Aquarium

Aquarium

A Story by Georgina V Solly
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An embittered divorced woman, with only a dog and an aquarium for company is incapable of making an effort in any kind of relationship – man or woman.

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AQUARIUM

 

Just like black cliffs the buildings rose threateningly above the streets. In order to see the sun, the people had to stretch their heads back and look upwards. This effort was awarded with the sight of a tiny piece of blue sky. Seeing this blue was enough to convince the vast majority that there was still something more than the great grey city. In this city lived many people but apart from the nearest ones or those that met at work or at home nobody exchanged more than one or two words of little importance among themselves. During the day, the city was greyer due to the fumes from the vehicles. Different noises accompanied the noxious smells which added to the sensation of suffocation. Everything was nerves and hurry. From six in the morning when the men in the market began to unload the lorries till the last citizen arrived home from work the rhythm accelerated fast. There was no time to think The important thing was to get through the day. The people spent a lot of time looking at watches and clocks wondering how much time was left before going home.

The amount of dirt depended on the season of the year. The sticky winter wetted the pavements making them slippery. In summer there was a mountain of dust. In spite of the heat nobody wanted to open their windows for fear of the dust.

As nobody knew anybody else other than to exchange more than a couple of words it was no surprise that the other side of the street was unknown territory. The neighbours didn’t usually peer out of their windows for any reason other than to find out what the weather was like. The sight of another building better or worse than their own didn’t arouse any interest.

One morning when it was neither winter nor spring, from her living-room window Silvia gazed out to scrutinise the weather; she wanted to know two things, if it were possible to take the dog out for a walk and whether she needed a coat or could do without one. The winter had been long and everyone was anxious for spring to arrive.

Every day Silvia gazed out at the street. Nothing had changed in the two years since she had moved there. What was left of her marriage was the dog, an aquarium, and a woman wounded deep down inside her. From the day that Silvia’s husband had come home to say farewell to her with a “Goodbye. The dog is yours and the aquarium too, you can keep them both.” Silvia suffered from complete isolation. If she didn’t have to work, or take the dog out for a walk, she doubted that she would have ever recovered from the trauma. So it was to be expected Silvia never spoke to men. The only men she ever spoke to were customers at the florist’s, the waiter at the café in the square, and a few others in various shops. Every man was condemned in Silvia’s eyes, condemned before being judged. That day was nothing special and in the moment she was about to take her eyes off the street, Silvia saw the man. It’s not at all strange to see a man in a window, but in that window opposite, yes, it was strange. For some inexplicable reason Silvia felt annoyed. She picked up the dog and went out into the street.

Silvia and the dog followed the same route every day. The dog knew where he had to go and where he could raise his leg in safety. It was his territory. The woman and the dog understood each other very well. Mifi, the dog with his head inclined on one side was the receiver of  Silvia’s deepest thoughts and her  kisses and hugs. For Silvia, Mifi was the family she had never had. There was nothing too good for the dog, he ate the best food, his basket was full of toys, and in winter on the coldest days she put a hot water bottle in it for him. The morning walk always finished up with a visit to the café on a corner of the square. The waiter greeted Silvia and the dog. When the dog saw the waiter he wagged what looked more like a pompon than a tail in greeting. Silvia drank quickly and said, “See you later,” to the boy, and returned to the street with a disgusted ball of fur behind her. The dog never understands why the visits to the café were always so short.

Silvia had a florist’s, bought with the money she received after the divorce. She had an assistant called Angela, who was not just a help in the shop but a psychological help as she was one of the few people that Silvia spoke to. There were fixed customers and those who bought plants and flowers a couple of times a year to liven up a birthday, anniversary, or Christmas. While she was working, Silvia let her imagination run riot, visualising the look of happy surprise on the face of the woman who received the plants or the bouquet. Depending on the age and the appearance of the man, Silvia and Angela tried to guess who the flowers were for. The mother, the wife, the lover, or the secretary. The two women had come to the conclusion that men buy flowers and plants for the women in their lives not because they really want to present them with something, but more for appearances. At times Silvia wondered how many flowers and plants wrapped and tied with silk ribbons and with a card that read ‘to my beloved’ ‘to my darling’ her ‘ex’ had sent to the woman who had replaced Silvia in his life. Probably neither a plant nor a flower. Silvia could not imagine that the dry man with whom she had spent thirteen years of her life writing down words of love. Once when she was in the shop and she was thinking about her ‘ex-husband’ she had suddenly started laughing. A man who had just entered the shop stared at her with a strange look on his face. Silvia put her hand over her mouth to calm herself down and apologised for her behaviour but she hadn’t seen him enter. She was now more careful with her imagination, but it had taken her a long time before she could stop thinking about the man who had been the love of her life.

