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Jewfish - Part 2

It occurs to him that he need not continue to work at his job. He tells Mrs. Bleen so. She says: “For a fish? All this for a fish?”
She looks at him silently for a long time, then says:
“I made a promise to your mother, you know.” She waits for a response. When he gives none, she says: “I’d better come see this fish.”
That afternoon she closes the store early and walks the eight blocks back to his apartment. The day is hot as an oven. As they walk, moisture begins to bead on her brow. At the apartment building, the super tells them that the elevator is out of order. Mrs. Bleen groans. She walks up the five floors slowly. She gasps, her mouth opening and closing. Walking behind her, he can see the threaded blue veins on her legs, and the rolled, discolored flesh of her inner thighs, appearing and disappearing as her skirt moves.

By the time they reach the sixth floor, sweat has spread in large dark circles under her arms, and is trickling down her neck, pooling in the soft, crepey skin there. He lets her into the apartment and she collapses onto one of the hall chairs, breathing deep, fast breaths. She asks for a glass of water and he brings one. After ten minutes or so, she is ready to proceed. He understands; he would not wish to see the Jewfish while exhausted either. It demands a certain degree of concentration. He opens the door to the living room and they enter.

The smell strikes him at once: it is stronger now than it has been before, a rich scent of ozone. Mrs Bleen gasps and covers her nostrils with her handkerchief. She flicks her eyes toward him, and then back at the fish. It is dark and gleaming; it seems to him larger than it was before. Mrs Bleen stares at the green-yellow scales, the stripes of brown. She glances briefly around the room, at the piles of paper, the collapsing bookcases filled with manila folders and yellow legal pads, at the remains of the past three weeks’ meals strewn across his dining table. Her eyes are drawn back toward the fish, though. They both stand, looking, for a long time. At last, she takes her handkerchief away from her mouth and nose, to say:

“What the hell kind of a fish is it?”
He tells her.
Her eyes blink open, a flush spreading across her cheeks as though he had said something filthy or despicable. In a minute or two her surprise subsides and she returns to her contemplation of the fish.

At last, she turns to leave the room. He follows her and notices that at the last moment, as he is closing the door behind him, she inclines her head to catch one final sight of the fish.
She says: “You should get rid of that thing. You should get rid of it today, throw it in the trash or set it alight or cut it into a million pieces. It won’t bring you any luck.”
He knows it won’t bring him any luck.
She says: “This isn’t what your parents taught you. This isn’t the way to behave.”
He has come to the conclusion that his parents did not know all that was required or, if they did, they didn’t tell him.
She says: “It doesn’t go looking into these things too hard. It’s best to let them be when they’re quiet. Time enough to be worrying about them when they’re not.”
He thinks it’s rather too late for that, even if he agreed with her.
 “Well then,” she says, “I guess I won’t be seeing you at the store anymore.”


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.


For the next three days, he reads the newspaper as he always used to, with perfect concentration, taking five or six hours over the job. It’s funny. According to the list, there’s nothing important. But now he can see that certain things are important nonetheless. There is a small story, tucked away in an inside page, of a dream some people are having every night. They dream of fishing, it says. They dream of tracking through long days and nights a fishy prey which might, at any time, turn around and kill them with one swipe of its tail. In the dreams, they follow it despite their fear. They dream of the dark places where the fish lurks, of its gleaming body. The newspaper offers no explanation of this phenomenon, nor even any justification for having printed it.

In his dreams, now, the fish has begun to speak with him. He cannot yet understand its words, but it has shown willingness to instruct him in its language. Each bubble it speaks contains a word. He must unwrap each bubble like an onion, being careful not to miss the meaning at its very center. One day, he knows, the words will form a sentence. That sentence will tell him all he needs. He will breathe under water. Until then he must concentrate and practice.

