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Jewfish (Part 7) by Naomi Alderman

Read the previous part here.


In the store, over the next few weeks, he tries to explain to Mrs Bleen about his fish. He can’t make her understand. She seems to think that he has taken a piece of fried cod and hung it from his ceiling. She mops her brow and frowns at him, before padding over to the refrigerator in her bare feet for another bottle of iced tea. The explanation is made more difficult by his overwhelming reluctance to tell her that it is a Jewfish. He finds himself saying “a fish”, “a large fish”, “a beautiful fish”. He cannot understand why he does not wish to divulge its name. He feels, however, that if she could only see the fish, she might understand. Certainly, the men who continue to gather at certain times of the day around the lobby of his building must understand. He often sees them there, simply waiting: the men from the angling shop, and now some of the passers-by in the street on the day it was delivered. Once or twice, he sees one of the delivery men. Standing outside the lobby. Waiting.


He feels this is significant, that the newspapers must contain the answer. He knows he has been neglecting the newspapers. Since that first day, there have been five or six occasions on which he has allowed part of one day’s newspaper to hang over onto the next day. Once, a newspaper had to wait two days before being read. He can’t help it. He has been otherwise engaged. Every afternoon now, when he returns from the store, he sets up his museum collection. The Jew’s Mallow must be moved to be close to the fish. The coffee table is set up to one side, with the Jews’ Harps, Jews’ Ears, Jew’s Pitch, Jew’s Frankincense and Jew’s Stone lined up. The days are unbearably hot. He turns on the air conditioner, and watches the Jewfish sway in the slight breeze generated by the fan. The room becomes cool as he contemplates his collection and the day turns to evening.


His mother used to say: “do not try to understand. It is hopeless. We cannot understand it, we can only learn to recognize it, and learn what to do when we see it.” His father agreed, nodding. He finds, after all these years, that he does not agree. Sitting in the easy chair, the Jewfish staring out of the window in front of him, with the other items arranged, he feels that he can almost taste it: the pattern, the order amid the chaos. He feels that, if he were only able to sit for long enough, he might distill the common essence of all these disparate objects. Then he would know.


To be continued…


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