In one of the tanks, two fish have begun to swim together. They’re of the same species, silver-scaled brutes with a penchant for petty larceny, but where they once used to go after another’s fins (in what I always thought to be an ironic variant on the generic police chase), they now swim as one, shimmying through foliage and basking up and down the main parade in perfect parallel. There’s nothing they gain through collaboration, not like dolphins or world leaders. Yet they swim side by side anyway, a pair of louts matching one another’s pivots and turns like two shadows, unsure which one should take the lead. This disposition is awfully persistent, even through the inevitable plagues and water-changes that accompany tank life.
One of our prize specimens was not so persistent. He would make his rounds every morning, resplendent in his orange-striped plumpness, before returning to his cavernous lair behind the tank’s fake-rock backdrop (he was a nocturnal breed, like owls and university students). When the plague hit, he was the last to succumb. His body is wedged between some foliage and a rocky outcrop even as I write this. From time to time, it sends up tufts of decay that billow up to the surface in a slow, stately cloud.
I write this thinking there was something of the Emperor’s new clothes to his life, though I can’t imagine why. This story was mean to be about immortality, not sartorial expediencies. If I was trying to bring him back, but I’m not. The more epitaphs you write, the more tired your hands get, even if you don’t realise you’re writing them. James Gatz tried to live on a tamago, but there’s something heroic about being the last to leave the party.
In one of the tanks, three fish continue to swim together. They’re of the same species, goldfish, and are blissfully unaware of the difference between gravel, food pellets, and their own fecal matter. Most of the time, they just float listlessly back and forth, like university students and world leaders. If goldfish had hands, what would they write about? We can’t time our exits in perfect parallel, but there are gains to be had from collaboration. Words, and others of our species, are all we’ve got.