Monday, August 1, 2016

Classical Short Story: The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen

It was lovely summer weather in the country, and the golden corn, the green oats, and the haystacks piled up in the meadows looked beautiful. The stork walking about on his long red legs chattered in the Egyptian language, which he had learnt from his mother. The corn-fields and meadows were surrounded by large forests, in the midst of which were deep pools. It was, indeed, delightful to walk about in the country. In a sunny spot stood a pleasant old farm-house close by a deep river, and from the house down to the water side grew great burdock leaves, so high, that under the tallest of them a little child could stand upright. 

The spot was as wild as the centre of a thick wood. In this snug retreat sat a duck on her nest, watching for her young brood to hatch; she was beginning to get tired of her task, for the little ones were a long time coming out of their shells, and she seldom had any visitors. The other ducks liked much better to swim about in the river than to climb the slippery banks, and sit under a burdock leaf, to have a gossip with her. 

At length one shell cracked, and then another, and from each egg came a living creature that lifted its head and cried, “Peep, peep.” “Quack, quack,” said the mother, and then they all quacked as well as they could, and looked about them on every side at the large green leaves. Their mother allowed them to look as much as they liked, because green is good for the eyes. “How large the world is,” said the young ducks, when they found how much more room they now had than while they were inside the egg-shell. “Do you imagine this is the whole world?” asked the mother; “Wait till you have seen the garden; it stretches far beyond that to the parson’s field, but I have never ventured to such a distance. Are you all out?” she continued, rising; “No, I declare, the largest egg lies there still. I wonder how long this is to last, I am quite tired of it;” and she seated herself again on the nest.

“Well, how are you getting on?” asked an old duck, who paid her a visit.

“One egg is not hatched yet,” said the duck, “it will not break. But just look at all the others, are they not the prettiest little ducklings you ever saw? They are the image of their father, who is so unkind, he never comes to see.”

“Let me see the egg that will not break,” said the duck; “I have no doubt it is a turkey’s egg. I was persuaded to hatch some once, and after all my care and trouble with the young ones, they were afraid of the water. I quacked and clucked, but all to no purpose. I could not get them to venture in. Let me look at the egg. Yes, that is a turkey’s egg; take my advice, leave it where it is and teach the other children to swim.”

“I think I will sit on it a little while longer,” said the duck; “as I have sat so long already, a few days will be nothing.”

“Please yourself,” said the old duck, and she went away.

At last the large egg broke, and a young one crept forth crying, “Peep, peep.” It was very large and ugly. The duck stared at it and exclaimed, “It is very large and not at all like the others. I wonder if it really is a turkey. We shall soon find it out, however when we go to the water. It must go in, if I have to push it myself.”

On the next day the weather was delightful, and the sun shone brightly on the green burdock leaves, so the mother duck took her young brood down to the water, and jumped in with a splash. “Quack, quack,” cried she, and one after another the little ducklings jumped in. The water closed over their heads, but they came up again in an instant, and swam about quite prettily with their legs paddling under them as easily as possible, and the ugly duckling was also in the water swimming with them.
“Oh,” said the mother, “that is not a turkey; how well he uses his legs, and how upright he holds himself! He is my own child, and he is not so very ugly after all if you look at him properly. Quack, quack! come with me now, I will take you into grand society, and introduce you to the farmyard, but you must keep close to me or you may be trodden upon; and, above all, beware of the cat.”

When they reached the farmyard, there was a great disturbance, two families were fighting for an eel’s head, which, after all, was carried off by the cat. “See, children, that is the way of the world,” said the mother duck, whetting her beak, for she would have liked the eel’s head herself. “Come, now, use your legs, and let me see how well you can behave. You must bow your heads prettily to that old duck yonder; she is the highest born of them all, and has Spanish blood, therefore, she is well off. Don’t you see she has a red flag tied to her leg, which is something very grand, and a great honor for a duck; it shows that every one is anxious not to lose her, as she can be recognized both by man and beast. Come, now, don’t turn your toes, a well-bred duckling spreads his feet wide apart, just like his father and mother, in this way; now bend your neck, and say ‘quack.’

The ducklings did as they were bid, but the other duck stared, and said, “Look, here comes another brood, as if there were not enough of us already! and what a queer looking object one of them is; we don’t want him here,” and then one flew out and bit him in the neck.
“Let him alone,” said the mother; “he is not doing any harm.”

“Yes, but he is so big and ugly,” said the spiteful duck “and therefore he must be turned out.”
“The others are very pretty children,” said the old duck, with the rag on her leg, “all but that one; I wish his mother could improve him a little.”

“That is impossible, your grace,” replied the mother; “he is not pretty; but he has a very good disposition, and swims as well or even better than the others. I think he will grow up pretty, and perhaps be smaller; he has remained too long in the egg, and therefore his figure is not properly formed;” and then she stroked his neck and smoothed the feathers, saying, “It is a drake, and therefore not of so much consequence. I think he will grow up strong, and able to take care of himself.”

“The other ducklings are graceful enough,” said the old duck. “Now make yourself at home, and if you can find an eel’s head, you can bring it to me.”

And so they made themselves comfortable; but the poor duckling, who had crept out of his shell last of all, and looked so ugly, was bitten and pushed and made fun of, not only by the ducks, but by all the poultry. “He is too big,” they all said, and the turkey cock, who had been born into the world with spurs, and fancied himself really an emperor, puffed himself out like a vessel in full sail, and flew at the duckling, and became quite red in the head with passion, so that the poor little thing did not know where to go, and was quite miserable because he was so ugly and laughed at by the whole farmyard. So it went on from day to day till it got worse and worse. The poor duckling was driven about by every one; even his brothers and sisters were unkind to him, and would say, “Ah, you ugly creature, I wish the cat would get you,” and his mother said she wished he had never been born. The ducks pecked him, the chickens beat him, and the girl who fed the poultry kicked him with her feet. So at last he ran away, frightening the little birds in the hedge as he flew over the palings.

“They are afraid of me because I am ugly,” he said. So he closed his eyes, and flew still farther, until he came out on a large moor, inhabited by wild ducks. Here he remained the whole night, feeling very tired and sorrowful.

In the morning, when the wild ducks rose in the air, they stared at their new comrade. “What sort of a duck are you?” they all said, coming round him.

