Fish, Out of Water
First, there was nothing. No sight, no hearing, no consciousness certainly. Yet there must have been a life force, some urge towards growth and complexity, for cells divided, moved towards maturity, increasing in number and size. Where there was nothing at all, there was a tiny hub of cells, a nub, a blob. The blob grew a vestigial tail, then a true one as bones separated, differentiating themselves from flesh. Fins detached themselves from the amorphous whole, waving with barely detectable motions in the surrounding dark. A small salmon, not even a half-inch long, but entire, fluttered through the deep. The light was red and dark, the surrounding medium warm and viscous.
Approaching a small mackerel who lounged indolently near a pink cavern, he nervously brushed his whiskers with the back of a trembling fin. He cleared his throat.
The mackerel continued his lounging, regarding the salmon with half-lidded eyes. The silence lengthened. Just as the smaller fish was feeling thoroughly rebuffed, when he was wondering if he had actually spoken aloud, if in fact he truly existed, the mackerel spoke in a rusty voice.
“Yeah. Not bad.”
The salmon took this pronouncement as a sign of encouragement. Swimming closer through the delicate murk, he leaned in towards the bigger fish. His air was confidential; slightly pleading.
“Look, er,” he started. Then, gathering his courage, “What gives?”
The mackerel peered through a cloud of falling debris that showered them both with small specks of flaky stuff. He lipped at it reflectively, catching a few bits of something on his tongue.
“What gives?” he said. “How the hell should I know?”
“I mean, you know, where are we?” asked the salmon, trying not to let his agitation overcome his own conversational brevity. It seemed important to match the terseness of the other fish. His companion looked at him with weary eyes. The mackerel seemed to be trying to reach a decision.
“I don't know where the hell we are,” he finally replied. “And what’s more, I don’t know what the hell we’re doing. Aww, what the hell,” he said, and closed his eyes as if deeply pained. Dismissed, filled with an unnamed dread, the salmon fluttered his way into the velvet recesses of the mysterious world.
A scallop shell rested on a twisted length of pulsing, nacreous pipe. The salmon, blind in his fear, knocked into it and the shell swung open. The scallop reclined on her white calcite bed, a ruffle of royal purple edging its circumference like a frilly skirt. The salmon peered in guiltily, trying to gauge her openness to receiving visitors. The scallop sensed his wariness, and spoke.
“Hiya,” she said. “Lost?”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” replied the salmon. He edged over to her.
“Me too,” said the scallop, seeming unconcerned. “One minute, something’s prying me off my rock, then my shell is forced open,” (she pinked at the memory), “then, nothing. Just nothing at all! But now, here I am. At first, I didn’t even have a shell, but after awhile, this one grew up around me.
“But it’s strange here,” she continued. “Oh, there’s plenty to siphon. Can’t complain about that. But it’s warmer than I’m used to, and the water feels odd. Have you noticed how the water doesn’t feel the same?”
The salmon pondered her words. The water was strangely slimy and subdued, not the bracing cold of the ocean, or the thrilling currents the river held. The blankness of his recent past pulled aside briefly, a fluttering curtain of images. His last memory was that of a battle that exhausted him, the decking of a boat scraping his heavy sides, the agony of dry air through his gasping gills. His eyes drew together in a wondering frown. At last, he could reach no other conclusion.
“Do you suppose this is the Afterlife?” he asked.
“Perhaps,” said the scallop with a sigh, “but I was hoping for more.”
A loud swoosh announced a sudden rogue current that swept the salmon away from her sad acceptance. He saw her purple-edged shell slam shut against a cloud stirred up by the wash. Dark green seaweed fluttered around him. The pinkish floors were lined with waving branches of cilia that resembled soft, flexible coral.
He was deposited on what felt like an upholstered rock. It was covered in a soft, white, gluey mass that seemed to be taking up half the available space. Curious, the salmon nibbled at the sticky clump. Edible. But he was distracted by a new concern. Tiny vents in the cavern floor, (for he had decided it must be a volcanic cavern) were exuding streams of an astringent liquid. It was like unusually warm seawater, reeking of sulfur. A loud rumble signified a nearby and violent quake. The cavern walls shook, contracting and propelling him back to where he’d already been. The scallop shell was again in his sight. A small tuna wearing a bewildered face lurched into view, fins flapping wildly. He peered up at the salmon, hesitated as if he’d like to speak, then staggered away in the ebbing wash of fluid.
“Shy,” said the scallop, who was knitting something tiny. Another vent sent a rushing stream through the cavern, and the floor rocked. The salmon lost his curiosity in a burst of panic. He shouted at the scallop, “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“If this is the Afterlife,” said the scallop placidly, “where could we possibly go?”
The salmon groaned his despair.
The man turned over, thumped his hot pillow, then hurled it to the floor. Reaching for his bifocals, he shook off his lover’s clinging arms and gave her a hasty kiss.
“I’m getting up,” he said gloomily. “Damned sushi.”