What goes: A short story

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Another fight with Simon this winter morning. It’s when he looks at me with pity that I want to jump out of my skin, and when he lowers his prematurely graying head, I turn my back. Then it’s the weight of his merciful palm on my shoulder that reminds me of my shape, and a knot forms in my throat as I shake him off and dart out. My stomach sinks when he doesn’t follow and I fear I’ve run out of second chances. But we’re out of food, anyway, and all that’s left in the fridge is the leftover dim sum from last Friday. We have a routine; he knows I’ll come back.

At Trader Joe’s, I remember that I haven’t fed the finches. Leisurely walking around the produce, I stop at the bright mandarin oranges on display in their red mesh bags. I recall the time Simon and I drove to an orchard in December. The weight of the mandarin oranges in my coat pockets, a contest between us to see who could tear off the peel in one piece, careful Simon winning and feeding me a slice, and later that day, the sweet citrus scent and taste on his fingertips and mouth. I buy a bag and pull out the mandarin oranges to fill my pockets.

On the way home, I walk with my head down. The words play in a terrible loop: “You’re going to leave me. You’re going to leave.” I’m trying to peel a mandarin orange in one go — really get it right this time. I don’t see the cars.

What I’m carrying goes with me. Oranges scatter in the sky. I think of my first grade teacher Mrs. Bullard and her lesson on gravity. How she held a navel orange in her hand. “What goes up —” she said, throwing it above.

Who knew the body could reach such heights?

This is the most serene I’ve felt. All those worries recede: the little snags I’d pick at, the fights that seem to erupt over nothing, how I’m unable to explain to Simon why I snap and how I wish he’d sometimes be as acidic as I am. Shame-sick when he accepts my cruelty, as if I’ll break if he doesn’t.

Oranges spin slowly in the air before they drop.

Faces gather around me, mouthing if I’m okay. I wish one would stop screaming. She looks like that Munch painting with her hands molded into her cheeks — it’s almost funny. “Lady, relax,” I want to tell her. “I’m not. Not yet.”

— must come down.

How I wish I had let my finches out of their cage, all 10 tangerine-cheeked blips in the sky.

Contact Kris Shin at [email protected].

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