He bowed to them, and was as polite as he could be, but he did not reply to their question. “You are exceedingly ugly,” said the wild ducks, “but that will not matter if you do not want to marry one of our family.”

Poor thing! he had no thoughts of marriage; all he wanted was permission to lie among the rushes, and drink some of the water on the moor. After he had been on the moor two days, there came two wild geese, or rather goslings, for they had not been out of the egg long, and were very saucy. “Listen, friend,” said one of them to the duckling, “you are so ugly, that we like you very well. Will you go with us, and become a bird of passage? Not far from here is another moor, in which there are some pretty wild geese, all unmarried. It is a chance for you to get a wife; you may be lucky, ugly as you are.”

“Pop, pop,” sounded in the air, and the two wild geese fell dead among the rushes, and the water was tinged with blood. “Pop, pop,” echoed far and wide in the distance, and whole flocks of wild geese rose up from the rushes. The sound continued from every direction, for the sportsmen surrounded the moor, and some were even seated on branches of trees, overlooking the rushes. The blue smoke from the guns rose like clouds over the dark trees, and as it floated away across the water, a number of sporting dogs bounded in among the rushes, which bent beneath them wherever they went. How they terrified the poor duckling! He turned away his head to hide it under his wing, and at the same moment a large terrible dog passed quite near him. His jaws were open, his tongue hung from his mouth, and his eyes glared fearfully. 

He thrust his nose close to the duckling, showing his sharp teeth, and then, “splash, splash,” he went into the water without touching him, “Oh,” sighed the duckling, “how thankful I am for being so ugly; even a dog will not bite me.” And so he lay quite still, while the shot rattled through the rushes, and gun after gun was fired over him. It was late in the day before all became quiet, but even then the poor young thing did not dare to move. He waited quietly for several hours, and then, after looking carefully around him, hastened away from the moor as fast as he could. He ran over field and meadow till a storm arose, and he could hardly struggle against it. Towards evening, he reached a poor little cottage that seemed ready to fall, and only remained standing because it could not decide on which side to fall first. The storm continued so violent, that the duckling could go no farther; he sat down by the cottage, and then he noticed that the door was not quite closed in consequence of one of the hinges having given way. There was therefore a narrow opening near the bottom large enough for him to slip through, which he did very quietly, and got a shelter for the night. A woman, a tom cat, and a hen lived in this cottage. The tom cat, whom the mistress called, “My little son,” was a great favorite; he could raise his back, and purr, and could even throw out sparks from his fur if it were stroked the wrong way. The hen had very short legs, so she was called “Chickie short legs.” She laid good eggs, and her mistress loved her as if she had been her own child. In the morning, the strange visitor was discovered, and the tom cat began to purr, and the hen to cluck.

“What is that noise about?” said the old woman, looking round the room, but her sight was not very good; therefore, when she saw the duckling she thought it must be a fat duck, that had strayed from home. “Oh what a prize!” she exclaimed, “I hope it is not a drake, for then I shall have some duck’s eggs. I must wait and see.” So the duckling was allowed to remain on trial for three weeks, but there were no eggs. Now the tom cat was the master of the house, and the hen was mistress, and they always said, “We and the world,” for they believed themselves to be half the world, and the better half too. The duckling thought that others might hold a different opinion on the subject, but the hen would not listen to such doubts. “Can you lay eggs?” she asked. “No.” “Then have the goodness to hold your tongue.” “Can you raise your back, or purr, or throw out sparks?” said the tom cat. “No.” “Then you have no right to express an opinion when sensible people are speaking.” So the duckling sat in a corner, feeling very low spirited, till the sunshine and the fresh air came into the room through the open door, and then he began to feel such a great longing for a swim on the water, that he could not help telling the hen.

“What an absurd idea,” said the hen. “You have nothing else to do, therefore you have foolish fancies. If you could purr or lay eggs, they would pass away.”

“But it is so delightful to swim about on the water,” said the duckling, “and so refreshing to feel it close over your head, while you dive down to the bottom.”

“Delightful, indeed!” said the hen, “why you must be crazy! Ask the cat, he is the cleverest animal I know, ask him how he would like to swim about on the water, or to dive under it, for I will not speak of my own opinion; ask our mistress, the old woman—there is no one in the world more clever than she is. Do you think she would like to swim, or to let the water close over her head?”

“You don’t understand me,” said the duckling.
“We don’t understand you? Who can understand you, I wonder? Do you consider yourself more clever than the cat, or the old woman? I will say nothing of myself. Don’t imagine such nonsense, child, and thank your good fortune that you have been received here. Are you not in a warm room, and in society from which you may learn something. But you are a chatterer, and your company is not very agreeable. Believe me, I speak only for your own good. I may tell you unpleasant truths, but that is a proof of my friendship. I advise you, therefore, to lay eggs, and learn to purr as quickly as possible.”
“I believe I must go out into the world again,” said the duckling.

“Yes, do,” said the hen. So the duckling left the cottage, and soon found water on which it could swim and dive, but was avoided by all other animals, because of its ugly appearance. Autumn came, and the leaves in the forest turned to orange and gold. then, as winter approached, the wind caught them as they fell and whirled them in the cold air. The clouds, heavy with hail and snow-flakes, hung low in the sky, and the raven stood on the ferns crying, “Croak, croak.” It made one shiver with cold to look at him. All this was very sad for the poor little duckling. One evening, just as the sun set amid radiant clouds, there came a large flock of beautiful birds out of the bushes. The duckling had never seen any like them before. They were swans, and they curved their graceful necks, while their soft plumage shown with dazzling whiteness. They uttered a singular cry, as they spread their glorious wings and flew away from those cold regions to warmer countries across the sea. As they mounted higher and higher in the air, the ugly little duckling felt quite a strange sensation as he watched them. He whirled himself in the water like a wheel, stretched out his neck towards them, and uttered a cry so strange that it frightened himself. Could he ever forget those beautiful, happy birds; and when at last they were out of his sight, he dived under the water, and rose again almost beside himself with excitement. 

He knew not the names of these birds, nor where they had flown, but he felt towards them as he had never felt for any other bird in the world. 