The crowd downstairs grows slowly but steadily. Every two or three days, a new face arrives. There does not seem to be any link between these new people; they are of every age and race, both men and women. They leave at night, but in the morning they return. He only goes out at night, now, unwilling to face them. One night, he finds that someone has drawn a large green-and-yellow fish on the wall of his building. He stares at the image for some time. It is remarkably accurate. He cannot tell how they have made it shine like that, even at night. The next morning, the crowd is larger by eight people. It grows more quickly from then on.

He wakes one morning, cool and moist in the tub, puzzled about his surroundings. He cannot imagine why he has kept all these files and boxes of paper. Morning memory returns, but nonetheless he sees that all the papers are now irrelevant. That evening, while the heat of the day is still rising from the asphalt, he drags 358 brown folders down to the trash cans and sets them alight. The flames remind him of the fish, as so many things do nowadays: they are alive, they are beautiful, they are a simple power, devoid of intention, simply acting as they must. In the flames he detects various colors: at first white, yellow, red and orange in their majesty, later the blackness around the flames becomes visible to him, not as an absence of light, but in itself, complete. At last, just before dawn, he sees that the flames are not red or yellow or white or black; they are blue. The blue is the blue of the sea.

When he returns to his apartment, he finds that, on his front door, someone has drawn a fish of green and yellow, shaded around with blue. He looks around, but cannot see who might have done this.


He knows it will not be long now. His apartment is almost empty, the shelves bare, the cabinets yawning. In the living room, the Jewfish swings constantly in a shallow circular movement, casting its shadow across the other museum artifacts: the carelessly stowed minerals, the scattered harps, the withered mallow. He stands and looks at the fish. The fish does not return his gaze. He had not known that he could feel such a variety of simultaneous emotion: both joy and sadness, both love and hatred, both agony and delight.

He is surprised to discover that he is hungry. There is no food in the apartment. He will have to go downstairs. As he leaves the apartment building, a murmur, like a single word whispered over and over, rises up and is gone. The crowd look at him. He looks at them. There must be four or five hundred people standing on the sidewalk, in the road. Not crowding or jostling, simply standing. They part and allow him passage, silent and constantly watching.

He walks down to Bleen’s Grocers, but the store is closed. He notices that quite a few stores are closed: maybe one in four or one in five. The people on the streets are different too. They seem to be walking a little more quickly and no one, he sees, is talking to anyone else. The only sound is of the cars whizzing past, on their way to somewhere else. He walks down Broadway and finds that the street seems  busier the further away from his apartment he is. About 20 blocks down, he finds a deli making sandwiches. As he walks in, one or two of the customers look at him intently, as though they recognize him. Most simply continue to eat. He asks for a bottle of soda and a pastrami on rye. This is what he remembers his father bringing home if ever his mother was sick. Pastrami on rye all round.

Clutching the sandwich in its greasy paper bag, he walks over to Central Park. It’s been a long time since he was last in the park. The day is uncomfortably warm; four or five people are lying under the trees but otherwise the park is lifeless. The air is still. The grass is dry and crisp. Away in the north, a bird is singing – a loud, insistent, repetitive trill, like the ringing of a bicycle bell. He sits on a bench and eats his sandwich. When the sandwich is finished, he drinks the soda, then folds the paper bag up very small and feeds it in through the neck of the bottle. He rubs his fingers on his trousers to rid them of the pastrami grease.

He considers. He might simply leave. His checkbook is in his pocket. He could go to the bank, withdraw his money and go elsewhere. This is, of course, what his parents would wish him to do. This is what they prepared him for. He pulls his mother’s list from his breast pocket and looks at it again, appreciating the urgency of its tone. Leave, his mother says, leave now, take what you can and run. It is the only way. Run.

He comes to his decision. In late afternoon, the day no cooler nor any less still, he walks back to his apartment. The crowd seems larger now, even, than in the morning. On the corner of his block, someone has turned on the fire hydrant. Water is spraying across the block, descending in large round droplets onto the silent people below. They are wet and they wait. He passes through them and returns to the apartment, signified by the sign of the fish.