 

Silvia told Angela about the man in the window.

“But you take the act of his being in the window as if he had no right to do so.”

“Well it isn’t like that. I’d like to know where he’s come from. I don’t understand why I haven’t seen him before.”

“Are you interested in him?” Angela asked her.

“You’re wrong. It’s not that. It’s worse if he isn’t new in the area than if he is.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“I’ll explain myself better. If he’s new in the area, which I doubt very much, nothing’s wrong. But if he’s been in the neighbourhood these last two years means that I’ve lost something, or that I’ve been in ignorance of another human being.”

“That happens to everyone. And don’t forget you haven’t wanted to know anything about men. At times, you’ve even had suspicions about the people the plants and flowers were going to. Seeing in the most ordinary type of men inveterate Casanovas. As you’ve been so blind as regards men you shouldn’t be surprised if now you notice someone who’s probably been there all the time.”

Silvia shrugged her shoulders and began to sort out a difficult plant. When the talks with Angela reached a certain point, in order to avoid a quarrel Silvia always did the same she busied herself  with something. If it weren’t for Mifi she wouldn’t have any incentive in her life. At least he attracted people, but alone I don’t believe I’d be able to attract anyone, Silvia thought to herself sometimes. Every afternoon on closing the florist’s she went home as fast as possible. As soon as she opened the door Mifi jumped out of his basket with his fanlike pompon, yapping screams of joy. Silvia prepared two dinners one for her and another for her dog. Before dining Silvia peered through the window. Why? What could there be in the street or in the house opposite to interest her? So I look for him because I’m interested? Silvia closed the curtains with such force that she surprised herself.

Dinner over, the dog stretched himself out on the rug in front of the television, this was his place. When the clearing up was done, Silvia made an effort to concentrate on the images on the screen. She was successful for a while but as soon as a competition came on she switched it off. It was time for the night time walk before going to bed. When Mifi saw the television switched off he stretched his legs and with a look of hope in his eyes approached Silvia. The two went down to the street. It was night time, everything dark and cold. Neither of them was very keen on being out in the street at this time, however, there are more important things to do than watch television. There are necessities. Duties over Mifi pulled on the lead and went off in the direction of the café.

Are we so programmed that even Mifi knows what was going to happen next? This thought had entered Silvia’s head several times, and even more so when she went out with the dog and realised how reduced her life was. She soon got this out of her head when she saw the café and the table lamps. For Mifi the cafe was his second home. Every night the chef gave him a meal from the leftovers. The chef didn’t speak to Silvia he simply spoke to Mifi. The animal was the connection between the world where Silvia was, if it hadn’t been for him she would never have had the courage to go into the café alone. The noise of the door opening made Silvia involuntarily turn her head. It was him, the one in the window. What right did this intruder have to go in there? The waiter greeted him and he ordered a cognac. Silvia felt annoyed picked up the dog and said, “See you tomorrow,” to the waiter and left.

The only light in the flat came from the aquarium. On very busy days Silvia would stand in front of it to gaze intensely at the fish, the plants, the ornaments, such as the diver, the shipwreck, the pieces of coral, but above all she found the sound of the bubbling of the water made her relax and she even had fallen asleep while looking at the aquarium. It was the only calming thing in her life. At times Silvia tried to imagine what it would be like to be inside, behind the glass walls. She spent a lot of her time behind glass walls in the shop and had come to the conclusion that human beings lived trapped in aquariums too, just like the fish. Some in better conditions and others in worse, but the result was the same, we all move between walls, in the same way that the fish can see us but not touch us, we are like that among ourselves. The walls are invisible to our eyes but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Analysing her situation, Silvia accepted the fact that she was alone with her dog and her aquarium. Until the man’s appearance in the house opposite, her life had been most monotonous, but safe. The emotion spent in remaking her life after being married for thirteen years, had left her empty in questions of love. Since her husband’s disappearance from her life Silvia hadn’t wanted anything to do with men, she had promised herself never to get married again. The intrusion of this man in what was a life without incentive didn’t please her at all. Why did he have to go to the café? It was the place she and Mifi went to every day. He will have to find another place. The café is ours. If I find him there I’ll have to leave, I can’t bear the idea that this character may ruin my life.

