Scallops are ringed with eyes. They have hundreds of them. Over two hundred eyes tucked under the edge of their shells. Inside each of these eyes are mirrors, like a telescope. Human eyes have retinas. Scallop eyes have mirrors.
This isn’t poetry. It’s biology. But sometimes those are the same thing.
I was poaching scallops in butter when it happened. I typically sauté scallops, had planned on sautéing the scallops, but I was distracted by something that had happened at work and hadn’t measured the butter correctly. So I was poaching scallops in butter when the first eye emerged in the crease of my left elbow.
Yesterday, I thought it was a pimple. It looked just like one: a big pink welt crested with white like a dollop of cream. I had popped it and it had bled, scabbed over.
Standing at the stove, I turned over the scallops with a set of tongs. My other hand picked at the scab. No bigger than a pinprick of clotted platelets. I tucked my fingernails under the crusted skin, pulling and pulling until it peeled off. Ah, fresh skin beneath. Cool and stingy against the air. Relief in exposure.
But then something shifted where the scab was, a twitch against my bicep. Just a bare flicker of movement. I looked and there, beneath a thin layer of healing skin, the eye blinked at me. I blinked back at it.
My arm trembled as I extended it out in front of me to observe my new eye. To be sure it really was an eye. I couldn’t see anything through it.
In addition to eyes, scallops have teeth. Lots and lots of curling teeth under their shells. As I stared at my new eye, I thought about the Wikipedia picture of a wild scallop, envisioned the strange blue dots amongst the feather of teeth.
Scallop eyes don’t have lids. The eye in my elbow had a lid.
The next day, I hid my third eye under long sleeves and went to work. On the subway, I could feel the eyeball rolling around in the pit of my elbow, trying to see.
It settled by the time I got to the office. Darrel asked me to resend the invoice with the adjusted tax amount. I resent the invoice with the adjusted tax amount. Justin requested that I request an invoice from our new client. I requested an invoice from our new client.
Every time my new eye blinked, I could feel it brush against my sleeve.
During my lunch break, I checked it in the bathroom. The eye had grown eyelashes. Feathery and pale, like scallop teeth.
I didn’t work with other women. Not on principle, but by happenstance. Everyone in my office was a man. Our bookkeeper used to be a woman named Daphne. She wore flat, orthopedic shoes with sturdy soles that shook my desk whenever she walked past. Her vanilla perfume was strong enough to smell across the room. Daphne also referred to people on The Bachelor as if they were close, personal friends of hers.
Victoria got dumped during the “Women Tell All!” reunion. Hannah Ann got along with Peter’s family, but his heart was still with Maddie. Daphne hoped he’d choose Hannah Ann, but understood that Maddie was considered to be the bombshell that season.
Daphne didn’t get a raise during the quarterly review, so she left for a better paying job at an agency in Manhattan. I took on her bookkeeping responsibilities and became the only woman at the office.
The guys didn’t like her as much as me. In the weeks after she left, they made fun of her Bachelor obsession, but kept calling it The Bachelorette. Having never seen either, I didn’t correct them.
I heard that after a few months at the Manhattan agency, Daphne became a tree. I emailed her, just to see if she’d want to get drinks sometime, and didn’t mention the rumors. But she never emailed me back, so it could be true. Daphne could be a tree now.
Before I worked at the office, I danced at the Diamond Club. I was one of the GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS! I danced in a glass case, slicked with club glitter, wearing spandex that cut into my hips and ribcage. The inside of my case was brightly lit and outside it, the club was dark. The trick of light made the glass transparent from the outside and a mirror on the inside. For six hours a night, four days a week, I watched myself dance.
To be honest, I wasn’t very good. Neither was the money.
I listed the experience as an “independent contractor in the entertainment industry” and touted my ability to manage money and my attention to detail. I didn’t specify that the details I attended to were my own.
