The Fish

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young man is haunted by the gaze of a fish in his apartment.

Submitted: October 09, 2014

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Submitted: October 09, 2014



The Fish

By Will Freeman


It was a completely normal day. A day that fulfilled every expectation. He woke up alone, ate alone, worked alone. He would have been startled by the sound of his own voice. A day that could smother enthusiasm in its crib. A day with no drama, no coups, no ideas.

That was why this was the perfect day.

He came home to an empty apartment, kicked off his only shoes, and put up his only coat. The living room was strewn with the detritus of carelessness. Pizza boxes lived where they fit. Bills, journal pages, letters he'd meant to treasure all mingled together, crumpled up on the floor. A guitar lay propped against a wall, its strings stretched from disuse. The chair was the only clean object in the room. The cushion was crushed flat, its dent that showed it was occupied most every evening. But not this evening.

The kitchen light flickered irregularly after he stepped inside. The dishes had almost reached a point of desperation, stacked haphazardly in the sink. However, he was able to procure a single clean bowl, and a single clean spoon. On another day, he would have felt lucky.

The cereal was an avalanche in the silence of the apartment. The bowl was cold in his hand as he stepped into his bedroom, which was easily the dirtiest room in the apartment. He pulled up a chair, and sat by his aquarium. The fish looked up at him; through the pristine, clear glass of its tank, with its cold, unblinking eyes. He numbly looked back at it. He hated fish. He had always figured you'd have to be insane to care for a creature that wasn't capable of caring for you back. You'd give it your time, buy it food, aquariums, a whole shopping list of fish things. You'd clean its tank, filter its water, on and on, day after day. And the Fish would maddeningly just, be a fish.

It didn't come to the door when he got home, wagging its tail. It wouldn't purr if he pet it. It wouldn't feel grateful for all the time he gave to it, it didn't pretend to. It didn't make empty promises, it wouldn't act sorry if it hurt you.

It didn't even love him, and it didn't even say it did.

The fish didn't belong to him, he had been watching it for someone, and now he was just watching it. Watching it as it watched him. He hated the fish. He hated the way it watched him. Its dead eyes seemed to mock him, how was it possible for him to read so much in those blank, reflective eyes? But he did, it was as if the fish had watched him pacing his room, heard him slam the desk as he screamed and swore. It was the silent observer to all his shame when he smashed his phone against the wall, and collapsed to the floor, his shoulders shaking, his head buried in his hands.

That was quite a while ago, but the fish saw it all. The fish saw it all and now, when it looked at him, it would show him what it had seen. When he watched the fish he would see in its eyes everything he'd done that he wanted to forget, he would hear the words he never wanted to hear again. At first he tried to ignore it, but when he was around the fish, he couldn't escape its eyes. The fish would not let him forget.

For a time, he plotted to kill the fish. He considered snatching it from it's tank and stabbing it the brain, or slicing off its head. He thought of pouring it on the ground and watching it suffocate smugly. He wanted to flush it down the toilet, laughing maniacally, wishing it luck in the sewers. Maybe he would have found peace with the fish's demise. Surely the fish had it coming, the way it stared at him, never left him alone, what choice did he have?

He couldn't do it of course. He had come close, standing over the aquarium with a sashimi knife in a shaking hand. He wanted desperately to end the fish then. But the fish had just stared at him, as it always did, and showed him, again, what it had seen, why it was there. He saw his hands take the fishbowl gingerly, heard himself promise to take good care of it. And he had meant it, at that moment he had been prepared to do everything he had to do to keep the fish alive, because he promised to give it back, he had sworn.

How many promises had been made back then? How many had been broken? He tried to convince himself that this promise was no different than the others, that he didn't owe the fish anything. But the fish just stared at him. It stared at him and he knew he couldn't do it. It wasn't that he wouldn't have been able to live with himself, because he could have. It wasn't that he didn't want to, because he did. But he couldn't do it, the fish wouldn't let him forget, so he couldn't. He laid the knife by the aquarium, and left it there.