On the days following the meeting in the café Silvia did everything possible to avoid a confrontation with her neighbour. Sometimes Mifi was puzzled on seeing that his walks were getting shorter or that he was dragged away from a very interesting tree.

Besides all this Silvia started having problems with her other neighbour in the next door building again. In fact the two women didn’t know each other, they knew of each other for other reasons.

Silvia lived on the sixth floor and in the building next door lived a witch or whatever. In Silvia’s eyes that woman was nothing more than a badly brought up ignoramus who didn’t deserve a name. Silvia slept in the back part of the flat. For some unknown reason the woman had the brilliant idea of making omelettes at midnight, with the kitchen door open so that everyone would be informed. When she had arrived at the flat Silvia had done nothing about it, but with time she had her nerves on edge from the noise of the beating of the eggs in a bowl with a fork as if she were trying to kill them. She must be getting rid of all her frustrations making omelettes, thought Silvia. After some time she could bare it no longer. One night when she had a first-class tiredness on her, and she had just gone to sleep, and her bed seemed to be the most comfortable place in the world, the woman started up with an omelette. For Silvia it was the worst thing that could possibly happen to her. Getting out of bed she went to the kitchen. On other occasions she had shouted, but this time she wanted to do something stronger to make her noisy neighbour take notice. The only thing she found were some sugar cubes. Silvia threw several at the sleep-enemy’s open door. The woman roared with laughter when she saw the sugar and shouted, “Where’s the coffee?” Mortified, Silvia went back to bed and slept. After that Silvia began to sleep on the studio couch to avoid any  more confrontations.

The worst of all this is that I’m the one who always gives in; they don’t change. What right has this woman to annoy the neighbourhood with her omelettes? Why do I have to flee from her in my own home? People shouldn’t annoy. The worse thing was the laugh of that ignorant female. Silvia imagined what she would like to do with the egg killer. Shut her up in a room when she wanted to sleep and with hundreds of forks beating eggs to make sure she didn’t fall asleep, and not to stop till the noisy witch fell on her knees pleading forgiveness. This was Silvia’s most extreme idea. There were others. Later she thought it was a waste of time and hoped that destiny would solve the situation.

Silvia went back to sleeping in the bedroom when she had realised that to live and sleep in one room wasn’t a good thing. On a night when it was so hot that windows had to be left open, the noise of two female voices came to Silvia’s ears. She went to her window and saw that the light was coming from the witch’s flat. It was her again! Silvia couldn’t understand why outsiders had to annoy her when she didn’t annoy anybody; she felt as if the walls were enclosing her more and more, she was incapable of finding a clear way of escaping from it.

I’ll have to accept it or flee. I don’t want to go. If my presence annoys them, I’m going to stay. Let them get on with it.

 

Springtime was short and wet. The little dog didn’t like going out in the rain but Silvia dragged him out and he had no option but to go with her. One day when the rain didn’t permit staying in the street for very long, Silvia and the dog went into the café earlier than usual. Silvia decided to have a cake and coffee and the waiter brought Mifi a bowl of water. The man was standing at the other end of the bar. Seeing that the dog had finished the water Silvia stood up and asked for the bill. The boy was surprised at the speed with which the woman and the dog had finished and thought that something was wrong, and asked, but Silvia (who never gave explanations to anyone) just said goodbye and left. To get home quickly Silvia carried her dog in her arms to the lift. When she put him down, Mifi shook himself and stared at his owner’s peculiar behaviour.

