Pisces: The Artist Poses His Muse Before a Goldfish Bowl by Kathryn Kulpa

(after Henri Matisse, Woman Before a Fish Bowl )

He never tells me to smile. He says he likes me best for my perfect blankness. Once he painted my eyes. Only my eyes. Floating like olives in a glass jar.

Like pools at the center of the world, he said. So deep and so empty. A crafty witch might dwell there, or a fool.

Before I was his I must have been somebody’s. Even orphans must have had parents once. My mind swims. I don’t remember.

This is what I know: I was born on the third day of the third month and the sun was in Pisces and the moon was in Pisces and something else was in Pisces, the astrologer told me, and that means I’m three times a Pisces. Triple fish.

I’m more fish than you are, I tell the goldfish. He keeps swimming.

When you’re a goldfish nobody stabs you with his forky beard. Nobody turns your chin and tells you to stay like that, just like that.

Pisces is a water sign. Water can slip into tight spaces, then slip out again. Water can take you places, if you’re willing to go. I wonder if my goldfish was born under a water sign.

What other signs do fish have?

I said I loved macarons once and now I have them all the time but I wonder if I ever loved them or just the idea of something so pink and impractical. They taste of forced air and dry kisses. They collect on trays, untouched. I shoot them toward the corners of tables, like billiards.

Once I was alone in the studio. I painted a tray of macarons and my goldfish in his bowl. He laughed. He said the goldfish might as well try to paint me.

He told me goldfish don’t remember. That they swim from one end of the bowl to the other and when they turn back, everything is new.

I watch my goldfish swimming. His tiny mouth shapes words only I can hear.

Trapped, like me. Trapped, like me.

He says goldfish don’t sleep. They don’t dream.

I think goldfish dream of being sharks.

Kathryn Kulpa spent much of her childhood wanting to live in a garret without quite knowing what a garret was. She is a flash fiction editor at Cleaver magazine and has work published or forthcoming in Atlas and Alice, Milk Candy Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. Her flash fiction was chosen for Best Microfiction 2020.

1950s photo of a woman in a bathing suit underwater sitting on a hook beckoning to a fish
Photo credit: Bruce Mozert — Silver Springs Underwater (fishing hook)
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