He was not envious of these beautiful creatures, but wished to be as lovely as they. Poor ugly creature, how gladly he would have lived even with the ducks had they only given him encouragement. The winter grew colder and colder; he was obliged to swim about on the water to keep it from freezing, but every night the space on which he swam became smaller and smaller. At length it froze so hard that the ice in the water crackled as he moved, and the duckling had to paddle with his legs as well as he could, to keep the space from closing up. He became exhausted at last, and lay still and helpless, frozen fast in the ice.
Early in the morning, a peasant, who was passing by, saw what had happened. He broke the ice in pieces with his wooden shoe, and carried the duckling home to his wife. The warmth revived the poor little creature; but when the children wanted to play with him, the duckling thought they would do him some harm; so he started up in terror, fluttered into the milk-pan, and splashed the milk about the room. Then the woman clapped her hands, which frightened him still more. He flew first into the butter-cask, then into the meal-tub, and out again. What a condition he was in! The woman screamed, and struck at him with the tongs; the children laughed and screamed, and tumbled over each other, in their efforts to catch him; but luckily he escaped. The door stood open; the poor creature could just manage to slip out among the bushes, and lie down quite exhausted in the newly fallen snow.

It would be very sad, were I to relate all the misery and privations which the poor little duckling endured during the hard winter; but when it had passed, he found himself lying one morning in a moor, amongst the rushes. He felt the warm sun shining, and heard the lark singing, and saw that all around was beautiful spring. Then the young bird felt that his wings were strong, as he flapped them against his sides, and rose high into the air. They bore him onwards, until he found himself in a large garden, before he well knew how it had happened. The apple-trees were in full blossom, and the fragrant elders bent their long green branches down to the stream which wound round a smooth lawn. Everything looked beautiful, in the freshness of early spring. From a thicket close by came three beautiful white swans, rustling their feathers, and swimming lightly over the smooth water. The duckling remembered the lovely birds, and felt more strangely unhappy than ever.

“I will fly to those royal birds,” he exclaimed, “and they will kill me, because I am so ugly, and dare to approach them; but it does not matter: better be killed by them than pecked by the ducks, beaten by the hens, pushed about by the maiden who feeds the poultry, or starved with hunger in the winter.”
Then he flew to the water, and swam towards the beautiful swans. The moment they espied the stranger, they rushed to meet him with outstretched wings.

“Kill me,” said the poor bird; and he bent his head down to the surface of the water, and awaited death.

But what did he see in the clear stream below? His own image; no longer a dark, gray bird, ugly and disagreeable to look at, but a graceful and beautiful swan. To be born in a duck’s nest, in a farmyard, is of no consequence to a bird, if it is hatched from a swan’s egg. He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him; for the great swans swam round the new-comer, and stroked his neck with their beaks, as a welcome.

Into the garden presently came some little children, and threw bread and cake into the water.
“See,” cried the youngest, “there is a new one;” and the rest were delighted, and ran to their father and mother, dancing and clapping their hands, and shouting joyously, “There is another swan come; a new one has arrived.”

Then they threw more bread and cake into the water, and said, “The new one is the most beautiful of all; he is so young and pretty.” And the old swans bowed their heads before him.

Then he felt quite ashamed, and hid his head under his wing; for he did not know what to do, he was so happy, and yet not at all proud. He had been persecuted and despised for his ugliness, and now he heard them say he was the most beautiful of all the birds. Even the elder-tree bent down its bows into the water before him, and the sun shone warm and bright. 

Then he rustled his feathers, curved his slender neck, and cried joyfully, from the depths of his heart, “I never dreamed of such happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling.”

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Facebook Story: Yesterday Was Weird

Yesterday was weird. I couldn't get myself out of bed. The guy I live with lifted me up. I tried to get my legs under me, but they wouldn't cooperate. He said, "Don't worry, I gotcha buddy," carried me downstairs, and out the front door. That was so nice of him. I needed to pee so badly, I just had to go right there where he put me down. Normally I wouldn't, but we both decided to make an exception to the rule.

I started walking down the parking lot toward that place where all the dogs like me go to poop. I felt my paws dragging on the ground. "How strange," I thought. Then suddenly, I just had to go, really badly. In the middle of the parking lot. Normally, I wouldn't do that. It's against the rules.

My person cleaned up the mess. He's good at that. I felt embarrassed, looked at him, and he said, "Want to keep walking, buddy?" I did, but it was surprisingly tough. By the time we reached the end of the parking lot, my head was spinning. I tried to climb the little hill, and nearly fell over. I couldn't figure out what was going on.

He reached down again, and ran his hands over me. That felt good. He picked me up, and carried me home. I was still confused, and my head was light, but I was glad not to have to walk all the way back. It suddenly seemed like an impossible distance.

I was so glad to lay down on my bed. My person petted me, saying, "I gotcha covered, buddy. I gotcha." I love the way that makes me feel. I know he does. He makes everything better.

He felt my paws, and pulled up my lip. He said, "Oh buddy, are you cold?" I was. My face was cold, my paws were cold. He texted a few people, and came back to pet me.

A few minutes later, another person arrived. He's one of my favorites, and his name is Jay. He petted me, and said to my person, "Do you want to get a blanket?" They put a blanket over me, and wow... that felt good. I relaxed, and they both petted me, but they both started to choke back tears.

I never want them to cry, it breaks my heart. It's my job to make them feel better, and I was just a little tired, and cold. I drifted in and out of sleep, and they were always there, making sure I was okay, and chatting with each other.

Throughout the day, my person made some phone calls, and spent a lot of time with me. I heard him say, "9 am tomorrow... ok... yes... I'll tell you if anything changes. Thank you Dr. MacDonald." He called someone else, and said, "I'm sorry, I have to cancel tonight." Then as I was drifting off to sleep, I think I heard him cry a little again.

In the evening, more of my favorite people came by. They were all so loving. I licked their tears away when they would get close enough to my face. They whispered sweet things in my ear, and told me I was a good boy.

Later in the evening, I felt well enough to stand up and walk to the door to see who was coming in. It was more exhausting than I'd remembered it being, but I loved seeing them all. I heard my person say something like, "That's the first time he's gotten up under his own power today." Everyone seemed glad that I was out of bed. I was too, but wow... after the excitement wore off, it was so exhausting to move around.

After the last visitor left, my person took me outside to do what he called, "my business." We went back inside and when we reached the bottom of the stairs, they looked twice as steep and ten times as long as I remembered them being. I looked at my person, and he looked at me. He said, "Don't worry, I gotcha buddy," and carried me up.

