Chameleon

Chameleon by

At the newsstand, fighting fish are displayed in clear glass baubles. More than a dozen of these ornaments hang beside the register. I choose a brilliant specimen, a male whose scales are a mix of royal blue and azure. I ask the clerk, can the fish handle air travel. I don’t know, she says, but a copy of our return policy is printed on your receipt. Your fish is good for seven days; if it dies within a week, come back for a replacement free of charge. 

I notice strings of plastic pearls for sale. Inside each ball is a tiny tortoise; you get six reptiles per necklace. Some of them squirm, but most do not move.

The flight attendant serves me Coke in a plastic cup. I place my bauble on the tray table beside a small bag of airline pretzels. The bauble feels warm, so I give my fish a single ice cube and watch it dissolve. 

At thirty thousand feet, we pass over wild rice country. Far below are the browns, greens, and muddy blues of paddies. The feral grain grows on both sides of an armed border. Fish like mine, agile and curious, swim among the stalks of those nutrient-rich grains. Each day, men and women in canoes tug at the stalks, and fighting fish mingle with their fingers. Despite their name, the fish are not hostile. They recognize the difference between a canoe paddle and a frog’s kick. 

High above me, satellites transmit maps to agents in the field. They scan the shallows for trespassers. Everything about borders is make-believe; water dissolves pen and ink. Nevertheless, jails are filled with farmers who harvested rice from the wrong side of the line. (A single cup of those kernels, when cooked, contains 5% of your recommended daily intake of riboflavin and potassium.) 

The plane lands, and the change in cabin pressure kills my fish. I chewed gum to pop my eardrums but he died from the bends. I wrap him in a cocktail napkin and place it in the pocket where I keep my passport. The flight attendant takes away the bauble. 

Before I can enter the terminal, I answer to faces who keep count of how many times I come to their country on business. An agent asks me why my passport smells fishy.

Beneath the customs lights, I look pale. But when I reach the baggage claim, my pallor changes. Then, at the rental car desk, it changes again. Beneath parking lamps, trailing taillights, and passing beneath billboards, I assume the color of my situation. I am a chameleon. 

In my hotel room, I change my clothes and wash. Then I deposit the fish into the toilet bowl, whisper the kaddish, and flush.

 

 


 

 

Jeremy Nathan Marks lives in Canada. New and recent work appears/will appear in places like Flash Fiction Magazine, Garfield Lake, Expanded Field, Unlikely Stories, Ginosko Literary Journal, Wondrous Real, Microfiction Mondays, and Eastern Iowa Review. His full-length poetry collection, Of Fat Dogs & Amorous Insects, is published by Alien Buddha Press (2021).

 

Photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

 

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