You'll Die as Fish
"May I help you?"
The woman, her phone stuck to her ear, was one of those
businesswoman-types, discreet although expensive-looking earrings, dark
hair smoothed back into a ponytail, flawless designer suit. "Hold for a
minute, please." She turned towards the assistant -- a nondescript girl
somewhere in the middle of her twenties.
"A chicken, a vegan and a beef, all in whole wheat wrap. Can
you make it chop-chop, we're in a hurry." Megan turned back to the
phone. "No, Johnny, I told you I won't be able to hand in the report by
Wednesday. I thought we've been through this. I need another three
days. . . ."
The same girl took her card at the cashier.
Megan dropped her phone in her bag. "Took you a while."
Her glasses flashed, as she looked up at her. "Sorry, I'm all
alone and it's the lunch rush. . . ."
"I really don't think this is my problem. You should talk to
Megan fought her way through throngs of teenagers to the table
where her colleagues sat. Her face crumpled in disgust after the first
bite from her chicken burrito. "This is cold. Are yours cold too?"
Bill shrugged. "Not the best I've ever had."
Marcia rolled her eyes. "Come on, just let it go."
"Marcia, this is cold. Not lukewarm, not partly hot, cold. I
will not put up with this shit."
The other two exchanged looks.
She elbowed her way back to the cashier. The girl was serving
a bunch of teenagers.
"Hey, excuse me? This burrito is cold."
The crowd was watching her. The girl did her best to ignore
"Hello? I'm talking to you! You deaf?"
"You are keeping up the line, lady. . . ."
Megan turned to the guy. He had the look of a tourist, with a
silly, colorful hat perched on the top of his head. "Mind your own. . .
"You'll die as fish."
Her head snapped back to the assistant. "Excuse me?"
The bafflement on her face looked genuine. "I said, 'gimme
just a sec'?"
"Come on," someone further down the line called out.
Megan didn't budge. "That's not what you
Bill pulled her away from the cashier. "We'll eat somewhere
"Bill, I paid for that burrito!"
"You're my guest for a burger in the joint next door."
He suppressed a sigh. "They have salads, too."
It had been a long day. She had a lingering feel of guilt over
the scene at the eatery, but she brushed it off. You gotta stand up for
yourself if you don't want others to walk all over you. She mixed
herself a gin tonic. A night of reading and listening to music -- she
more than deserved it.
You'll die as fish. The glass stopped in
her hand. What the fuck was that supposed to mean? Doesn't
matter. Probably just misheard something.
The meeting next Friday drained her. Her report was top notch
as always, yet Johnny still found minor mistakes to nitpick over. It
was stifling hot in the office due to some glitch in the ventilation
"I thought you'd drink all the water from the jugs on the
table and then some more," Bill remarked.
"It was a sauna in there. You didn't feel it?"
It was just a poetic question, of course. His damp red
ringlets stuck to his temples and dark spots blossomed in his armpits.
"They say the heat wave should be over in a couple days."
Megan went into the restroom. She didn't drink tap water as a
rule, but she was still parched. She splashed her face, makeup be
damned, then glanced at the mirror, rubbing the nape of her neck.
She opened the tap for one last draught, but her hands never
reached the beam of water. She stared at her hand for what seemed like
an eternity. The moisture dried on her goose-prickled skin. A wave of
dizziness washed over her. The world darkened for a minute and she had
to hold on to the sink. She glared at her wide eyed reflection, taking
in the air in small, frightened gasps. It's not there. I just
imagined it. . . .
But it was. A small, round scale.
"She said 'you'll die as fish.' A week later I find a scale on
my finger. It was real, Charlie. I wasn't imagining it. I didn't eat
fish that day. I don't even like fish."
Charlie chuckled and shook his head. He sipped from the wine,
smacking his lips. Megan felt like slapping him. Good thing
we aren't serious. "It wasn't so funny for me, you know."
He tsk-ed. "Let me take a look."
She knelt by the sofa. Charlie drew the curtain of shiny hair
away from the nape of her neck. She held her breath unawares.