Silvia was furious. I can’t get rid of him. Just as the omelette women had forced her to sleep in the living-room Silvia now felt hemmed in. The café, one of he few places where she loved going, would she have to leave it? Why do people have to impose themselves where nobody has asked them to. Mifi received a caress from Silvia before settling down in his basket. There was no one to caress her. That’s all I need, to get myself involved with a man again just to find out later that he’s not what he appears to be. They’re all the same. They promise you heaven before marrying you and later all you get are dirty underpants and problems.

One day when Silvia had got used to a change in her timetable so as to avoid him, she woke up very tired. The man was as usual in the window, she felt him looking through the glass and briskly closed the curtains. I’m going to keep them closed. What’s he playing at? I have given him no motive for this pantomime. He must be some sort of an idiot chasing a woman this way. And so she took no notice of him. The little dog had to make do with a few minutes, enough to water some plants, and a swift return home.

Angela saw Silvia’s face and decided to keep quiet. Silvia launched a verbal attack on the man in the window, finishing up with a reference to her neighbour.

“They have no right to annoy. Every time I go to bed she starts with the eggs. And he, every morning, is at his post in the window. He probably thinks I’m attracted to him.”

And aren’t you? Angela wanted to say. She never said these thoughts out loud, it would have been a big mistake. Silvia was very friendly with everyone who went in the shop, even with men, although at times she went over the top and said to Angela when a customer had gone out of the shop. “The poor woman who has to live with him. Look at his backside, he must be wearing his father’s trousers! What a shirt! What a repulsive colour! Seeing his teeth no one would want to kiss him!”

At times she wasn’t so cruel, simply indifferent. Angela knew that the man in the window had to have something to annoy Silvia so much, but as usual she was very careful with what she said so as not to upset her. The last thing Angela wanted was to lose her job.

 

One summer night when it was warm, but nevertheless, the day had been exhausting. Silvia and the dog went back to the café. Silvia had spoken to herself and to Mifi before leaving the flat. If he’s there I’ll ignore him. I’m not going to let a complete stranger ruin my life.

As a gesture of defiance Silvia sprayed herself with a powerful perfume that’s the type that still hangs in the air even after the wearer is no longer in sight. The café was quite lively, the tables on the pavement were all occupied. Silvia entered and went up to the bar. In order not to arouse suspicions in the man or in the waiter she didn’t look around her but maintained her gaze ahead without diverting her eyes. She decided on an ice cold drink as it was hot. She knew that he was at the other end of the bar just like the previous time. She drank up without stopping and when she’d finished she picked up a packet of meat pieces the waiter had given to Mifi and put them in her bag. The waiter told her she didn’t have to pay because the man who had just left had already paid. Silvia told the waiter that he had to accept her money and that the other had no right to pay for her. “I can pay for  myself. I don’t know what he’s up to but I don’t find it at all amusing. I’m not an object.”

So the poor waiter had to accept Silvia’s money without understanding her attitude. Grumbling Silvia almost ran into her flat. She was angry with herself for having gone to the café and with an unknown man who had annoyed her since his arrival some months ago. Several times, Silvia felt that he was staring at her when they had coincided in some place. Silvia without thinking twice had forgotten about men and showed herself to be indifferent.

That night Silvia didn’t sleep well. Her mind was full of confused ideas. The woman on the fourth floor once more had started up with an omelette at midnight. Silvia in revenge had waited till she saw all the bedroom lights turned off and got out some old-fashioned alarm clocks that needed winding up and placed them in a metal bowl. At the moment when everyone should have been on the frontier between wakefulness and sleep the alarms went off. The sound was more than terrible. Silvia couldn’t contain herself, she was sitting on top of her bed shaking with laughter. Windows were opened and voices were heard, including that of the omelette maker. If she says anything she’ll see what I can answer her.

Maybe the omelette maker understood that all that noise was directed towards her and didn’t put her head outside to find out. Soon all was quiet and tranquillity reigned for the rest of the night.

One Saturday night Silvia arrived home much more exhausted than usual. Since the night of he alarm clocks and the last visit to the café, Silvia had a sensation of asphyxia. Her life consisted only of Mifi, the shop, the flat, and some outings to the supermarket. Once she had met up with the waiter who told her that the man that paid the bill had asked about her a couple of times. Silvia didn’t wish to know any more and said goodbye to the boy and went up to her flat to look for Mifi. The dog was her only source of happiness at that moment.

