He begins to speak to the fish. He knows in his heart that it may not respond; it is dead after all. But he begins to mutter to it, late at night, before he goes to bed. There are things he must know. Things only it can tell him. Tell me, he says, tell me the secret of how you were caught. What bait did they use? How many of them? Where did they catch you? How did you fight them? Might you have won if you had only done something different? He places his lips to the dead lips of the fish, finding them surprisingly supple, inhaling the aroma of the sea. It does not concern him. The scent fills his apartment now, in any case.
During the achingly hot afternoons he fills the tub to the brim with cool water, sprinkles it with salt and submerges himself. He is able to remain under water for longer and longer periods, breathing out in small round bubbles, thinking only of the gentle pressure against his eyelids, the soft pulse in his wrist. When he leaves the tub, he treads wetly along the hall to the fish and places his moist fingers against its gills. Sometimes, he thinks he might see them flutter, remembering the sea. He begins to long for water, constantly. He sleeps in the tub, running water onto his comforter so that he is damp all night long.
The newspapers pile up in the hall outside his apartment until the super knocks on his door to complain. They’re a fire risk. He takes them in great handfuls down to the trash cans by the basement door. As he is doing so, he glances at one or two of the headlines. They’re not important. But simply looking at them, simply wondering, brings a sudden fear pounding in his chest. What if, in one of them, is the thing he’s been waiting for? What if it’s now, the time when he should act? If, instead of spending long days in salt water he should be taking out the final list left by his mother, reading it through again, packing his bags. He feels something close to terror at that thought. How can he have been so foolish?
He calms himself by thoughts of the fish upstairs, contemplating its own serenity. He walks to the building’s side door and peeks around to the front. A crowd of thirty-seven people are waiting, looking up at his sixth floor window, their faces patient, as though they knew that the thing they were expecting would appear at any moment. In the crowd, he sees Mrs Bleen, along with two of the other young men who help her in the store. The building super is with them, wiping his brow with his sleeve. The people don’t speak to each other but, he notes, they are breathing almost in unison.
To be continued…