That was quite a while ago. Since then he continued to feed the fish, clean its tank, and change its filter. And the fish continued to stare at him, and he grew used to it. So he sat, watching the fish, on this perfect day. He fed the fish, like he did every day, and ate his cereal, lifting his spoon to his lips as the flakes drifted down, snapped up one by one by the fish. The fish finished eating just as he did, and looked at him. He looked at the fish and it showed him everything. He watched calmly, sitting quietly as the fish showed him all it had to show him.

He saw himself through clear glass, led by the hand through a door in a house far away. He saw the lights go out and listened to hushed, breathless voices. He felt the bowl shake, held tightly in his lap for hours, he looked up at his face, looking solemnly out the window. Felt the bowl at last come to rest on where it was now, saw himself in his bed alone, for the first time. He saw every day since then, and once again, heard the shouts, saw the tears. He saw himself stand over the bowl, knife in hand. Finally he saw himself sitting with a bowl of cereal in his hand, watching the fish.

He blinked and sat back in the chair. The fish watched him grab a pen and some paper. The sound of his writing was drowned out by the sound of the aquarium filter. He looked up and looked at the fish one last time. He grimaced ruefully, and taped the sheet of paper on the glass, covering the fish. He then grabbed the knife, and walked into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.


He drew himself a hot bath, the room quickly became pleasantly steamy. He wiped a space for him to see on the mirror and looked at himself. He pulled the cabinet open and methodically pulled out everything he had prepared for this day, laying them neatly by the sink. He watched himself in the mirror. Watched himself calmly take off the cap and down the contents of the bottle. Looked into his own eyes as he lifted a cup of cold water to his lips and drank deeply. He looked away, knife in hand, and entered the bathtub.

He was warm, and very comfortable. He closed his eyes, breathed slowly in through his nose, and out through his mouth. Once, twice. He already felt as though his mind was walking through a thick fog as he looked down, steam rising to his face. To him, they looked like the gills of a fish. He could feel them breathe when he put them under the water. Already it was getting quite hard to think, to keep his eyes open. He relaxed completely, and leaned back, eyes closed. As he lost consciousness he briefly thought about the note he had left on the aquarium. It had simply asked that the fish be taken care of.


He was swimming in a cool, rolling ocean. On every scale he felt the water rush past as his fins and tail propelled him forward. Around him were other fish, swimming. He was swimming with them. He was following them and they were following him. He was one in a school of fish. He was electrified by all the sensations he felt, as though he had never been so alive. He was not thinking, he was only swimming. The light sparkled down the water from above, shimmering constantly and tinged with soft blues and greens. It reflected off of the scales of the other fish, and his own, they sparkled brilliantly in every color, as though they were made of gemstones. They more than swam, they flew through the water, channeling it over their fins and gliding over it, lifting up and forward, or whichever way they chose. Everything was so vivid, he watched it all pass by through wide, unblinking eyes.

All at once the shimmering light faded, and all became dark green around him. The other fish were gone, and he was alone. He was alone and it was dark and it was getting hard to move, hard to breath. He was not thinking, he was swimming, he tried to swim up, to find the light again, to swim around the darkness that had appeared before him. He stared helplessly into the darkness, he watched it reach out with tendrils that found and choked out what light remained. He tried swimming away, to hide from the darkness, but the tendrils soon wrapped around him, pulled him away, he could not move, he could not swim, he could not breathe. He was completely gripped by terror, frantic, animal. The terror raced through him, wracking his body like a seizure. Images and feelings flashed through his mind so fast he couldn't understand them. He couldn't breathe. He flexed his gills open, gaping and red, he couldn't breathe. He didn't know what to do, there was nothing he could do. He was dizzy, his mind was struggling in a whirlpool.

When he opened his mouth to scream, he felt water filling his lungs.

© Copyright 2019 Wil Collins. All rights reserved.

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