Then it got even better! Instead of sleeping in my bed, he called me up to sleep on *his* bed. Let me repeat: *I got to sleep in the bed with my person!* We normally have our own beds, but last night we snuggled, and it felt so good to be that close to him. I thought, "This is where I belong. I will never leave his side." I didn't feel very well though, and it was hard to breathe sometimes.

It seems like it started a few months ago. We were playing fetch and I just blacked out. I don't know what happened, but I think I stopped breathing. I could hear my person calling my name. I couldn't move a muscle. He lifted my head, and looked into my eyes. I could see him right there, but couldn't lick his face. He said, "Benny, are you in there?" I couldn't respond. He looked at me, and said, "Don't worry buddy, I gotcha. I gotcha covered." I started to spin into darkness, but then my lungs took in a deep breath, and I could see again.

We went to see some doctors, and since then I've heard a lot of words like, "cardiomyopathy," "cancer," and, "kidney failure." All i know is that sometimes I feel okay, and sometimes... you know... I just don't. My person gives me pills.

This morning, I heard my person get up and take a shower. He came back in the room, and smelled so nice. He helped me get up, but this time, I could do it on my own. We got to the top of the stairs, and wow... they looked long and steep again. He said, "I gotcha buddy," and carried me down. I did my business, and we came back inside. He opened a can, a really, really delicious can of wet dog food. Oh man... I love that stuff!

Jay showed up again. What a nice surprise! He and my person seemed concerned, but everyone was petting me. It seemed a little like a play, where all the actors were sad, but pretending to be happy. Pretty soon after that, another person showed up. She was wearing doctor pants, and I leaned on her.
I heard them talk. Everyone looked at my gums, and felt my paws. I heard the doctor pants lady say, "It's your decision, but he's definitely in that window. I don't want to push you, but looking at his lack of color, I am honestly shocked he's even standing up. In addition to the paws and jowls, look here..." she pointed at my face, "This should be pink. It's almost white, and verging toward yellow."

My person and Jay went inside to talk about something. When they came back out, I heard my person say, "I agree. I don't want to wait till he's in absolute agony." So we went inside. Truth be told, I was feeling pretty badly, even though I was up and walking. It seemed like my whole head was cold, my paws were freezing, and my back legs weren't working right.

The doctor pants lady said, "I'll just put this into his muscle. It's a sedative. Then I'll come back over here, and you can just love on him till he's asleep." My person kissed my face, and looked in my eyes. He was trying not to cry. Doctor pants lady gave me a shot of something in the leg. I just looked at my person. He is so awesome. I will always be right by his side.

He and Jay petted me, and said the nicest things - what a good dog I am, what a good job I've done, how thankful they are to have me in their lives. After a while, my mind started buzzing. FOCUS! I looked back at my person. I love him so much.

I drifted again. FOCUS! I can see my person. I love him so much. I will always be right by his side. He knows that. Am I sleepy? FOCUS! I'll always look at him with my whole heart...

Doctor pants lady said, "He must have an incredible will to stay with you. He is really powering through. That's impressive." My person choked back tears and said, "I know. This guy lives for me. He is the most devoted soul I've ever met..." We put our heads together, and closed our eyes. I felt good. I can't really describe it. We looked at each other again. I just felt like riding that buzz, but maybe lying down was better. My person helped me down. Man, that felt gooooooood.

I felt him and Jay petting me, and heard them talking to me. They love me so much. How lucky am I? Then I felt thousands of hands petting me. Everyone I'd ever known and loved was there, petting me, scratching my ears, and that spot under my collar that makes my leg move. Everyone should try this. It's just amazing!

Then I felt the doctor pants lady touch my leg. Did I tell you that my person had to have both of my knees repaired? They're titanium, and have served me well, but you know... I've been feeling a little creaky lately.

With everyone petting me, the doctor pants lady put another needle in my leg, but this time, as the fluid went in, my legs were healed! My knees were perfect! And as I felt it move through my body, my cancer disappeared! And then my kidneys felt better! And finally, even my heart was whole, and healthy! I felt like I had sprung away from all of my sickness. Amazing!

I saw my person, and Jay, and the lady who lives at our house, Shelly. They seemed to be huddling over something. I walked over to look. It seemed like... I don't know. It kind of looked like me, but the way I looked when I was feeling really sick, or exhausted. The face was blurred out, so I couldn't really tell, but that poor guy looked like he had been suffering.

I could tell my person was both relieved and very, very sad. I love him so much. I looked at that me-shaped shell, and I looked at him... I think he was sad about that shell. I jumped around the room, like a clown, but it seemed like they wanted to be somber, and focus on whatever that thing was they were petting and kissing.

But my person was definitely sad. I leaned on him, like I've done a million times before, but it wasn't quite the same. It felt like his body was a cloud and I passed right through him. So I walked up next to him, sat like a good boy, and my heart whispered to his, "Don't worry, buddy. I gotcha covered."
I will never leave his side. He knows that.


Source: Benny Pointer 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Short Story: Jewfish

He has a museum of items appertaining to the Jew. A Jew’s harp, of course: four in fact, one dating from the 18th century, its tongue still miraculously intact. Three dried specimens of the Jew’s Ear fungus. He would like to have a living one, has tried on more than one occasion to keep one alive, but they grow only on certain trees and his apartment is small, with no garden. On his windowsill, however, high above Manhattan, careful tending has allowed a large pot of Jew’s Mallow to thrive; its furled yellow flowers return year after year. He does not know why it is better to have a living specimen than a dead one, only that it is so.

Other items have been easier to obtain and store. A lump of black, sticky Jew’s pitch in the lined drawer of the bureau by the window. In the next drawer down, a glass jar of Jew’s frankincense. Atop the bureau, a large and beautiful Jew’s Stone sea urchin spine. He loves to hold it in his hands, to admire the smooth underside, the place where it turns from rough beige to a tender and delicious pink. He finds he is tempted to lick it, like ice cream.

