Frozen Boyfriend

Since I was a little girl, I trailed my father into dusty corners of oddity shops and antique stores. I peered into rat-scented tubs of mermaids – shriveled monkey torsos sewn to dolphin-like tails – and framed photos of side-show babes with triple cleavage or one too many long legs. There were sweetheart necklaces with drops of liquid sealed in; the blood of pharaohs or the ejaculate of Cleopatra, promising to bring a second vicariousness to old maids with an eye on the bachelor next door. There were scuffed-chrome, vaguely robotic slats of metal. Piles of taxidermied animals and china dolls, serial numbers stuck onto all their feet, 1052739; 7483729; 1784928, all sold at one thousand times the value of their current worth.
My dad, he knew better than dolls and animals and even the mermaids. He sifted carefully through buckets of seashells and figments of rainbow glass and dried rare plants, looking for the truly valuable, one-of-a-kind, in-demand specialties. He knew, he said. He could feel it. That, and he spent full afternoons speculating with his online forum friends, keeping ahead of the curve of expensive collectibles.

I always asked Dad questions as we double-teamed the potatoes – me peeling, him smashing, while Mom boiled the rice – for a dinner called Every Weekday Rice and Potatoes. “If there are a whole thousand Magician’s Pearls, why are they so expensive?”
“There are millions and millions of people in the world.”
“And they all want them?”
Dad scooped salt into the potatoes, tasted a pulpy spoonful. “Enough of them.”
I had my doubts, considering the number of trinkets stacked in the basement. They were flaking onto each other and collecting water, beginning to return to the dust from whence they came.
When newspapers reported that failing cryonic facilities were auctioning off unclaimed tanks, Dad insisted this was it. More bizarre than any mermaid, than any malformed person, was a corpse time-capsule into fifty, one hundred, two hundred years ago, into hope and money, into believing that this future was worth waking up in.
He said, nihilism is a phase. People would try again to revive, when the fruit was cheaper, when the bread was tastier. Nothing causes indifference towards death more than living off processed rye crackers and spray cheese. They would regret discarding scientific material. They’d want bodies in order to study, to grasp history, to live fantasies.
My dad used his occasional profits on oranges, spinach, or chocolate cake. This tank was going to be a family vacation to Hawaii.

If he at least broke even, Dad spent his shiniest coins on pretty blue stones. My mother’s favorite. She collected them in her jewelry box. In the mornings after stepping into torn corduroys, she touched them, smiling. When she forgot to lock the box, I looked at the stones too.
I would finger them and imagine them on my body, lining my neck, nipple, navel, down my thigh. They reflect light from the bedroom window and are lovelier than my own skin. The stones made me feel brighter.

My mother did not bless the five hour drive to pick up the tank, but I promised to do my homework on the road. My father enforced this, out of laziness or respect I do not know. When I procrastinated, he said, “you heard your mother” so I practiced drawing whale anatomy.
“What kind of whale are you drawing?”
A killer whale, my favorite. They showed a video in class of these whales gnawing through a seal, swirls of blood diluting through the water like hair ribbons.
“That’s a dangerous one,” my father said.
“Killer whales hunt in family groups. They use echolocation. They take very good care of their young, and they have to be pregnant for over a year.”
“Thank god your mother did not have to be pregnant for over a year.”

It turned out that Jared, the tragic youngster we were picking up, died in the ocean. He was sailing on the Atlantic when a storm flipped his boat and sent the crew’s bodies up the Florida coast, slashed and bloodless. By this I came to assume that he loved whales, too.
The administrator at Osiris Cryonics reluctantly released Jared. He was a hefty man in overalls that sweated under the weight of the tank as he wheeled it out to the truck. “It’s not natural that humans have stopped fearing death,” he said. “They’ve drugged everyone up on antidepressants so much that they’re too content to confront mankind’s greatest challenger.”
His hand gently steadied the tank. “Not me. I’m not taking anything they try to give me.”
Dad gave him a sympathetic handshake, accepting the tank from him.
The tank was blindingly shiny and bent my fingernail when I tapped it. “There’s no window? How do we see him?”
“No window,” the man said. “Jared ain’t so cute to look at these days.”

The tank rolled around in the back of the truck as Dad accelerated onto the highway. “Do you think of him as your son?” I asked. After all, he was a seventeen year old boy we were taking into our home.
“My son? No, of course not.”
As much as I knew Jared was dead and in a tank, I tried to mentally arrange him into our family. As a pet, to keep in the corner. Or a decoration, even a party conversation piece if it came to that. My father, to my mother’s protests, erected the tank in the living room in place of the grandfather clock. He cozied Jared into a tartan with purple paisley to reduce the shock of his glistening, and taped a picture he found in the files of his red, un-sliced face on the front. He set a respectful candle on top.
“Dad’s being so nice,” I said. “Who knew the death of Jared would touch him so deeply?”
My mother laughed. “Yeah, right. It’s Jared he’s concerned about.”
So Jared became a shrine in our living room; a shrine to all the hopes my father has for us, the lake house in Boca Raton, the flights to Europe, the car, the juicy pineapple. A shrine to hours of antique-hunting, time spent on forums with equally desperate men.
The night Jared came home with us, I had a dream I was with him on a boat. We were fishing, and he handed me a worm to spear with my twinkling hook. I looked in his eyes, and overpowered by their blueness, I woke up, my body hot.
My class was going on a trip to the aquarium. It was illegal to keep whales there, these days, but there were pictures and bioluminescent jellies and goldfish the size of cats.
“I wish there were going to be killer whales,” I said as my father signed the permission slip.
“Why?” he asked, and I went on my spiel again, about orcas having family groups and near-human intelligence.
“I thought they stopped keeping whales in zoos a long time ago,” he said, and he told me the tank values were inflating already. The forum was right; demand was increasing due to a trendy French fascination with death and an artist who could turn the tanks into macabre coffee tables. Jared would be gold in no time.
Dad’s palms kept leaving sweat stains on my school papers, so I had to rewrite a whole page on whales. He had piles of pawn finds and sometimes they sold well on eBay, but this is the first time something so expensive had appreciated in worth after purchasing.

