from The Orange Suitcase
My grandfather swims out ahead with a bag of frozen peas in hand. I struggle to keep up, sputtering in the too-big snorkel we’ve rented from the resort. The reef turns kaleidoscopic below, pinks and greens in the turquoise water. Yellow and orange fish flit about like birds and squirrels in blackberry bushes. My grandfather treads water up ahead and waves at me to catch up. He looks strange in his blue mask, like a kid version of himself or my father. I taste salty plastic and listen to the wheeze of my breathing in the tube. I am a just a few feet away when he rips the bag of peas in two. A cloud of fish surround us at once, like the petals of a great tropical flower rising up from the sea floor. I feel them slither against me, on my legs and arms and cheeks. I reach out towards my grandfather and watch a yellow fish suck my finger.
I wake in the middle of the night to the phone ringing. I hear coughing, my father saying, —my dad, my mother saying, At least—. I wait all night for them to tell me.
I am swimming out alone with a bag of frozen peas in my hand. I watch the reef beneath me, wonder how many generations separate these fish from those before. I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn; my grandfather is there, suddenly, unmasked, grinning, reaching out to where a giant turtle appears as if by magic, slow and graceful as an elephant, until we are all carried apart by the current.
Joseph Riippi is the author of Do Something! Do Something! Do Something! (Ampersand Books, 2009). More recent writing appears or is forthcoming in The Brooklyn Rail, PANK, elimae, Emprise Review, Salamander, The Bitter Oleander, and Ep;phany. A new book, The Orange Suitcase, will appear from Ampersand in March 2011. He lives in New York.