Sometimes, perhaps once every two or three months, he places all these items together, in such a way that he can take them in with one sweep of his eye. In order not to disturb the mallow, the arrangement is generally made by dragging a coffee table to the window and placing all the other objects carefully on it. The four harps, three fungus specimens, the asphalt and benzoine, the sea urchin. When the collection has been set out in its order, he brings a chair from the kitchen and sits, observing his possessions. The observation brings him pleasure. It generally continues for several hours. He notes the differences and similarities between these objects, grouping and regrouping them in his mind. At these surveying times, he likes to comment – to himself, only to himself – that there is another item in the collection. A living item. A Jew. Himself.

He desires, therefore, a Jewfish. He has illustrations and photographs of these monstrous fish but, although educational, they do not count. He would like a live one but cannot see how such a thing could be accomplished. A stuffed Jewfish, though. He makes enquiries with several taxidermists and angling stores. They tell him his request is virtually impossible; Jewfish are very difficult to mount. Would he perhaps be interested in a plastic replica? He insists. It must, at least, have lived once. They note down his details, promising to telephone if there is news.

In the meantime, at home, he pores over representations of the Jewfish, learning its habits and signifiers. The Jewfish is friendly. Fascinated by divers, it will often swim alongside a boat. The Jewfish is endangered; in the waters of America it is no longer permitted to kill the Jewfish. It continues to exist only due to the mercy of others. Nonetheless, the Jewfish is dangerous. Legends abound. Jewfish of 10 or 12 feet long are regularly spotted; it is supposed that larger fish certainly exist. A story circulates of a missing diver whose underwater camera is discovered. When developed, it reveals one last image: the face of an enormous Jewfish, head on. He is unsurprised by these facts. He is pleased to cut them from magazines and paste them into a book, to make them his own.


During the day, he works. His job is to make deliveries for the Bleen the Grocer’s, two blocks down from his apartment. He likes the work. His role is to take down long lists of groceries over the telephone and then to walk from aisle to aisle, finding the items and placing them safely into a cardboard box. Heavy things must not go on top of frail ones. Soft things must not be crushed at the side. When the boxes are ready he takes them, one by one, to the homes of the people who ordered them. He has a small cart with wheels to drag along. People are almost always pleased to see him when he and his cart arrive. He has worked this job since he was a young man and Mr Bleen was still alive. Now Mrs Bleen runs the store. She is very fat and sweats a lot, especially in the summer, dabbing her face with a handkerchief and drinking tall glasses of iced tea.

He starts early and finishes early. He’s usually home by 3. In the afternoons he reads the newspaper, before dinner. The newspaper is important, he’s looking out for things. His mother left him a long list of things to look out for. Some of them are stories about Jews, some of them aren’t. In the beginning, after his mother died, he had to read over the list many times a day, but now it’s automatic. When he finds one of these stories, he cuts it out with scissors and puts it into a file. The apartment is full of these files. Sometimes he takes out his list and looks at it again, just to make sure he’s doing everything correctly. He’s cutting out some articles, and watching for other ones, very important ones, which never come. But if they did come, he’d know what to do. It’s all written down.

For dinner every night, he eats something from Mrs Bleen’s store. She gives him the dented cans, the cheese with a little mold, the fruit that’s past date. He likes this way of deciding what to eat – otherwise, there’d be too much choice. He has money. As well as the apartment, his parents left him two bank accounts, one to take money out of and one to leave alone. The bank sends him a letter every month, telling him how they’re getting along. The second account is growing, while the first one isn’t getting any smaller. This pleases him. It’s important to have money. That’s one of the first things on the list.


His mother died from a cancerous growth on her face: a malignant melanoma. The doctor told him the name and he looked it up in the dictionary. It was good that she died of cancer, slowly, and not suddenly like his father, because it gave her time to think of, and write, the list.

She stressed the importance of the list to him many times. She told him that she loved him, and that was the reason for it. She said:
“We have seen terrible things, your father and I.”
As though his father were still alive and standing behind her, silent as ever.
The list explains that certain things are important: it’s important to have a lot of money in the bank. It’s important to read the newspaper. It’s important to know what to look for. She has listed 17 pages of things to look for. She wrote them out over several months, thinking of a few more each day and adding them. In some places, where she thought of a lot of things that have to do with each other, her writing has crawled out into the margins of the pages, tiny letters bunched up against each other. They say things like:
-       if you should read that a man has been refused a job because he is a Jew
-       if you should read that Jews are a threat to the country, or to the world
-       if you should read a call for any Jewish practice to be outlawed (she lists 53 possible practices)
-       if you should read that Jews may not wear certain garments, or that they must wear certain garments
This last one is marked with a star, which means it is very  important.
The list also tells him what to do if he does find any of the very important things. It has to do with money and with travel. If it has to be done, it must be done quickly.

In the first few months after she died, he spent a lot of time reading the list and  looking up all the words in the dictionary. He wanted to make sure he’d understood everything properly. Even when he knew the entries off by heart, he liked to look again, just to see they were still the same. It was then that he thought of looking up the word “Jew”. The entry was long. It began: “a person of Hebrew descent or religion; an Israelite (hist; offensive) a usurer, miser” and went on to describe the Jew’s mallow, the Jew’s harp and on and on to the Jewfish. He felt excited when he first found that entry. He read it many times until he had it memorized. He felt that he might be very close to something.


It is high summer when he receives the call from an angling store. They have a stuffed Jewfish, taken as part of clearance stock from a store in Buffalo. If he’s still interested he’d better get there quick; three other collectors want to buy it. He takes the subway down after he finishes work.

The Jewfish is beautiful. It is three feet six inches long. Its skin is striped and mottled green-brown and yellow. Its body is wide, barely tapering at all until the graceful split tail.  Along the top of its back runs a ridge of fin, like close-cropped hair. Two large, oval fins dangle down from the middle of its body, with a smaller, sleeker one toward the back. Its mouth gapes open, dark pink within. Its power is evident in its size, in its thick muscles, in the position of its mounting: head slightly tilted, tail curled to one side, ready to strike.

In the store, six or seven men are simply standing, looking at the fish. One mutters: “but how was it done? Not a trace of grease,” and falls silent again. Another raises his hand to touch the fish’s skin. The other men watch him as he approaches, ready to touch, but he is unable to complete the motion. His arm falls limply back to his side. The men look.

He does not stare so long or so hard as these men do. He knows there will be time to look later, in private. He asks the price of the clerk behind the desk. The men gasp, and then nod, when they hear the figure. He is unsurprised by it. He has brought the money, in cash. The men stare at him and then back at the Jewfish. He arranges a date for delivery, giving his address in a loud, clear voice. The Jewfish gazes ahead, its eyes black.


