The fish bowl is quick and alive, like a fountain in the living room. When it was time to choose, Trent rejected the brilliant fish darting from one side of the tank to the other. He pointed to a dun lionhead that lumbered peaceful as a blimp. The clerk said, "Her?" Her ocher splotch and muted browns matched the castle. As an afterthought, Trent chose a gold koi to honor tradition and to own a bauble. Her fins were golden scarves.
Daryl said, "Let's name them."
"They're Francie and Cleo," Trent replied as though merely reminding him.
Francie's face was sweet and calm. She was happy in her gallon and hung out in the portal of the castle, which was gratifying. Cleo, the conventional beauty, circled without respite, rattling the bars of her cage. She never entered the castle; la prisonnière would not accept Trent's hospitality or consent to the terms of her confinement. Maybe under water the filter's bubbles sounded like an angry hive: make it stop make it stop make it stop. Although her body was no bigger than Francie's, her long fins seemed to knock everything over.
It seemed to Trent that Cleo was vain, with her long skirts, metallic body and doe eyes. Her intensity was discouraging. Were the two fish friends? -- or did Francie's motion spur motion in Cleo and vice versa? The pet store guy talked as though they were little machines. Sometimes one tried to push the other to the surface -- was that play or shoving your roommate off a cliff? These bouts started after eating, when fights erupted in Trent's family.
Francie enjoys timelessness, but Cleo had episodes. She sank to the bottom, just breathing. After a few weeks, she hung vertically in the water, a tangerine wedge. Then she nested in the seaweed like a bird. It gave the bowl a haunted feeling. Yesterday, she began to fight the surface, a soul struggling to remain in her element. The owner of the fish store gave Trent some salt to heal her infected air bladder, which he diagnosed. Trent stirred a teaspoon into the bowl along with drops that dyed the water blue.
Now Cleo gads about the castle but Francie slows down. Fewer gulps, fewer heartbeats: departing from life by experiencing it less and less. Although most things can't be known, this slowing down is recognizable. She lingers in a corner that Cleo doesn't visit. Francie's yawning, yawning. Some part of Trent slows down, slows down. He feels as immobilized as Roderick Usher--what can he do for Francie in her coffin fishbowl nightmare? Trent is scared. Francie deflates as life passes out of her. He tries to push her spirit back with the force of his concern. He thinks with anguish, "I've marinated her, or is that pickling?"
It's strange how you know immediately when someone dies. The breathless corpse steals the air. Francie lists slightly and sways with the current. Oh, my god she's dead through no fault of her own -- the one I loved! Francie leaves no will: the castle, the black sand, the string of seaweed --
Trent feels the horror of a corpse, its flat tipped eyes. What implement to use?--a mesh strainer with a handle, a kitchen tool. It gives him the willies but he reasons, Dead fish are not strangers to the kitchen. Out of the bowl Francie is smaller, wilted. Human corpses seem bigger. Her poor body flies clockwise downward. Even now Trent expects it to switch back on. The little carp's watery grave -- down down to Davy Jones' Locker. In five seconds the body is gone forever.
Trent doesn’t turn the filter off -- it sputters and bubbles for no reason. “Oh, to keep Cleo alive,” Trent reminds himself bitterly. “Then how do you go on living?” -- he says to the fishbowl. “Globally,” he laments, “and in smaller and smaller fragments.”
Trent is late. He dresses for work, his end-of-Act-Up outfit: baggy jeans, faded tee shirt, Doc Martens, backwards baseball cap. Daryl lies in bed with his cookbooks. He catches the moment when Trent buttons his pants with a turn and the bunched cloth falls into shape against his narrow waist and wide rump. Before Trent leaves, he pockets the long shopping list Daryl made for dinner and eats a few stalks of leftover asparagus to flavor his cum.
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