It is not the first time the thought occurs to her: that it might be days before anyone finds her, lying still on the linoleum. What prompts the thought this time is her bleeding thumb. Clumsily opening a can of baked beans she finds at the back of her kitchen cupboard yields such blood. Sofia drenches the handle of her mother’s old wooden spoon. The sauce, also a sickly red, is starting to bubble on the stove.

Thumb under the tap until the water runs clear. Then Sofia finds a bandaid, a small miracle buried at the bottom of her second-favourite handbag. She toasts a slice of bread she finds in the back of the freezer — the second miracle of the day — and eats the baked beans while sitting on the floor.


Sofia nicked her thumb when she was five years old, helping her mother dice onions for spaghetti puttanesca, though secretly she hated olives. The cut soiled the chopping board. A marbled collage of tomato juice and wood. She wrapped a thick strip of gauze around her thumb, so that at school all her classmates and teachers could bear witness to the pain she had suffered, could admire her bravery. Even the smallest injuries used to be a social experience.

She forgets about the bandaid adorning her thumb like jewellery. Adhesive edges collect dust. It comes off a week later, in a shower that is longer than she can afford.

The needles of water are scalding. Skin pink and flushed, raw as if just tugged from the womb, she lies on the cool bathroom tiles, swallowing an egg of vomit. The flap of the overhead fan, the daddy long-legs in the corner of the ceiling, her hand in front of her face. Blurred, blinking, her thumb reminds her of a dried apricot.

Sofia used to run Poppy’s baths too hot when they were children. When washing Poppy’s hair, inevitably, shampoo would prick her eyes.

She fingers where the cut has scabbed. The nausea passes, and her vision hardens around the edges. She sees the scab isn’t brown but a smooth, iridescent green.


Every now and then, Sofia trudges down to the nearby McDonald’s, a fluorescent beacon across the road. Scintillating, hazy like a mirage. She only goes when it’s dark, midnight, 1 am, 2, 3, when she knows it will either be completely deserted or merely haunted by a few lonely drunks. These are the safe, child-free hours. No girls with pigtails and clown mouths of smeared ketchup, no boys called Tom or Jack whose mothers have ordered them Happy Meals.

The uniformed workers are never the same: early twenty-somethings with their skin in craters, interchangeable, disposable. She arrives in her sweatpants and they never say anything to her but the number written on her receipt. She is nothing if not consistent: a double Quarter Pounder, fries, and a long black that tastes like cardboard. Every time, the novelty of how bad the coffee tastes is almost thrilling.

Her savings dwindle. Even fast food is costly these days. When there are no more cans of beans or fruit, no more frozen bread to discover, Sofia treks to the supermarket a block away. She stands in the shampoo and conditioner aisle, ears swamped with maddening Christmas jingles, squinting at the price tags and thinking about inflation. For weeks, she has washed her hair only with water.


Poppy had been pencil-thin. All angles, straight edges and glasses. Contact lenses when she grew older, of course. After she tried out for the soccer team and kicked goals every weekend. The horn-rimmed pair of glasses that Sofia had loved to see crowning Poppy’s nose was retired when a ball was booted into her face during an after-school practice game, rupturing the lenses.

Sofia was made up of softer edges, fuller hips. Child-bearing hips, their mother used to say. “You have my legs,” she would also say to Sofia every now and then, words tight with apology. Wide and fleshy. Secretly, Sofia did blame her mother for the roundness of her belly, the plumpness in her cheeks — standard puppy fat, in the walls of her mind a disgrace. Her mother never wore any make-up, had been fresh-faced as long as she could remember. Still, when Sofia sees her mother, her cheeks are bare, her lips cracked, dry, without colour, though surely they would sell a shade of red that suits her for a few dollars at the chemist down the road from Sofia’s childhood home.