That night, he dreams of the Jewfish and of his parents. He dreams that they are one, that he is the child of the fish. In the dream, the Jewfish tells him fishy secrets, in lists which emerge as bubbles from its mouth. He must catch the bubbles and decipher them. One of the bubbles contains a hook, but he can’t worry about that now. He goes on and on trying to catch them, while the fish looks impassively forward, breathing out every form of knowledge.

When he wakes up, he realizes that he forgot to read yesterday’s newspaper. It still lies folded on the dining table. This frightens him. At work, he finds it difficult to concentrate – some of the items go into the wrong boxes and the customers are angry. In the afternoon, when he has finished work, he has to decide what to do. Should he read today’s newspaper first or yesterday’s? What if he missed something important yesterday, something which is written down on the list and marked with a star? He decides he should start with yesterday’s paper: that way he’ll know whether or not something important happened yesterday.

He finally finishes reading the papers at 10pm. This is after he usually goes to bed, and he hasn’t eaten anything. But he’s not really hungry. He didn’t find an important story in the papers, just the usual things, which he’s filed appropriately. He wants to go to sleep, but he finds that his mind is racing; he can’t make it be still. He lies on his bed with the lights turned off and thinks about his mother: not like she was in the last year, when she was sick all the time, but as he remembers her from when he was a boy. He remembers that sometimes he would wake in the night and see her standing by the door of his bedroom, looking at him. Sometimes she would speak words he didn’t understand and which, later, he couldn’t find in the dictionary. Sometimes his father would be with her, just looking.

He knows that there are many things his parents did not tell him, because he could not understand. They told him so. His mother would say: “some things, my darling, cannot be understood”. Nonetheless, he feels he would like to understand. He thinks of the Jewfish, with its mouthful of secrets. He falls asleep.


The Jewfish is delivered at the start of the following week. He arranges in advance to take the day off work. A crowd gathers to watch as the fish is unloaded from the truck and maneuvered into the building. Among the crowd, he recognizes several of the men from the angling store. In the light, the fish is even more beautiful than he remembers. Its scales appear crisp, as though water had just ceased to flow off them, its mouth shades from dark pink at the front to deep red toward the interior. As the fish is lifted from the truck, it seems to shiver and gasp. Across the street, passers-by stand still – an elderly woman, a nanny with two small children, a man in a suit with his jacket over his shoulder and sleeves rolled up – watching its progress into the apartment building.

In the dark interior of his apartment, he finds that the fish, though less magnificent, seems more at home. He has learned that Jewfish enjoy small enclosed spaces more than the empty regions of the sea. They often lurk in wrecks, or in underwater caves. He has arranged for the Jewfish to be suspended from the ceiling in the center of his living room. The workmen complain about the boxes and files; he tries to explain their importance but realizes that this is impossible.

In the evening, when the workmen have gone, he is alone with the fish. It is suspended at head height. When he stands, he can look into its face. If he raises his hand he can caress the fin which runs along its spine. He reads through the newspaper carefully, before the unblinking eye of the fish. The newspaper contains nothing important. He feels that he can detect a slight odor of the sea in the room. He discovers that he can set the fish swaying from side to side, by swinging it by its tethers. He finds that he likes to set it moving like this, then go to the door of the living room and turn off the light. When he looks back into the room, the fish is still swimming, silently, through the dark air.


In the store, over the next few weeks, he tries to explain to Mrs Bleen about his fish. He can’t make her understand. She seems to think that he has taken a piece of fried cod and hung it from his ceiling. She mops her brow and frowns at him, before padding over to the refrigerator in her bare feet for another bottle of iced tea. The explanation is made more difficult by his overwhelming reluctance to tell her that it is a Jewfish. He finds himself saying “a fish”, “a large fish”, “a beautiful fish”. He cannot understand why he does not wish to divulge its name. He feels, however, that if she could only see the fish, she might understand. Certainly, the men who continue to gather at certain times of the day around the lobby of his building must understand. He often sees them there, simply waiting: the men from the angling shop, and now some of the passers-by in the street on the day it was delivered. Once or twice, he sees one of the delivery men. Standing outside the lobby. Waiting.

He feels this is significant, that the newspapers must contain the answer. He knows he has been neglecting the newspapers. Since that first day, there have been five or six occasions on which he has allowed part of one day’s newspaper to hang over onto the next day. Once, a newspaper had to wait two days before being read. He can’t help it. He has been otherwise engaged. Every afternoon now, when he returns from the store, he sets up his museum collection. The Jew’s Mallow must be moved to be close to the fish. The coffee table is set up to one side, with the Jews’ Harps, Jews’ Ears, Jew’s Pitch, Jew’s Frankincense and Jew’s Stone lined up. The days are unbearably hot. He turns on the air conditioner, and watches the Jewfish sway in the slight breeze generated by the fan. The room becomes cool as he contemplates his collection and the day turns to evening.

His mother used to say: “do not try to understand. It is hopeless. We cannot understand it, we can only learn to recognize it, and learn what to do when we see it.” His father agreed, nodding. He finds, after all these years, that he does not agree. Sitting in the easy chair, the Jewfish staring out of the window in front of him, with the other items arranged, he feels that he can almost taste it: the pattern, the order amid the chaos. He feels that, if he were only able to sit for long enough, he might distill the common essence of all these disparate objects. Then he would know.


It occurs to him that he need not continue to work at his job. He tells Mrs. Bleen so. She says: “For a fish? All this for a fish?”
She looks at him silently for a long time, then says:
“I made a promise to your mother, you know.” She waits for a response. When he gives none, she says: “I’d better come see this fish.”
That afternoon she closes the store early and walks the eight blocks back to his apartment. The day is hot as an oven. As they walk, moisture begins to bead on her brow. At the apartment building, the super tells them that the elevator is out of order. Mrs. Bleen groans. She walks up the five floors slowly. She gasps, her mouth opening and closing. Walking behind her, he can see the threaded blue veins on her legs, and the rolled, discolored flesh of her inner thighs, appearing and disappearing as her skirt moves.

