Wild Green Cross Discus

Erika Leigh Veurink

Empire, Rome, Winesap. That’s how Robert describes the Golden Crystal Discus drifting in the tank. First he was a lawyer and then a breath master and now he’s a semi-famous tropical fish copywriter. I’m his intern. He pays me in gift cards of irregular amounts.

You try, he says, and points at a shy Wild Green Cross Discus. The exit sign reflects on the glass. My grandma said that silence is golden but the right words make me feel immaculate. Robert looks at me with expectation and hunger and doubt. The wrinkles in his forehead are like geese on the horizon.

I could say: To me it seems Christ-like.

He could say: How?

I could say: That 1958 Chrysler Imperial convertible you saw that weekend with your best girl.

And he could say nothing at all.

If the fish are dead upon arrival, we send a one-time-only-replacement order at no charge to the customer. But proof of death must be provided. Once, a customer mailed in a sketch instead of the usual flash photo. I was alone in the freezing back room where no one can figure out how to turn off the raspy fire alarm. I opened the envelope with the sharp end of a rejected fish collection net.

Beep. Go away empathy. Beep. Go away morality. Beep. I’d started to see tropical fish as semi-permanent, taxable weight. Beep. I’d made peace with my separation of church and state. But the sketch—the hollowed-out eraser mark of the dead eyes, the grid of folded edges, the shading—pierced me.

Robert called me to the main tank room over the intercom. I felt wobbly standing up. The coldness of the room was the coldness of water. I wondered if I had gills, hidden under the parka I never took off, flapping open and shut.

He pointed to a Wild Green Cross Discus, retailing for $48, from outside the tank. I tried to practice some of the intro breathwork Robert taught me, but my inhales felt buried. The ocean was the biggest, nameless thing I could think of. I felt a craving for salt on my tongue. When Moses parted the Red Sea, did he use the right words? I imagined walking the hallway of sand through the deep water, the walls of wild and glowing fish. Moses pointed to a Wild Green Cross Discus. I said nothing at all.

Erika Leigh Veurink is a writer living in Brooklyn by way of Iowa. She is receiving her MFA from Bennington College. Her work has appeared in Brooklyn Review, Cheap Pop, Hobart, Midwest Review, Triangle House, x-r-a-y, and elsewhere.