"No scales here. Better?"
"Yeah." Although she wasn't so sure.
The air conditioning still hadn't been fixed at work. The heat
drove her crazy, which resulted in flare-ups with the cleaning lady,
the gardener and various colleagues.
"Ready with the financial plan?" Her boss stuck his salt and
pepper head in the door of her office.
"Johnny, you've asked three times just this week. You'll be
the first to know when I'm done, alright?" She could afford such a tone
-- Johnny was lost without her.
Megan blew out the air. She needed to cool down now.
She went into the bathroom on the third floor. She avoided the one
nearest her office since the . . . accident. Careful not to look into
the mirror she drank herself full, wetted the nape of her neck and was
about to dry her hands, when a silvery glint caught her eye. Her glance
dragged to the mirror almost against her will. The air escaped her
mouth with a hiss.
The scales covered the back and the side of her neck. She
tried to scrape them off, but all she achieved was bloodying her neck.
The sight of the scales opening slightly under the strain made her
Her hair unbound to hide her neck, she went back to the
burrito joint in the lunch break. There were two guys behind the
counter this time. She went straight to the cash register.
"The end of the line is by the door, lady," a man balancing
fizzy drinks on his tray grumbled.
"Just a sec." Megan didn't look at him. "Listen, there is a
girl working here, about this tall . . ." she lifted her hand to her
shoulder's height, then her words died away. She couldn't even give a
proper description of her.
The cashier didn't do a good job of hiding his annoyance.
"Quite a number of girls working here, ma'am."
"Do you have an employees' list? You know, with photos?"
He scratched his net-covered bald head. "This is not the best
time. . . ."
"Look, the sooner I can look at that list, the sooner we get
done here." She ignored the pointed remarks coming from the line.
The cashier came back with a laminated page. She scanned it
with slightly trembling fingers. The girl was not on the list.
"We were here about two weeks ago. She made me a cold burrito.
. . . Was she fired?"
He shrugged. "This list is refreshed every time there is a
change in staff. No one fired or newly employed in the past month. Now
if you don't mind, we are kinda busy here."
She took off the mirrors in the anteroom and the living room
and threw away her powder compact. She'd have to go on without makeup
but that couldn't be helped. She didn't want to throw away the whole
bathroom cabinet, so she just covered its mirrored doors.
"Charlie, do you see anything on my neck?" she asked later
"Not this again! What's up with the mirrors, by the way?"
He gave in with a sigh. "Nothing, just like the previous
He's lying, Megan thought. Her stomach
clenched with panic.
"How can I help you today, Megan?" Dr. Richardson settled in
the armchair with a cup of green tea.
Megan stirred her own tea listlessly. "I think something is
happening to me. I . . . don't even know how to explain without
"Megan, we are not here to judge or label. 'Crazy' is an
outdated notion most therapists wouldn't. . . ."
"Yeah, yeah," she waved impatiently. "I'm seeing things. . . ."
"It's, uh . . ." she rubbed the nape of her neck, then caught
her hand away when she realized what she was doing. But that gave her
an idea. She drew her hair away from her neck. "Can you see anything
Her heartbeat drummed in her ear in the silence that followed.
"What am I supposed to be seeing?"
Megan felt frozen inside. She's in on it. They all
are. "Scales," she said flatly.
"Scales? You see scales on your neck?"
Oh, don't act like you don't, she felt like
snapping. I need to find another therapist.
Dr. Richardson's velvety brown eyes searched her face. "When
did you see them first?"
Megan didn't feel like talking about this anymore. She wanted
to call Dr. Richardson out on being a part of it. And then
she'll be convinced you are crazy. She wondered if she could
get hospitalized by force. You'll have to act along not to
"About a month ago. We went to Cheney's with the guys for
burritos, and there was this girl. . . . She is not working there
anymore. Don't know how to find her. . . . She said 'you'll die as
fish' or something like that, and the first scales appeared about a
"Why would you want to find her?"
"So that she'd . . ." she fell silent. Take her
curse off me. You know how that sounds, right
This wasn't her usual inner voice. It was an unpleasant,
smirking voice she didn't recognize. "To . . . to talk with her?
