The fish lay alone on the wooden floor. Around it the scattered pieces of glass, like little beads of sand, that used to be a bowl. And the wooden floor absorbing the water that the fish once called home. The fish’s gills gasped for it. I could hear it. It was very similar to the sound of a helpless man gasping for breath. Like a creaking door, that inward scream of one who tries to swallow oxygen from nothing. And so the fish creaked its helpless croon. Its glassy eyes stared at nothing, but I could feel them pleading to me. It could form no facial expression to tell me it was dying, but it was telling me anyway. The fish and I, we communicated. Fish, I love you and I will save you, I said.
I lurched to the floor and tried to reassemble the pieces of glass. I formed a mound of pebbles that looked like a translucent Everest. Why did I think this was a good idea? Also, I could not tell the water to extricate itself from the wood, stand up and kindly go to the nearest bowl. So my hands scrambled. By which I mean: I went for the fish and cupped it in said scrambling hands.
I ran to the kitchen sink and then I flipped the fish over to my left hand, wrapped that hand’s fingers around it (“you will not fall from my hand, fish,” I said), and then used my right hand to turn the C handle on the kitchen sink: WHEEAK WHEEAK, it groaned, the sound of metal turning on metal. No water tunneled through the tube’s hollow brass-blackness. So I turned the H handle (“it’s better to be hot than to be dead, fish, don’t worry, you won’t die”), to no effect.
My right hand went back to my left hand and I went back to cupping the fish and I ran or scrambled or rather my legs were like the awkward legs of scissors jumping across the house; this is what saving a life does to me. I ran to the bathroom and tried the H and C handles on the shaving-hair-coated sink, the H and C handles on the shower, and then I, yes, I opened the toilet and it was as dry as my throat and the fish’s throat.
I ran back to the kitchen and took my right hand out of my left hand to get a cup from the counter and put the cup’s lip under my eye and started to squint and to wince and to think of dead babies or dead fish in order to get the tears out, but the tear ducts inside my eyes were as hollow as the brass tubes of all the sinks in my house.
Two doors swing open and a splash of sunlight: I am outside, running, and where is the damn river? All cities have rivers, but I see only houses, and all these houses are empty, and the only blue thing around here is the sky, and there aren't even any white clouds—so I run, and then the sound of a blocked lung, an inward burp, the open mouth of the fish being the open arms of a mother, the lack of water being the lack of a son, the lack of a daughter, the lack of a father, the lack of everything everywhere all at the same time, because H2O is like that: it is everything you need to be alive, fish.
I run to houses, knock on doors, but either they don’t answer or they don’t care. Everything is dry.
Now the night is about to fall, and the fish is still dying in my hands. I sit down on the curb and look down at the fish, see its body bobbing up and down, still half-breathing. This is no way to live, fish, I say, to be always dying.
“And I wondered then,” he said, “if the fish is to live in this permanent semi-death outside the water, will water only kill the fish? If so, should I throw it in the water? Can you see my position? I couldn’t just let go of the fish and throw it on the ground, because then the fish would never die. But I couldn’t take it to the water either, because then it would certainly die. If I even found water.”
And then I said, “Wouldn’t it be worse to be not the one holding the fish but the fish itself, the fish helpless, the fish at the mercy of one who runs when running doesn’t help?”