23 November 2005

Handwriting on the wall

a story

The silly school of glow-in-the-dark fish on the ceiling of the downstairs bedroom had seemed benign, if embarassing, when the couple purchased their first house. It's on my list, Vi had told herself early on, one day I'll get rid of those. But she slept upstairs with her husband, so it was easy to forget, and for nearly four years the fish circled in their upside-down pool and shone in the dark above the heads of a steady trickle of live-ins. Everyone mentioned them without affection over breakfast—Xerxes, who had tried to kill himself and came to live there for a while after being released from the psych ward; petite Yolanda, who was frantic to escape her stalker ex-boyfriend; and Zip, who was post-degree, pre-job, and no-money. Occasional guests also watched those fish on restless nights when an unforgiving futon was still the only available sleeping surface in the basement. Once, Karen from Colorado sardined her burstingly pregnant self with her brood of three into the small bedroom, and they all fell fast asleep, except for one tiny pajama-ed daughter, Lula, who cried in the unfamiliar dark. Vi slipped into the room and lay down beside the weeping child, letting her snuggle in close, then pointed out the various sorts of fish swimming overhead and gave them names. They were bright and distinct and that ought to have made them better than the formless dark.

Last November Vi and Sascha moved into the basement bedroom to make room for Grandma Bellow. Now I've really got to get rid of those fish, Vi told herself, it's plain stupid just leaving them there. Eight months passed and the

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