When Sofia inched into her teenage years, craving beauty and puzzling over the products that promised it, she resented her mother for not being able to teach her how to be a woman. There was no guidance in how to pretend, how to look the part. She realises now that if her mother had taught her, Sofia probably would have resented her for passing on beauty standards anyway. Sofia knows now there is no right way to be a mother to her. Only mistakes.

Now she is narrow, threadlike, as she always wanted to be.


They shared a room. The feminine paraphernalia scattered across the desk and floor was all Sofia’s: bobby pins, nail polish, earrings, and eventually lingerie. “You have sex, I get it,” Poppy complained, only twelve years old. The band posters, the sweaty Under Armour shorts, the functional, flavourless lip balm—those were Poppy’s.

She wore a suit and tie to the formal, two years ago, when Sofia was twenty-four and no longer living at home. Their mother sent her the pictures.


Blueberry Crush. The name of Poppy’s favourite shade of nail polish, until she grew taller and preferred her nails clean and bare, clipped to the quick. Before she was gone. Sofia used to paint Poppy’s nails for her, when her hair was long, her sentences barely coherent, and her fingernails barely bigger than grains of rice.

The dishes are unwashed, the cupboards empty but for packets of expired potato chips. Her sheets are stiff, soiled. Sofia finds the time to paint her own nails and do nothing else. Sizzling Red. A bottle she shoplifted the last time she got her period.

While waiting for the polish to dry, she watches the episode of Seinfeld where George pretends to be a marine biologist. When the canned laughter dies and the credits roll, she glances down but her nails are not red. They are sea-green.


As a child, Poppy was plagued by recurring nightmares. When Sofia asked what haunted her dreams, she couldn’t say. As they grew older, she told Sofia that in these dreams she would enter a parallel universe that was at first glance exactly the same as the world they lived in. But as time went on, she could tell that there was something different, something wrong. But she couldn’t tell her what it was. She didn’t know herself.

Even as she came of age, the thought of this otherworld chilled Sofia’s blood. What if Poppy’s childhood nightmares weren’t merely dreams, but a glimpse into other metaphysical dimensions, pocket worlds that they carried with them, twisted realities they could lose themselves in at any moment?

In their shared bedroom, once night had fallen, they followed an unspoken rule to never mention these dreams. Now, there is no Poppy to mention these dreams to.

When she was just a girl, Sofia’s dreams featured water: oceans, lakes, rivers, sea foam. She rarely dreams now but, when she does, her dreams are wet still.


Sometimes, they would bleed together. Poppy’s period first came on a Halloween, when she was dressed as a Rubik’s cube, and she thought it was a disease, just as Sofia had five years before her.

They were at home after school, homework undone, sitting on cushions on the living room floor instead of on the couch. “I thought I had this disorder where I was just constantly shitting myself,” Sofia explained to Poppy, who giggled as their mother told her not to swear.

Poppy stopped laughing and pressed her fingers into her abdomen. The shade of blue that Sofia had painted them had started to chip. “Does it always hurt this much?”

Sofia didn’t want to tell her that sometimes it hurt more. She said, “One day you’ll be like Mum and you’ll wake up and it won’t happen to you anymore.”

Unlike Sofia, Poppy didn’t cry when her first period came; she merely spent the week grey-faced.

Sofia had been twelve that oppressive summer when she had started to feel woolly headed and damp between the legs. She kept to herself, had thrown away multiple pairs of underwear until her mother had found the pile, stained burgundy, at the bottom of her bedroom bin. Many had been favourites or newly purchased.

Sofia was convinced for a moment she’d be yelled at for being so careless with her clothes. But her mother simply told her she was a woman now, that this meant one day she could give birth to a beautiful daughter too, and then told her to take a shower while she made her a cup of tea — extra sugar for the shock. The next day, her mother took her to buy new underwear, and then decided to kill two birds with one stone and organise her first bra fitting as well. Sofia’s face had been streaked with salt and water.

Poppy was three, oblivious, obsessed with Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, which she had just watched for the first time: she was trying to paint a fresh bouquet of white roses with Sofia’s red nail polish. She didn’t realise these flowers were expensive, had cost her mother. At that age, she had thought that weeds were the same as roses.


