fish market

matthew Gilbert

 

There wouldn’t be ice for three more days. In 31 years, they had only run out twice. When the ice runs out, it follows a peculiar pattern. It first conspires to make itself beautiful to your eyes. Polished, round as the love in a bridegroom’s I do. How wonderful it seems—and how fine to be the only one who notices. Charlie Beano off the street has no idea what it looked like before when it was fresh chipped. Scourged out from larger bodies, and so sharp it’d just as soon slice you as anything, but you turn it to the bins, and put it work. But they don’t stay that way. They glass over after a little while and look so sweet. Sweet as forgetfulness. 

“Agatha, is it?”

A man in a brown fedora. A Charlie Beano for sure. Young to be dressed the way he is. What’s he got in his hand? 

“Agatha Tack?” he asks.

“I’m Agātha Täck.”

“Richard Tack is your husband?”

“Yes. Richard.”

The young man is looking everywhere but straight ahead. Out the door, he looks, again and again. Why come to a fish market if you’re just gonna fuss about what’s outside?

“Excuse me,” he says, and leaves. 

His shoes are soft-soled, and they squish in the pools, meniscus-high, that have gathered on the cement of the floor. He puts his face in his elbow, like that Nosferatu creature from the pictures. He nearly crashes smack dab with a baby carriage, but then the young woman nearly runs him down and parks the carriage out front. She comes back. He doesn’t. 

The past couple days, the smooth ice had glistened so that you simply had to touch it, rainbowed by salmon and bluefish oil. If winter never passed and ice never melted, you could leave the fish altogether and sell the frozen water like gemstones. Slick and smooth. If those stones spoke, you’d listen. If they promised, you’d go. If they faltered, you’d wait.

But they feel the heat, see. Can’t stop the sun like you just can’t stop some things. Pull the shades, shut the doors tight—doesn’t do you any good. That ice starts to dance. One moves, slides, the rest follow. Rats piping among the rats, each in his own turn. One by one, group by group, they lure each other click-clacking away. You can’t catch them all. And if you can, what good will it do you? The sun heats them. They can’t sit still. And they go.

“Mrs. Tack. You’re Mrs. Tack, aren’t yah?”

The young man is following a taller, older husky man like he’s a full-year puppy dog with his first lick of obedience. It’s loyalty that keeps him stuck on those heels, not love. They must see the same tailor, these two. Brown suits, brown loafers, brown fedoras—fit about as well as a diaper on a mouse. And they look about as happy wearing them as a cat wearing a necktie.

“Mrs. Tack,” says the husky, “we need to talk with you about your husband Richard.”

“Täck.”

“Scuse me?”

“Täck. There’s an umlaut.”

Husky and puppy dog exchange looks. Agātha turns to see the few lone, last crystalline orbs floating in a pool of water. Sunken below them are scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels, and parsley sprigs. What Agātha had wanted to think about, more than anything, were those last pieces of ice, looming over the setting of a scene so like the wild ocean—with all the creatures taking up their places and posts, acting parts they’d played just days ago. What is it that makes those last pieces of ice be the ones that remain? Doomed, yet not done. The rest went so quick. But they will take a long time to go. 

Plop. 

A ring plunks down in the middle of the glass bin that Agatha is watching and settles beside a solitary oyster. A silver ring. A large agate stone. Richard’s ring. His agate.

Agātha looks back to the men. 

“We thought you might want it is all. Have a nice day, Mrs. Tack.”

They left. At some point the mother had fled. The carriage was gone. And the last of the ice shone in the afternoon sun. 


Matthew Gilbert is a writer and editor based in New York, and author of a forthcoming novel about being and becoming in the branches of a Christmas tree.

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