SYMPHONY

News From the Aquarium
(11 Pages in Typescript)
 
 
 

                Hey Jeffrey! Didja see that?
                Sure did! He's getting better, isn't he?
                Sure is! You know what they say, practice makes perfect!
                Okay, okay, let me pull up close, so I don't have to shout. That's better. He's never gonna be perfect, but he's a heck of a lot better than he was three or four months ago.
                And when he has a good session, as he did tonight, it puts him in a good mood. He's more liberal with the food.
                I've noticed that. There's more bread cast upon the waters, more mana from heaven. I'm gonna' swim up to the top and partake of some of it.
                In the fish tank, the fish are talking to one another. Scientists have shown that animals employ sophisticated means of communication, and animals includes denizens of the deep—in this case, transplanted, rather shallow ones. Isn't it time someone besides scientists listened to the animals?
                You know, says Jeffrey, changing his mind and lingering a moment, sometimes I get up to the surface and poke my head out, and I have a an overwhelming desire to water-ski, or ride a surfboard. Other times, when I'm feeding, I feel like a shark snapping at helpless victims and pulling them under. I actually think I defy nature, and am a hot-blooded creature. Our keepers rest easy, knowing we're caged and confined, but I have an insane, recurring desire, just once, to jump out of the tank and have a go at them.
                Have you thought about seeing a therapist?
                No. Bunch a' mumbo-jumbo.
                Okay, let me ask you another question. Did you see Jaws?
                I did, says Christine, with a quick flip of her tail swimming up. It gave me goose bumps.
                Assuming, says Melvin, joining the group, a fish can have goose bumps. Look. Did you notice? They've all gone to bed. We don't have to swim around looking dreamy, nonchalant, self- absorbed. We can use our god-given intelligence, and talk to another about what's on our minds.
                We're lucky that sound travels so well in water. What is it, some three thousand miles an hour? I'd say that's quite sufficient in a tank this size, quite sufficient forour needs. We can hear one another from one end to the other, says Lewis, coming over. I heard you way over there by the plastic pirates' ship.
                Sure. We can hear one another at the price of everyone knowing our business. There are creatures among us, whom I am not going to name, that I don't want knowing my business. You mean Dicky and Prickly and Scratchy and Slug, those lowlifes with tendrils and feathers who crawl around on the bottom, and keep to themselves?
                Exactly.
                Good. We won't talk to them.
                We'll shun them.
                We won't deign to recognize them.
                We'll look away.
                Here's Jeffrey coming back down. Hey Jeffrey, did you have a good dinner? How's the pickins' tonight?
                Same as usual, just more of it. If you ask me, that stuff looks and tastes too much like oregano.
                Oh, I enjoy the taste. I never get tired of it!
                You're a lucky fish, Christine, because it's all we have.
                I agree with Jeffrey. I wish there were more variety.
                Excuse me, everyone. I'm new here. I'm sorry, but I don't know your names. I feel like a fish out of water.
                Sylvester! Don't say that!
                Syl, will you cut it out?
                Okay, okay. Just kidding.
                Oooh, the very thought gives me the creeps!
                And another thing, Sylvester. If you have a problem, or if there's something I'm doing that's bothering you, I'm perfectly willing to talk about it. But I really wish you would stop saying, I have a bone to pick with you.
                But I just do it for fun. You know that.
                Yeah, but it strikes too close to home.
                You mean, it cuts too close . . . to the bone?
                Syl-vester!
                That's our Syl. The class clown. The court jester. The eternal wiseguy. I suppose every tank has one.
                You're one to talk, Lewis. I notice how you constantly swim up to the glass, press your mouth against it, and see how many times they'll thump on it before they realize you're not going to flinch, you're not going to dart away.
                Yeah, but that's a game of skill. It requires will power, composure, self-discipline. But I admit I like to do it. I love to swim up to the glass and tease them. Nah-nah! I say. They snap their fingers on it, they stick out their tongues, they clap their hands and moon at me. They don't understand that I'm master of my emotions, I'm a master at remaining calm and unperturbed. Frankly, I think it serves them right. They like to tease us, but if you ask me, they're the ones who see through the glass darkly. Oh-oh, don't look now. Here comes Esther Williams. Look the other way, everyone. Pretend you don't see her.
