To get away from civilization, to be alone, it’s all he ever wanted. After the loss of his job, the death of his parents and a divorce, all within the span of a year, he fled. Fled to some remote part of the world driven by some remote part of his brain. There he wanted nothing more than to get away from the turbulence of the man-made world. The sea provided that in abundance.
The city life suffocated him. The sea provided a surcease to his asphyxiation.
Breathe it in.
Breathe it out.
Here the sea was calm. Storms infrequent. Silence. Simplicity
Comfortable silence. A simple life. Today was fish for dinner, which was frequently the case when one lived by the sea. The local fishmonger always had good prices and a large stock to choose from each day. His raggedy tent wasn’t the most welcome sight along the shoreline but its simplicity was exactly why he had come here.
An exchange of courtesies and a few words about the weather. He didn’t know the man’s name or anything about him. Only that he had freshly caught fish and was open late. He felt adventurous today and asked to buy a fish he was not too familiar with.
“Oh, that one?” asked the fishmonger. “I don’t think you’ll like it.”
“Well, it’s usually too exotic for most folks. Not too many ‘round these parts like it…”
The fishmonger looked perplexed by his unwavering insistence. He thought about further dissuading him from buying it but in the end relented. Gave him the price and began wrapping up the exotic catch. An exchange of coins and smiles. The fishmonger left some final words of caution with his stubborn customer.
“Just make sure you cook it thoroughly and add some spices for flavouring. You might not like the taste of it underdone or without seasoning.”
The fishmonger emphasized the word taste and gave a sort of sly grin when he finished speaking but the man did not reply. He simply left and walked along the shore back to his house on the sea. The sun was setting and the sea looked like a mirror reflecting back a batch of circular steel in a furnace. It was nice. He did not miss the city life at all. Did not miss the throngs of people racing to get here, to get there. They were stuck inside a functional madness. He was the lucky one, he thought to himself.
“I escaped,” he whispered to himself.
He had been living by the sea for only a few weeks but had already become accustomed to the life. He felt a sort of pride about this. From bustling city slicker to seaside hermit in the timespan of a fortnight. A dramatic change but one that he was sure would last. After all, what was left for him in that madness? He peered up at the sunset on the sea. The molten steel slowly being lowered into the liquid mirror.
This word flashed across his mind as he looked beyond the horizon.
“These did me no good,” he said to himself aloud. No one nearby to hear him except the slow shifting of the waves.
“I’m comfortable by myself…” he reassured his subconscious. “I’m satisfied, I…”
He did not know if it was sincere or not. Whether he was just giving himself an excuse to run away from his problems, he was not sure.
“I’m fine,” he said as he arrived at his house.
The molten steel sun had all but disappeared into the horizontal mirror of the sea.
The house he lived in was unspectacular in every way. Just the way he liked it. No gaudiness of the city here. Just simple, basic, straightforward. It was built on an embankment overlooking a small estuary. No neighbours within sight. The nearest town several miles inland. The door creaked open as he turned the handle. He switched on the lights powered by the solar panels installed on the roof before his arrival. Expensive in the short term but a good investment in the long run. The floorboards groaned as he walked across the kitchen and he placed the butcher paper-wrapped fish on his kitchen counter.
This was his sanctuary. The outside world’s problems did not enter into this house, and therefore did not enter into his mind. The walk home might have made him question his motives but now…
“I’m fine now,” he said aloud while standing in the middle of his kitchen holding a fish scaler. The sea outside was its usual calm while his head spun around at a hundred miles per hour. What was I doing here?
“No!” he shouted. “I’m good, I’m fine, I’m …”
He thought for a moment about the word that flashed across his mind on the way home but couldn’t conjure it. His sanctuary was keeping it out. At least for now.
“The fish needs skinning,” he said to himself. He talked to himself much more often than before. But this was a good thing. This is how it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to be comfortable with yourself. The only one who you can rely on. The only one who won’t betray you in the end.
He began unwrapping the fish with one hand while holding the scaler in the other. The fish was dark and slightly oily in appearance under his kitchen light. It looked different in the fishmonger’s tent, he thought to himself. It looked more… normal. This fish looks like a shadow, the light itself seems to melt into it with very little reflection. He rinsed it in his sink then placed it back on the butcher paper. Grabbing the fish by the tail, he began to scale it, scraping across the dark body. The scales came off with very little resistance, peppering the paper and his kitchen counter like little black mirrors.
Connections flashed across his mind. He discarded this thought. It meant nothing. It belongs outside. Forget it.
He rinsed the fish again and began skinning it. The meat was unusually dark, radiating an almost a purple hue in the light of his kitchen. He thought back to the fishmonger’s words.
Is this why he said to cook it thoroughly? Did he sell me a rotten fish?
He thought for a moment whether or not to go back and demand a refund but it was already dark, and his hunger pangs were audibly percolating through his abdomen. And there wasn’t any particularly unusual smell emanating from the catch. In fact, it smelled better than most other fish he had bought previously. The frying pan he decided on was twice the size of the fish as he plopped it inside.
He was unsure what to add. Maybe only some salt and butter. There were a few slices of bread to soften the taste just in case. He stood over the stove staring at the sizzling fish in his frying pan.
“I don’t need connections,” he murmured to himself as the fish slowly began to change colour from the heat. The house filled with the fragrant smells of a fish he thought to have been rotten.
