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Belly of a Fish

Story by Rachel Mangini (Read author interview) June 28, 2011

art by Amy Van Horn

This is April Jones sitting in a circle of tipsy kids, next to Becca, the best swimmer on their team. This is Becca: radiant, loud, loves documentaries, spends her babysitting money on CDs for the team’s long bus rides. This is April who swims in the last lane with kids whose bodies aren’t assembled right for, as Coach likes to say, slicing through the water like a knife through the belly of a fish.

This is April Jones wishing her whole team wasn’t watching. This is Becca drunk on schnapps, smiling at cheering boys, pressing her lips to April’s, swirling her sour tongue inside April’s mouth. Living out in the boonies like they do, all the kids have seen a fish gutted. Or held the knife. They know it’s not a clean slice, but a struggle, cracking through scales and cartilage before the stinking mess spills out.

This is April Jones standing in the snow without her parka, sucking deep breaths of cold air because Coach says, when a muscle aches, you ice it down.

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Notes from Guest Reader Sherrie Flick

I selected this story years ago when I was guest editor for SLQ. As I read through the slush it popped up like a plastic tub toy–fresh and shiny and new. What I like most is the succinct characterization. We come to know April Jones and Becca almost immediately and we understand the world where they both live: ‘Living out in the boonies like they do, all the kids have seen a fish gutted. Or held the knife. They know it’s not a clean slice, but a struggle…’ And it’s with this knowledge of the fish and its guts that we come to know the tension of the story, the resistance–the struggle to be April and Becca, surrounded by water, immersed, in it. But this is really a story about April and that last zing of a paragraph brings it all home–away from the heat of summer and fishing to standing in snow and sucking in heartache.

About the Author

Rachel Mangini lives in Pittsburgh where she writes during evenings and weekends. She is the fiction editor of Hot Metal Bridge Magazine. This is not her first creative collaboration with the artist—when they were teenagers, Rachel sat very still while Amy chopped off her hair with kitchen scissors. You can read more about haircuts and first kisses on Rachel’s blog at everyonesanocean.wordpress.com.

About the Artist

Amy Van Horn lives and works in New York City.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Two
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021!

This competition is no longer accepting entries. The long- and shortlists have been published on the blog. The four winners of the competition will be featured in Issue 74 of SmokeLong Quarterly coming out near the end of December.