The Wonder of a Sea Sponge by Marina Hatsopoulos

Offstage, I pick flowers from my curls and accept congratulations from soccer team-mates, AP Bio geeks, the francophones from Spring Break in Paris, the overachievers from the boat I cox, and other groups to which I sort of belong, but not really. 

Damian, high from the show and from his Tisch acceptance, says, “Gorgeous stage sets, Picasso,” then elbows my bare belly. 

We’ve been hanging out, but my role is murky. I’m not one of them.

As he dances toward the cast party downstairs, I plod to the costume room, where a sophomore in a beaded peace necklace sits alone on the carpet scraping off his makeup with a paper towel. His blond hair hangs over his eyes. I’d like to paint him.

“Gleaming, steaming, flaxen, waxen…” I sit beside him, cross-legged. His bottle of water turns out to be vodka—a pinch, then relief, as the hallway rumble fades.

“Nice set painting,” he says.

“I used a sponge for that effect. Just because my parents are marine biologists shouldn’t seal my fate as a scientist.” 

“Your parents’ expectations are your expectations. Plus, DNA.”

“It’s true,” I say. “I don’t have Damian’s talent.”

“Damian sings too loud. Drama is pretend, but it should be real.”

“No, reality comes after this magic, when we pick a career and seal our destiny, driving in traffic between a cubicle and a two-door garage.”

“This has meaning,” he says.

“This is a moment.” In months, I’ll be taking college classes like Biochemical Analysis.

As piano tinkles next door, the kid flexes his feet, exposing a sliver of ankle, pale and soft, between his moccasin and jeans. I dab a sponge into cold cream which smells like my grandmother, the only one who encourages my painting, even though she doesn’t get it. 

I squish the sponge onto his cheek, and he closes his eyes. Shades of brown, beige and rose smear onto the sponge and into its pores, smudging his face like a half-finished impressionist painting. His freckles appear, then a beauty mark. 

When the door bangs the wall, his eyes pop open.

Damian bounds in, singing, Aquarius

The kid disappears and I head to the sink. Water flushes into the sponge’s pores, creating swirling brown waves which chill my hands. I lean over to drench my face from the rush of water which garbles Damian’s words. As my skin freezes numb, I wonder why water has no shape except when flowing or contained in a vessel, and why a sea sponge is considered an animal. Its body is mostly void, defined by pores. Without brain, organs or limbs, it’s immobile, passive, squishy and amorphous, feeding from water which flushes through its channels. Sure, a sea sponge is alive, but the weird thing is that it has no face.

Marina Hatsopoulos’ writing has been published in The Missouri Review, Antioch Review, Bellevue Literary, Santa Monica Review, Crab Orchard Review, and numerous other literary journals. Her work has been winner or finalist in the F(r)iction Short Story Contest, the PNWA literary contest, the Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, and the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for new writers. She was Founding CEO of Z Corporation, an early leader in 3D printing out of MIT and has served on numerous corporate boards.

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