BY ELISE TAKEHANA
There are 27 fish in the tank, Daddy brings back one at a time in a thick plastic bag and hangs it on the edge of the tank. Their little blub blubs mouth word bubbles.
FISH: “What horrible wallpaper! Must that be my view?”
ME: “It’s just bamboo.”
FISH: “I do not care for oriental motifs.”
ME: “I have frogs in my room, but I don’t think they’re ornamental.”
FISH: “Sorry I don’t fancy frogs either.”
ME: “They’re really not that fancy.”
FISH: “Clever, aren’t we?”
ME: “No, it’s just me. The others don’t talk to fish.”
The two zebrafish own the tank. The girl fish has babies and eats every last one. A month later she takes a bite out of the boy’s right side. I can see three ribs but he’ll live until Daddy stops feeding them and all the fish die – nothing but floaters in two months.
When I close my eyes, my house is a dent carved into the cliffs of a bay. His saw cuts oval holes in the glass wall until I float in my fish bowl house. Havoc we need, havoc we get. We can make notes about timelines overflowing. But watching all the pretty things arranged so compulsively jumbled in the high tide and abandoned in the low is such a cruel rhythm.
And as the waters rise, a star of pain climbs from the stomach and the throat to the mouth. A mouth full of needles tells me I can relax inside a phantom frame. I must be dead. I don’t have much room here orbiting me. And before the sea swallows the last pocket of air, the fisherman will reel me out, his voice sweet like his line cutting water. In the round frame behind our minds, we listen to the world’s echo as the fishes kiss the air.
He returns to me every night, measuring each centimeter as if building a world between bedsheet creases and plaster chips. All voices removed, moved, arranged one by one to jot down a rational answer. All rips have to be sewn, all seams have to be stitched.
The ritual discovers us in no time, wading in its newsprinty slush. All day he clinks in his workshop and I shuffle my papers and at night when it’s still and we hear the sand flies flap their wings, we glance at each other – transparent shadows of two ghosts.
Behind the pictures, the structures, the stories we built is nothing. The pleats close on each other. All the air slips away – the empty bellows of an accordion folded in the corner, in a box, in a cupboard.
Outside the window, we hear rain whisper through the clouds. Beneath the water, a fish dreams about a laughing nail.