“I really must speak to you about the koi.” The speaker was a man still in his pajamas, standing by the tall window overlooking the courtyard.
Countess Vinsensio Blue Moon Rising considered whether to answer his query. He was in no manner dressed to be received by her, a countess with more generations of generals and statesman standing in regimented rows of ancestry than he was capable of imagining. Still, his comment concerning koi piqued her interest. Of all her hobbies, tending to the koi was her favorite.
“What, precisely, is the matter?” she said. She did not care to look at him, and so looked away. The courtyard trees brimmed with cherries — another of her hobbies — but she could not see the ponds from her vantage in the blue chair. Blue was the color she preferred in chairs and walls and area rugs. Various complementary shades, of course, but blue through and through.
“They’re floating,” the man in pajamas stated.
“Koi often laze in the sunshine at this time of — ”
“I mean they’re floating upside-down, belly-up as it were.” His voice conveyed sympathy, though that was difficult to credit in a man who wore pajamas all day.
Now the Countess did look at him, directly into his steely eyes. His angular face was made even longer by the downward-pointed beard on his chin.
“What is your name?” she said.
The man made an awkward bow from the waist. “I am known as Mister Pajama Man by my peers, but you may call me P.J.”
The Countess shifted in her seat without the slightest display of the discomfort she felt from stays digging into her tender flesh. “Is it your habit to go about in pajamas, Mister P… P.J.?”
“It is,” he said. “I have pursued this particular pastime since my detention — a consequence of certain crimes I most vehemently deny! — in this sterile place of delinquent doctors and transparent therapists.” His teeth appeared in what turned out to be a rather full smile. The Countess nodded, though she did not understand why he would refer to her servants in such a manner.
“Is wearing pajamas your singular hobby?” she said. She had little respect for people with merely one hobby, yet she did rather enjoy this man’s smile.
“That, and the koi,” he said. “And one other.”
The Countess nodded. “As we have the koi in common, you may aid me.” She extended her hand, fingers perfectly aligned. He bowed again as he took her hand, which put her at ease. Strange hobbies she could tolerate, but men without manners drove her insensate.
They stood at the window and looked down upon three ponds, as blue as the walls, as blue as the Countess’ blood. And, indeed, every koi seemed to be floating at the surface, the whites of their bellies as bright as the sun.
The Countess’ face went hot. Showing one’s belly was tantamount in fish to a lady revealing her undergarments in public. “Have you witnessed this before?” she said.
“What shall we do about it?” Obviously, the status quo was intolerable. “As a fellow koi enthusiast, we must put our heads together on this matter.”
“Come,” the man in Pajamas said. “We’ll inspect the damage.”
“Very well.” The Countess followed him through double-doors into the courtyard. They bent over the first pool.
“What might cause such a die-off?” she mused aloud. “These fish have a pedigree nearly as distinguished as my own.”
“Poison,” the man in pajamas said.
“Poison?” The Countess straightened. Her ribs pinched with the sudden shifting of her corset. “What evidence to you observe that I do not?” The water was so clear that she could see the blue bottom without the slightest difficulty.
“It’s not that,” the man in pajamas said. The Countess felt his arm slip around her waist. Her first impulse was to smack his hand, but as she was not a creature of first impulse she allowed the surprisingly comfortable pressure to continue.
“If you are concerned about interruption,” he said, “be assured that we are quite alone. I chose this time and place precisely.”
The Countess sighed. “I suppose it cannot be helped; we must associate intimately if we are to solve the mystery of the fish.” She angled her face toward his. She had never kissed a man in a courtyard filled with dead koi.
“You misunderstand me,” the man in pajamas said, “I harbor no passion for koi, Madam, but a strong desire to see them dead.”
The Countess frowned. “You have confused me, sir.”
His grip around her tightened further. “Allow me to enumerate.” He lifted his free hand. “I have precisely three hobbies, Madam.” He extended a finger. “One: Wearing Pajamas.” A second finger ticked out. “Two: Poisoning koi.” A third finger shot forth. “Three: Killing you.” With a sudden thrust he cast the Countess into the pond.
Cold water slapped her face. She struggled and splashed, but in the end the bulk and absorption qualities of her garments bore her down. Air bubbled from her lungs. She turned her face sideways until an orange constellation hung between her and the man in pajamas. He peered through the water like a hawk observing a kill.
She recognized the expectation in his eyes, the all too common exhilaration of witnessing a better unhorsed. Anger bled through her then, dark and cold and hard as steel. She would not give the man in pajamas the satisfaction he sought.
With a final effort, she craned her head around and gazed resolutely into the blue, blue bottom.
Stephen V. Ramey‘s work has appeared in a variety of places. He also edits the Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink, and trapeze, a twitter zine. He lives in New Castle, PA USA, where he regularly visits the odd ducks that live along the river. His collection of very short fiction, Glass Animals, is available from Pure Slush Books via Lulu.com and Amazon.