By Simon Stegall
Since the tide had receded he was walking on the wet part of the beach. It was cool on his feet, and he smiled because it was a good omen. He was walking where water had walked.
He did not look up the bluffs at the city where the lamps were now being lit, where the horses and people were stamping and yelling and the theaters were swelling and his name was being passed along from lip to lip. He was not thinking about his play or its debut performance. He was listening to the ocean, which was like a giant breathing, and he inhaled deep and marine.
On the beach was a dying fish. He stopped in front of it and looked down. It was trembling and pumping its gills, straining to return to the sea. He watched the gills fan out and collapse. They reminded him of bellows. Bellows stoking the fire. Bellows pumping nothing. There’s a poem there. Bellows stoking… stoking… rutilance. What is a fish on a beach like? Love? Unrequited love. Gills fanning like fingers with no hand to hold. A trillion fish breath easy below while this one breached the surface. What is that like? Fish is closer to the stars now. The water has been rescinded. The breathable film is gone. Curtain up. Fish can see clearly now. The sight of the stars leaves Fish breathless. Ha ha. Fish is breathless and his fingers fan out into nothing. Air is like nothingness to Fish, nothing to move against or breathe, paralyzed in non-space, in unspace, crowded by stars that leave you breathless. Breathless. Fingers fanning. What else… rutilant stars. Bellows… stars do not need bellows to glow. That’s a good line. So the gills begin as fingers fanning out to be held… and the water caressed them, filling the spaces, she filled the spaces… yes, she’s the water… but the tide pulls her back… pulls her? No, she turns away with the tide. As the tide. So she turns away as the tide, and we are on the beach under the stars, and clasping fingers against nothing. So now gills are bellows… keeping the ruddy coal inside alive, but the coal is fading as the bellows slow… and the fish notes sadly that… that the rutilant stars need no bellows to burn. Then it dies. Yes. But from the perspective of the fish? Or does a poet see it. Probably from the fish’s perspective, so it can sadly note the rutilant stars. That’s a good ending. But back to the start… unrequited love, fish out of water… start with the pumping gills, that’s a good image.
The fish on the beach stopped heaving and died, but he did not see it. He was already further along the beach, murmuring lines to himself. He turned away from the sea and took the path that led up the bluffs to the city. The breaking roar of noise from the streets meant the play was over, and the nobles, governors, secretaries, poets, journalists, mayors, critics, rich daughters, musicians and playwrights were leaving the theater, trying out his lines on their lips, tasting their sweetness, sharing the tart sounds, filling the air with the vibrations of his words- but the most vibrant sound was the sound of his name being passed along from lip to lip. He crested the bluffs and reentered the light of the city, and in the darkness at the sea the tide came in and washed his footprints away.
* * *
Simon Stegall is a young writer in the American Midwest. He spends his days teaching English and Latin to unwilling teenagers and his nights writing ridiculous stories, which are subsequently published in his fever dreams.