“Doesn’t smell so bad,” he said as he flipped the fish over in the pan. He finished setting his table with a single plate, a fork and a butter knife and went over to turn off the stove. The fish looked as any other and actually smelled rather pleasant. Not like a fish at all. More like a…
“Flower?” he said, seemingly surprised at his own observation. The fish slid off the frying pan and onto his plate. He dumped the pan into his kitchen sink and began to cut off pieces of the fish using his butter knife. He put a piece in his mouth and it tasted slightly like caraway seeds.
“It doesn’t taste rotten,” he said. “Almost like liquorice or a…” He realized he was talking to himself out loud and stopped. The fish went down easy, the bread and butter helping to balance the taste. He got up, dumped the plate, fork and knife along with all the fish bones into the sink and walked towards his bedroom. He felt it was not so late, but there was nothing else for him to do, so an early bedtime seemed like the logical next step. He collapsed on his bed, still wearing his shoes and clothes.
A wonderful, stress-free day if there ever was one, he thought to himself before passing out with his feet hanging over the edge of the bed.
Gales of wind and violent sea swells woke him out of his dinner-induced sleep. Somewhere outside it sounded as if a hurricane was forming. He slowly dragged himself off his bed. Still dark outside he stumbled towards his front door. It was shut closed but the wind was causing the door to shake slightly as if a stranger was trying to get in. He grabbed the doorknob turned it with half-asleep eyes and stepped outside. The wind was strong against his face but pleasant. He turned to face the sea and saw waves on the surface of the water and nothing else. They were evenly distributed between each other as if Poseidon himself had a timer with set intervals between each wave.
This was unusual for him but...
“But maybe this happens once in a while,” he thought to himself. He had only lived here a few weeks after all. “A coffee and some breakfast.” He continued talking out loud as if waiting for an unseen person to confirm his daily activities. He stepped back into the house and shut the door.
“You’re awake!” said a voice.
He backed up against front door, startled.
“You know, I was waiting for you to wake up for several hours now.”
“Who is that and where are you?” he replied timidly. “This is my house, you need to…”
“Yeah, it’s your house, but you brought me here,” the voice said, emphasizing the word ‘you’ each time it spoke.
The man said nothing as he slowly walked into his kitchen. All the lights were off and the voice seemed to be coming from every direction simultaneously. As if the walls themselves were talking. No, not talking. Taunting him.
“Listen, me and the boys, we had a little talk and decided it’s best for you to go back.”
“You…?” he could barely speak as he crept towards the light switch for his kitchen.
“Yeah, not just me. Me and the others, we all agree.” The voice continued as if speaking about a well-known subject. “It was a nice try, but this place ain’t for you and we feel that…”
The man hit the switch in his kitchen but the lights did not go on. He frantically flicked it up and down several times hoping they would come on.
“You want the lights on?” the voice asked, interrupting its own train of thought. “Here you are”
Suddenly the kitchen was lit up. There on the kitchen counter was a single fish on a dinner plate. Its mouth moving and its eyes moving around in its head. The man neared the fish and saw this was the voice. This fish was talking to him.
“Is that better?” the fish asked. “Now back to subject at hand. Me and the boys – you know – the other fish in the sea, we all think that you ought to go back.”
“Who are you?” the man asked, incredulously.
“Your dinner,” came the reply. “And your dinner thinks you need to get back to the city. You know, to rekindle some old…”
“Connections,” came the man’s reply.
“…and make some new ones too. You can’t be living alone like this.”
“He’s right,” a third muffled third voice suddenly chimed in.
The man looked around but saw no one in his kitchen.
“Who said that?”
“Here,” a voice from outside said followed by the sound of a window opening.
He turned around and found the fishmonger from the previous night standing and peering into his house from the window. Rain was pelting him and he appeared drenched. The man walked over to the window and looked outside. It was pouring rain and the sea was as violent as he had ever seen it.
“You see there?” the fishmonger looked and pointed out to sea. “You can’t be there, all alone like that, you gotta go back.”
The man, still in shock, looked out the window and saw a lone sailing boat being tossed around by the waves.
“You’ll never make it by yourself,” the fishmonger lowered his hand and looked back towards the window. The man continued looking out to the sea. The waves looked almost hypnotic to him. The boat gently rocking back and forth. As he watched it, it would appear to be just on the cusp of capsizing and drowning, along with its crew. But again, it would regain its balance. It looked dangerous for the boat to be out there. But it also looked incredibly lonely. Lost. Forgotten. No one would know if that boat capsized and was never seen again. The hypnotic vision he was looking at became a tunnel, through which he was sucked into like a vortex.
He awoke in his bed. Clothing still on. Shoes still clinging to his feet.
“A dream,” he said to himself in a morning stupor. He slowly rose from his bed and stumbled to the kitchen. He stared at the kitchen light switch, wondering if it would work or not. He gently flicked it and after a delay, the lights came to life.
“Definitely just a dream.” He walked over and saw on his kitchen table a single white plate, with a fork on one side, and a knife on the other. The frying pan was back in the kitchen cupboard where he kept it. Everything was clean and spotless. The fish and any trace of it were gone. Even the bones had disappeared. He stood in the kitchen with a dizzy confusion circling his mind like a whirlpool.
“I need connections in my life,” he said out loud as he stared at the calm waves outside his kitchen window. There was a single boat on the water, swaying back and forth. There was definitely no danger out there for that boat this morning. But what remained was the incredibly lonely feeling the man got from seeing the boat out there. It seemed just to be there. It wasn’t going anywhere in particular. No direction for this boat. No purpose. Just existence. He looked on at the boat then back at the dinner plate on his kitchen table.
“Connections,” he again said with a great sigh.
The following week the sea was full of all kinds of ships. Seemingly travelling towards some distant destination. It no longer looked so lonely. The house was already vacant and up for sale.