When I was little, I lived in the big tank, an enormous empty space with hundreds of other fish. The girls told me how to attract the customers. ‘Make yourself look pretty,’ they said. ‘You want to be chosen.’ I groomed my scales and fluffed up my tail. I perfected the art of flitting this way and that to show how streamlined I was. There was a particular place about halfway along the tank, where a spotlight hit it. That’s where I turned. I folded gracefully over myself, let my tail fan out and trail behind me, paused for a moment, gave a quick, shimmering pulse and darted away. I practised that move again and again. It worked. I was hired by a modelling agency. It was the happiest day of my life.
do you remember when we kissed the Irish coast
with shaking lips, pointed to the waves
crashing against the rocks and imagined
how good we’d look trying to swim
your eyes were the same color
as the sea. I couldn’t tell
which was deeper.
The air is frigid and still, unable to absorb the bluish grey swirls of smoke floating outwards, and forced to let them slowly fade into nothingness at their own pace. There is no edge to the darkness, just vast blackness interrupted by the intrusive orange flames of street lights. The silence is undercut by the low, constant hum of energy flowing around the structure behind him.
The thin, black hoodie does nothing to counteract the chill, and he idly wonders if the jagged frost-covered wall he is leaning against will stitch itself to him and claimed him as part of the building. The nurse who unlocked the door had warned him not to stay outside for long, but three cigarettes later he was contemplating how long he could extend his escape before someone came to drag him back inside to the real darkness. He pushed his free hand further into his pocket and shuffled his weight from one numb foot to the other.
I turned into the entrance of the Charlotte Metro Nature Preserve and followed the twisting gravel road toward Copperhead Cove. The wedding I would conduct on the banks of Lake Wylie was two hours off, so I had plenty of time to prepare. Maybe take a quick nap. Maybe even forget my anger.
At a sharp bend in the road, I passed a man and woman nestled in cheap folding chairs, both illuminated in a shaft of silver-white sunlight that pierced the oak canopy. Homeless, judging by the looks of them, with their possessions piled nearby in black plastic bags. The man lay twisted on his side, his head in the woman’s lap. Ragged flannel hung from the woman’s thin arms, which were wrapped around the man. Despite the warmth of early September, both wore long-sleeved shirts and blue jeans.
He introduced himself like a Yorkshire James Bond.
‘The name’s Chisel. Duncan Chisel.’
‘Do you do this often?’ he asked.
‘Oh no, I’m very particular,’ she said, and watched him grow taller with pride. He bought drinks and they found a corner table away from the bar.
He tells the customer on the other side of the counter that I’m “good to stand and look at when it’s quiet, helps pass the time.” He says it like it’s nothing and hands over the boxed-up pizza. The customer stifles a laugh, scuttling out the door with a reptilian backwards glance.
I stay still and silent. He turns to the ovens and lifts a stack of greased black trays towards the sink, dropping them in. The belt that pulls the pizzas through is still rotating.