It will be dead soon. Poached slowly in sun warmed plastic, steam droplets suspended inches above the waterline, like chandelier pendants on an egg timer of mortality. I lift the bag to my face and confront dull, bulging eyes and a tiny mouth puckering in desperate kisses, little round Os getting faster, losing rhythm; jarring as a badly dubbed film.
I copy the movements, my own eyes staring through the pliant barrier, equally unblinking, my lips flapping impotently in reply.
I didn’t want the fish, but my reticence was smothered by his peacocked posturing. His validation coming, not from me but from the stall holder, a girl mere years older than myself who pulled strings of pale pink bubble gum from her sticky mouth. As the cheap plastic balls sailed ever closer to their target, a cloud of foreboding settled heavy on my shoulders, boring down to meet the anxiety rising from my belly.
With a pop and exaggerated fist pump, my fate was sealed with excited squeals from the girl. She reached behind her and passed the prize to my father, who in turn bestowed it on me. This life, this sentient being, that I would have the privilege to watch die.
I cast my eyes around and note how much is discarded at the fair ground. Popcorn kernels, only half eaten, rattle within boxes, trampled by oblivious feet. Thin wooden sticks lie scattered, pink fronds of candy floss hardening darkly on their surface, clinging fast in an onslaught of regimental ants.
Disposable joy, temporary, just like me and the fish.
He is talking now to another girl, he flicks his dyed hair, basking in his athletic prowess. I stand shuffling beside him, frustration building as hope slips like ether, into the charcoaled nutty fug. He looks in my direction and with feigned benevolence, pushes ride tokens into my free hand until it’s overflowing. The tokens thud onto the dusty ground and I have to crouch down and retrieve them while he rolls his eyes to the girl, giggling at my expense.
I look at the creature beside me with resolve and approach the big wheel. I’ve always been afraid of heights but I will put that aside for the fish; now listing on its side. The kisses are slower and wider as I step into the swinging carriage, and with a grasping hand find the seat. Within moments we are rising over buildings, and with trembling hands, I hold the fish aloft. In the distance, golden rays bounce like lightning off the frothing sea. A glimpse of home before death.
Within moments the fish swings onto its back, kisses stopped, lips a pinhole.
As the wheel descends, I look over to a clearing and the faded blue house on the hill. I picture her crouched low in the garden, tenderly digging the beds. Love spills salt from my eyes as I approach the ground, leaving fish and my mum in the sky.