That Saturday Silvia could stand no more and went out with Mifi in the direction of the square. Without being aware of his arrival, he was standing in front of her and stroking Mifi’s head, who seemed to be enjoying it. He introduced himself but Silvia said she had to go back home. What a shame, he said, and it’s so early. I have something to do, Silvia had told him at the same time pulling one disappointed little dog on his lead. Mifi loved going out and meeting people, however, lately  Silvia had only gone out for the most necessary things.

At home Silvia wagged her forefinger at Mifi, traitor! How could you do this to me? Letting him caress you. We are not going anywhere till tomorrow. Mifi felt that something had happened by the tone of her voice, he went up to her and put his front paws and his face against her feet. Silvia just couldn’t resist him and picking him up in her arms said that he was the only person in the world who understood her. Feeling that all was well again, Mifi got into his basket and fell asleep. “I have to confess that at times I treat poor Mifi badly, when he doesn’t deserve such treatment. He has always been good to me.”

 

Silvia didn’t know whether it was because of the strange mood she was in or if it was the heat, but the aquarium seemed different. The water had the appearance as if it were the symbol of all waters. The plants were greener and shinier than normal, the colours of the fish illuminated the green-blue of the aquarium with sparks of colour, moving from one side to another. The relaxing sound of the air machine together with the soft light inside the aquarium caused Silvia to fall into a deep sleep. Not a normal sleep but as if it were a journey through the aquarium. She had the sensation of being attracted by the water.

Silvia woke up and felt herself inside the aquarium. She didn’t know how she had got inside. The plants moved softly and Silvia walked between them to find out what they were like. The fish took no notice of her. Here inside everything appeared different. Silvia swam up and down playing with the fish and enjoying the plants and the ornaments. The interior of the aquarium was a mixture of light, shadow, and bubbles. She tried catching bubbles but couldn’t. The fish did nothing else but swim and at times pick up something from the sand. What a monotonous life! Always doing the same! Silvia explored the bottom for some minutes when she suddenly hit something. What was it? She realized it was a wall of the aquarium. She was afraid. How can I escape? Summoning all her strength Silvia tried to get out. The harder she fought, the more she was tied up in the plants dragging her to the bottom. It lasted so long, it was as if she had always been fighting. In the end she had to give in and she remained quiet at the bottom in the sand. Here at least I feel comfortable, and from her new place at the bottom of the aquarium Silvia stared at the fish .

 

Summer was in full swing. Every day it got hotter. What with work, the dog and the tiredness she had, Silvia had no time to think about the neighbour, she paid no attention to the omelettes either. Ever since the incident with the alarm clocks either the woman had lost her taste for omelettes or she prepared them at some other time. It made no difference. At half-past midnight every night Silvia fell into bed with no energy left to think or worry about anything.

Mifi felt the same. With a short walk a couple of times a day he was happy, he spent his time when in the flat walking up and down the corridor in the draught that came from the open windows. Silvia didn’t care much for the summer holidays and many times didn’t even bother to go away.

That year, she felt the need to go away for a while to animate herself and put her life in perspective. She had the vague idea of looking for another flat. July was the worst month for the heat, and she ticked off every day to perk herself up a bit. At the end of the month she said goodbye to Angela till the beginning of September, and put a notice  on the door ‘CLOSED FOR HOLIDAYS’. She went home and all that evening she spent cleaning and tidying up her flat, emptying the kitchen cupboards and disconnecting the fridge. The washing machine worked ceaselessly, and Silvia didn’t rest till her suitcase was packed. While all this activity was taking place, Mifi contentedly went around inspecting everything. When Silvia finally went to bed it was two o’clock in the morning.

At seven o’clock Silvia and Mifi left home. The café was open and they went in to have something. The usual boy wasn’t there instead there was another one. Silvia had her breakfast in the café so as not to dirty up what she had cleaned the night before.

At the railway station Mifi had to go into a basket and stay in the back part of the train, Silvia had put some toys in the basket. She preferred taking Mifi with her than to leave him in a kennels for a month and not see him. That way the two of them had a holiday, and together. The train started up and Silvia was happy just to sit and stare at the countryside through the window. One whole month away from the city.

