In the river when I floated free, friendly fellow fish warned me of human and hook. I am proud to say I did not believe them. I knew air-world existed above water-world. I knew about bear. I saw bear’s massive paws in water-world — the two that supported it and the two that reached in to grab fellow fish. But how preposterous was this theory about air-world containing humans with hooks: hook on string, string on stick, stick in human hands?
I argued with fish friends who swore this human-and-hook business happened. Some claimed to have seen man-legs in the river. They said man-legs blend with brown-green mud in free-flowing water. They said nibbled man-legs taste tough and slimy, unlike dark, soft bear-legs.
Some fish friends said they saw hooks in water-world holding exquisitely winged long-tailed, brightly colored fish-food we leap into air-world to catch. But did they see hook, human, stick, string, hook all at once? No. Of course not.
One day to our surprise, a few fish friends and I became bowl-fish. We adjusted quickly. Our new home had hiding places for privacy, regularly served food, and fresh water. We rejoiced at its lack of predators.
We had more time to argue over human, stick, string, hook. My fellow fish claimed that because humans scooped us out of free-flowing water, humans were smart enough to use hook. My response: why would humans use hook, stick, and string if they could scoop like bear? If hook is better than scoop, why doesn’t bear use hook?
Bowl-fish know air-world surrounds water-world. We see hovering human hands drop us food. We see human heads peer above into our world. But one day I saw a huge fish linger outside our bowl.
It was black on top, pale white below the black with enormous eyes. Unmistakably fishlike, a large mouth gleamed of our fish colors — orange and red shimmered there, just as we shimmer in sunlight.
Stunned, I announced, “If this fish lives in air-world, someday we could freely float there!”
My friends scoffed and claimed it was not a fish but a human’s face staring into our bowl and that it was coincidence that its mouth matched our colors. When new fish entered our world and I shared my revelation of life-beyond-bowl, my fish friends flashed their tails and continued to talk of human, stick, string, hook.
Over time, I worried I was not doing what I needed to join air-world. Fish do not live forever. After seeing a human remove a fish friend floating belly up in bowl-world, I decided to act.
I recalled a delight of my free-flowing life when I would leap out of water-world to catch tasty air-world fish food. Summoning strength and courage, I leapt out of bowl-world. I landed with a splat on the surface that held our bowl. I opened my mouth to breathe in air and found that I could not.
Just as my body registered this discovery with flops of failure, I heard a gasp that was not my own. A human who wore my same orange reached out to me with bare hands and delicate fingers tipped with perfectly formed orange-glowing shells. As the creature picked me up by my tail, I saw its beautifully shimmering mouth, revealing that this was a fish-human — the very creature who had peered into bowl-world.
The creature plopped me back into bowl-world. I revived quickly and saw it peer into the side of the bowl as it had done before. I swam to it, my tail waving in happiness and relief. The fish-human touched a finger to its mouth and placed it against the bowl so that if not for the glass, we would have touched. Glow from lips to finger left a shimmer on bowl-world.
The gesture gave me a sense of peace. As my fellow fish gathered around me to assess my wellbeing, I looked upon them with affection and gratitude.
The fish-human now comes frequently to bowl-world. When we see each other, my mouth and its finger almost touch again. I no longer know what to believe about life-after-bowl, but I still enjoy a good discussion of human, stick, string, hook.
Jane L. Green grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana. She received a B.A. in political science from Indiana University and a Master of Science degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. After a career in the US Government, she is now a freelance writer in Maryland.