Negative Space

by Kathryn McMahon

I turn on the bath faucet and pour in a solution that’s poisonous if swallowed. Lavender, melon, Epsom salt. Something so expensive should not be popsicle-blue. The foam metastasizes, and I step in, unhugging my breasts to let hot water into all my folds. The bubbles clot into a profile—could be my wife’s, except she’s not that anymore.

I twist the faucet off and paint new moony faces between air and water. My palms are only half-alive flying over the foam. Each tiny burst whispers, Don’t fall asleep, you’ll drown. When have I ever, even after too much wine? I lie back into the hissing, then put my head under and look up at the clouds. The Epsom salt stings. All of it stings. I run my eyes under a faucet already gone cold. I miss my old tub; this one does not cradle my head like I’m used to. When I lift my ankle, the froth drips into a Clydesdale, the foam thinning like the semen that dribbled down my leg. My wife and I both used to avoid that. Then we paid hundreds for just the right sperm.

I drop my foot, and bubbles flee into more forms. A dildo. A loincloth? A femur. I knee them away, and a water dragon wings into the negative space over my belly. Go on, swallow me, I tell it. It lingers. Maybe it’s reading the landscape. Scrying my scars and stretch marks.

I grip the tub to stand, and the dragon vanishes. My knee seizes. Don’t slip. Your phone is in the bedroom. No, don’t you dare even think about calling her. You should’ve kept the duvet she liked and bought less merlot and been willing to consider adoption.

I breathe out the pain. I’ve gotten good at that. Upright, I reach for my towel, and my fingers are swollen; my knuckles, tedious red suns. Somewhere beyond the front door are other lips and femurs, hips and breasts. And somewhere beyond the mirror are mine, beyond the salty-sweet meat of oblivion.

Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, Split Lip, FLAPPERHO– USE, Atticus Review, and others. Her work has received nominations for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart, and has been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50. She was recently a finalist for the first-ever SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction. On Twitter, she is @katoscope. Find more of her writing at

Artwork by: Sarai Deza

Sarai Deza (27, Pontevedra). She studied artistic and fashion photography and art direction. She is currently working in Madrid. She likes to develop an idea and find everything she needs to carry it out. She does conceptual photography and she likes to use the color and the composition in the narrative.

Instagram: @saraideza