We used to squat by the tub and scoop minnows from our bathwater by the dozens. Shelly liked to eat them whole, but I was strictly catch and release. She called it a cruel kindness to submit them to such treatment.
“You’re inflicting something much worse than digestion on those poor fish, Charlie.”
“And what might that be?”
Years later she asks if I remember that day.
Of course I remember. “You ate those fish and you told me how cruel it was to let them go.”
“Was I wrong? Did you do them any favors?”
The question makes me uncomfortable. I recall the minnows’ struggles as soap suds overcame them. Gills suck, torpedo bodies roll, ballast fails, spines arch. I feel their agony as they call out in that silent voice: It’s your fault, Charlie. Death is not painful, but hope? That hurts more than anything.
Shelly presses her hands to her stomach. “For all you know, Charlie, the fish I swallowed are still alive. Jonah and the whale in reverse.”
“It’s been years,” I say. “Do they even live this long?”
Shelly sinks onto her knees, tilts her chin. Her mouth opens wide. Her breath is dank.
Heart pounding, I lean in.
Stephen V. Ramey lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania with his multi-talented wife and two reformed feral cats. His short works have appeared in many places, most recently The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Journal, Every Day Fiction, and Inane from Pure Slush Books. Glass Animals, his debut collection of short fictions, remains available wherever good books are e-sold, and he is hard at work on a new collection of post-progressive flash fictions with the working title of We Dissolve.