Ideas from Pattib: Mountain, string, goldfish bowl
‘Fish’ – by Ro
Do you ever feel exposed and examined? Like all the world’s a stage, but you’re doing a solo act?
I live in a goldfish bowl. A bulbous glass bowl, the opening narrow. If you look at a goldfish in one of those bowls, it’s magnified right? Is it really though, or am I just imagining a scene from an animated film? Anyway, everywhere I go it’s like people are on the outside looking in and I have this bubble around me, an unseen force keeping them a safe distance away. I’ll tell you about a time at Starbucks.
All I wanted was a mocha. A hush fell when I entered and I imagined my glass shield flying out of my skin to form my protective barrier, the air around me bending, pushing everyone back just a bit. Jazzy music reached me and I had the urge to turn around and do a little dance for my gawkers. After ordering I sidestepped to wait, my forcefield bulging outward. Stay away, the air breathed. Leave her alone. I had planned on staying to read but had instantly changed my mind.
The tapping began. Tap tap, tap tap. Like a child trying to get the fish to acknowledge her. It always happened that way, the hush, people backing away and then one courageous onlooker gets an idea to tap on the glass and I must look at them, imagining my eyes wide and blinking. Normally I would say things like, ‘no comment’ or ‘just running in quickly’ but this time was different.
“Ma’am,” came a quiet greeting in a mild accent I could not place.
Have you ever noticed how one little word said in just the right way can bring a feeling of calm amid chaos? I turned my head as the gurgling of the coffee machines mimicked the jumbled thoughts in my mind. A cowboy stood there leaning against the counter, waiting for is beverage. A real cowboy wearing a hat, tight jeans and boots. He had a kindness in his eyes as he gazed at me, something I was not accustomed to.
“Hello,” I said timidly. Fish are not accustomed to speaking with the peepers.
“Hot out,” the man said, drumming his fingers on the counter.
“Yes,” I said, forgetting how to make small talk. I hadn’t done much of that since before.
“Why is it then, that I always order a hot drink?” the man asked, looking at me as though I knew the answer. I couldn’t help but giggle. I was aware that the hush had escalated to frantic whispers.
“Let me guess, iced mocha?” the man asked.
“How’d you know?”
“Heard you order,” he said, his eyes twinkling. Then he did the unthinkable; he held out his hand, “Tom.”
I took his hand, sandpaper skin against my palm. He squeezed with just the right amount of pressure.
“Jill,” I said.
“Pleasure,” Tom said, tipping his hat. I was stunned mute. I stared at him stupidly, inwardly laughing that now he was in the fishbowl and I was on the outside! This small exchange made me feel almost normal. We received our coffee and I wanted to beg him not to leave. I didn’t need to; he did not leave.
“Want to walk with me?” Tom asked, his kind drawl like comforting music.
“Sure,” I said unable to suppress my smile. Tom must not know who I was. He couldn’t know the scandal this would cause. Probably there were already pictures of us from the photogs with their zoom lenses across the street. Coffee in hand, we turned to face our audience and Tom offered his arm. I laced mine through it as though he were a gentleman and I a lady. Maybe that was actually true. We walked through the whispers and out into the bright sunshine, Tom angling us right. “Where to?” I asked.
“Dunno, don’t you ever just walk? I prefer a mountain, but a city street will have to do.”
We walked in silence for a minute then laughed as we passed another Starbucks, coffee smells from inside greeting those from their siblings in our hands. I was uncommonly happy.
“I’m on your side,” Tom suddenly said and I felt my body stiffen. He continued, “I made a decision back there to engage you, because I admire you.”
I said nothing. He knew me. He’d acted as though he didn’t but he did. I was back in the fishbowl only this time he was plunging his hand in, stirring the water. I dislodged my arm from his, trying not to look disgruntled for the cameras I knew were there just out of sight.
“Do you ever feel like your life is dangling from a string and just when you get some hope that the string won’t break, just when someone is kind they cut that string with a knife?” I asked, the words tumbling out of me, tears threatening.
“I do,” Tom said plainly, not at all phased by my reactive outburst. “That was just unlovely at Starbucks; crowds are the worst.”
We walked, my mocha gone, The final vestiges of it’s bitter sweetness still lingering as my mouth became dry. I glanced at Tom sideways as we walked and something sparked in my memory, some long forgotten photo and headline, the silhouette of a cowboy hat and it clicked! I knew him too, from long ago, from before, and I realized he had lived in the goldfish bowl as well.
“Ah,” I sighed knowingly, slipping my arm back through his.
“Uh huh,” he murmured, tossing his empty cup into a trashcan as we passed.
We walked on purposefully. Tom would be back in the fishbowl now that he had been seen with me but he didn’t seem to care.
I still live in the goldfish bowl, but now I get to frolic around with Tom. Somehow the tapping isn’t as annoying when there is another to share it with…