In the cool of the apartment, he makes everything ready. He closes the drawers and replaces the empty shelves of the bookcases. He throws all the empty food cans, stray Kleenex, fluttering pieces of paper, into a large plastic sack, then ties it neatly and leaves it by the back elevator. He spreads one of his mother’s clean white tablecloths on the dining table and arranges his museum collection again. When all this is completed, he bathes himself using the good soaps, and dresses in a clean white shirt and black trousers. He smoothes his hair down, black and sleek against his skull.

He is waiting for sunset. The Jewfish agrees: sunset is the time. He hangs out of his window to watch the sun dip, livid orange, into the horizon, slowly vanishing, fragment by fragment, stretching its fingers out into the sky for as long as it can until it is finally gone.

There is a knock at his door. He pauses. Answer the door, says the Jewfish. He opens the door.


At first, they do not speak. They stare at the Jewfish, open-mouthed. Some begin to mutter under their breath. Most remain silent. He is able to look at them and is struck by how similar they have become to one another. It is difficult to tell them apart. He thinks that he sees Mrs Bleen toward the back of the crowd, but the woman’s face is fuzzy and indistinct. It may be someone else.

They say: “Do you know why we are here?”
He looks to the fish for guidance, but it makes him no reply. He must answer alone:
“Yes. I think I do.”
“Are you afraid?” they say.
“Yes,” he says. “I am very afraid.”
He cannot tell whether this answer pleases them or not.
They advance.

He does not feel the pain at first, only the sensation of several sharp blows. What he notices is the blood, splashing. Tiny red specks appear on the white tablecloth, a fine spray of red dusting the sea urchin and the glass jars of asphalt and benzoine. He looks up at the impassive face of the Jewfish and sees that large sticky circles of red have stained its flank. He falls to his knees. It is then that he observes the pool of blood beneath him, growing larger splash by splash. It is then that he begins to feel the pain.
He says: “Why? I still do not understand. Why like this? Why this?”
The Jewfish says: Do you not see? This was always available to you. It has been waiting for you since the beginning. You paid for it in advance of delivery.
He begins to understand. He wishes the blows would cease, just for a moment or two, that he might reorientate his thoughts around this new understanding.

He says: “But where was the hook? I didn’t notice it. I was looking, but I didn’t see.”
The fish seems to smile. It says: I have a secret for you, if you have ears to hear it. This is the secret you have yearned for. The secret is that you are wrong. You have mistaken your role. You are not the fish. You are the hook and you are the worm.
He says: “But these people, surely, are the fishermen, setting their hooks? Surely I have been caught by them?”
The fish replies: These are not the fishermen. They have no plan. They have set no traps. Were you to ask them to explain their actions, they could not. They have seen something glittering far away, they cannot but pursue it. They are the fish. They do not know why they seek you.
An enormous clarity has burst upon him, as though the sun had risen once more. He sees it now. He feels himself wriggling, speared through with a curved blade. He watches as the people around him start to nibble.
He says: “And the fisherman? Who has set me as a hook and worm?”
The fish utters a large and perfectly round bubble. It says: How can I answer such a question? I do not know the fisherman. I am simply a fish.

He notices, calmly, without fear, that there is water all around him. The water is blue, and the Jewfish is swimming away. It is remaining in place. He is beneath the water. His lungs ache as though he had been kicked and beaten, but he knows that it is only lack of oxygen. The water is pressing against his lips, demanding entry. He is alone. He is among a crowd of people. He notes that their faces are without understanding. They will not breathe under water. At last, at long last, he knows it is time. His understanding is partial at best, but maybe it will be enough. Another sharp pain strikes his lungs, his kidneys, his stomach. He opens his mouth and inhales.

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Anika Devi received her Bachelor’s degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University in 2012. She began freelancing for Business Solutions BD in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor.
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