The Fish

The fish says nothing, but it is not silent—it makes the type of sounds you would expect from a fish: equal parts ridiculous and sad, a little bit fated, the sound of something that does not know it is gasping for air. This, itself, is normal: the fish, after all, is out of the water. It sits demurely at the very edge of the meeting room in a navy pantsuit bought on sale the previous weekend from what is already, I should say, a relatively cheap store. It squints to make out the size-six font on the PowerPoint slides. Sounds float out of Gary from marketing, a pearl necklace of vast words like value proposition and value chain and vision.

Later, after the meeting is over, the fish slides and slobbers its way down the hall, into the elevator, and across the parking lot, gets into its small car and drives to its small home, where no one awaits.

On its way, the fish ponders various things: what kind of chemicals are tampons really coated in? Why does it always seem like I am the only one moving through the world alone, when just last week that headline in the paper said that over half the homes in the city had only one inhabitant? The fish stops at an intersection and watches a couple cross the street holding hands. A bubble pops at the edge of its slippery lips. It considers the passers-by on the sidewalk and pictures exactly half of them sitting alone on the edge of their beds, possibly slightly less dressed, head in their hands as though to grips with a kind of solitary vertigo. Lone urban silhouettes in a Hopper painting, blank and intimate, lean and mute.

When it pulls up at the drive through and asks for a chicken burger, the fast food worker, whom the fish decides probably does not live alone but with a heavy-set boyfriend named Devon, hands the fish a Filet-o-Fish. The fish looks at the worker, who looks back at the fish, who blinks, and takes the sandwich.

Marie Baléo is a French writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Passages North, Yemassee, Litro, Lunch Ticket, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. She is an editor for Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. www.mariebaleo.com