She usually takes a bath only once a week because water is costly. Showers are cheaper. When she does, she lies underwater for hours, training herself to hold her breath. She used to listen to music but now she only listens to her own breathing, to the occasional splash. As a child, she used to try to grow fins.

On Christmas Day she gifts herself two baths, one in the morning and one at night. In between, she eats a Big Mac and is wished a weary Merry Christmas by a girl with two heavy plaits.

“You been working all day?” Sofia says as she lifts the brown paper bag from the counter.

The girl nods. “Public holiday rates.”

That night she finishes her coffee in the bath. Leaving the stained paper cup on the tiled floor, she sinks beneath the water and opens her mouth. Then she closes her mouth, swallows, and inhales. There is no burning in her lungs, no flash of panic, like when she was seven years old at a birthday party and was tossed without warning into the pool by the birthday girl’s older brother. Underwater, she can whisper, she can murmur, she can gasp, she can sigh.

She lies there underwater, breathing, until Boxing Day.


Sofia took only a few items when she came back, after her mother called her.

Their mother wasn’t prone to hoarding. She had never kept their abominable kindergarten drawings, when Sofia used to sign her name with a backwards “s” and colour the sun in red. When their grandmother died of breast cancer, Sofia’s mother didn’t think twice before donating all of her Agatha Christie books to the Salvation Army. She was unsentimental: photographs of them as children were scarce. Most had been taken by family friends or relatives.

Sofia wanted to keep everything: the tacky rusted heart pendants she’d worn when she was seven, the Oxford-blue scarf her first boyfriend had given her, every single birthday card. Every year when her mother would do a spring clean and donate items to local charity shops en masse, Sofia would steal away one or two of the discarded objects from the boot of the car. When she was thirteen, she had snatched up her mother’s wedding shoes — low-heeled ivory pumps — before they could be sold by a middle-aged Christian woman for five dollars and be lost forever.

Their mother told Sofia that everything she didn’t take would be donated or thrown away. Though she was staying for a week, Sofia packed only two outfits in order to fit Poppy’s entire life into her suitcase. One was the black dress she wore to the funeral.

“You’re wearing too much blush,” her mother said after the wake, while Sofia was wrapping stale cucumber sandwiches in cellophane. Then she apologised and helped rinse out the wine glasses stained red.

Sofia said, “You won’t need to cook for a while.” She finished organising the leftovers in the fridge. Her mother finished washing the dishes and then left to cry in private.

The next day Sofia helped her mother to sort through Poppy’s things. At first, she took everything: dresses their mother made Poppy wear as a child, hard copies of movies she’d loved, old sports jerseys and swimsuits, pairs of glasses she’d outgrown. But the items began to overwhelm her with dust and loss, every old T-shirt and dog-eared book haunted. Intermittently, she left her mother alone while she went downstairs to throw up in the toilet.

In the end, she unpacked her suitcase, keeping only the suit Poppy had worn to the formal and the cracked horn-rimmed glasses that for some reason had never been thrown away. The rest she and her mother packed away in boxes in the boot of the car.

On her last day, Sofia went for a swim in the local community pool in one of her old bikinis. This swimsuit too her mother eventually gave away.


It is New Year’s Day and instead of buying black coffee, Sofia slurps up shower water. If she stands still for long enough beneath the shower head she might eventually dissolve.

The onions in the fruit bowl are sprouting. The oranges have turned green. The clothes in the washing machine that have been soaking for weeks are growing mould. There is no room for the postman to stuff anything else into her mailbox. Sofia notices none of this, only aware now of the scales forming on her skin, from her nails, down her fingers, across her hands. She gleams deep green.

Just like her sister, Sofia is a fish.

Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is a writer currently based on Kaurna land. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, her work engages with the surreal to consider the mundane, and to explore liminal experiences and dislocated identities.

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