Updated: Mar 18
Ophelia by John Everett Millais (1851–52)
Oil on canvas
I can’t remember what home looks like anymore. When I think of my pod, their faces are blurred. My memories are vacant or wandering away. I’m not quite sure anymore. I wonder if you have plucked them from my head. I wonder if you keep all precious memories in jars or if you just keep mine.
All I see are gaunt faces, pressing up at the glass, looking inside. You all gaze with such wonder when you behold me. Your eyes glimmer beneath the lamp light. Your jaws hang agape and blunt teeth catch the light. I wonder, if I am so beautiful, why will you not set me free?
Before the glass and the filter on the edge of the tank, I recall watching the world from behind a rock - waiting for the breakfast minnows to gather. My fingernails were toothpicks and I’d snatch them up as morning bites. I’d go for the bigger fishes later. The Rudds. The Rudds with large plump bellies and eyeballs like jellies. Though I’ve learned your sort of fishing is different to mine. Instead of fingernails, you use nets, lines, and hooks. There is still a hook left inside one of my fins, lodged firmly and unwilling to sever from my skin. Your metal is a part of me.
This tank, this tomb, is small. There is no room to swim. I lay on the tiles and try to pretend it is the soft mud and stone of the riverbed. I imagine shy weeds brushing my arms as currents rush by. I miss the river currents and the taste of fresh Rudd lining my teeth. I miss using their bones to pluck rogue scales from between my pointed teeth. I miss fishing myself, because now I simply catch the dead ones you throw to me. There is very little challenge in that. They descend, blood gushing from their mouths, limp and broken. When they land between my fingers, I watch them, counting the remaining bones inside. One bone. Two bone. Three bone. I’m scared if I accept the fish you feed me, you will think I am yours forever, but my face is becoming gaunt. I see it in the reflection. I look like one of you.
I’ve noticed, in these meetings of ours, one of the differences between you and I is our teeth. Yours are blunt and white, fit only for nibbling on weeds and shrubs, whereas mine are blades. Our skin holds no resemblance either. Mine is armour. Scales piled one on top the other.
Thick and sturdy. Yours would only take a slight cut in the right place to drain you of your blood. Stop that heart beating. Beating. Beating. But then I’d die here. I’d never see the river again. I’d rot in this tank, like the fishes you feed me. Someone else would count my bones. One bone. Two bone. Three bone.
Each morning, you take me to the table. The world beyond the water is a vacuum. My gills contract. I reach for them. Claw at them. Hold them. My insides pulse and I wonder if the pain will ever end. You look down at me, smiling with those teeth of yours – the blunt ones. I’ve realised the more you bring me from the water, the easier it is to breathe. You’ve realised this too. That is why your smile grows – teeth jumbled in your gums. You are animal, just like me. I wonder if I am turning human. I wonder if that is what you always wanted – for me to sprout legs and walk and breathe amongst you all. You stroke my head with your fingertips. They are dry and coarse with labyrinth lines weaving patterns. Your words are whispers, caressing my cheeks in breaths in and out. You tell me I am your greatest discovery, and I decide that you’ve not seen much of the world and all the beauty it harbours. You are a spec and our rivers and oceans are infinite. They will eat you alive.
The strap you use to hold me down - you call it leather. Sweet leather with the musky smell. I slide my tongue across it when I am hungry. It smells like meat but tastes rotten. I need Rudd. Or Human. Something with bones that crack and splinter. Something that struggles.
The first time you took me to the table, I fought back, flailing and slithering, but the leather held me down. I don’t know how long it’s been, but I’ve stopped fighting. I am still, like a dead thing, trying to breathe in your human air.
You told me I was ready for what you’d planned next – we’re going to change the world – that is what you keep saying. You put something inside of me and told me it might grow. You said I would be a mother, only I don’t know what mother means. I wonder if this is how you treat the women your kind. I wonder if you hunt them the way you hunt us. I wonder if you do with them what you like. Are they just bodies like we are?
When I return to the water, I think I will take you with me. I will bury you in the riverbed’s fauna and wait for you to ferment in nature’s embrace. I wonder if you will taste like splendour or like carcass. I hope, after all we’ve been through together, your aftertaste will complement the first bite of Rudd I take.
In my arms, I will make sure you die. Nature will endure without us and all of your clever ideas will die. The world will turn. Our bones will be counted. One bone. Two bone. Three bone. And one day, all traces of us will return to the water.
Not long now. This tank can’t keep me forever. It’s such a pity we’ve made such monsters of ourselves. We will make it to the river. Hooking a line through your big toe, I will carry you around with me. Drifting behind, you will meet my friends and I will whisper that you are my greatest discovery – as though this great bond we share is beautiful.
Words by Lucy Rose
Image: Tate Britain, London
Lucy Rose is a writer/Director of Gothic Horror Cinema & Literary Fiction
For more information:
Link here to Lucy's awarding winning short film, :
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