A dark, short tale about goldfish, mermaids, and transformation
| There’s a Chinese fairytale about a chink-eyed Cinderella who was helped by a goldfish. Her evil stepmother found out about the magic fish and served him for dinner.
When I was little, I saw a pretty cartoon one Saturday afternoon on Storybreak. It was about friendship and suffering and love. I am grown up now, but I hold that preciousness within me, I swallowed that fairytale whole—its magic bubbles in my blood, it’s grown with me:
There’s a goldfish in my breast, beating and restless, as big as my fist with whiskers of precious thread. It presses against my sternum; it thrashes its tail and I feel it flicker deep in my throat. My breath is in sync with each gulp of its sensitive mouth and my eyelids flicker with each swish of movement. There’s a goldfish in my breast, beating and restless, its sensitive underbelly warm with feeling.
And when I met you, I knew it beat for you.
You say, “I am the fisherman,” when I tell you.
Your smile tugs at me, your feather-light touch urges trust. The goldfish is caught in the net—plump, shiny, and limp in surrender.
You’ve captured me, you possess me. You are the fisherman and you use and abuse your catch at whim. With each bruise, it beats less; with each drop of blood, it flickers weakly. But I cannot tear myself away—I must have it back. You dangle the net; I see its scales still shimmering.
You mock, “You are my mermaid.”
And slowly, I begin to believe you.
But you don’t know that mermaids have fins of razor, you don’t know that mermaids don’t feel pain. You don’t know that they entice with their song only to drown those enthralled sailors and drag them to a cemetery of seaweed. How can you know that they sun on beaches at night, swim in solitude, and look curiously at the land with unblinking distance?
Yes, I begin to believe you.
But the ghost of the fish returned to his companion, and with him, she gains the love of the prince and lives happily ever after.
I gaze at my reflection in the window and press my palms against the pane of glass, leaving streaking palmprints of blood. The knife still pins you. You shudder on the carpet, in a gazing pool of scarlet, gasping a last breath and expelling your captive.
Finally, your net is torn and wasted. Its captive is small and chafed. I pace the length of the room anxiously. I don’t know what to do with my freedom, but I am burdened by the repossession of your captive as it lies heavy and alien in my breast. Its mouth gapes for bait, its eyes are dumb and glazed, the motions of its fins make me shiver and tear, and its vulnerable underbelly disgusts me. The scab of a telltale scar grates soft tissue. Goldfish are all well and good in fairytales.
There is something that must be done before I dive into a sea of my own making, before I leave this sport.
Did you know that goldfish and mermaids are mortal enemies?
I spit scales into my palm; I pick the bones from my teeth.