By Emily Bjustrom
Every Wednesday afternoon Amelia would peel a few pages from a rotted anthology of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Using a pair of semi-rusted, sticky bladed safety scissors she’d cut line after line of paper dolls. She burned them regularly on Saturday mornings. Amelia was also a binge drinker. Unlike her peers, Amelia drank alone. She would often hole up in her bedroom, drinking healths to her cat, Lenard. Lenard would mew enthusiastically when Amelia, usually around the end of the night, tossed the contents of her stomach into the potted plant that sat on the floor next to her closet. The plant’s name was also Amelia.
Amelia often visited the big public garden downtown. Among many other things, the garden possessed a large koi pond. The girl adored the fish. She would watch as they glided through the water, brushing against each other and the lilies.
Presently, Amelia was not drinking, fish viewing or doing anything to paper dolls. She was reading. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was reading, she just picked a book.
Next to the big public garden downtown, the big public library downtown was her favorite place to be. The best part about the library was the heat. In the fall, the thermostat broke. As a result, the library maintained a steady temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, in January, the heat drew in both the homeless and the people like Amelia. Amelia was unique, but she was like the people in the library (the ones who didn’t stink of urine) because she didn’t want to go home. Immediately to her left Amelia could see a boy from her school, being fifteen Amelia was still in high school, the boy was in her biology class. While eavesdropping one day at school, she learned that the boy’s mother was an alcoholic. Amelia’s reason for hiding was not so dramatic. She only wanted to be around people. Her house was almost always empty. Her parents traveled. Her brother, Franz, was seventeen, and therefore had his driver’s license. Amelia rarely saw him. The library was perfect. She got the silence that comes with solitude, and the reassurance of the presence of others.
The book Amelia was reading was very good. It was about a girl with a beautiful sister. Amelia didn’t bother with the name of the author, or the title of the book. She felt that knowing those things didn’t change anything and actually distracted from the story. If you know the author’s personal history, you’ll spend the whole time trying to figure out if the characters’ actions reflect events in the life of the writer. Amelia thinks that’s the kind of thing that can ruin a story.
In the quiet and the heat of the library, Amelia fell asleep. She was startled when someone whispered, very near to her ear “What are you reading?” After she saw that it was her brother, and not a homeless guy trying to pick her up, she relaxed, and answered, “I don’t know.” Franz raised an eyebrow. The cold was peeling off of him. “Get up.” Amelia did. Her brother was taller than she was. He always had been. He was also blond, while Amelia’s hair was black. Franz had soft, wave like curls, he wore them cleanly, never letting them grow past the middle of his forehead or over his ears. Amelia’s hair was dull, thin, and long. It hung all the way to the middle of her back. Amelia and Franz had the same pale complexion; however, Franz always looked healthy, while Amelia had the presence of weak tea. Franz led the way out of the library to the parking lot, where Franz’s best friend, Rupert, sat idling. Rupert was also Amelia’s boyfriend. Amelia took the front seat, Franz slid innocuously into the back.
Rupert Smiled, “Ameeeeeeeelia,” he said, stretching out the middle vowel as he almost always did. “Soooooo niiiice to seeeeeee yooou.” Amelia buckled her seat belt and said nothing. Rupert looked over at Amelia, shrugged like “be that way” and shifted the rearview mirror so that he could see Franz in the back seat. They smiled at each other, “Shall we?” Franz’s smile widened as he said it. “Yeeeees I think we shaaaaaall.” Amelia yawned, and asked, “Where are we going?” Franz answered, “Where do we always go?” “Oh” Amelia replied, “what do we need money for?” Rupert turned his head so that he was looking at Amelia, “Weeeeeeeeeell daaaaarling, weeeeee are attending a petit soiree, we neeeeeeeed booooooooz.” And with that, they were off.
They took the freeway. Franz rolled down his window and let January in. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket, stuck one in his mouth and lit it. Amelia loved the smell of Franz’s cigarettes. They were sort of nostalgic. They smelled like they belonged somewhere else, maybe 1932. Amelia sighed, and rested her head against her seatbelt. She fell asleep again.
When she woke up, they were at the place they always go when they need money; Rupert’s grandmother’s antique shop. Amelia opened the car door and stumbled out to the front of the shop, the boys were right behind her. As she pulled the door open the little bells hanging from the frame jingled a pathetic welcome. “AMELIA! Oh! And Franz! How nice to see you two!” Rupert’s grandmother was a tiny frail woman of 75. She had soft blue hair. That was Amelia’s favorite part. “Rupeeeeeey!!!!!” She had seen Rupert, it didn’t matter how glad she was to see Franz and Amelia, nothing else mattered when her grandbaby was in the room. “Oh! Rupey! You’re so tall! So skinny! Come on I have some cookies, let grandma feed you.” She dragged Rupert down a secret employee only hallway.
