Houseboat (editors’ pick)

fiction by Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt — from issue sixteen


It’s summer. My parents are away at a week-long marriage retreat, but I don’t know that. At my grandmother’s house in the country, I spend most of my time in her swimming pool, studying the lifeless bodies of frogs who drowned thinking they’d found a lake.


In the afternoons, my grandmother sets me up with a movie while she sleeps upstairs, an air conditioner dripping and whirring in her dark bedroom. She is part of a generation of women who sleep to forget.


One afternoon she sets me up with Houseboat. In the movie, Sophia Loren plays a socialite on the run. Cary Grant plays an inept widower with three kids.

Where is their mother? says Sophia Loren playing Cinzia Zaccardi.

You’re lookin’ at her, says Cary Grant playing Tom Winston.


The men are the first to go, my grandmother reminds me. That’s how it’s always been.

Over Deluxe Kraft Dinner, she looks wistfully at a framed photograph of my grandfather, who died before I was born, on the wall. I note a resemblance to Cary Grant.


There is a scene in Houseboat where Sophia Loren playing Cinzia Zaccardi slaps Cary Grant playing Tom Winston across the face. After, she lets out something between a whimper and a squeal.


My father is the first to go. He doesn’t die, but rather, moves out. I start spending more time in my grandmother’s pool.


I grow up. My family doctor, who likes to wave her speculum around threateningly and name drop diseases, writes me a prescription for the Pill. I date, and eventually, I marry. My husband does not look like Cary Grant.


After a few years, he starts talking about children.


Then my prescription runs out. I do not make an appointment with my family doctor. Instead I decide to stop taking the Pill altogether because it kills my libido. I am part of a generation of women with dead libidos. That, and estrogen-ridden urine. Entire fish populations are being feminized by our piss.


My husband mentions having children again. I explain that waiting to have children fits my progressive worldview and ask him if he wants to go Dutch on condoms. He agrees.


This progressive worldview is probably why it troubles me to think about all the non-biodegradable condoms we use ending up in a landfill.


In time, there is some confusion over whose turn it is to buy the next pack. So neither of us buy them.
Then we stop having sex, for reasons unrelated to my resurrected libido. It doesn’t occur to me to propose a marriage retreat.


There are other things we stop doing, too. Dishes. Sleeping in the same room, bailing out the water flooding the hull of our houseboat. Speaking.


Eventually my husband brings home another woman. They hole up in his room. They are definitely speaking to each other, and doing a lot of other things, too. I don’t have to hear her whimpers (squeals?) to know.


I pass the time staring wistfully out my window at a school of ladyfish in the water below.

A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, one of them croaks, probably trying to console me. She is wearing lipstick, and, believe it or not, fishnets.


My husband’s new wife is not on the Pill. Or at least, that’s what I surmise when I hear her giving birth in his room. I enlist one of the ladyfish to deliver a note suggesting they move out. They refuse, on account of the houseboating market bubble.


Years pass. They have more children, and their children take a liking to me. After a while I start to think of myself as Sophia Loren playing Cinzia Zaccardi in Houseboat, though I am neither a socialite on the run, nor Italian. I don’t have her breasts, either.
My husband and I start speaking to each other again. Tentatively.

Where is their mother? I ask.

You’re lookin’ at her, he says.


But I am looking at my own reflection in his eyes. He explains that his wife left him. Or more precisely: I left him.


I say I don’t remember doing that. Haven’t I been in my bedroom this whole time? I must have fallen asleep. While he cries, I am secretly thinking of initiating sex.


It occurs to me that going on the Pill might help me grow breasts like Sophia Loren’s, so I go see my doctor for a prescription. With her speculum high and waving, she name drops a new disease that is turning women into fish.


At last she gets my fins in the stirrups and takes a looksee.

Wow, she says. Spawning must have really done a number on you.

I ask her what she means.

She asks me, out of curiosity, if I experience any sensation at all during intercourse. I say no, because fish don’t have penetrative intercourse. Then she scribbles me a prescription.


Riding back to the houseboat, I pass a landfill. Or more precisely: I pass a bunch of garbage floating on the surface of the water. Among the trash, I see a used condom and ingest it. Inadvertently.


When I get home, my husband is upset. She can be a real Sophia Loren when she’s angry, but I don’t have the libido for it.

No one slaps anyone across the face. We are part of a generation of fish that do not do that.

CARLY ROSALIE VANDERGRIENDT is a Montreal-based writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Malahat Review, Riddle Fence, and Matrix. Visit her at