Another new eye surfaced a few days after the first. This time, it opened in the arch of my foot, a few inches behind the ball. The position of the eye made it painful to wear heels, so I had to buy a new set of ballet flats. Even in the flats, I could feel the orb of the eye squish down against my shoe’s sole with each step.
The third eye opened on my hip, just above the waistband of my underwear. All my eyes, including the original set on my face, were black. But this eye, the eye on my hip, it was a clear blue. Cataracts blue. Shiny and glassy as a mirror. It was as sightless as the eyes in my elbow and under my foot.
All day at work, it itched against my elastic waistband until I became so frustrated and uncomfortable and overwhelmed that I went to the bathroom, took off my underwear and threw them in the trash can.
It would be another week before the rest of the eyes emerged.
“Geese have teeth on their tongues,” my girlfriend said one night while we were watching The Birds. It’s always playing on the Turner Classic Movies channel which is public access television, so we’re always watching The Birds.
Well, she was watching The Birds. I was rubbing my hip and stressing about work.
“Did you know?” she said, eyes leaving the screen to look at me. “They have teeth on their tongues. On their actual tongues.”
Taking up my phone, I did (geese + teeth + tongue) and cringed from the grid of images. Geese with their beaks open, the fleshy arcs of their tongues lined with teeth on each side. Like a chainsaw.
“Oh, gross,” I laughed and threw my phone in her lap. It landed screen down, tucked in the seam between her legs.
Instantly envious of my phone and its position, I bent my body in half to rest my head there too. I pressed all the sensory organs in my head into the soft squish of her lap. My eyes, my nose, my mouth, my ears sealed between her thighs. I held my head there until I ached to breathe again.
It was so good when it was like this.
“I know, I know, but kind of cool, right? It’s better for eating grass, apparently. The teeth on their tongues. Birds are incredible. I think ducks have teeth on their tongues too.”
“Teeth,” I said, rubbing my tongue against the upper row of my own teeth. “Teeth and corkscrew dicks.”
“No, no, no,” she said, clasping her hands over her ears. “Don’t even start. My brain doesn’t have room for any more facts about weird animal sex. The angler fish thing broke me. I can’t do it anymore.”
“Okay.” I reached up and pulled at her wrist to make her listen. “Okay, so I won’t tell you how duck dicks are shaped like corkscrews and their vaginas twist in the opposite direction. So every time they have intercourse, the male duck has to force—”
“What did I just say? I did not need to know that all ducks are rapists!”
I laughed, and it felt good in my chest. “Sorry, did I ruin ducks for you?”
She shrugged. “Not since Leda turned into one.”
I sat up. My forehead hit her elbow and she tried to apologize with cooing kisses to my temple, but I brushed her off and asked, “Leda Andino is a duck now?”
“I thought I told you. Didn’t I? I thought I did. A bit ago, maybe last month.”
“Jesus. Poor Josh. How’s he holding up?”
“Oh, he left her. That night, I’m told.”
“What an asshole.”
“I called her mom, actually, just a few days ago. Because I found her scarf and thought her mom might want me to mail it to her.”
“What’d she say?”
“Apparently the whole family is pissed. They blame him.”
“Jesus.” I rubbed at my hip, which had begun to itch again.
“Yeah, well, Josh has always been a dick.”
“True.” I only met Josh once. He interrupted my girlfriend’s sentences and his hand was on Leda’s back the whole time. Steering her around.
“I told you he was worthless, didn’t I? The second she posted that photo to Instagram. I took one look at that guy and knew he was the worst.”
My girlfriend had an uncanny knack for picking out deadbeat men. Straight women loved making friends with her because she’d tell them when they’re not respecting themselves. Since she was not attracted to men, she said, she could see right through their bullshit. I wasn’t so certain I agreed; I wasn’t attracted to men, and I definitely didn’t have an instinct for the bad ones.
She went back to watching The Birds, and I went back to rubbing my hip-eye. The friction of my jeans burned against the thin lid. But a good burn. A divine burn. The rubbing stimulated tears that began to soak through the seam at my side.
“I’m sorry,” I said after a bit. “I know you and Leda were close.”
