Death Fish by Harry Leeds

Some people were the first in their families to go to college. She would be the first to die of cancer. Or of fish. I should stress at this time she wasn’t aware if it was a fish or cancer.

She told her Italian teacher she would now value her life more. Her Italian teacher was also a behavioral psychologist. That happens, sometimes, with immigrants. They end up teaching their native languages because their profession is not in demand wherever they end up. Here in Slovenia, it seemed like there was a behavioral psychologist on every street corner. Her Italian teacher said valuing life was just something terminally ill people said to people for whom a terminally ill person was only a reminder of their own mortality, and that this tension explained much of mass culture’s response to death.

But this part of the lesson had been in Italian and she wasn’t sure she got it all.

The biopsy showed it was a freshwater bream. Freshwater bream weren’t even indigenous to these parts. Not that she knew anything about identifying wildlife, aquatic fauna—a lifelong regret. She ran her finger along the fish-shaped lump on the x-ray the way a fisherman runs a knife along the spine to fillet his or her catch.

The fish was surgically removed and she brought it to the lake to throw back. The lake was a three and a half hour drive and there wasn’t a hot dog stand and she had to borrow a friend’s car. She tried talking to the fish, but it was not the type that granted three wishes. It telepathically communicated, “I am a surrogate for whatever your soul wants me to be: the burden of modernity, gender trouble, cancer, saltwater bream. Now that I am leaving your body, you must no longer use me as a way to approach your spiritual condition from the flank. Now you can admit that life is just weird.” She threw the fish back into the lake and it sunk to the bottom. It had been dead for at least as long as it had been inside her.




Harry Leeds is a writer who writes about food and often Russia (and often Russian food). He has had work in Nano Fiction, The Black Warrior Review, Green Mountains Review, Lucky Peach, FENCE, and lots of other places. He tweets at @mumbermag.

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