Flounder by Michael J. Rosenbaum


I wonder if fish ever blink. I wonder other things as well.

     It’s one of those reoccurring questions that cleave into my mind and once there, move around like a rabbit chased by a hound, changing direction in unpredictable ways. It starts with an image of a fish. Not a huge fish: a salmon for instance, about a foot long. And it’s never in the water, but on an old and bowed deck, the kind that you picture children running off years ago, cannonballing into the blue/green malleableness. It’s still alive, the fish, maybe just dropped out of a bucket or a basket. I can see the eyes and they seem dead and disconnected from the movement of its thrashing tail. The scales and mouth look cold but not as bitter as the eyes. It flops and I think about the word flounder. It makes a lot of movements; quick, frantic movements that reinforce history and expectation while bypassing desire and judgment. And though I can always see the eyes, I don’t know if the salmon really sees me, or if I’m just in front of it: the fully matured fish like a newborn baby with eyes and a neck but also a rolling head and an abstract point of view.

     Then I start wondering how they sleep. I think about how I couldn’t sleep if I couldn’t close my eyes. Imagine that. You’re lying in bed at night. You’re tired, you yearn for unconsciousness. But you can’t close your eyes. Not in any impacting way. You would just lie there, staring at the ceiling with groggy focus. Wanting sleep, wanting respite. But how could you? How could you ever? It sounds like a bad horror film made by a once famous director.

     Maybe they sleep by focusing on one thing. Just one thing and nothing else. I think that’s what I’d do. I’d stare at something until I didn’t know what I thought it was, until it could be anything—a map, a planet. And I’d never look away and I’d try not to blink.
     Why wouldn’t something have eyelids? Who could ever stand it? As I think about this my chest tightens and I start to lean forward and I want to scream, to run, but my chest is a vacuum and I can’t move and I can’t speak and I can’t close my eyes and everything seems so dangerous.

***

     My old man used to tell me the same stories over and over. I don’t mean that he’d tell me a story and then tell it again right away. It was more over the course of time, as if they were on a set rotation. Like a revolving Warholian record player. When he got to the end, he’d just put the needle back to the beginning and let it spin. And it’s not just him. I’ve seen a lot of people who, late in their lives, tend to repeat the same stories. I always think they must have more stories, stories people haven’t heard yet. But these are the ones they tell.

–––––––––––
Michael J. Rosenbaum is an MFA student in Fiction at Texas State University. His work has appeared in The Rio Grande Review and EveryDayPoets.com and is forthcoming on the literary website ReadShortFiction.com.