Clarify this misunderstanding?"
Dr. Richardson took up her clipboard. "Megan, have you heard
about autosuggestion? It is a known phenomenon; you are not alone with
it. You believe this girl cursed you, and your brain makes you actually
see scales on your neck."
"With the right methods you can persuade your brain not to
show you things that are not there." She was gesticulating with her pen
in her long, brown fingers. "Is there a specific time or place when you
see these scales?"
"I don't see how this girl should have the power to get me to
Dr. Richardson glanced discreetly at the clock. "She doesn't,
Megan. Your mind does. Tell me, when do you see the scales?"
"Whenever I look into a mirror." Or at a window, or
any kind of reflecting surface, really.
"Can you feel them, when you touch your neck?"
"Are you up for an experiment?" She pulled out a pocket mirror
from her purse.
Megan swallowed. "I'd rather not."
"The only way to snap out of this delusion is facing your
fears, Megan. The first step is acknowledging the problem. Only that
way can you eventually let it go."
She eyed the mirror as if it was a coiled up snake. "You think
I'm going crazy, right?"
"I'd rather not use that term. . . ."
"Whatever. I'm not here to argue about semantics."
Dr. Richardson hid the mirror in the shelter of her hands. "I
can only help you if you are willing to let me help, Megan."
"You think crazy pills can sedate me to the point where I
can't see the scales anymore? Cause let me tell you, I'm more and more
willing to give it a try."
"I don't think they are necessary, Megan." Dr. Richardson
looked at her with maddening patience. "You don't have to do it now.
Take your time."
Megan held out her hand for the mirror. She hadn't seen her
reflection for weeks, keeping her eyes on the ground if she walked past
windows or buildings with shiny marble covers. So far she managed to
snatch her glance away in time when she came across the occasional
"That's very brave, Megan."
Oh, shut up! she wanted to scream.
Her reflection was fuzzy from the shaking of her hand. She
stabilized it with her other hand.
"What do you see?"
She had no words for what she saw. Her voice was a hoarse
croak. "It's. . . ."
One of her eyebrows was gone and her hair was receding to give
place to scales. They covered half of her face. Her left ear
disappeared; in its place was a cut that opened and closed to the
rhythm of her breath. Her nose began to flatten. The left side of her
mouth lost that curve she was so proud of, transforming into a ragged,
shapeless cut. Even her left eye was affected; instead of the light
green, almost yellowish hue she was born with, it was a round,
expressionless silvery white with no white around the iris.
"This is not me. It cannot be. Why am I seeing this?"
"What are you seeing, Megan?"
She snapped the mirror shut. "Never mind. I'd like to go home
now, if you don't mind."
Summer passed and the weather finally cooled down in the first
weeks of October. She stayed in her cottage by the lake. She quit her
job -- she couldn't handle going there everyday, all her colleagues
acting like they didn't see.
Charlie kept on calling for a while, then stopped. Megan
She took long baths in the evenings. Always bubble baths, to
hide the surface of the water. She held her breath and closed her eyes,
locking out sound and sight, submerging in the comforting dark and
She didn't notice how time flew during these baths. . . . Once
she got out of the tub and realized that three hours had passed. But if
her skin felt itchy and crawly when dry!
She took off her clothes and walked to the end of the jetty.
She sat and swung her legs above the water, not minding the fin
flapping in the mirror of the lake. She lowered herself into the chilly
water and swam in the soothing, silky darkness. Here she could be truly
herself at last.
She went deeper, not noticing or caring about her lungs
screaming for air, or the black dots swarming at the edge of her
vision. Who needs lungs when you have gills? She opened her mouth and
breathed in the dark water.
© 2017 Susan Anwin
Bio: Ms. Anwin is from Budapest, Hungary. Her
flash-fiction "Talk of Armadale Trees" was featured in the anthology My
Favourite Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012. Her last
Aphelion appearance was Eddie's Lousy Saturday in our
December, 2016 issue.
E-mail: Susan Anwin
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