Before my sister and I smuggled the baby piranha out of Chekhov’s Fish Emporium in broad daylight, he did not have a name. The only identifiers present on his cylindrical, isolated vessel in The Alien Exhibit had been a small label which read: pygocentrus nattereri, along with various other information about strange animal behavior, but none mentioned that their bad reputation was mostly caused by humanity’s ignorance. So I named him Samsa, after The Metamorphoses, because with any luck he might have his own transformation once we brought him back to fresh water.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” she asked.
“No,” I admitted, because it was true. “I’m not sure of anything, except that in 1885 Anton Chekhov wrote his short story, The Fish, and now he has an eponymous fish emporium.”
For whatever reason, this confession didn’t pass the conversation test.
“I wonder if there are any fish named after Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.” I said, as we maneuvered the stolen portable fish tank into the crummy backseat of her minivan. Samsa swam around by himself. This all seemed very new to him. The sudden uprooting of circumstances, how the only certainty in life was change.
“Do you think fish understand the literary implications of their existence?”
“Jessica,” Chelsea said, hands white on the wheel. Something else hindered her voice that I couldn’t quite decipher, like a swarm of sharks swam into her mouth, and it inconvenienced the way words came out. A pop song played on the radio about summer, with all its sublime possibilities and optimistic misunderstandings, but neither of us carried home any real meaning from it.
“I think fish are just fish.”
She drove on, the ride quiet.
When we arrived at the lake, parked near the public water access area along the pebbled shore, Chelsea helped me hide Samsa’s habitat inside her gargantuan knitted tote bag, push Grandad’s boat into the basin, and start off towards the sunset. There were less people than usual, despite the view. An elderly couple and a few teenagers I knew from school, each comely, who didn’t know me. I tried not to look at them while we motored away.
Instead, I recited the facts I memorized from work: young piranhas travel in schools to stay safe from larger predators, yet the more they grow into adulthood, the more they tend to hang out in loose groups. A few experts suggest they remain solo or with up to five others to avoid cannibalism. There were six teenagers, not all of them would make it. Piranhas can be shy, skittish, and distant, especially when first introduced to new surroundings. Piranhas never attack people unless provoked…
“Why did you get a job at the aquarium?”
“Because Dr. Cohen said I should find a controlled environment to gain stability and practise social emotional reciprocity. I think she meant for me to join the Autism Youth Group we talked about last session. But this is better.”
“What about the piranha?” She took him out of the bag and undid the roof, the algae already scraped off from earlier, his scales cold to touch, wide eyes avoidant.
“Samsa is lonely,” I explained. “Piranhas are only perceived as monsters based on pure misconception. Contrary to popular belief, they hardly ever attack humans. I think there is nothing more the piranha wants than to feel like he belongs somewhere. I think that is what we all want.”
“Are you projecting onto the piranha?” Chelsea asked.
“I am the piranha,” I said, then let him go.
Lara Boyle is a Jewish lesbian writer with Asperger’s Syndrome. She studies Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte. When not writing, she can be found reading or playing with her English Labrador Retriever, Boomer, who failed service dog training because he loves people too much. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Farside Review, where she’s a staff writer, Lesbians are Miracles Magazine, Herstry Blog, WomensAdvaNCe, and Signet Literary Magazine.
Uncovered logs from the distant past and the future beyond.