“Just in college. She changed after she married Josh. Totally different person. Hey, did you know that these were supposed to be animatronic birds?”
She had told me this, but I let her tell me again. I watched the movie as she talked. We’d made it to the phone booth scene.
“Alfred Hitchcock told Tippi Hedren that they were going to be mechanical birds and switched to real ones without warning her. That’s real fear she’s feeling right now.”
“Apparently he was always grabbing at her too. In a creepy way.”
I already knew the correct response to this factoid. “Alfred Hitchcock was a dick.”
“Oh god, they all were.”
I still haven’t told her about my eyes.
Picture an angler fish.
Its brown, misshapen body. Blind eyes. Large face full of teeth jutting out at odd angles. Forehead adorned with a bioluminescent lure, twitching out into the deep.
The angler fish you are picturing is a female angler fish.
Male angler fish are smaller. Much, much smaller. Only a couple centimeters long. Just a tadpole with a set of testicles. They live to mate, which means they die after they reproduce. And they die if they don’t reproduce. There are lots of animals like that. Ferrets, weasels, skunks, minks, certain types of spiders. The need to breed is not what makes the reproduction habits of angler fish so bizarre.
The bizarre part: angler fish procreate when the male bites into the side of the female. And he remains attached to her while he melts into her. Literally, melts. I mean the male angler fish fuses into the female angler fish. I’ve read that the sensory organs melt first in a process called disambiguation, but all of him disappears into her—except for the testicles. She can then impregnate herself with these testicles.
If that weren’t weird enough, a female angler fish can have several pairs of disambiguated males melted into her. I like to think about that, sometimes—all these multi-testicled angler fish ladies, casting out their lures.
I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with angler fish sex, but whenever I’m given the chance, I’ll tell people about it. So, now I’ve told you.
The day that we had a meeting at work about COVID-19 was the day my itching eye became unbearable. Thinking about the spread of one disease makes me think about the spread of others. Like my eyes.
Though the CDC recommended six feet of space between people, the guys started heaping into the conference room, dogpiling on top of each other while I continued to charge through very time-sensitive emails. Or I pretended to; really I was rubbing the eye under my desk. Circling the orb with my thumb until it wept.
Seated at my desk, I could see my coworkers through the glass wall of the conference room. I envied them, sprawled out in their pocketed slacks. None of my skirts had pockets, and the silk lining under the wool just made for another layer that was difficult to rub through.
I gave my hip one more vigorous rub and leaned back to stand. On my way back, I made eye contact with Justin, whose desk was across from mine. He smiled, eyes flicking down to my lap.
“Have you been washing your hands?”
I nodded. Or maybe I shrugged. It doesn’t matter what I did. Justin rose to standing. Strode to my desk. Leaned both palms down on the surface. Smile widening all the while.
I sat back down in my seat. Rooted there, like Daphne.
My thoughts raced ahead of me. The other guys were already in the conference room. It was just us in the office. If anyone looked through the glass wall, they could see us. But they wouldn’t look, and what would they see if they did? Nothing. Just Justin talking to me.
“I saw them,” Justin said at a normal volume.
The eyes? How? No, impossible. I had so carefully hidden them. With the compulsion to be polite groomed into me, I smiled at him. Half giggled, half demanded, “What?”
“In the bathroom trash. I saw them.”
Oh. My underwear.
Every eye on my body blinked wide open. Alert, trying to see, still blind. I could feel the blood pulse in their veins, the way I sometimes can feel my eyelids throb when I have a migraine. My toes curled in and the eye on my foot winced.
“Justin!” our boss called from the conference room. “You coming?”
He broke eye contact, and I jerked my body into standing. Into fleeing. But where to? It was ten o’clock on a workday; I couldn’t just leave. The only place to run was the bathroom.
“They’re not in there anymore,” Justin said. And I closed the door.
I’ve only seen it happen once. It was on the subway where all weird things happen.
