Monday, 11 July 2016

Third prize winner in FLF/GW Short Story competition 2016

Now I’m a Fish by Sal Page

I hear his feet on the jetty. There he is; hands on knees, peering into the water.
‘Stacey? Are you there? Can you hear me?’
I’m well camouflaged here among the dappled water-shadows. I slip between the ticklish waterweeds to wait at a safe distance, wondering what he’s got to say for himself.
‘Okay. You win. From now on, no more staying out all night.’
Huh! Bet that wouldn’t last more than a week. Two mates with a flimsy reason to celebrate and he’d be off with his best shirt tucked into his jeans.
‘I’ll be a new man. Even put a wash on occasionally.’
Occasionally? Half the stuff’s his. Greasy boiler suits. All those towels. And t-shirts dumped in the hamper after only an hour’s wearing.
‘And I’ll remember to put out the bins, rather than wait to be reminded.’
That would be something. I hate the way he turns me into a nag.
But what do I care of such mundane, land-bound matters? I’ve left all that behind. These days I settle for quiet hours on the pebbly lake-bed, letting the cool water ripple over me.
Life is lovely now I’m a fish. I twist my body to admire my new rainbow iridescent scales. My fins grow stronger each day. I own every single drop of this lake. I’ve forgotten what breathing’s like. So much better than that time I was a bird. Water is safer and quieter than air. But then he found me and talked me back down. I should’ve stayed higher and gone further.
He’s sitting on the jetty. His toes dip into the water. I always liked his toes.
‘Your boss called. They need you back. He can’t hold the job open much longer. What should I say?’
Of course. They’d have to employ some other mug to open up in the mornings and take in the deliveries. I bet the cases of tinned stuff were piling up in the yard and no one else bothered to flatten the boxes for recycling like I did.
Like I used to. I shake my head to banish these irrelevant work-thoughts.
‘Stacey? Are you there? Or am I just a fool talking to a lake?’
This makes my giggle. A few bubble-pearls escape from my mouth and shoot up to the surface.
‘I’ve looked everywhere for those light bulbs. Where did you put them? I have to go up to bed in the dark. On my own.’
I told him several times where those bulbs were. I wish he hadn’t said that last bit though. Bed. I do sort of miss our bed. The lake-bed isn’t quite the same. I miss waking on a Sunday, knowing we don’t have to be anywhere all day. I miss his feet warming mine on cold mornings.
Down here I never have to be anywhere and I don’t feel the cold. I wake when the sunlight filters through the water, banishing the shadows I’ve rested in all night. I swim to the surface to feast on the small flies that gather there. Those flies are surprisingly delicious. A few gobbles and gulps and I’m done. No preparation. No washing up. And to think I used to plan meals, go to the market every day and follow recipes.
‘Instead of just watching cooking programmes, I’ll make dinner.’
He must’ve read my mind. He used to make me laugh, criticising the chef’s choice of ingredients and presentation style. Acting the big old expert even though he only ever made cheese on toast. Just last month I had to get up and switch the grill off while he lay snoring on the sofa.
‘And I’m sorry about that time … you know …’
I know what he’s referring to. He’d been drinking all day and night. I should have left him alone. I know he felt bad when he saw the bruises on my cheek and arm.
‘But you came back then.’
Yes. My week as a bird was so hard. The air currents scared me. Here, the other fish just leave me alone. Not like those birds with their screeches and sharp beaks.
‘It won’t happen again, Stace. Tell me you believe me.’
I peer upwards. He’s letting down a line. Something on the end of it plunges through the surface of the water above me. I inch-swim towards it. Caught in silver light-ripples, it glints as it drifts into my eye-line.
A diamond. My tough little fish-stomach does a flip of excitement. I recall the box of chocolates he persuaded the bird-me home with. I fell for them.
But this is something else.
‘I know this is what you want, Stacey. Come on.’
I gulp. The ring’s beautiful. Exactly what I would’ve chosen for myself.
‘Please come back. I love you, Stace.’
He loves me? He never said that before.
My gills prickle and my fish-eyes add a few more drops of water to the lake. I glance up at his feet dangling above me. He still has those calluses on his heels. I once told him he had beautiful feet. It made him blush. They’re still beautiful, despite the rough skin. I wish I had hands still, so I could reach out and touch them.  I’ve told him over and over to keep using that cream. I even offered to put it on for him but he waved me away like I was making a fuss.
‘So are you going to stop sulking now? Come back where you belong?’
Sulking? Is that what I’m doing? It doesn’t feel like sulking. It feels wonderful. The water on my fish-body is smooth as silk. I wonder if I’ll ever stop marvelling at how beautiful it feels.
And … back where I belong?
No way.
I belong in the water.
I flick my new tail and, knowing I leave a trail of silvery bubbles in my wake but not looking back to see them for once, head for the deeper part of the lake.

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