Rachel Evangeline Chiong

Short Story - DEAD FISH


(2016) / Published in “the spectatorial : Volume vII”

Who knew space was like being underwater? I stretched my hand out, feeling its atoms rush between my fingers, cool and slippery.

It was big and edge-less, surrounding me in its inky waves. The stars pulsed like jellyfish in the distance, my skin glowing with every one of their radiant heartbeats.

Who knew dead things floated in space?

Skeletons surrounded me, bones boasting strength, and polished with time. I sat between the ribs of a humpback whale, curved like the hull of a ship, driving me into the endless galaxy ocean.

Floating above and below me, impressive skeletons cutting purposefully through the galactic tide. Barracudas, like glinting swords, met our destination with determination. Eels weaved between the skeletons of killer whales and great white sharks. A seahorse wrapped its bony tail around my finger, as its sharp spine glinted against the starlight.

The stars’ ombre rays streamed from all directions. Aurora borealis seaweed dipped into our universal pool like paintbrushes, coloring the sharp whites of our procession with vibrant jades and purples. I leaned against the curve of the whale’s rib, watching a school of turtles, just shells now, whir through space like fine disks. Manta rays in their concave forms, whipped their pointed tails back and forth as they dived farther ahead, joining the rest of the creatures, endowed in their white, angelic bodies.

It was like sitting in the middle of an abandoned city, their structures proudly echoing the years of life that had run its course.Their souls were invisible, but I felt them moving against me, circling every bend of my body. Who knew between air and water, space would feel the most alive? I patted the surface of the whale’s bone beneath me, knowing it was fulfilling its final duty.

Next to my wrist, a tiny fish, its many comb-like bones shimmering, swam up to me. Like the first star of an evening, a memory lit up softly somewhere inside me. I remembered feeding this fish when I was little, how I stared into its tank and wished I could escape the deafening loneliness of my room to swim through life aimlessly. I remember loving it as if it could love me back.

My bloated lungs, which were filled with water from Earth, began to shrivel. The clumsy incisions on my arm, scratched like I had been counting down the days until someone could save me from my lonely island, began to crumple. I felt space slowly grasp every corner of my body, as if it were undressing me.

My palms reopened where they’d bled when I’d cut myself on the railing of the bridge. With every blink my eyelids disappeared, the brightness before us almost unbearable, but I couldn’t look away anymore. It didn’t hurt. My fish swam down my arms until it was between my shoulders, as if it would guide me.

“Have you come back to me,” I said. I remembered burying it on a beach before high-tide. “Or have I come back to you?”