Fishtank is about relationships, a broken man, and some hope.
“Only if you buy me a fish.”
I’ve heard many strange requests over the years; this one however beat them all.
“I want one.”
“Lemme get this straight, you’ll study if I buy you a fish.”
“Yes! And I’ll keep on doing my homework and never, never ever bother you again,” she was doing some jumps on the bed, nervous bubbling energy radiating everywhere.
Where have I heard that before? But those strange, fluttering blue eyes started to dampen, and I knew I was going to give in even before I could argue.
“Ok, we’ll go buy a fish.”
“Yay! Yay!” She jumped up and down that creaky bed until I caught her in the middle of a swooping jump and hugged her to me.
She gave me a sweet peck on the ear, and then a bite.
“Ouch! What did you do that for?” It was quite a sharp bite, and I could feel it stinging still.
“Because, you have such cute ears, that’s why!”
I looked down hard at her, trying my best to look stern. Her face dissolved into my mind, as I compared her with what was lost. She had the same large blue eyes, the same bright yellow golden curls, and that same wicked smile. She had me eating out of her hand, and she acted it. She just stood there waiting for my expression to soften, thumbs sticking into her spotted pajama-bottoms, smiling, dimples, teeth, and her small round earring staring me down.
I was no competition. I loved her too much, she was so much like her mother, so much that it hurt to know that I could love her so much. I hugged her again and felt her giggly ribs hug me back.
“I’ll buy you a fish, but…”
I loved these moments, the ‘but’ hung in the air, and she almost seemed to gobble up the next words, her mind furiously working out scenarios.
“…you’ll have to sleep tight tonight, and be a good girl till tomorrow evening, and then maybe we’ll go.”
Her entire body breathed a sigh of relief.
“Could be, but you hafta convince me.”
“Then you’ll buy me a fish?”
I nodded, and she kissed my cheek like a proper little girl, and tucked herself in, her small body hardly making a ripple in the sheets.
I stepped outside the door and dimmed the lights outside, and shut the door partly so that a thin stream of light from the doorway shone upon her. She opened her eyes and smiled at me, and then turned back and cuddled up to her big pillow, her legs curling up all around it.
I hated leaving her alone at night. The first few days after her mother left us, I’d spent the nights cuddling her to me, whispering that everything was going to be okay, everything was going to be fine, mama was going to come back, numerous short phrases that kept creeping to my mind as I felt her shiver under my arms. I’d always been a dreamer, and it became routine for me to invent answers to “Where is mama?” all through that night.
The next morning she’d asked me, her blue eyes still wet, her cheeks red from all the crying, “Is mama dead?”
We cried together that day, and the next day, but the pain took a backseat after that. I sent her to school, and she quickly became her bubbly self; I’d watch her go and watch her come back, running and shouting, and playing with everybody.
I thought about her request. Fishes? Des had loved fishes.
Desdmona. I’d laughed at that name, but after I saw her, I didn’t dare to. Her tall, slender, sinewy figure could and would beat the crap out of anybody who’d tell her that. My aunt had fixed up a date with “this sweet little girl.” I didn’t prove to be the handsome young prince though, all through that day, it was as if somebody had hit me with a ton of bricks.
Later, when I had her in my arms, her slender body shaking under mine and her breaths coming in shorter gasps as I tenderly kissed her, I asked her why she chose me. She laughed; her body squealing under the white sheets as she slowly bit my ear and whispered,
“Because you have such cute little ears.”
She never told me any other reason.
I’ve never lived a fuller day than those that I’ve spent with Des. She could touch me in places where I never would’ve let another person in. She laughed, and cried as I did; in those two years, we shared more joy than I thought possible.
The TV could stare back at me no more. I switched it off and bounced into bed, the veins in my hands still clenched onto the remote.
She woke me up the next day.
“So we’ll go today, right?”
It took me a while to reply.
“Only if you keep your promise.”
She handed me my cup of tea, and raised my pillow so that I could settle down into bed and have a sip. She was being extra nice today. The hot liquid had too much sugar, but I didn’t tell her that, I finished my cup like a good boy and handed it to her.
