The Quest for the Damsel Fish by Keith Collard
On the bow of the boat, with the cold cloud of the dismal day brushing your back conjuring goose bumped flesh you hold an anchor. For the first time, you can pick this silver anchor up with only one hand and hold it over your head. It resembles the Morning Star, a brutal medieval weapon that bludgeons and impales its victims. Drop it into the dark world beyond the security of your boat--watch the anchor descend.
Watch this silver anchor--this Morning Star--descend away from the boat and you, it becomes swarmed over with darkness. It forms a ******-metallic grin at first as it sinks, then the sinking silver anchor takes its last shape at its last visible glimpse. It is so small now as if it could be hung from a necklace. It is a silver sword.
Peering over the side of the boat, the depths collectively look like the mouth of a Cannibalistic Crab, throwing the shadows of its mandibles over everything that sinks down into it--black mandibles that have joints with the same angle of a Reaper's Scythe.
I am scared looking at this sinking phantasm. I see something from my youth down there in this dark cold Atlantic. I see the silver Morning Star again, now in golden armor. I remember a magnificent kingdom, in a saltwater fish tank I had once and never had again. A tropical paradise that I see again as I stare down into the depths. This fish tank was so beautiful with the most beautiful inhabitants who I miss. Before I could lift the silver anchor--the Morning Star--over my head with only one hand, turning gold in that morning sun-- I was a boy who sat indian style, cross legged--peering into this brilliant spectacle of light I thought awesome. I thought all the darkness of home and the world was kept at bay by this kingdom of light...
Chapter 1 Begins the Story
The Grey Skies of Mass is the Name of This Chapter.
Air, in bubbles--it was a world beauty of darkness revealed in slashes of light from dashing fluorescent bulbs overhead this fish tank.
Silver swords of fluorescent energy daring to the bottom, every slash revealing every color of the zodiac--from the Gold of Scorpio to the purple of Libra combining into the jade of the Gemini.
In the center, like a dark Stonehenge were rocks. The exterior rocks had tropical colors like that of cotton candy, but the interior shadows of the rocks that was the Stonehenge, did not possess one photon of light. The silver messengers of the florescent energy from above would tire and die at their base. The shadows of the Stonehenge rocks would stand over them as they died.
When the boy named Sake climbed the rickety wood stairs of the house, he did so in fear of making noise, as if to not wake each step.
Until he could see the glowing aura of his fish tank then he would start down that eerie hall, With pictures of ghosts and ghosts of pictures staring down at him as he walked down that rickety hallway of this towering old colonial home. He hurried to the glowing tank to escape the black and white gazing picture frames.
The faint gurgling, bubbling of the saltwater tank became stronger in his ear, and that sound guided him from the last haunt of the hallway-- the empty room that was perpendicular to his room. He only looked to his bright tank as soon as he entered the hallway from the creaky wooden steps. Then he proceeded to sit in front of this great tropical fish tank in Indian style with his legs folded over one another as children so often would sit.
The sun was setting. The reflections from the tank were beginning to send ripples down the dark walls. Increasing wave after wave reflecting down his dark walls. He thought they to be seagulls flapping into the darkness until they were overcome as he was listening to the bubbling water of his tank.
" Hello my fish, hello Angel, hello Tang, hello Hoomah, hello Clown and hello Damsel … and hello to you Crab...even though I do not like you," he said in half jest not looking at the crab in the entrance of the rocks. The rocks were the color of cotton candy, but the interior shadows did not possess a photon of luminescence. All other shadows not caused by the rocks--but by bright swaying ornament--were like the glaze on a candy apple--dark but delicious. Besides the crab's layer in the rock jumble at the center of the tank which was a Stonehenge within a Stonehenge--the tank was a world of bright inviting light.
The crab was in its routine, motionless in the entrance to his foyer, with his scythe-like claws in the air, in expectation of catching one of the bright fish someday. For that reason the boy tried to remove the crab in the past, but even though the boy was fast with his hand, the optical illusion of the tank would always send his hand where the crab no longer was. He did not know how to use two hands to rid the crab in the future by trapping and destroying the Cannibal Crab ; his father, on a weekend visit, gave the Crab to the boy to put into the bright world of the saltwater tank, which Sake quickly regretted. His father promised him that the Crab would not be able to catch any of the fish he said " ...***** only eat anything that has fallen to the bottom or each other..."
