Maria Picone



My dad and I lingered. Even my mother had stepped outside. “Let’s kiss her goodbye,” my dad said. Him first, then me. My grandmother’s forehead was a tombstone: all skull no soul.


A last-minute flight to New York cost $500. In Houston, I mourned alone, a great outpouring and then a loud, red-eyed silence.


As we processed out of the unfamiliar California church, my great-aunt, the sister left to mourn her siblings, asked for a moment alone. Before I walked away, I saw her reach for his hand. “Goodbye, Charlie,” she said. 

I can never tell if death is close

When I put eye drops in, they sting. It’s the closest I come to human. At other times, I am as disconnected as a rotary phone. I laughed when they told me about you, coughing in a pile of dust and old prescriptions. Unlike you, I'm not too famous to die from cancer. 

During the viewing, I turned to you and asked if you remembered setting Adam West's biology project on fire.  The shushes reminded me of our detention hall and the cloud of chalk you puffed up to make me laugh. I'm a so-so brother but we were there for each other then, before a host of devils intervened. 

You, prankster, forced me to limp up to the casket in my thrift store suit, pointing at various outrages like a tourist Instagramming pillars of salt. "She hated pink!" I'm a Bridezilla at your funeral, but your beloved guests don't want to tell me I'm batshit. Think of the gossip if Mary had given the bird to Gabriel. Instead, they titter inside their cocoons and reassure themselves that I'll be dead before the ascension. I should have pissed on the buffet table or asked them to give me a ride home. 

Truth is, time doesn't move so good for me anymore. I didn't let you know yet because I can never tell when I'm bothering you. I was strung out on Oprah and Hot Pockets when they called. Chuckling all the way to the bedroom, picturing you yelling out FIRST or maybe SHOTGUN in a puffy cloud. When I heard, I shut off my phone before it could combust with messages and put the whole bottle in, left right left right.

The Nameless Fish

Let me sing you a story both particular and insignificant.

When I was young but old enough to know better, I won a goldfish from the local church fair. We treated them like factory-line toys, plastic objects we could possess and discard. They were as alive as the stuffed animals beside them, waiting for a child's attention to make them whole. The row of fish seemed identical, but this one was mine. Excitement burst from my ennui.

Gripping the knot that tied off the bag, I carried him for a whole two hours. An awareness of the life beneath me grew inside my palm. We had a bowl and one plastic plant at home, so I prepared the ritual of acclimation. First, the water had to be cleansed. Then the bag had to be inserted, an invisible shield against the wildness of the open water. The knot untied with the tidy joy of diving. Clarity trickling in, making one environment from two. It swam the first day, exploring its space. When it slipped underneath the plastic and into the water beyond, I looked at it and knew love. I became hopeful, foreseeing a future that made a long tail into the sea. 

The goldfish dissented. Its porcelain fins churned less and less. After three days, it floated, bobbing like a toy lure. 

I cried for hours. My mother urged me to flush and forget him, but I couldn't. Why it is, and why it stays, I don't know. 

Instead, I held a funeral with a couple of friends. I buried him under our maple tree, in a soft white box intended for jewelry. He lay there, a single bright earring—a pet without an owner. Underneath the bark he slept, the value of a life and the worth of love.

Maria S. Picone has an MFA from Goddard College. She’s interested in cultural issues, identity, and memory. As a Korean adoptee in an Italian American family and a New Englander, her obsessions with noodles, seafood, and the ocean are hardly her fault. Her fiction and CNF appear in GTK Creative Journal, |tap|, 2 Bridges Review, and Progenitor Art and Literary Journal. Her Twitter is @mspicone, and her website is