Author : Q.B. Fox
When we broke down, it left me with some time to kill, so I slipped into a little café near the port and bought a latte and a muffin. The breakfast rush had long gone and it was still too soon for an early lunch, so I was the only customer apart from a casually dressed fellow, sat against the wall and lost behind that day’s paper.
I idled away the minutes as the coffee cooled, breaking pieces off the muffin and staring dreamily out of the large windows at the beautiful people filling the sun drenched streets; amazingly perfect, colourfully dressed, beautiful people.
Of course, if you know nothing else about the place, and to be honest I knew very little more, you’d have heard about the accident. When was it? Five years ago? Ten?
Anyway, it was a funny thought, to think that all these perfect people had been made that way; remade that way, really.
It was so unexpected I jumped when he spoke. Perhaps I’d mumbled something of my thoughts out loud (I do that sometimes), perhaps he’d just guessed what I was thinking.
“You ever been to the aquarium, ever seen the reef exhibit?” he asked, a disembodied voice from behind the headlines.
I confessed I’d not seen anymore of the city than what I could see through this window.
“If you go during the day,” he explained, “and look into the tank, it’s filled with beautiful fish, all different colours and shapes and patterns, but each one as beautiful as the next.”
I crumbled a raisin out of the sponge, popped it in my mouth, turning to face him.
“But if you go in the evening,” he continued casually, half his attention apparently still focused on the news print, “they dim the lights, make it night time, and that’s when the ugly fish come out; grey and brown fish with bug eyes and pointy, sticky-out teeth; funny looking, bloated fish, with round bodies and stubby fins; freak show fish not meant to be out in the light of day.”
He paused; and I waited, waited to see where he was going.
“It’s not like those fish are put into the tank at night, they’re there all along, hiding in the crevices in the coral, waiting for it to be safe to go out.”
And then he did something that shocked me, made me see the whole world differently.
He lowered his paper.