A scream from the living room downstairs ran up the rickety wood and down the long hall and startled the boy. His mother sent her shrieks out to grab the boy, allowing her to not have to waste any time nor calorie on her son; for she would tire from the stairs, but her screams would not, allowing her to stay curled up on the couch. If she was not screaming for Sake, she was talking as loud as screams on the phone with her girlfriends. The decibels from her laugh was torture for all in the silent house. A haughty laugh in a gossipy conversation, that overpowered the sound of the bright tropical fish tank in Sake's room that was above and far opposite her in the living room.
" Sake you have to get a paper-route to pay for the tank, the electricity bill is outrageous," she said while not taking her eyes off the TV and her legs curled up beside her. He would glad fully get a paper-route even if it was for a made up reason. He turned to go, and looked back at his mother, and a shudder ran through him with a new thought: someday her appearance will match her voice.
Upon reaching his tank, Hoomah was trying to get his attention as always. Taking up pebbles in his big pouty pursed lips and spitting them out of his lips like a weak musket. The Hoomah was a very silly fish, it looked like one of Sake’s aunts, with too much make up on, slightly overweight, and hovering on two little fins that looked incapable of keeping it afloat, but they did. The fins reminded him of the legs of his aunt--skinny under not so skinny.’
The Tang was doing his usual aquanautics , darting and sailing was his trick. He was fast, the fastest with his bright yellow triangular sail cutting the water. Next was the aggressive Clown fish, the boy thought she was always aggresive because she didn't have an anemone to sleep on. The Clown was strong and sleek with an orange jaw and body that was built like a tigress.
Sake thought something tragic about the body if the orange Clown and the three silver traces that clawed her body as decoration -they reminded him of the incandescent orange glow of a street lamp being viewed through the rainy back windshield of a car. The Clown fish was a distraction that craved attention.
The Clown would chase around some of the other fish and jump out of the water to catch the boy's eye.
Next is the Queen Angel fish, she is the queen of the tank, she sits in back all alone, waving like a marvelous banner, iridescent purple and golden jade. Her forehead slopes back in a French braid style that streams over her back like a kings standard waving before battle, but her standard is of a house of beauty, and that of royal purple.
Lastly is the Damsel Fish, the smallest and most vulnerable in the tank. She has royal purple also, rivaling the queen. Her eyes are lashed but not lidded like the Hoomah. Her eyes are elliptical, and perhaps the most human, or in the boy’s opinion, she is the most lady like, the Hoomah and the Queen Angel come to her defence if she is chased around by the Clown. Her eyes penetrate the boys, to the point of him looking away.
Before the tank, in its place in the corner was a painting, an oil painting of another type of Clown donning a hat with orange partial make-up on his face (only around eyes nose and mouth there was ghost white paint) and it had two tears coming down from its right eye. The Clown painting was given to him by his mother, it seems he could not be rid of them, but Sake at first was taken in by the brightness of the Clown, and the smooth salacious wet look of the painting. it looked dripping, or submerged, like another alternate reality. The wet surreal glaze of the painting seemed a portal, especially the orange glow of the Clown's skin without make-up. . If he tried to remember of times before the Clown painting that preceded the Clown fish, he thought of the orange saffron twilight of sunset, and watching it from the high window from his room in the towering house. How that light changed everything that it touched, from the tree tops and the clouds, to even the dark hallway leading up to his room. The painting and the Clown fish did not feel the same as those distant memories of sunset, especially the summer sunset when his mother would put him to bed long before the sun had set.
Sake did not voice opposition to the Clown.
Then he was once again trapped by the Clown.
The boy was extremely afraid of this painting that replaced the sunsets , being confined alone with it by all those early bedtimes.
Sake once asked his mother if he could take it down, whereas she said " No." That clown would follow him into his dreams, always he would be down the hill from the tall house on the hill, trying to walk back to the house, but to walk away or run in a dream was like walking underwater or in black space, and he would make no distance as the ground opened up and the clown came out of the ground hugging him with the pryless grip of eight arms. He would then wake up amid screams and a tearful hatted clown staring somberly down at him from the wall where it was hung. Night made him fear the Clown painting more; that ghost white make-up decorating around the eyes and mouth seeming to form another painting in entirety. He could only look at the painting after a while when the lights were on, and the wet looking painting was mostly orange from the skin, neck, and forearms of the hat wearing clown. But the painting is gone now, and the magnificent light display of the tank is there now.
