It starts as a bump on the inside of your left wrist, surrounded by ripples of skin, like pond water disturbed by a tossed pebble. You scratch at the bump absently, your mind drawn away by the flashing cursor, the piles of reports for work—all distractions. It’s not until your brain translates the bump under your probing fingertips into the word fish that you truly focus on it.
There it is: veinous blue, flicking an elegant tail back and forth, immersed in your subcutaneous fluids. It stares at you with bulging eyes, mouth gasping for oxygen, a reflection of your own face when all the air is sucked out of a room and you can’t breathe. It happens more than you will admit.
As the fish glides along your hand, its fins tickle the tips of each finger, one at a time, and they leave a burning sensation; you rub your fingers with a refresher towelette over and over, but the feeling won't leave.
The fish swims up your arm, leaving a trail of fingernail gouges in its wake as it heads towards your shoulder, then your sternum. As it paddles around your heart, the swish-flutter of the fish’s tail sends palpitations through your ventricles. The pressure makes every heartbeat echo under your eardrums; the throb has a deep bass. You retreat to the bathroom.
The fish makes its way down the ladder of your rib cage until it is swimming lazy laps in your gut. The motion sets the waters of your stomach sloshing against the sides; you are seasick. One ferocious dive sends bile rising in your throat, and you stare at your own reflection in the bathroom mirror, taking controlled breaths, trying not to think of flickering blue scales. The effort is futile. You are sick into the toilet. The fish, unperturbed, ascends back to your heart and creates a whirlpool around it.
While you splash water on your face with shaking hands, you envision other places. A lifeless desert. A bleak, snow-capped mountain. A cabin, deep in the forest. Dry, empty places where the fish would never find you.
Amanda McLeod is an Australian author and artist. You can read her work in The Cabinet Of Heed, Rhythm & Bones Literary Magazine, Twist In Time Literary Magazine, and elsewhere. She’s always looking for less noise and tweets about creativity @AmandaMWrites.