 

It was the last day of August when the two travellers returned to the closed flat. Silvia said to Mifi when she opened the door that the flat smelt of not having had any fresh air in it. The janitor had fed the fish and cleaned the aquarium. Mifi who had spent the past month running around in the open air, didn’t view going back to the flat with much excitement. But as soon as he saw the aquarium he made his sounds of happiness and went running from room to room. With the windows open the flat soon lost the smell of having been shut up. Silvia deliberately made no effort to look at the flat opposite, she kept the net curtains closed.

That evening the two went back to the café and were greeted by their usual waiter. What a long time. Have you been away. How suntanned you are. He said to them. Silvia had a martini and Mifi a bowl of water. Silvia couldn’t escape he was behind her. The waiter who wasn’t the brightest spark on the planet commented on how tanned the lady was. The man said she was, and he bent down and stroked Mifi’s head for a little. Silvia didn’t feel so hemmed in as before but at the same time she was annoyed by the waiter’s behaviour. He had no right to get involved in his customers’ business and much less in Silvia’s. Silvia had had a good time in the country and she didn’t want to go back to the state of nervousness she had been in before. She paid her bill at once, but the man said he would pay it. Silvia told him coldly that she was perfectly capable of paying for her own drinks. Leaving money on top of the bar she went out into the street with Mifi. That was it, she would never go back there. She was going to find another flat.

 

In September the heat was far away and people looked forward to the autumnal rains. Every week Silvia bought magazines advertising flats for sale or rent. She was not in a hurry she knew more or less what she wanted. At times Silvia thought that maybe it was not a good idea to move but as soon as she thought about the man and the woman with the omelettes and the fact that she no longer had anywhere to go for a walk with her dog, she got down to looking for a new place with more enthusiasm than ever. In the second half of September the rains began which meant that Silvia was not so keen on going out with Mifi  and only went to work. Neither did she have so much interest in looking at flats and put it off till the weather improved.

In October with much colder weather and the trees began undressing, Silvia found her flat. She could move in at the end of the month. At last a new district. I can start again, she thought to herself. Angela received the news with a strange look on her face, “Do you think you should move?” she had commented to Silvia, who had often thought that Angela was not very bright. “How can I possibly continue living here without being able to go out when I feel like it?” had been Silvia’s reply.

“Who’s forbidding you to go out?”

“Are you stupid? The man in the café and the neighbour who doesn’t let me sleep.” Silvia said no more about the man and regretted she had mentioned anything about moving to Angela.

The last week of Silvia’s, Mifi’s, and the aquarium’s stay in the flat went by in a rush. Every day there was something to pack up or to wash. One morning, it was a Thursday, Silvia took down the living-room curtains to wash them. Without thinking her eyes went towards the flat opposite, the blinds were down. There was no sign of life. Silvia switched on the washing-machine and grabbed hold of Mifi and they launched themselves in the direction of the café.

She ordered a coffee. Behaving as normally as possible, she asked the waiter where the man who used to live opposite her had gone to, because she had something of his that she wanted to return. The waiter said that the man, who was a widower and alone, had fallen in love with someone in the district but as she had shown no interest in him, he gone had to live somewhere else.

“How long ago did he go away?”

“I think it must have been about mid-September. I’ve got his address so I can forward his mail. So if you’d like to come by this afternoon I’ll give you his new address and you can send it to him.”

“Thank you,” Silvia paid him and left.

 

On her way home to the flat that she was about to leave because of him, Silvia looked up at his windows where the blinds had been lowered, lowered against her. He had gone away because of her and she was leaving because of him, she thought.

From deep down inside herself Silvia felt she had lost something. I’ve still got you, Mifi, she thought as she stroked her patient little dog.

 

© 2012 Georgina V Solly


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Added on November 13, 2011
Last Updated on July 9, 2012
Tags: divorcee, aquarium, dog, inflexible, isolation, negativity

Author

Georgina V Solly
Georgina V Solly

Valencia, Spain



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First of all, I write to entertain myself and hope people who read my stories are also entertained. I do appreciate your loyalty very much. more..

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