Sake pulled out the fish food, all the fish bestirred in anticipation of being fed. The only time they would all come together; and that was to mumble the bits of falling flakes: a chomp from the Clown, a pucker from the Hoomah, the fast mumble of the Tang, and the dainty chew of the Damsel. The Queen Angelfish would stay near the bottom, and kiss a flake over and over. She would not deign herself to go into a friendly frenzy like the other fish; she stayed calm, yet alluring like a flag dancing rhythmically in the breeze, but never repeating the same move as the wind never repeats the same breeze. She is the only fish to change colors. When the grey skies of Mass emit through every portal in the house at the height of its bleakness, her colors would turn more fantastic, perhaps why she is queen.
He put his finger in the top of the watery world; the warmth was felt all the way up his arm. After feeding, his favorite thing to do was to trace his finger on the top of the warm water and have the Damsel follow it. She loved it, it was her only time to dance, for the Clown would descend down in somewhat fear ( or annoyance) of the boys finger, and the Damsel and he would dance. The boy, thought that extraordinary.
Sake bedded down that night, to his usual watery world of his room. The reflective waves running down the walls like seagulls of light, with the rhythmic gurgling sound and it's occasional splash of the Clown, or the Hoomah swooping into the pebbly bottom to scoop up some pebbles for spitting making the sound "ccchhhhh" --cachinging like a distant underwater register. The tank’s nocturne sound was therapeutic to the boy.
Among waking up, and being greeted by his sparkling treasure tank--that was always of the faintest light in the morning due to the grey skies of Mass coming through every portal to lessen the tropical spectrum-- the boy would render his salutations " Good morning my Hoomah.....good morning Tang, my Damsel, and your majesty Queen Angel.....and so forth. Until the scream would come to get him, and he would walk briskly past the empty room and the looming family pictures of strangers. His mother put him to work that day, to "pay for the fish tank" but really to buy her a new cocktail dress for her nightly forays. The boy did not care, the tank was his sun, emitting through the bleak skies of Mass, and even if the tank was reduced to a haze by the overcast of his life, it only added a log to the fire that was the tropical world at night, in turn making him welcome the dismal day.
On a day, when the overcast was so thick, he felt he could not picture his rectangular orb waiting for him at night. He had trouble remembering what houses to deliver the paper. He delivered to the same house three times. Newspapers seemed to disappear in his hands, due to their color relation to the sky. Leaves were falling from the trees—butterfly like—he went to catch one, he missed--a first. For Sake could walk through dense thorned brambles and avoid every barb, as a knight in combat or someone’s whose heart felt the painful sting of the barb before. He would stand under a tree in late fall, and roll around to avoid every falling leaf, and pierce them to the ground deftly with a stick fashioned as a sword. He could slither between snow flakes, almost like a fish nimbly avoiding small flakes.
After he finished his paper-route , he went to his usual spot under an oak tree to fence with falling leaves. As the other boys walked by and poked fun he would stall his imagination, and look to the brown landscape of the dry fall. The crisp brown leaves of the trees were sword shapes to him. He held the battle ax shape of the oak leaf over his eye held up by the stick it was pierced through, and spied the woodline through the sinus of the oak leaf lobe. The brown white speckled scenery, were all trying to hide behind eachother by blending in bleakfully; he pretended the leaf was Hector’s helmet from the Illiad—donned over his eyes.
“ Whatchya doing Sake?” asked a young girl named Summer. Sake only mumbled something nervously and stood there. And a pretty Summer passed on after Sake once again denied himself of her pretty company. He looked to the woodline again, a mist was now concealing the tall apical trees. It now looked like the brown woodland was not trying to retreat behind eachother in fall concealment, but trying to emerge forth out of the greyness to say "save us."
“ Damgf” he uttered, and could not even grasp a word correctly. His head lifted to the sky repeatedly, there was no orb, and the shadows were looming larger than ever; fractioned shadows from tree branches were forming scythes all over the ground.
He entered the large shadow that was his front door, into the house that rose high into the sky, with the simplicity of Stonehenge. He climbed the rickety petrified stairs and went down the hall. Grey light had spotlighted every frame on the wall. He looked into the empty room, nothingness, then his room, the tank seemed at its faintest, and it was nearing twilight. He walked past the tank to look out the w