across her mum's stomach, Jimmy thought she looked like an astronaut,
or a diver in one of those huge suits in the movies he watched on
Saturday afternoons with his dad. A nurse cleaned away the gunk, and
Jimmy peered at his reflection in the glass bowl. Madeleine's mouth
was wide open, flashing pink gums, and the inside of the bowl fogged
Madeleine slept in a cot in the corner of Jimmy's room, beneath a
mobile of sea creatures that bobbed and whirled with the breeze of the
lazy ceiling fan. Jimmy would watch at night as his sister reached her
tiny hands up towards the whorled tail of a wooden seahorse, the spiny
explosion of a plastic puffer fish. The moonlight trickled through the
blinds and made the room look like the ocean.
Bathtime was a glorious, splashy affair that stretched on through the
evening. Madeleine would lie placidly at the bottom of the tub, her
arms and legs starfishing rhythmically in the foam-frilled bath before
she surfaced, spraying the room with a halo of water. She would shape
her mouth into an O and stare goggle-eyed at him before bursting into
squeals of silent laughter. The bowl clattered against the sand-coloured porcelain.
At the pool, people stared, offering their sympathies, or specialists'
business cards pulled from the depths of their bags, minty from
forgotten wads of chewing gum, edges splayed and furry like seaweed.
Madeleine was the only baby in her class who could open her eyes
Jimmy's mum and dad decided to renovate the house, to turn it from a
sea of hallways and cave-like rooms into something vast and open-plan.
Jimmy sat in his mum's lap and squinted at the architect's spiky sketch, which was drooly in places where murky drops of coffee had landed. The walls were all going to become windows, and the thick dark doors would be replaced with etched glass.
One night, something rapped loudly against the new glass wall. Jimmy
slid out of his bed, and the blood roared in his ears like waves crashing against age-worn rocks. Madeleine was balanced against one of the tall masts that secured her cot to its rocker, clutching at the edge of her blanket.
They made fish noises at each other.
When the renovation was complete, Jimmy's grandma came to visit. They
could hear the purring of the water taxi long before it arrived. Her coral-coloured lipstick wore away as she kissed her family's cheeks through the glass. Later, she sat outside beneath the sun umbrella and crossed her scaly, barnacled legs, which were rivered with blue veins. Her earrings were dark pearls that pinched against her earlobes and glinted as she primly sipped her tea. The clusters of onlookers kept a respectful distance. The cameras they clutched had lenses that shimmered like pearls, and the photos they took would be speckled with tiny grains of grit.
The tide of night slowly rose, skirting blackly around the house's glistening shell. Jimmy clambered on to the craggy arm of the couch, angling between his parents, and stared through the lounge room wall. It reflected him in a way that distorted his limbs, stretching and softening them so that they appeared jointless.
His grandma swept towards them, clutching her cup of tea. She had a
loose-legged way of walking, as though her legs flowed through something thick and supportive. Madeleine followed, gently lolling her
arms in quiet imitation. The dark wave of night slipped over them with a sigh, drawing them beneath its wet, inky curtain.
In the morning, all that remained was the sandy socket where the house
had carved a slim footprint in the earth. It began to rain, and the
crowd unfurled umbrellas like anemones and stared with glassy eyes.
Stephanie Campisi is a writer of the weird and wondrous. Her work has appeared in magazines and anthologies worldwide, including in her native Australia, the US, the UK, the Czech Republic, Singapore, and Argentina. You can find her online at www.stephaniecampisi.com.