“Strange Fish,” by David Powell

Dec 20th, 2010 | By | Category: Prose

“I’ve bought you something,” she said. She looked excited, like a puppy eager to please.

“Oh really? What could that be? A season ticket to the opera, or a year’s supply of anti-depressants?” he said and shut the front door. 

“Ow,” said the door. “Not so hard.” 

“You’ll like it, I think,” she said. Her tongue was hanging out and she’d cocked her head to one side so that her ear flopped in a cute way over her left eye. “It’s to help your recovery. Come through.” 

She led him into the sitting room. 

“It’s an aquarium,” he said. “It’s just what I’ve always wanted. Is there a sunken ship?” 

“Yes, and a cave and it’s got pebbles in it.” 

“Does it have any fish?” 

“No, not yet.” 

“Wow, it’s like….zen aquarium. I can imagine the sound of one fish clapping.” 

“No.” She scratched behind her ear. “You can pick the ones you want. I’ve arranged for you to go to the shop tomorrow. It’s all paid for – you just have to choose.” 

“Thank you,” he said and burst into tears. 


The next morning he walked to the pet shop. 

“Mornin’, Guv’nor,” said a squat looking rubbish bin outside. “Just put that ciggy in here.” 

He dropped the cigarette he’d been smoking on the floor and crushed it. “Don’t tell me what to do,” he said to the bin. 

“You can’t do that,” the bin shouted after him. 

“My wife, she said I could have fish,” he said to the man behind the counter. 

“Ah, yes mister…?” 

“Fish,” he stated again. 

“Marion, Mister Fish is here for his erm… fish. 

“Oh yes,” Marion said from ‘out the back’. “Your wife came in yesterday, didn’t she. She told me about you. Please choose whatever you want from the tanks in this area here,” she said indicating like a weather forecaster. “I recommend about twenty five small fish for your size aquarium.” 

“One of these,” he said. A fish with a red strip down its side.

 “I recommend at least four of those,” she said. 

“Why?” he said. 

“They like to be in groups.” 

“Ah, strength in numbers, clever blighters,” he said. “Okay, I’ll take five. Three of these, two of these, four of these, three of these…” and so on until: 

“You’ve got one more to choose,” she said. 

“Difficult,” he said and flanked the bank of tanks like a general inspecting an armoured brigade. Then he saw it, right down at the bottom of the last tank; it was hiding. “This one; the strange fish.” 

“Really, are you sure?” she said. “Wouldn’t you prefer something from higher up? They’re prettier.” 

“No, I like his muddy brown complexion and his stern countenance. He reminds me of me.” 

“Very well,” she said and caught the strange fish and put him in with the others. She’d packed all the fish into plastic bags full of water and put all the bags into a polystyrene box. “Can you carry this home, or shall I deliver it?” 

“I can carry it,” he said. “Good bye, Marion and thank you for the fish. We’ll be very happy.” 

“You’re welcome. If you need any advice-” 

“I know,” he said and smiled. “I’m to ask the strange fish. Goodbye.” 

He left the shop. 

“Oi, I want a word with you,” said the bin. 

“Piss off,” he said. “I’ve got fish to take home.” 

“Such rudery.” 


“Ther yer go my beauties,” he said as he emptied the last few fish into the tank. 

“Oh, they’re lovely,” his wife said and licked his face. 

“Yes. Which one do you think is my favourite?” 

“Oh I don’t know, maybe this one,” she said pointing to an electric blue with a yellow stripe down the side. 

“No, no, no. Oh dear me no. Far too flash. This one, hiding; the strange fish.” 

“Really, dear? Are you sure?” She looked worried. 

“He likes the sunken ship because he’s melancholy.” 

“Very probably,” she said. “What do you want for tea?” 

“Fish fingers.” He sat and watched the fish. 

The inane chitter chatter of the other fish was very distracting. No wonder the strange fish didn’t want to come out. And what was worse, they were cliquey, patrolling the tank in groups with their noses stuck up, looking down on anybody who was different. 

The strange fish was still inside the sunken ship. 

“Yeah, I can probably get an estimate done by Friday,” it was saying. “Won’t be cheap though. I’ll have to order the parts… well it’s an old model innit…Yeah I know mate… oop, gotta go, someone’s outside…never rains but it pours…Okay, mate, yeah…you too, seeya.” As it spoke, bubbles came out of the broken hull of the ship. 

“Yes, mate. Can I help you?” it said and adopted an expression of polite expectation.     

“I thought you were melancholy,” he said. 

“What me? Never,” the strange fish said and looked a little hurt. 

“This is what comes of going on appearances isn’t it. I’m sorry. Is this all right, the tank I mean? Marion said I should ask you if I needed advice.” 

“Lovely,” the strange fish said. “Good temperature, filters working nicely. A diverting selection of tank furniture. Far too good for the chattering classes up there,” he said a nodding his head towards the bright slivers of light at the top of the tank.    

“Oh good. Is there anything you need?”    

“You mean apart from an extra pair of hands and twenty six hours in the day? No, I’m fine.”    

“I’ll just sit here and watch if that’s okay with you?”    


Later, he ate his fish fingers.    

“Are they okay?” his wife said.    

“They use only the whitest, most tender pieces of cod – no grey bits,” he said.    

“It does appear that way,” she said. “What do you want for pudding?” 

“You should eat more fruit,” said the fruit bowl. “A man in your condition. I’ve got a couple of nice apples, or perhaps a clementine.” 

“You would say that,” he said. “You’ve a vested interest.” 