By the time they reach the sixth floor, sweat has spread in large dark circles under her arms, and is trickling down her neck, pooling in the soft, crepey skin there. He lets her into the apartment and she collapses onto one of the hall chairs, breathing deep, fast breaths. She asks for a glass of water and he brings one. After ten minutes or so, she is ready to proceed. He understands; he would not wish to see the Jewfish while exhausted either. It demands a certain degree of concentration. He opens the door to the living room and they enter.

The smell strikes him at once: it is stronger now than it has been before, a rich scent of ozone. Mrs Bleen gasps and covers her nostrils with her handkerchief. She flicks her eyes toward him, and then back at the fish. It is dark and gleaming; it seems to him larger than it was before. Mrs Bleen stares at the green-yellow scales, the stripes of brown. She glances briefly around the room, at the piles of paper, the collapsing bookcases filled with manila folders and yellow legal pads, at the remains of the past three weeks’ meals strewn across his dining table. Her eyes are drawn back toward the fish, though. They both stand, looking, for a long time. At last, she takes her handkerchief away from her mouth and nose, to say:

“What the hell kind of a fish is it?”
He tells her.
Her eyes blink open, a flush spreading across her cheeks as though he had said something filthy or despicable. In a minute or two her surprise subsides and she returns to her contemplation of the fish.

At last, she turns to leave the room. He follows her and notices that at the last moment, as he is closing the door behind him, she inclines her head to catch one final sight of the fish.
She says: “You should get rid of that thing. You should get rid of it today, throw it in the trash or set it alight or cut it into a million pieces. It won’t bring you any luck.”
He knows it won’t bring him any luck.
She says: “This isn’t what your parents taught you. This isn’t the way to behave.”
He has come to the conclusion that his parents did not know all that was required or, if they did, they didn’t tell him.
She says: “It doesn’t go looking into these things too hard. It’s best to let them be when they’re quiet. Time enough to be worrying about them when they’re not.”
He thinks it’s rather too late for that, even if he agreed with her.
 “Well then,” she says, “I guess I won’t be seeing you at the store anymore.”


He begins to speak to the fish. He knows in his heart that it may not respond; it is dead after all. But he begins to mutter to it, late at night, before he goes to bed. There are things he must know. Things only it can tell him. Tell me, he says, tell me the secret of how you were caught. What bait did they use? How many of them? Where did they catch you? How did you fight them? Might you have won if you had only done something different? He places his lips to the dead lips of the fish, finding them surprisingly supple, inhaling the aroma of the sea. It does not concern him. The scent fills his apartment now, in any case.

During the achingly hot afternoons he fills the tub to the brim with cool water, sprinkles it with salt and submerges himself. He is able to remain under water for longer and longer periods, breathing out in small round bubbles, thinking only of the gentle pressure against his eyelids, the soft pulse in his wrist. When he leaves the tub, he treads wetly along the hall to the fish and places his moist fingers against its gills. Sometimes, he thinks he might see them flutter, remembering the sea. He begins to long for water, constantly. He sleeps in the tub, running water onto his comforter so that he is damp all night long.

The newspapers pile up in the hall outside his apartment until the super knocks on his door to complain. They’re a fire risk. He takes them in great handfuls down to the trash cans by the basement door. As he is doing so, he glances at one or two of the headlines. They’re not important. But simply looking at them, simply wondering, brings a sudden fear pounding in his chest. What if, in one of them, is the thing he’s been waiting for? What if it’s now, the time when he should act? If, instead of spending long days in salt water he should be taking out the final list left by his mother, reading it through again, packing his bags. He feels something close to terror at that thought. How can he have been so foolish?

He calms himself by thoughts of the fish upstairs, contemplating its own serenity. He walks to the building’s side door and peeks around to the front. A crowd of thirty-seven people are waiting, looking up at his sixth floor window, their faces patient, as though they knew that the thing they were expecting would appear at any moment. In the crowd, he sees Mrs Bleen, along with two of the other young men who help her in the store. The building super is with them, wiping his brow with his sleeve. The people don’t speak to each other but, he notes, they are breathing almost in unison.


For the next three days, he reads the newspaper as he always used to, with perfect concentration, taking five or six hours over the job. It’s funny. According to the list, there’s nothing important. But now he can see that certain things are important nonetheless. There is a small story, tucked away in an inside page, of a dream some people are having every night. They dream of fishing, it says. They dream of tracking through long days and nights a fishy prey which might, at any time, turn around and kill them with one swipe of its tail. In the dreams, they follow it despite their fear. They dream of the dark places where the fish lurks, of its gleaming body. The newspaper offers no explanation of this phenomenon, nor even any justification for having printed it.

In his dreams, now, the fish has begun to speak with him. He cannot yet understand its words, but it has shown willingness to instruct him in its language. Each bubble it speaks contains a word. He must unwrap each bubble like an onion, being careful not to miss the meaning at its very center. One day, he knows, the words will form a sentence. That sentence will tell him all he needs. He will breathe under water. Until then he must concentrate and practice.

The crowd downstairs grows slowly but steadily. Every two or three days, a new face arrives. There does not seem to be any link between these new people; they are of every age and race, both men and women. They leave at night, but in the morning they return. He only goes out at night, now, unwilling to face them. One night, he finds that someone has drawn a large green-and-yellow fish on the wall of his building. He stares at the image for some time. It is remarkably accurate. He cannot tell how they have made it shine like that, even at night. The next morning, the crowd is larger by eight people. It grows more quickly from then on.

He wakes one morning, cool and moist in the tub, puzzled about his surroundings. He cannot imagine why he has kept all these files and boxes of paper. Morning memory returns, but nonetheless he sees that all the papers are now irrelevant. That evening, while the heat of the day is still rising from the asphalt, he drags 358 brown folders down to the trash cans and sets them alight. The flames remind him of the fish, as so many things do nowadays: they are alive, they are beautiful, they are a simple power, devoid of intention, simply acting as they must. In the flames he detects various colors: at first white, yellow, red and orange in their majesty, later the blackness around the flames becomes visible to him, not as an absence of light, but in itself, complete. At last, just before dawn, he sees that the flames are not red or yellow or white or black; they are blue. The blue is the blue of the sea.

When he returns to his apartment, he finds that, on his front door, someone has drawn a fish of green and yellow, shaded around with blue. He looks around, but cannot see who might have done this.