Franz and Amelia were forgotten. “And now we wait?” Amelia asked her brother. “Right.” Franz agreed. They wandered in separate directions. The store was vast and filled with things from all decades. Buttons, bottles, flags, quilts, long dead baby dolls, things from lives already lived to completion. Amelia hated it. It was gloomy and dusty. It was a grave yard. Amelia walked on. She found a bucket of keys. They were covered with rust. Amelia stuck a hand in; she reached all the way to the bottom. She wrapped her hand around a single key. She pulled it out. “What is it?” Franz had walked over to Amelia’s bucket and was looking over her shoulder. Amelia opened her fingers. In her palm was a key, it was stamped with a koi fish. Amelia smiled. “Wow,” Franz continued, “Those things love you just as much as you love them.” Amelia replied, “Yeah, I guess they do.” Franz plucked the key from her palm. “Why are you so fascinated with them?” Amelia had to think about it, finally she said, “I guess because they’re beautiful without trying to be. Maybe it’s because they’re simple enough to be happy living in shallow dirty ponds with hundreds of other fish. They aren’t special or individual but everyone loves them anyway. They aren’t snowflakes. You know? How everyone says that we are all snowflakes? Yeah. I guess that’s it.” Franz nodded, he agreed. “Makes sense. Are you gonna buy it?” Amelia looked at the key in Franz’s fingers and said, “I don’t have any money.” Again, Franz nodded, and slipped the key into his jacket pocket, next to his cigarettes.
They walked up to the front of the store. They waited in silence for Rupert and his grandma to return. They did return, Rupert, with crumbs all over his face and his grandma, still cooing over her little Rupey. “Alriiiiight grandma! Seeeee yooou sooon. Thaaaaaaanks for the cooooookies.” Rupert walked away from his grandmother, caught both Amelia and Franz’s elbows and pushed them through the shop door with him. They piled into the car, exactly as before. “How’d we do?” asked Franz from the back. “Fiiiifty buuuucks” little Rupey replied. “Excellent” Franz said, as he put another cigarette into his mouth. “Hey, Rupert?” “Hmmm?” Rupert said in reply to Franz, “Would you mind taking us home and going to the liquor store by yourself?” Rupert raised his eyebrows in surprise, “Sure, why?” Amelia answered his question, “Franz has to freshen up. He’s such a girl sometimes.” Rupert grunted in agreement. Franz laughed and rolled down his window. In twenty minutes, they were home.
Franz got out of the car without a word. “Rupert?” Amelia’s breath fogged in the freezing air. “What?” Rupert responded, “Be careful, ok? At the liquor store?” Rupert nodded. “Of course, babe, I’m always careful.” Amelia kissed his forehead and got out of the car. She and Franz stood in the driveway and watched as Rupert sped away. “Here” Franz pulled the key from his pocket and offered it to Amelia. She took it and smiled at her brother. “Just don’t tell Rupert where you got it, he’d be furious if he knew I stole it from the shop.” Amelia thanked him and skipped away into the house to get ready for the party.
Amelia slipped into a very ugly black dress and smeared some lipstick onto her mouth. She and Franz borrowed their father’s car. Franz drove. Flicking ashes of 1932 out the window all the way to the party. Amelia and Franz entered the house without knocking. Amelia was surprised at the number of people packed into the little house, there must have been hundreds. She was a little claustrophobic, and Franz had already disappeared, she began to get nervous. She couldn’t see anyone she knew. The panic was rising; she latched onto a long necked bottle of vodka. She held onto the bottle long after its contents disappeared. She cradled it until the glass was warm beneath her fingers. The party spun around her. There was no color. All was tactile. The temperature seemed really important. She needed to find Franz. She needed Rupert. She wanted to go home and sleep. She stumbled down a hallway. She halted. There was a noise. A wet suctioning pop followed by a moan. Amelia turned to face the door that the noise came from. She felt around like a blind man, searching for the door knob. It was cold. She opened the door. The room smelt like sex. And 1932. Franz and Rupert. Together. Brushing against each other like koi fish. Amelia felt sick. Amelia was sick. Amelia wiped her mouth. The party stopped spinning. Amelia’s head hurt. She felt the need to breathe. Her brother was a koi fish. Her lover was a koi fish. Amelia wished she was a koi fish.
She never believed she could actually become a fish. It just seemed like a really good idea to go see the big pond downtown.
Although it was dark, the pond was clear, and Amelia could see the shining golden fishes she so loved. The very first tear Amelia had shed in years rippled the surface of the pond. She felt. She must have left her passivity in 1932 with Franz, when Franz was fucking Rupert. Franz and Rupert. Her Franz. Her Rupert. Amelia, still drunk, leaned in closer to the fish.
At some point she must have fallen into the water, because the next thing she knew she was seeing the koi in a whole new way, belly up. She probably should have known, about Rupert and Franz. It was kind of obvious. They were best friends, and really, she knew her brother was gay; he’d never ever brought a girl home. There was no way to un-see it, or un-know it, it just was. An ugly fact. Amelia couldn’t breathe. Amelia was losing consciousness. Amelia was cold. And that was it. That was all that mattered. And then, Amelia saw nothing.