Jared needed regular maintenance. We topped off his evaporating liquid nitrogen weekly, from a bottle Dad kept in the freezer. I relished it, releasing the seal and opening the hatch to a sickly sweet scent, too sweet, but mysterious. Jared was down in that wet, narrow cavern. But all I could see of him was tendrils of dark hair, reflecting the tiny amount of light that reached inside. They seemed to float as if he were scuba-diving on an Atlantic adventure. I dared once to slip my hand into the liquid and attempt to run my fingers through his hair, but it turned out to be too cold and stiff.
I realized he was reaching out to me; his spirit was yearning for water, for swimming with whales. He was speaking to me, and I understood that under the roses, the blanket, he felt alone. I took to slipping out from my room in the night and sleeping on the couch to keep him company. I whispered to him, “Good night, Jared,” every evening, and “I’ll be back soon” when I left the house.
Jared was a teenager. There was no way he enjoyed being kept in the living room. He was adventurous, a sailor. I wonder how many animals he saw out on the ocean. Not enough. There are over one million known species of plants and animals in the ocean. There are eighty-six species of whales alone. I’ll bet he didn’t even get to see every kind of whale. I had a dream in which he reached out to the waves and they would not break against his arm, they just passed through. He stared at me, full of longing.
“I love Jared,” I told my father in the truck on the way home from school.
“Me too, kid.” He ruffled my hair with his fingers. We had matching dark brown strands.
“We should get him out of the house once in a while.”
Father explained that a corpse in a canister would not benefit from being chauffeured to the beach, but I was unconvinced, especially when I saw Jared again in my dreams that night, perched on a fence overlooking English bluffs.
If Dad knew how badly Jared wanted this, he would help me. He would be proud when he realized how important this was, how Jared’s value came partially from his experiences, both lived and un-lived. Value in life is not just monetary. My parents often said this, mostly in the grocery store when we skipped buying pricey grapes.

I thought I would have time to convince my father into taking Jared on a trip. Sometimes he sweeps us away into a world that contrasts the low saturation of the home we normally live in, one in which cheese whiz is magical even though we eat it daily, in which the just visible stars behind the smokestacks are bright enough. On these days, he can be wheedled into splurging on ice cream cones down the street at the gas station or a day trip south towards the hills. Maybe he would follow one of these wiles down to the beach with Jared in the back of the truck. But Dad announced he found a vendor offering double what he had paid for Jared. He was in the kitchen, shuffling through paperwork, when he told me my chore refilling Jared’s nitrogen would soon be over.
I leaned over his shoulder. He was filling in a contract of sale. Exchange of (1) Jared for (2) One hundred thousand dollars on the fourth day of May in this year of our lord.
It was May first.

After my parents went to sleep, I fetched the dolly. I’ve watched my father drive a thousand times, and figured I could work the clutch. Unwrapping Jared’s quilt. I placed his candle on the coffee table and peeled away his face. What was left was an unfamiliar cylinder, a bullet, not quite the Jared I knew. But his true self, his soul, was inside, suspended and waiting for me. I wrapped my arms around him, but he was as big as a tree trunk, and I strained, purple against silver.
I managed to get the tank to tilt but it rolled out of my hands and banged onto the hardwood like an anvil. The tank unscrewed at the seams, and a sudden rush of sweet rotting and bleach filled my nostrils. It was all I could do to not puke as the liquid, in an ocean wave, flooded the living room, halfway submerging the furniture in grey fluid. Drifting in the tides was Jared, from his soaked curls, to his mangled face, to his withered penis, all the way down to his slimy feet.
Dad ran down the stairs, and when he saw the flotsam, he jumped into the waterway, yelling “Help me.”
We waded together and fruitlessly attempted to float Jared back toward the cracked tank, and the water swished around us, leaking out of the house until there was nothing but a wet corpse on moist carpet, the two of us standing over him, heads bowed, dark with fluid.

Mom suggested a cremation. The three of us hiked up a hill and sprinkled his ashes into a river that, according to maps, led out to the great open water. The ashes floated in silvery lumps on top of the water. I watched them catch the stream down the slope, and occasionally fish would bubble up and scoop some into their mouths and disappear again. It never occurred to me the ashes would get eaten. I couldn’t watch, so I ventured down on my own, following the river, imagining the ashes getting pulled in the current beside me. Jared, next to me forever.

La Mujer Alacran

A month after the attack on her body, she woke to find she could not peel her fingers apart; the skin of her hands was fused together. She could no longer steer a car. They were claws, bent and poised in defense.

A Hundred and Twenty Muscles

She watched as her classmates cooed and stroked and cuddled. A tiny flame seemed to burn within her.