Shut Upand Fish
A short story
ROMESH WAKES FROM THE DREAM — a catch of fish spilling onto a pier, endless pour of slick, shining scales, beautiful in that spilling, their iridescent shim-mering. No sign of anyone doing the spilling, just the spilling
itself going on endlessly. Then the image dissolves, and he’s
awake and remembers the prisoners. The su=
ering of the incar-cerated obsesses him. He’s convinced that if the powers that be
would give each guy in lockup the $22,600 it costs to keep him
there for a year, each one could fund his own start-up and thrive.
It could work, if only a bold warden would try it.
You’re an idealist, Beatrice once chided, stepping out of her
steaming bath. No, he’d countered. I’m a visionary!
The world needs visionaries. What are life forms for, anyway?
To be, gloriously! Take Beatrice, for instance, his own private
example of thriving upwardness. She’s already left for an early
meeting at the museum. He imagines her legs striding up the
steps, hair a blond sleekness down her back. May she thrive on!
He runs his fingers through his own hair — is it thinning? Bea-trice adores his bronze Asian skin, but without hair, he imag-ines, his stocks will drop. Let’s have a glance in the mirror when
we get ourselves upright.
He shaves listening to the BBC. Car bombing in Baghdad, a
prime minister murdered— where was that? And while bomb-ing Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan army o=s two Médecins Sans
Frontières nurses, so please send Norwegian mediators in again.
Enough. He dresses. One last comb of the hair. He transports a
spider marooned in slick sink to potted tomato plant, then heads
for the elevator. The doors sliding closed remind him again of
painting l Xavier Cortada / Bridgeman art LiBrary
Prisoners are a symptom of the larger predicament, he be-lieves. The predicament being man’s inhumanity to man,
woman, child, flora, fauna. Climate change is upon us, we neo-colonialist narcissists, and why? Because we’re myopically ob-sessed with the latest Armani handbag knocko=. Once upon a
time we’d conquered polio, now polio is back. Cattle were robust,
now they have bluetongue disease. Whole towns in the Arctic get
swept away by melting ice, and these disasters get multiplied by
Climate change, Romesh believes, is the result of massive un-consciousness. People are automatons buying whatever’s hyped,
as much of it as they can a=ord, and the result is air so toxic
you try not to breathe. Though more people are beginning to
get it now, to feel the degradation of nature. But the stats on cli-mate change tell us we’ve already blown our chances, so what do
people do? They feel guilty and overwhelmed, then talk through
their eco-anxiety with their eco-anxiety therapists.
Yes, there are professionals specializing in climate change
angst. And all those who don’t make their anxiety conscious—
what will they do under pressure of this new threat? Romesh
wouldn’t be surprised if some started going postal. In fact go-ing postal has become his most immediate anxiety. Because one
of them could strike his Beatrice or his own stair-mastered self
Just stand in the wrong place at the wrong time and you’re a
goner. Romesh’s Hindu parents converted to Catholicism, flew
west and birthed him on American soil, imagining America
would guarantee him immunity from harm, but they were naïve.
So were Beatrice’s Flower Children mom and dad. They’d loaded