“Have I?” his wife said. 

“Yes. I’ll have cake if you’ve got it.” 

“That won’t count as one of your ‘five-a-day’,” the fruit bowl said. 

“And can you take that fruit bowl out with you? It’s annoying me.” 

“Don’t come crying to me when you have a heart attack,” the fruit bowl shouted as it was carried outside. 


Later that evening he watched the fish again. They were doing the same things they’d been doing before. Swimming around the tank in groups. One was stationary inside the cave.    

“Now what did I come in here for again?” it said. “I’ve got a head like a sieve.”    

“Back again? ” said the strange fish. “I’m just closing for the day.” He was still in the sunken ship.    

“Yes, I’m supposed to watch you lot. It’s part of my therapy – to make me relax. The constant flow and movement is meant to sooth my overwrought mind. That’s what the doctor said.”    

“Is your mind overwrought?” the strange fish said.    

“Wrought:” he said. “Shaped to fit by, or as if by, altering the contours of a pliable mass (as by work or effort). Therefore overwrought means I’ve over-shaped my mind to fit something by altering its pliable mass too much. I don’t think I know what that means really.”    

“Sounds like a load of rubbish to me,” the strange fish said. “How do you ‘over-shape’ something?”    

“Not sure, but that’s what I’ve done. They said so. Anyway, things talk to me. They all have an opinion—I’m getting a bit sick of it.”   

 “Sounds awful.”    

“It is sometimes. Tell me, what are you going to do now and can I watch?”    

“I thought I’d pop up to the surface for a bite to eat—you have fed us haven’t you?”    


“Then I might sleep for while in that clump of weeds.”    

“Okay, let’s go.” 


In bed that night he couldn’t sleep. His cufflinks were bickering about which one was the most beautiful. Then the bedside lamp started up a long and boring discourse on the merits of ecological light bulbs. He went downstairs to get a drink.    

“Couldn’t sleep?” the strange fish said when he passed the aquarium.    

“Too many opinions, too much talking,” he said.    

“Overwrought mind again?”    

“Probably the excitement. They get worse when there’s excitement.”    

“I’ve had an idea,” the strange fish said and told him about it. 


“I’m off out today to see my sister,” said his wife next morning. “I’ll be gone all day. You’re sure you’ll be all right?”    

“Oh yes, I’ve got plenty to do. You go on. Don’t worry about me.”    

When she’d gone, he took the car out of the garage and began to load it up. He couldn’t hear himself think for all the chattering coming from the back.    

“I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before,” he said when he’d reversed the car up to the chute. “It’s the obvious solution.”    

“Whoa, hold on mate,” a man in overalls said. “You don’t want any of this stuff?”    

“No, it’s got far too much to say for itself.”    

“Just stick it down ‘ere will you. I’ll sort through it for you.”     

“Fine, do as you want.”   

 When he returned to the house, it was significantly quieter. “Cat got your tongues?” he said. He went over to the aquarium. “How am I doing?”    

“Great,” the strange fish said. “Keep going.”    

The fruit bowl started crying as he was taking it out to the car.    

“Please don’t,” it said. “I won’t say anything else. I promise.”    

“Too late for that,” he said. “I warned you and warned you, but you kept on with that ‘five-a-day’ bollocks didn’t you?”    

Six trips later, he just about got everything. He had to saw the front door in half to get it into the car. On his way, he passed the pet shop and, just for completeness, he put the jobsworth bin in the car too.    

“I really think this is taking things too far,” it said. “I’m going to make a formal complaint.”    

“You do that,” he said.    

When he returned, the house was quiet if reverberant. It had never had much to say for itself anyway but now, it daren’t.    

“So, I’ve done it and I have to say, I feel much better,” he said to the strange fish.    

“You see, I knew it would work. I just had a flash of inspiration last night when you came down for that drink.”    

He heard his wife come in through the hole where the front door used to be.    

“I’m in the back room with the strange fish,” he shouted. “Do you like it? I’ve been busy all day. It’s minimalist isn’t it.”    

She had somebody with her.    

“Oh I didn’t realise you’d brought a friend back with you,” he said. “You’ll have to sit on the floor. Those chairs just wouldn’t stop bleating.”    

“Hello there,” said the friend. “My, you have worked hard today.” He walked around the aquarium.    

“Yes. It was all the idea of the strange fish. Bloody good one though, don’t you think?”    

“And tell me,” said the friend, “do you feel excited now?”   

“No, I feel fine. Relaxed.”    

“Well, you know what I think we should do?”    


“I think we should go to this place I know; it’s quiet and all the things are really shy so they won’t say anything to you. We can have a chat about what you did today. Do think that’s a good idea?”    

“I don’t know. If you say so. It might be good to talk. I like talking to the strange fish but…” he covered his mouth with his hand, “he’s a bit of a know-all.”    

They got up to go.    

“See you later then,” the strange fish said. “I’m always here. If there’s anything else you need advice with, you know where to find me.”    

“Yeah, okay. See you later. I’m just going off with this gentleman for a chat and perhaps a cup of tea.”    

He saw the wife standing in the hall. She had a tear in her eye and her tail was between her legs.    

“Hello dear,” he said. “I’m just off out for a bit with your friend.”    

She put her paw on his arm as he passed and nuzzled his neck.    

“Might be easier if you got a take-away tonight,” he said. “And don’t forget to feed the fish.”


David Powell has worked as a professional musician, photographer, and motorcycle courier. He lives in Italy.

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