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Salvatore - a Short Story.

The friendship between Salvatore and I was a strange one. It really wasn’t because of anything else, but it was because Salvatore was a fish.

My father owned a seafood business. Each morning when the faint moon was still lingering above the misty horizon, he woke me up by nudging my elbows and we walked bare feet in sandals in the chilly dawn. On the moonlit shore, men with dark sun-kissed skin were pulling up their little fishing boats which were stuffed with fat, quivering fish. My father paid them an amount depending on the size and type of the fish, then we poured the fish into a huge sack and took it home side by side.

I never paid much attention to those fish, not even when I was pulling out their organs in the bloody sink and hanging them up ready for sale. No, I never paid attention to them. I saw them as a source of money, an income, and I treated them like prey to be slaughtered and food ready to be eaten at any time. Perhaps it was because of their eyes, prominent and still, the same dead or alive.

Things took a turn on an August day. Like every other morning, I was deftly cleaning the freshly captured fish and arranging the finished ones on a rusted steel plate, and the sun was ascending nonchalantly outside the squared window in the kitchen. The powerful sound of a knife flinging onto the cut board with something fleshy in between was the only thing I heard as I gifted each fish an end to its vain suffering. Most were dead before they came onto this cut board or into the kitchen. Some tough ones were still moving their gills feebly, their tails trembling in despair when the knife gashed through them. Salvatore was one of them, although I didn’t realise that when I first placed the motionless fish on the board and held it by the head. It was the last fish to clean and by then, the sun was on the window’s very top and penetrating the glass. As I prepared to lower my knife, a stream of incandescent light met the knife’s gleamed surface and ricocheted to permeate the room. The sharp and startling brightness made me shut my eyes and loosened my grip on Salvatore for a fleeting moment - and that was when it happened.

The still fish’s tail slapped against the cut board and sprang high up in the midair and at an acute angle towards the window, shattering the glass as it flew through. My father who heard the strident crash ran to the kitchen and saw a hole in the window that was too large to be a bullet wound but too powerful to be anything else. I pulled him along with me to the outside and found the fish lying on the ground that was stained by blood, and small pieces of sharp glass were all around it. I kneeled beside it and saw its gill still moving, its eyes still glimmering with the light of life. It was still alive.

Ever since that day, I kept the fish in the bathtub of my cluttered garage and called it Salvatore, the name connoting ‘the saviour’. Saviour of whom, I didn’t quite know. After autumn arrived, the fishing and the seafood business were closed temporarily. So no more fish came into the kitchen in the mornings. Every day, I spent a few hours in the toilet just to look at the fish and contemplate my thoughts. Whenever I dipped my fingers into the bathwater, Salvatore would glide through them and I felt its cool slippery scales against my skin. The world was at peace during those moments as if all the turmoils that once encircled were gone, all the killings were forgiven. It was just me, Salvatore, and the quiet moon that fell into the water. As the days became shorter and colder, Salvatore seemed to have lost the vitality it once held when breaking away from the knife, shifting less and less. Finally, one morning after a night of heavy snow, I turned on the toilet light and found Salvatore floating in the water with its white belly exposed, wavering slightly only by the movement of water. I would have mistaken it for resting if its eyes still had the beam.

I dried Salvatore’s body with a towel and took it to the shore, burying it in the deep snow. Amidst the flakes-lingering pale world, a sense of insurmountable fury and grief overwhelmed me - a fish so strong had survived the catch and the slaughterman’s knife, but not the winter’s test. As I again sat down by the bathtub, staring into the barren water that had only a portrait of an empty moon, my thought of Salvatore went on.

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