locks up behind me and returns to her mold.


I have to return to the rural school on Monday for our review day, but just for the afternoon. This means I spend the morning with Lotte at a wedding dress shop admiring lace and satin and pearls. I pick a mermaid gown with a ruffled bottom that reminds me of tide pools. I pay for the dress with money from my mother’s will. Lotte buys me a veil with tiny red hearts sewn into the hem and threads of veins weaving up to the crown of my head. The associate tells us the veil is from a quashed collection called Dramatic Romantics. I wear the veil to brunch where we order tuna melts and salads full of cranberries.

“Break a leg,” Lotte says.

“It’s not theater, Lotte.”

“All weddings are theater. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a true thing.”

I bite into my sandwich and think about Randy and his net.


Once upon a time there was a girl who loved a boy.

The boy was kind and handsome and he took the girl out to expensive dinners and occasionally brought her flowers. The boy told the girl he would love her forever. Because the girl believed him, she decided to let him sleep with her. A few days later, she found out he was cheating on her with another girl. Then she was diagnosed with chlamydia. A shame. A big ruining. Nobody wants her anymore. Years later, the chlamydia leads to infertility. Another big shame. The girl always dreamed of having a family. Then, even worse news. Cervical cancer. The girl is dying. She is dead. No one attends her funeral because no one ever had a chance to love her.

Randy finishes his story and the room is quiet. This should be the end of the day. I’ve taught all I can about genital warts and Plan B. Randy’s shown us the worth of waiting for true love and the dangers of unchecked libido. We will head to the parking lot now, him and I, and for a few seconds I’ll be able to pretend he’s my husband driving us home so he can fish for animals inside me.

A hand is raised. The hand is attached to a girl with braids and an eyebrow ring. “Who’s the girl in the story?”

“You’re the girl,” Randy says.

“I’ve had sex tons of times and that’s never happened to me.” She leans over and taps her friend on the shoulder. “Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever died from having sex?”

“It’s a cautionary tale,” Randy says slowly. “To make a point.”

The girl folds her arms over her chest. She’s looking at us like we are an uninhabitable planet her spaceship has landed on. “I think it’s stupid what you’re telling us. You’re asking us to go against biology and chemistry and physics.”

There’s silence for a moment as Randy and I try to interpret what she might mean by physics. It could have something to do with bodies hurtling towards each other at incredible speeds over the course of billions of years. I lean over to tell Randy this, but he’s already speaking. “Do you want to be damaged goods? Nobody wants damaged goods.”

The girl laughs in a way that feels mean. A few other girls join in.

It’s interesting seeing Randy frazzled. He buttons and unbuttons his collar and then places his palms firmly on the table. He looks over at me.

“I think what Randy is saying is that when you’re not having sex, you girls don’t have to waste so much time thinking about yourselves.”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Randy says.

“There should be birth control pills for boys,” a girl in the front row says.

“They’re working on it,” I say.


“The—well, I guess I don’t know.”

“Ha,” the front row girl says in one short, humorless burst.

“Ha,” says the rest of the girls.

I’m starting to sweat because I’m not sure whose side I’m on here. It’s important to know whose side you’re on at all times in case someone hands you a lever and you have to think fast.

“How many of you are virgins?” I call out before Randy hushes me.

“We can’t ask them that!” he shrieks. I’ve forgotten all my government issued training.

“This is all very rude,” the girl with the braids says, “for you to come here and tell us we are going to get pregnant, sick, and dead, and no one will ever, ever love us. Who says that to somebody?”

“But those things could happen to you,” I shout.

“Duh, lady.”

I look over at Randy who is pale and hopeless and full of nothing. We’ve misplaced something here, and now it’s filtering through the sun-streaked air, dipping in and out of pockets of formaldehyde from last week’s cutting of frog bodies and cow hearts. The state invited me into the bodies of these girls, and I thought that meant something.

I say a quick, quiet apology and exit the room. As I pass through the parking lot, I place a wedding invite on Randy’s windshield with the RSVP card crossed out, which is my way of telling Randy there’s a train headed straight for him and that we should all agree to stop talking to girls as if we know more about them than they do.


From my dressing room at Seal City I can hear the seals barking. They are excited because one of their own has just given birth to a pup. They don’t know it’s my wedding day. They don’t care. Their attention is on the growth of themselves, and on the water, and on mealtime. The aquarium worker told me he would wait to release the cheap fish parts until after our vows.

Lotte sets my veil on my head and applies lipstick to my mouth and my cheeks, dabbing my skin into sweetness.

“You make a lovely bride,” she says.

“So did you,” I say. “But you make a lovely everything.”

I chose Lotte to walk me down the aisle because I love her the most.

We wait together behind the giant wooden doors shaped like two swordfish kissing. On the other side will be our family and friends and my fiancé who doesn’t know about the animal swimming inside me and probably never will because some things aren’t meant to surface.

Right before the processional begins, I take Lotte’s arm in mine as if I am the boy and she is the girl. “I heard Mom’s dead,” I whisper.

“That’s too bad,” she whispers back. Then music fills the room and I sense the seals gathering protectively around their new pup as Lotte totters in her ridiculous designer shoes with the disco ball mirrors that transform her feet into light. She glides forward on that light and I follow. Somewhere out there a famous caterer is charring wisps of parsley, a baker is sliding a knife under peaks of meringue. There are visitors wandering around other parts of the aquarium, staring at foggy reflections of themselves in glass tanks. There are the fish and the octopuses, the stingrays and turtles, the families of seahorses hovering over branches of fake coral, a single sad whale they caught seven years ago with a net the size of a forest. And outside this place, past the Eerie Estuary Entrance and the Peppy Porpoise Parking Lot, the world is happening. Cancer and train wrecks and first dates and last dates. Prescriptions and ex lobster lovers and empty rooms that shouldn’t be. So many choices, so many ways to go wrong, or right, all those painstaking decisions that changed nothing, the random things that changed everything. The doors open. Lotte smiles down at me as physics tosses us through the air, pocket change destined to land on heads.


Rumpus original art by Lisa Marie Forde.

Bailey Cunningham lives and works in Seattle, Washington. She is a MacDowell Fellow, the winner of the 2019 Crazyhorse Crazyshorts! Short-Short Fiction Contest, and was an artist-in-residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts. Her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net, and appears in places such as Lunch Ticket, Contrary Magazine, and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. You can find her at More from this author →