Like A Fish

You know I’m here, don’t you, Nanette?  You know which one is me. Just a dim, green glow in the darkness; just the faintest ripple and plop. Shadows gliding, vague forms sliding. And you know which one is me.

They’ve turned out the lights and you’ve turned your head away from me. But you know I’m still here. And you know there’s nobody you can tell, nobody who will believe you. That’s the trouble with this place. It’s like one of those foreign art movies where you can’t tell the truth from the dreams and all of the dreams are nightmares, even when you’re awake.  Nobody believes anybody in here, because nobody knows the truth, and what, after, all is the truth?

Well, you and I know something of the truth, don’t we, Nanette? It all started out so beautifully, who would have thought it would end like this?

Paradise, you called it that first night at the hotel – or to be precise, a tropical paradise. You were so sweet, so pretty, with your brand new blonde streaks and your solarium tan and your travel brochure clichés. You and your girlfriend had saved all year for your South Sea holiday. Then Cherie-Lynne dumped you for Honolulu with Brett and there you were, on an island holiday all by yourself.

We couldn’t help noticing you there on the terrace. The pineapple earrings were lovely, and so was the candy pink mini dress. Both Mike and I thought the frangipani in your hair was such an original touch. I could say that we thought you were a dear little thing; but ‘little’ isn’t quite you, is it?  No, no, my dear, I’m not saying you’re fat, you’re just a sturdy, well-built girl. Asking you to join us for dinner, explaining the cocktail menu to you, well, it was our pleasure. We loved doing things like that.

Later, after I’d gone to our room and you danced on the terrace with Mike, I watched from the window. It was such a romantic sight. With the music and the margaritas floating around in your head, not to mention his YSL aftershave in your nostrils and his lips brushing your cheek, no wonder you seemed to be floating (my turn for clichés now) and the fact that he was my husband was neither here nor there.

Quite understandably, there was no losing you after that. All those other lovely young people on the beach for you to meet, but you were always, always with us. I was tempted at times to tell you that those teeny bikinis of yours were just a tad passé, but that might have hurt your feelings.  Besides, Mike was enjoying them so much. As for what went on, or came off, behind that beach umbrella while I was having my swim…I could say it was anybody’s guess. But I wasn’t guessing. I knew.

I suppose some women might have handled it differently, made sure that the two of you were never alone together. But why should I give up my swimming when it meant so much to me?

“Livvie swims like a fish!” People had been saying that since I was ten years old and it was quite true. Unlike you, my dear, I’ve always been petite and always had a certain quicksilver quality — light and graceful, full of life, dancing and darting about. And when I was in the water I was in my element. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, you must have seen it yourself. Swimming to me was almost a spiritual experience and I had to do it every day, like some people meditate. No, I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice that, not for anything.

So I let you pair go for your walks and come back with grass stains all over you and sand in your hair, and it was me who actually suggested that Mike take you out on the yacht. Coming back at three a.m was a little bit over the top, but if, as you said, you were completely becalmed, who was I to argue?

Even when I was around, you still couldn’t keep it to yourself. Those yellowy-green, long-lashed eyes of yours that reminded me of a sheep, always gazing at him across the table, following him across the room; it was all so frightfully tedious for me, but I suppose it was amusing for him.

And now I have a confession to make. I thought I had you all worked out, but I completely underestimated you. I thought I knew what would happen and exactly what you would do. There’d be some kind of passionate, tearful confrontation with Mike, or possibly even with me. Your undying love would be declared, the word ‘divorce’ would be bandied around and Mike and I would have to move on just to get you out of our hair. Ho hum, boring.

Never in a million years would I have guessed what you had in mind. The morning you suggested that you and I go snorkelling, I thought it rather odd. You and I, not you and my husband, took a little figuring out, especially when you chose such a remote and secluded beach. But then I realised that, of course, it was time for us to have our talk. You wanted that woman-to-woman chat where you told me about you and Mike and suggested that if I really cared for him, I should hand him over to you. At least that’s what I thought.

“But Livvie swam like a fish!” Do you remember them saying that? “How could she possibly have drowned when she could swim like a fish?”  Well, it’s quite easy when your legs are grabbed from behind, your head is shoved under and a hundred and fifty solid pounds are pinning you down on the reef!

“She must have dived and hit her head.” That was Mike’s offering. And the mess I was in when they found me certainly bore that out. Did you know that you were grinding my face into the coral, or was that an accident? Anyway, it matters not, because the coroner agreed with Mike. And you were so very convincing, especially when you cried and said that if you hadn’t left me while you went to collect shells, you might have been able to save my life. Accidental death by drowning. Me?? I was never more insulted in my life, or after it, come to that.

For you it almost worked perfectly, except for one little point. You didn’t know my husband any better than I knew you. If we’d had our little chat, Nanette, as I’d rather hoped we would, I could have explained how Mike and I liked to spend our holidays. I would enjoy my swimming, my shopping, the gym. I played tennis, ran on the beach, or simply lay and worked on my tan. Mike’s idea of enjoyment was to have an affair.

Some men, particularly the good-looking ones, need their occasional fling. For them, the lovesick gaze on a silly young face is the same as checking the mirror for reassurance that they’re not really middle-aged.

So we had our little understanding, Mike and I, although you couldn’t have known. I can honestly say I’m sorry that you found out the way you did.

All you tried to tell him was that now the two of you were free to love each other forever.

Him telling you where to go the way he did was not very polite and the language he used to get his message across left quite a lot to be desired. Throwing that bottle at you probably wasn’t strictly necessary either. But he was drinking very heavily at the time and I believe he was genuinely upset. Did you really think he’d be pleased that I was dead? (Incidentally, he has since been much comforted by an airline stewardess.  I understand they are on their honeymoon as we speak).

Well, this is no honeymoon for us, is it, my dear — not in a place like this? But I must say that they’ve done a superb job on the décor, all these lovely pastels and Monet prints. And you might be allowed to leave one day, although I wouldn’t count on that being anytime soon. When you snap, you certainly snap in a most spectacular way. The screaming hysteria or the glassy-eyed trance, I’m not sure which I like best. Do you still see my blood in the water? Do you still hear those grotesque gurgling moans I made? Can you still feel me threshing under your hands, frantically fighting for life? Can you still see my body rolling around in the swell? Does my poor, battered face keep haunting you? Do my dead eyes stare at you?

You’ve tried to tell them, if only they’d understand. But they can’t tell the truth from the nightmares. Only you and I can do that.

I promise I’ll never leave you…. I’ll always be here, Nanette. 

Memo to day staff from Sister Brady: Trouble with Nanette Callaghan just after 3am. She had some kind of hysterical episode and poured a bottle of eau de Cologne into the aquarium. Killed all the fish, except one!

ANN MARTIN lives in rural Tasmania with three dogs and a jazz musician. As Carol Ann Martin, she writes for children and has been published by Omnibus/Scholastic, Penguin Australia and Jet Black Publishing. When not writing juvenile fiction and picture books, Ann enjoys forays into the world of adult fiction, especially short stories and flash fiction.