I’d seen the pack of teenage boys on the platform at Queensboro Plaza a few times. The same close huddle of tall boys, dressed in basketball shorts and hoodies, jostling each other. Usually I turned up the music in my headphones as I elbowed past them, but that day they were louder than usual. It was a special occasion.
They’d turned ranks on one of their own.
He was smaller than the rest. Taller than some in the group, but skinny. His limbs, his hands, even his head seemed long and narrow. His neck was the longest part of him, and at the center of that long neck was a pubescent Adam's apple. Like a bead on a string.
One of the bigger boys had the narrow boy by his backpack. The big boy shoved him towards the yellow strip of bumps edging the platform. The narrow boy stumbled, but wanted to play at being game. At being up for it. He grinned—a tight spread of lips—and tried to duck under the big boy’s grip. It didn’t work.
The other boys laughed, a loud punch of air.
The narrow boy was thrust out over the edge of the platform, suspended by his arms in the straps of his backpack. The 7 train approached, banking the curve on its way to the platform. It wasn’t so funny anymore. The big boy didn’t let go. The narrow boy thrashed, fought in earnest then, begged to be let back up. Please, guys, it’s not funny. It’s not funny, guys. Please! It’s uncomfortable to see a teenage boy cry.
Every commuter on the platform kept a wary eye on them, but didn’t intervene. As a society, we’ve agreed that teenage boys are best left feral. They were less than three paces from me. I could have snatched the boy by the collar and hauled him back to safety. But I didn’t. I didn’t.
All the while, I couldn’t stop staring at the narrow boy’s elbows, which were bent tightly to keep his arms in the straps. They were bare, flushed pink. Delicate elbows, almost.
The air pressure changed as the train barreled towards us.
Two things happened at once then. The big boy tried to pull up the narrow boy by his backpack. Calm down, pussy. And simultaneously, as the big boy drew him back, the narrow boy curled into himself. He curled up so tight and so small that he slipped out of his backpack straps and plopped down onto the edge of the platform. The train passed by without incident.
It took a moment for the boys to register what just happened, but when it did, they cried out in unison, shocked and admonishing as if they’d witnessed a fumbled pass. As if a teacher had just doled out punishment, or was about to.
Because the narrow boy was no longer a boy, but a snake. A slim, green asp. No thicker than my thumb. It lay there, stunned for a moment, and then moved on. Flexing over the yellow bumps at the edge of the platform.
The subway doors opened and the boys jostled each other into the train, leaving the snake behind. I got onto the train too, in a different car.
I locked the bathroom door behind me. I peeled off my skirt and the silk lining clung to broken skin around the eye. Half-naked in my work bathroom, I angled the eye towards the mirror. Confrontation, finally.
It blinked back at me, wide and weepy. So blue.
God, how I hated the thing. All of them, all my eyes. I hated them. I hated them for appearing, for being blind, for not doing anything but stare up at me. So, I rubbed at it. Rubbed like I was punishing it. And I rubbed and I rubbed and I rubbed back and forth, little digging pushes. At first, it felt good. Like relief. But even without the layer of fabric, my fingertips weren’t enough.
I peeled back the eyelids, like prying open doors of a subway. And then I scratched. With my nails, I scratched.
I scratched, I scratched, I scratched.
And as I scratched, another eye bulged open on the side of my neck. A pressure under the skin that built and built until it burst with a painful, wet squelch. Then another blinked open on the crest of my shoulder. A trio popped along my collarbone. Under my chin, inside my ear, at the base of my spine, at the small of my back, in the dimples of my buttocks, on the inside of my thigh—Those thighs! Justin said. So plump and creamy, I want to eat you. You’d like that. You like this—on the roof of my mouth, along my upper row of teeth, in my gums, in the meat of my cheek, down my forearms, and then finally at the center of each palm.
For a moment, it seemed like that would be it.
And then, all the eyes blinked open in tandem. And then, all the eyes could see. Each and every one of them. All at once.
It was too much, all that sight. Startled, I gouged my fingers into the eye at my hip.
