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  • Writer's picturetheperiwinklepelic

adrift - rené zadoorian

His grandfather passed the night prior, and no longer tied to his position as Metspap’s caretaker, Raffi was almost free. For the first morning in his life, he awoke with determination. Today would differ from the last thirty-six years.

Upon awakening, the five-foot five man rolled onto his stomach with his knees folded against his chest, hands gripping his legs, head tilted up. With his spoiled lungs, he took a deep breath of the dusty room, followed by a succession of coughs. Raffi remained in position tucked underneath his bodyweight as his throat expelled its brown morning phlegm. Once the episode passed, he closed his eyes in prayer.

“Please God, let me leave this body and become a turtle.”

The body of water behind his grandfather’s home existed in the transitional point between a pond and a lake, its size not fitting into either descriptor. The lond, as Metspap called it, was surrounded by tall pines and served as refuge for the millions of creatures that relied on it—Raffi among them. He preferred the natural world over Metspap’s crowded home, littered with trash and belongings the old man had been scared to throw away, no matter how many times Raffi explained that the dusty piles of calendars dating back to the Spitak earthquake were only causing a fire hazard. For this, Raffi especially envied the lond’s turtles, who stored nothing but their own bodies into their shells. Yet, no matter how badly he wanted to be one of them, Raffi knew that he could not abandon the old man, and for that, his dream of living as a turtle was put on hold. 

Raffi stood at the edge of the lond, undressed, with his body facing the vacant shore. Another deep breath, this time inhaling the fresh dawn air. 

A smile emerged underneath his unshaved face as he closed his eyes, a cold breeze pressing against his dark chest hair. Eyes shut, he lifted his palms together and whispered his prayer.

“Please God, let me leave this body and become a turtle.”

Raffi’s toes were the first to break the murky water. Slowly, he walked into the cold lond as if it were natural. The thick layer of algae which stretched across the shallow end clung to his leg hair, spreading upwards towards his hips and chest as he descended. Lowering himself into the cloudy water, Raffi imagined his limbs morphing into those of a turtle—his toes turned to claws, webbed together to push through the water. His back hardened into a shell decorated with symmetrical shades of black and brown. The water rose to his neck, elongating it. His eyes rotated, his ears flattened and turned a dark shade of red running along the sides of his head. 

Once his short legs no longer touched the bottom of the lond, Raffi began to sway his limbs. As a human, he would have failed to keep afloat. For a moment, he splashed at the surface, lifting his newly pointed head above the water before his body sank once more. He splashed, gulped for air, splashed again. Suddenly, as if panic was no longer a feeling, he opened his eyes. 

From underwater, the view was far from murky and unclear. Instead, it was filled with life—plants, animals, unseen bacteria—an entire ecosystem that lived quietly alongside Metspap’s house, unbothered by the old man’s habits. Raffi swam underneath roots of floating plants. A group of dark brown fish glided across this aquatic forest.

“Hello everyone!” he called to the animals passionately. Except in the absence of words, bubbles rose to the surface.

A heaviness filled his chest—joy. He was free.  

René Zadoorian is an Armenian writer finishing up his undergraduate degree in creative writing at California State University, Northridge. He was born in Tehran, Iran, and now resides in Los Angeles. His short stories lean toward themes of queerness, SWANA culture, and bugs! He is a reader for Fahmidan and Orca A Literary Journal. His short stories have been published in Wire Worm, Beyond Queer Words, Blue World Literary Journal, Northridge Review, and Valley by Valley.



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