“I’ve gotta go!” she yelled, and then she was gone.
It’s been a year since she was gone. One year, and the pain changes its poignancy into fragments inside you, shattering when you least want it to. I looked out at the summer sky, the blinds starting to heat up, the settled sense of loss struggling to overpower me.
I shook myself awake, washed the cup that she’d put down on the sink, and grabbed something to eat.
A fish needs a tank. I’d always been good with my hands. I rapped off some wood from the cellar floor, and got out some unused glass and made my way to a shed that we have out back. As the glass welded into the wood under my shielded eye, I thought about the fish.
It was no use going with her to the shop – she’d be too confused at the wild assortment of fish, and she’d make a fuss about every single color anyway. I’ll go and buy her one, and then I’ll surprise her when she comes back.
I shuffled to the door and into the narrow road as it almost gave way under my naked feet and I made my way past countless doors towards the sign that read “Pet Shop.”
I peeked inside. A solitary lady was sitting at a table, scribbling something, bowls of water around her filled with fishes.
I grunted, cleared my throat and asked,
“Do you have some fish?”
The lady looked up from her table, her eyes suddenly rose in puzzlement, and she looked me over once before she spoke,
I felt quite stupid. The expression all over her face spoke of extreme curiosity. I felt my zipper and my hair, everything was fine. Perhaps I’d something on my shirt. I searched around my clothes, and then noticed something unusual. I had something in my hands. I looked down. The TV remote. No wonder…
“Oh, I don’t know why I picked up this remote coming over here. I must’ve thought it to be my watch or something…”
“Okay…” she stared at my hand and then back again.
“So you want a fish? What would you like, a goldfish, a samaritan, a coolflout?”
“Just something that looks nice. It’s for my daughter.”
“Oh, I’d suggest a goldfish, it looks beautiful.” Her expression softened as she asked, “How old is your daughter anyway?”
“Twelve, and she is as cute as a button.”
She smiled, and told me, “I’ll be right back…” and her red fluttering dress went out of the door.
She came back quickly with two men by her side. They were wearing strange blue overcoats, and they quickly rushed to my side.
I felt a rising dread inside me.
“Wha-?” My cries were stifled as one of the huge men placed a large hand over my face, and the other took out a piece of clear plastic. I felt the pinprick, and as the steady stream of substances flowed into me, I glanced at the plastic in my hand.
It read, “#23 James Corrigan.”
All the fish tanks crashed to the floor and broke in one single motion as I screamed, like I screamed the day I lost them both.
They carried me down the carpeted hall, and into the gray cell.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” the man told the woman. “This is the first time this has happened. The man who took him the coffee forgot to lock the door. He must’ve wandered down the corridor. I apologize, it is entirely my fault, I’m sorry.”
“Oh! Don’t be! He was quite harmless, really.”
“Yes, he has never been violent; he sits all day in his cell and looks outside the window, and sometimes mutters to himself. God knows what goes inside his mind. They say he was a good scientist. He lost his family in a car-crash last year. His wife died immediately, but he picked up his little girl and walked three miles to a hospital. She died on the way. He could never accept that.”
“He was talking something about a fish.”
“Fish? I wouldn’t know anything about that, ma’am.”
The image of a fish tank crashed into my mind, even as the jeep turned, and Des screamed, the fish tank remained stationery in the back seat, the sole goldfish alarmed, but never hurt.
The woman paused, and started to turn back, but then she said something that carried all the way into my weak ears, “He has such cute little ears…”
Even through all the mist and the fog, I glanced at her and smiled. She looked at me and smiled back, the contours of her face brightening and lighting up to envelope a warmth around her.
I knew then that I was going to get out, soon. As the Fish tank closed around me, a bright convex light emerged out of the blackness and slowly spread out; I squinted, trying hard to focus.
The Fish tank broke; the glass shattered and smoldered as wisps of water spread out of the room, and went away from her footsteps towards the woman in the red dress.