                Well, hello there.
                Hi, Veronica.
                Are we having a powwow today? Are we telling secrets?
                Just the usual, Veronica. What's on your mind?
                What's on my mind? I've been thinking about how much there is that none of you know about me. Do any of you realize that I once swam in the cooling tank of a nuclear reactor?
                Is that what makes you so ... electrifying?
                Very funny, Sylvester, very funny. The fact is, I was the only female in the tank. Rods and rods, rods everywhere, but no action, absolutely nothing going on. I did have a little excitement when they turned on the lights around Three Mile Island, but for the rest it was just a bunch of sexually repressed guys. I was there, I was looking my best, and I was available. They were supposed to do their little dance for me, but none of them had a clue.
                Speaking of which, does anybody know how we procreate?
                The question, Melvin, is not how, but when. Well, I'm off.
                'Bye, everyone.
                'Bye, Veronica.
                If you ask me, Veronica has gotten really stand, I mean swimoffish lately. It's like she's living in a dream world.
                I think she's depressed.
                Maybe it's the lack of sunlight.
                But she's very vain, she'll snap out of it.
                Speaking of light, are they ever going to change the bulb overhead?
                Hey, dummy, have you been asleep at the switch? They replaced it yesterday! Same gloomy, fluorescent blue.
                I don't think it's gloomy. I find it calming, soothing, easy on the eyes and nerves.
                But wouldn't it be nice if they installed a tanning light?
                Sure, and if we got a tan, who would we show it to?
                One another.
                You have to admit, they've made our surroundings very pleasant and comfortable. I think they've given us a very attractive environment in which to live.
                They've provided rocks—
                Which, whether you've noticed it or not, are fake—                 So what? They contain lots of holes and nifty little crevices and caverns to drift in, swim through.
                You mean, hide in.
                And there's lots of vegetation. I love to watch the strands of grass bend and sway in the current. Reminds me of t'ai chi. And there are the bubbles that swish and whoosh up out of the water jet.
                Those things make me nervous. I stay away from them. I'm always afraid they're going to explode.
                I don't. If you know how to use 'em right, they provide a terrific massage.
                I wish we had more fish toys. Or more complicated fish toys. But maybe we wouldn't be smart enough to use them.
                The dolphins would be. The dolphins get all the really cool stuff.
                The dolphins, the wonderboys of the deep. Do anything for attention.
                They're the high-performance, high-maintenance characters of the fish world. Nothin' but a bunch of smart-alecks, if you ask me.
                Dolphins aren't part of the fish world. They're mammals.
                Doesn't matter, they're water creatures just like we are. They swim.
                Don't forget the whales.
                Same thing. Anyway, how many keepers know that dolphins and whales aren't fish? The fact is drummed into keeper-kids from the third grade on, but keepers have minds like sieves.
                Good analogy, Lewis. Sieves.
                Personally, I don't care how pleasant they've made it for us, I just wish I had a towel, and could dry off. What I wouldn't give to have a couple of days not being wet.
                Wishful thinking, Jeffrey, wishful thinking.
                Who cares about being dry? I'd rather be high.
                So swim up to the surface, Sylvester, swim up to the surface.
                I don't think you got it. It was a joke.
                That's our Sylvester, all right. A laugh a minute. Yep, the laughs just keep coming.
                Hey, whoa, whoa now. It's important that we all get along, here. And I enjoy Sylvester's banter. So calm down. You were saying, Jeffrey?
                You're telling me I should resign myself to never being dry? Okay, I'm resigned. I accept my lot. Water 좥r alles. Here's to water.
                Let's hear it for water!
                Here here!
                I'll drink to water!
                That's big-hearted of you, Christine, considering.
                And here's to Noah—I mean the flood he survived!
                Those were great days, weren't they? Nothing like a flood to make a fish feel important.
