When I was little, I only ate cucumbers. My mom tried to put them in salads and on sandwiches, but I’d pick them off and eat them alone. He asks me why I’m talking about cucumbers. I kick my shoes off the side of the couch and rub my toes against the fabric. I tell him his couch is the color of a peeled cucumber and I think about the way food tastes with pill coating in my mouth.
The air in his office smells like sea salt and onions. Sometimes, I tell him, I think about drowning myself. I tell him that everything happening has happened before, and that I watch myself contribute to it. I inhale salt water, and he asks me if I’m breathing heavily because I’m agitated, and that agitates me.
In the bathroom, I gargle a handful of sink water. I see a different person in every mirror, but if I could cut the skin off my face I’d find myself. I’m a product of my repetition. Back in the office he offers me coffee, tea, and I think about what fish drink. If you put them in a tank of beer, would they get drunk? If you walk sixty steps from the left wall, you can make it to the right one, but he calls this pacing. I stopped counting out loud. Eighty-six weeks ago I would have called it crazy, but now I’m just waiting for a finger to tap against the glass.
I tell him that I lost my virginity sitting on a baby changing station at a truck stop, and when it was over I felt like a mother and a fetus and a whore and a queen. Is the predominant difference between a sea cucumber and a land cucumber that one can sustain itself and the other needs a vine? He doesn’t answer. I lie on my back on the love seat across from him and wonder what his home life is like, even though I’m not supposed to. If I stare at the ceiling for too long, I start to see big gold triangles and when I close my eyes, they stay there and glow. In my dreams I swim out of my skin, but when I tell him about them he calls them nightmares. Sometimes I’ll look up and see the sun behind a skin of waves.
He taps his pen on his clipboard and I ask him what his ideal day would be. He asks, without answering, what mine would be. When I say a day underwater he asks how often I think about killing myself.
“How often is too often?” He writes this down. I bring my knees to my tummy and hug them—fold my chin into my chest. “Did you know that fish never close their eyes?”
“Hmm,” he says, and looks at me like I’m leaving something out.
I tell him about when I was thirteen and tried to make soap. I dumped a pot of boiling water on my foot and I had to use a fake name in the emergency room so that they couldn’t bill our house. He asks if that upset me and I feel inhuman. I try to count how many seconds I take on each breath to gauge my agitation.
I ask him to identify key differences between happiness and unhappiness. They say I have a chemical imbalance. Fish can sing, you know, I say, and he nods–hits his pen against his chin. He asks me how I occupy my time here outside of our sessions. If something could make me feel anything, I tell him, I’d do it every day.
I am a half-dead fish, floating on top of the water, watching patterns of pelicans. I’m waiting for one to swoop me up and cradle me in the bath of its beak. I sink further into the crease of the couch cushions and feel like I’m in a cucumber coffin.
I think about killing myself three times a day, exactly three, at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That’s why I don’t snack. He writes this down, and I take a deep breath.
Alli Lewis is a high school writer from Michigan and Ohio, and she goes to Walnut Hill School for the Arts. She would like to dedicate this piece to her late feline companion.
Artwork by Diana Ryu