Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

Starfish By Ben Shillito

The starfish possesses, in addition to his exotic sensory apparatus, his multipurpose mouth anus and his oft-noted resemblance to a star, a most singular adaptation. He has a divided brain. Moreover, the flappy little fellow has no brain at all, but a distributed central nervous system, in place of the walnut of cerebellum found in most beasts that crawl or swim or ooze upon the earth. What this means is that if you cut off a starfish’s leg, not only will the starfish grow a new leg, but the leg will grow a new starfish. They call this asexual reproduction, and although it is fascinating, it’s also deeply disgusting, so I keep my back to the tank as much as possible, and my attention stays fixed on my laptop screen.

There are three in the tank right now. One starfish, Egon, who is growing two new legs, and two legs, Egon B and Egon C, who are growing new Egons. By midsummer, there will be three Egons, and the thought of it turns my stomach. When all three Egons crawl side by side, only the permanent dyes we painted on the severed legs will differentiate them. For the Egons themselves, trapped together, there will be no distinguishing where one begins and the other ends, his identity divided and tripled. It’s a wonder the poor boy doesn’t go quite mad.

I continue to stare at my laptop, Egon’s fulminating physicality tickling at my turned back. I scroll through albums, keeping my mouse far from the dangerous ‘Like’ button. An album called ‘Holiday 2016 Malaga’ does not disappoint. Kaya in bikinis, Kaya and her sister tanned and grinning, white teeth and bronzed skin, Kaya’s hair sunkissed and her chill green eyes sparkling like the water behind her in selfie after carefree selfie. I scroll and I scroll, fragments of Kaya embedding themselves into my brain. In 2015, she holidayed in Greece, and the album I click on is full of bodies and islands. Pictures of Greek boys, adonises in the uncomplicated sun, heavy-browed and leering at the teenage girl snapping and snapping on the blessed white beach. One shot lingers, taken from a prone position on a beach towel and aimed at her sandy feet with their red toenails. Two swells of pulchritude and those endless legs stretching away. I conjure the image and collage a hundred more in bed at night, quietly ashamed as my dear one sleeps beside me. Kaya’s smile and her body, her eyes and her hair. Laughing in the garden with my daughter and playing on the beach with boys and boys. The fragments of Kaya metastasize, growing together, and when there is one of her, a nubile singularity, she wraps limbs around my body and takes me inside, and her strong, sandy fingers lace around my throat until my tongue emerges blackened from my breathless mouth.

In the tank at the lab, the Egons grow, until it is time to cut them again.

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