Thursday, 26 February 2015

Go Fish!

The neighbour's Siamese cat was poised over the bowl again. Its stalking face peering at its swimming prey as its paw rippled the water's calm surface as if to say, 'What a nice day we're having trying to catch little goldfishes.' So intent was he that he didn't see the resident coming through to his conservatory to relax amongst his potted plants with that morning's paper.
Darn cat!” He whacked the table with the rolled-up Daily telegraph. "Get outta here, scat!"
The water in the fish bowl dangerously swayed like a huge wave which upset the goldfishes' leisurely stroke and made the Siamese cat leap in the air with an arched back and all its claws extracted as if it had only just realised it had been napping on a hot tin roof. A natural gymnast, it landed neatly and squeezed through the wedged open door and out into the jungle.
The man with his plump, soft hands, which his wife, God rest her soul, called her winter warmers, steadied the fish bowl. His blue eyes were magnified in the sturdy glass as he carefully inspected each goldfish, “Swim my pretties and let me study you,” he encouraged them, but apart from some stressful gasps there didn't appear to be any scratches.
Satisfied, he lowered himself into the white wicker chair alongside them and tried to return to his usual routine: the perusal of the Telegraph, followed by a spot of amateur painting, but found all he wanted to do was dream. About life before old age and retirement.
The goldfish, now graceful and calm, blew air bubbles at him and enabled his mind to drift... They turned into hazy gold flashes as his mind's scummy anchor was hoisted up. Eroded metal, crusty barnacles and slimy seaweed dredged unwanted memories from the ocean bed.
His wife's last uttered words stung him like a stinging nettle, instead of as he had expected a sharp puncture, and in a memory sea there are no waving dock leaves to rub away the irritation. He knew why he had placed those words of hers in an underwater castle - because like her, they had puzzled him; he hadn't known what to make of them then and he still didn't, and so like Bluebeard he had let those words of hers rot in a locked chamber. Crumble, decompose, disintegrate letter by letter. Or at least that's what he thought, but it seems they had outstayed his wife's parting. That rib of his was bone dust.
She had been a faithful wife and did everything he asked of her. Eventually. Sometimes caving in for a quiet life, but oh, she had a mind of her own, so that when he assumed he had won, he had really lost. Come to think of it, she was a bit like a goldfish, his deceased wife, in colouring and manner. Honeyed skin and coppery hair with an unsure look about her; often opening her mouth to say something and then closing it again, letting the silence remain unbroken. He knew she didn't always agree with him and only tolerated some of his habits, but she loved him in her own way, which was why it was so alarming when on her death bed her tongue lashed out like a sea serpent.
A lot of it had been incomprehensible gibberish, but the syllables ripped from her with unusual violence, her eyes red-rimmed and ablaze with a strange inner light. Her last words sounded as if they'd been torn from her voice box, “For balance and grace, go fish!” Then the light in her eyes had suddenly died and her quietened spirit had been snatched, the force of which lay her flat on her back stone-cold dead.
For a few months after her death, he had tried to find the meaning to her spewed secret. He'd spent whole days line-fishing; he'd eaten fish in some recognisable or disguised form at every meal, until one day carrying on in this way had seemed pointless, so he buried the information she had tried to pass on with his last regrettable image of her.
But his retirement last year, a good ten years after her death, had again unsettled him. Widowed from life, loneliness had seeped into him like a teabag left to stew for too long, and so to combat that he'd bought some goldfish. “Yes,” his dear wife whispered like a breeze from beyond, “you finally got it.”

*Picture credit: Goldfish by Henri Matisse