A Band, A Maelstrom, A Revolution of Axolotls by Jennifer Lai and Nathan Xie

Axolotls like us find vegetables boring because they don’t move, and maybe because they don’t move, they’re poisonous (to us?). Unfortunately, our company’s cafeteria only serves dill pickles, and we suspect our clam boss deliberately makes us constipated so we don’t visit the loo as much when we line-assemble submarines and fauna traps and electro-acoustic transducers.

X marks the spot, our boss says, which means get crackin’. So we hoot our boots and hussle our bustles. But we’ve always wondered: X marks what spot? The spot where the unguarded blade catches on our gloves and pulls them away? And that’s exactly what happens. Our itty-bitty fingers are severed off too, along with a letter, so that we’re left as axolots.

Our boss is an Atlantic jackknife clam. Thus therefore hence, he looks like a dick. And with our lost l, we’re beginning to think he’s not worth even the most itty-bitty of headaches. The dill pickles grumble undigested in our tummies, and when our boss says again, X marks the spot you axolos! He means everything has a point, so we plead in our tiniest voices if we can at least chomp on some better grub.

Like escargot. Itty-bitty swirly things dipped in parsley butter and salt. The deal he offers is we go from ten-hour shifts to twelve-hour ones. Whatever. Yum yum. Nom nom. We love escargot. It’s the only thing we love. We twirl our itty-bitty forks into the snails’ itty-bitty shells, twisting and twisting and twisting to separate the meat until we stab our second o and we eat it by accident.

Oftentimes, when we work with band saws or circular saws or miter saws late into the night, we lose limbs. No worries though, they’ll regrow. But now and again, there’s a moment of doubt when we scratch a ghost itch where our webbed toes should be and think, Are you actually gonna grow back? Are you? But they always do, they must, and that’s why when we lose our second l, we’re sure being an axo is just a phase.

The company’s productivity slows. We’re missing limbs, after all. But we’ll bounce back, we tell our boss. We promise. He replaces our escargot anyway with bitter melon and ghost peppers, which makes us gassy. What a dick! Our bellies bloat like pufferfish, and soon out pops another letter and we become Axs. 

Lose enough letters though, and what even are we? We never stop building submarines and fauna traps and electro-acoustic transducers, and the accumulated loss of so much makes our work feel itty-bitty. In a bad way. We ask our clam boss, Why do you need so much from us to probe deeper into the trenches? He says X marks the spot, which means eat shit, which means he takes another letter away from us, and with everything stripped away, we become primal things that dream and don’t give a damn and finally, we demand we get what we want:



Jennifer Lai has recent work in Atlas and Alice, Bureau of Complaint, MoonPark Review, and elsewhere.

Nathan Xie is a recipient of One Story‘s 2023 Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship and a Periplus Collective fellowship. His writing can be found at nathan-xie.com.

This is their first collaborative piece.