He knows it will not be long now. His apartment is almost empty, the shelves bare, the cabinets yawning. In the living room, the Jewfish swings constantly in a shallow circular movement, casting its shadow across the other museum artifacts: the carelessly stowed minerals, the scattered harps, the withered mallow. He stands and looks at the fish. The fish does not return his gaze. He had not known that he could feel such a variety of simultaneous emotion: both joy and sadness, both love and hatred, both agony and delight.

He is surprised to discover that he is hungry. There is no food in the apartment. He will have to go downstairs. As he leaves the apartment building, a murmur, like a single word whispered over and over, rises up and is gone. The crowd look at him. He looks at them. There must be four or five hundred people standing on the sidewalk, in the road. Not crowding or jostling, simply standing. They part and allow him passage, silent and constantly watching.

He walks down to Bleen’s Grocers, but the store is closed. He notices that quite a few stores are closed: maybe one in four or one in five. The people on the streets are different too. They seem to be walking a little more quickly and no one, he sees, is talking to anyone else. The only sound is of the cars whizzing past, on their way to somewhere else. He walks down Broadway and finds that the street seems  busier the further away from his apartment he is. About 20 blocks down, he finds a deli making sandwiches. As he walks in, one or two of the customers look at him intently, as though they recognize him. Most simply continue to eat. He asks for a bottle of soda and a pastrami on rye. This is what he remembers his father bringing home if ever his mother was sick. Pastrami on rye all round.

Clutching the sandwich in its greasy paper bag, he walks over to Central Park. It’s been a long time since he was last in the park. The day is uncomfortably warm; four or five people are lying under the trees but otherwise the park is lifeless. The air is still. The grass is dry and crisp. Away in the north, a bird is singing – a loud, insistent, repetitive trill, like the ringing of a bicycle bell. He sits on a bench and eats his sandwich. When the sandwich is finished, he drinks the soda, then folds the paper bag up very small and feeds it in through the neck of the bottle. He rubs his fingers on his trousers to rid them of the pastrami grease.

He considers. He might simply leave. His checkbook is in his pocket. He could go to the bank, withdraw his money and go elsewhere. This is, of course, what his parents would wish him to do. This is what they prepared him for. He pulls his mother’s list from his breast pocket and looks at it again, appreciating the urgency of its tone. Leave, his mother says, leave now, take what you can and run. It is the only way. Run.

He comes to his decision. In late afternoon, the day no cooler nor any less still, he walks back to his apartment. The crowd seems larger now, even, than in the morning. On the corner of his block, someone has turned on the fire hydrant. Water is spraying across the block, descending in large round droplets onto the silent people below. They are wet and they wait. He passes through them and returns to the apartment, signified by the sign of the fish.


In the cool of the apartment, he makes everything ready. He closes the drawers and replaces the empty shelves of the bookcases. He throws all the empty food cans, stray Kleenex, fluttering pieces of paper, into a large plastic sack, then ties it neatly and leaves it by the back elevator. He spreads one of his mother’s clean white tablecloths on the dining table and arranges his museum collection again. When all this is completed, he bathes himself using the good soaps, and dresses in a clean white shirt and black trousers. He smoothes his hair down, black and sleek against his skull.

He is waiting for sunset. The Jewfish agrees: sunset is the time. He hangs out of his window to watch the sun dip, livid orange, into the horizon, slowly vanishing, fragment by fragment, stretching its fingers out into the sky for as long as it can until it is finally gone.

There is a knock at his door. He pauses. Answer the door, says the Jewfish. He opens the door.


At first, they do not speak. They stare at the Jewfish, open-mouthed. Some begin to mutter under their breath. Most remain silent. He is able to look at them and is struck by how similar they have become to one another. It is difficult to tell them apart. He thinks that he sees Mrs Bleen toward the back of the crowd, but the woman’s face is fuzzy and indistinct. It may be someone else.

They say: “Do you know why we are here?”
He looks to the fish for guidance, but it makes him no reply. He must answer alone:
“Yes. I think I do.”
“Are you afraid?” they say.
“Yes,” he says. “I am very afraid.”
He cannot tell whether this answer pleases them or not.
They advance.

He does not feel the pain at first, only the sensation of several sharp blows. What he notices is the blood, splashing. Tiny red specks appear on the white tablecloth, a fine spray of red dusting the sea urchin and the glass jars of asphalt and benzoine. He looks up at the impassive face of the Jewfish and sees that large sticky circles of red have stained its flank. He falls to his knees. It is then that he observes the pool of blood beneath him, growing larger splash by splash. It is then that he begins to feel the pain.
He says: “Why? I still do not understand. Why like this? Why this?”
The Jewfish says: Do you not see? This was always available to you. It has been waiting for you since the beginning. You paid for it in advance of delivery.
He begins to understand. He wishes the blows would cease, just for a moment or two, that he might reorientate his thoughts around this new understanding.

He says: “But where was the hook? I didn’t notice it. I was looking, but I didn’t see.”
The fish seems to smile. It says: I have a secret for you, if you have ears to hear it. This is the secret you have yearned for. The secret is that you are wrong. You have mistaken your role. You are not the fish. You are the hook and you are the worm.
He says: “But these people, surely, are the fishermen, setting their hooks? Surely I have been caught by them?”
The fish replies: These are not the fishermen. They have no plan. They have set no traps. Were you to ask them to explain their actions, they could not. They have seen something glittering far away, they cannot but pursue it. They are the fish. They do not know why they seek you.
An enormous clarity has burst upon him, as though the sun had risen once more. He sees it now. He feels himself wriggling, speared through with a curved blade. He watches as the people around him start to nibble.
He says: “And the fisherman? Who has set me as a hook and worm?”
The fish utters a large and perfectly round bubble. It says: How can I answer such a question? I do not know the fisherman. I am simply a fish.

He notices, calmly, without fear, that there is water all around him. The water is blue, and the Jewfish is swimming away. It is remaining in place. He is beneath the water. His lungs ache as though he had been kicked and beaten, but he knows that it is only lack of oxygen. The water is pressing against his lips, demanding entry. He is alone. He is among a crowd of people. He notes that their faces are without understanding. They will not breathe under water. At last, at long last, he knows it is time. His understanding is partial at best, but maybe it will be enough. Another sharp pain strikes his lungs, his kidneys, his stomach. He opens his mouth and inhales.