                Same with global warming. The more water on the planet, the better it is for us. Think about all those icebergs just waiting to melt. Well, excuse me, boys and girls, I'm gonna to take a turn around the tank.
                Remember to do it counterclockwise!
                Heck, I admire our keeper. I'd dance too, if I could.
                Me too. I'd boogie.
                But conditions aren't favorable, no. Conditions are definitely not favorable.
                Not propitious.
                They don't permit it.
                They suck.
                And for natural-born suckers like us, they shouldn't suck.
                Welcome to reality, Melvin, welcome to reality.
                So it's the same old thing. Up and back, up and back. Swim through a hole in a rock, flip your tail, drift in the grass, flip your tail. I get tired of the monotony.
                But isn't it nice not to have worries, not to have cares? Because of our circumstances, we can't, therefore are not expected to do very much.
                It's our existential predicament. And since it's our existential predicament, we don't talk about it.
                No. We ignore it. We just swim.
                We swim and look preoccupied. Self-absorbed.
                Thoughtless. Dull-witted. Unconcerned.
                But we don't talk about it.
                Someone, please, tell me. Given our circumstances, are we trapped or, because we have no cares or worries, are we liberated? Which is preferable, effortless buoyancy, or travel and excitement? It seems like it's a free ride and you go nowhere, or you work your you-know-whats—your fins—off, and see the world.
                I understand our keepers spend a lot of time and effort trying to gauge the size of the universe, trying to visualize its boundary.
                Or non-boundary.
                But for us, it's simple. We just go up to the top, poke our heads out, and look around.
                But don't do it for too long, ha-ha!
                Sylvester, shut up! Be serious.
                Easy, guys, easy. Calm down.
                It's as though we're swimming around at the end of the universe. We think it's the end, but we don't know, we simply find that there's no more water, there's only a mysterious thing called glass. But we don't know what that means, so we turn around and swim back.
                The way I imagine it, this place is infinity. It has no limit for the simple reason that we're fish, and we don't understand limits. There just happen to be times in our lives when it seems prudent to turn around and retrace our steps. My personal belief is that our world is finite but unbounded. It's governed by rules, it's orderly and predictable, and for the most part it's homogeneous. If you're looking for homogeneity, water is your thing.
                I agree. The microcosm saves us from the macrocosm, the living room. Flapping around on wall-to-wall carpeting, gasping for air, is a terrifying thought.
                Yes, air is the enemy. By the way, does anyone know why there is air?
                Hold on a minute. The living room is just a galaxy. There are places beyond the living room.
                Like the hatchery?
                No, no. The deep blue sea. The Bermuda Triangle. The Gulf Stream. The Straits of Magellan. The Sea of Bothnia. Be imaginative, remember your roots.
                I was born in a pet store.
                So was I.
                Oh jesus, how can I even talk to you?
                How can you even talk to me? Easy. Swallow hard and vent bubbles. Don't worry, pal, i'll get your meaning, I'll understand.
                Come on, guys, keep it civil.
                Regarding the macrocosm, it's obviously smooth and effortless in here. I'm told it's quite rough, out there.
                It sure is, baby. The ride from the pet store nearly killed me.
                Excuse me, does anyone know what time it is?
                I do. It's time to boogie! Let's get down! Let's get dirty!
                Let's rock, let's roll!
                Sylvester, we appreciate your exuberance, we really do. But it's not going to happen. We're stuck here. I'm telling you, we're stuck here.
                She's right, Sylvester, we are. We're stuck here.
                We're here to amuse them, Sylvester. That's our mission. So let's resign ourselves to going on doing our bland, tiresome, fishy thing.
                For this little gourami, who didn't have much sleep last night, it's time for bed.
                I'm sleepy too. So sayonara, I'm outta here. I mean outta this particular stretch of water.
                Me too, I'm going nitey-night. But I'll be back soon. Ever so soon. Much too soon.
                Me too, but first I think I'll have a snack. I'm headin' uptown.
                I'll join you.
                Okay, then. Nitey-night, everyone.
                Nitey-night, y'all!
                Nitey-night!

 
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