Category Archives: Nicole Cartwright Denison

Fly, Fish by Nicole Cartwright Denison

It wasn’t like she could wrangle the hook from its mouth. It was still alive, after all, unlike those Biology specimens, those dissected fish, frogs, rabbits, and pigs. Each time the knife sliced through the fish-skin, the scales sometimes stuck to her ungloved hands, and when she got home she saw them all over her face, which she touched a thousand times a day, wiping and scratching her forehead and eyes. The glint of them as she tilted her face in sunlight, the prisms of color reminiscent of mermaids, her grandmother’s living room, the crystals lustrous in the riverside window.

She made sticky strings between her fingers with the slick mucus from the trout’s belly, its fuchsia stripe sparkling with each turn toward the sun, like pools of gasoline that stain concrete driveways. She enjoyed toying with the fish now that it was out of water, its gaping mouth opening in a rhythm of breath, its eyes like a doll’s pulled out of its head. But the hook presented a bigger predicament like catching the fleshy part of her index finger, causing tetanus to set up, the horror of lockjaw, of rust in her blood.

She stroked the trout against a rock, angling the mouth open, sliding the hook into a crevice worn by water and time. The hook slipped from the mouth, paused in wide position, a mute gesture resembling surprise, delight, consent.

She knew hooks, like dissections, were involuntary.

She knew what it took to never get caught.


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Tip & Ring by Nicole Cartwright Denison

Tip & Ring

Doreen hadn’t spoken to her father since her last birthday, a year ago, when he’d called two weeks late. He thought he’d gotten the date right, was proud and chipper, his voice strong and cheery as he launched into his rendition. She’d sighed, waited for him to finish, acted like it was the actual day, finishing his sentences, allowing the charade to continue because it wasn’t worth the fight anymore. They’d hung up with the usual ritual of Elvis-voiced Take Care’s and Love You’s, the rhythm in her bones, so familiar and maddening.

This morning she thought of tire swings, treehouses, ponies— things he’d bought for her, her amusement, to keep her occupied, out of his way. The times he’d sent friends to fix flat tires, mailed money with no cards, the only time he’d visited her apartment noting the windows needed bars since it was the ground floor, the back door with its paned glass a hazard for a young woman alone.

This morning she remembered her mother, her death a wedge, her corpse inhabiting space between them, the only thing they had in common: a critical worship of Doreen. Guilt or joy, she could no longer tell them apart, washed over her like a frantic character in a Kate Chopin story. Freedom blanched everything, tainting the day, like a lifelong prisoner who has nowhere to go when released into the world.

That morning, she tried to pick up the phone but her hand hovered just above every time.


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