The surface broke, burst open. Clear fluid gushed out and washed down my thigh to splatter on the floor. It hurt, of course, and I wanted to weep. But couldn’t.
I saw my first Salvador Dali film in high school. At a sleepover with all the other honors students who constituted my friends. Hugging my best friend’s stuffed deer, I watched Un Chien Andalou. We’d never seen it before, except the girl whose house it was, and we all cried out in delighted disgust when the man sliced open the woman’s eye. A compulsion took over us. We had to know how they did it (it’s a grape) and then we had to see an actual eye split open. We hunted down an instructional video on youtube about how to dissect an eye. From this video, we learned that the fluid inside an eye is clear. Like water. Typically black specks float around in the eye fluid. Those are retinas.
But the fluid from my burst eye was sparkling. As if with glitter. I crouched down to mop it up with a wad of toilet paper. Found that it wasn’t glitter amongst the fluid; it was glistening shards of mirror.
By the time I got home, I was already resigned to showing my girlfriend. The eyes were no longer concealable. It was time.
She was seated on the couch, watching Rear Window on TCM, but she turned it off when I entered. Sensing wrongness even before I’d unwound my scarf.
“What happened? Was it the guys again, or—”
She stopped herself when I turned my head and revealed the row of blue eyes along my jaw. She held her breath, but didn’t gasp or recoil, so I continued exposing myself. My new self. I eased out of my jacket to show her more. Revealed, the eyes saw her for the first time.
And she was different. Or maybe I was different because I could see so much more of her. All angles at once, collapsed into a singular understanding of her. In these eyes, she stood at a deeper depth. Blushed a brighter pink. Each strand of her hair, each eyelash as clear to me as the fingers on her hand. And I never had to look away. I was ringed with eyes that could blink in shifts. That could glance back to check that the door was locked and closed while tracking her movements towards me. She had never been so beautiful.
And I had never been so hideous.
She approached and reached for one of the eyes, pushed its lids closed half-way with soft fingers and gently brought her lips up to kiss the weep-wet eyelashes, and then began to press into it until the tears let loose and I sobbed.
I sobbed with all of me. A full-bodied cry with the catharsis of sweat. And then she was peeling off my clothes because they were soaked with saltwater. With each new eye revealed, I saw more of her. Could admire the chapped pink of her knees and compare that skin to the folds of her knuckles. My eyes were leaking all over my skin, and then all over hers when she pressed her body to mine, kissing an eye wherever her roving mouth could find it.
“Don’t,” I said, but I really meant, Don’t be disgusted. Don’t hate me. Don’t look away because if you look away from me now, I might never be seen again. And if I’m never seen again, or worse I never see you again, then I’ll go blind. I’ll simply stop seeing altogether.
She understood, because she always understands even if I don’t tell her.
And she kissed me and kissed me and kissed me until all the salt poured from my body, until I was wet and hanging in her hold. I started to say, “I’m sorry,” but she wouldn’t let me. She cupped her palm to my mouth and then she pressed the pad of her thumb to my cheekbone.
Leaning back, she showed me what she had collected: an eyelash. She considered it for a moment.
“Can I show you something?” Her voice was unusually tremulous. My steadfast girlfriend doesn’t often waver.
She licked the eyelash off her thumb and stared at me for a moment, mouth closed.
Impatient to be shown, I asked, “Well? What are you—"
But she held a long finger up to pause me. She shifted her jaw, as if tumbling the eyelash around in her mouth. A minute passed, then two, then she rolled out her tongue. I didn’t gasp, but my lungs seized. I reached out to pluck it from the center of her tongue:
From all the angles of all my eyes, it seemed like a glowing, holy object. Iridescent. Soft and small. Misshapen like a tooth. I let it fall into my palm where it lay shamed, loyal, irritable, confused, and still slick with her saliva.
“How long?” I asked, rolling the pearl in the hollow of my palm. How long had she been like this?
“My whole life, I think.”
Me too, I think.