A Man and His Fish
Mark Baldwin was just about average looking. Once, in the days of
the all-important weekly teenage disco in Deal, he thought he might be
not bad looking, especially when he nicked his sister, Sharon's,
concealer to cover his acne. However, at the age of 27, he had come to
realise that there was absolutely nothing special about his face. Or
body either. And, if he was really true to himself, his personality. He
hadn't had a girlfriend since the age of eighteen (Christine, a dumpy
and sulky fellow biology student. She broke it off, telling him her
friends had told her she could do so much better.).
If you carefully position yourself so as not to be seen, you can see
into the window of his ground-floor bedsit room. Mark is slumped in an
armchair, reading a copy of FHM which appears to be years old - it is
decrepit, with no cover, and multiple coffee stains. The room in which
Mark presides is filthy - old newspapers, mouldy toast on terrified
crockery, dust and dirt and stink and decay. But do you see the far
corner, opposite the door? Observe the obviously swept floor - you can
tell that the carpet is green in this corner. And shining, majestic and
revered, on a battered - but clean - coffee table is&;#8230;Mark's
goldfish tank. The glass is completely free from smears, the confetti
food carefully stacked next to the tank, and the interior as full of
colour co-ordinated castles as if Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen had been in
there and done it himself. And just there, behind that strand of
waterplant - screw your eyes up - is Jasmine.
You see, Mark is not an ordinary lonely no-hoper. Mark is a knight, a
heroic figure in his comfy chair for all those other loveless, balding,
guys out there. Mark cannot find a real woman, so he has got a
lady-friend in the form of a goldfish. Mark is so desperate, so needy -
so imaginative - that he has actually somehow convinced himself that he
and his goldfish were lovers in a past life. They have found each other
again, and hopefully will do so next time (Mark helplessly dreams of a
situation more suited to lovemaking). Jasmine is his queen. He is
thinking now, as he stares at the 2D FHM girl on his lap, that Jasmine
(in her human form) is much prettier than this airbrushed slut. He
remembers her eyes, like warm almonds, the gentle crease of her face as
she smiled to him, the cling of her dress to her subtle curves. In his
mind, he is holding her. He opens his eyes to find his arms awkwardly
bent around a girl who is not there.
Fast-forward through two fairly uninteresting months of Mark's life,
and we come to the arrival of Lara, who mistook Mark for her brother in
the cheese section of Budgens, flinging her arms around him from
behind. Mark turned around, and Lara realised her mistake, blushing.
She then stopped, and stared, making Mark feel very uncomfortable, and
declared that they were soulmates and should be together. Mark thought
she was mad, glancing into her basket and expecting to find carving
knives and dog food, but instead there was pasta and eggs. He let
himself be herded from the shop, caught up in the moment, and
temporarily forgetting Jasmine.
Look through his window again. They won't see. Hmmm. Lara is sitting
on Mark's lap:
"Two weeks, and it's been heavenly darling, d'you know what I mean? It
feels like we've been together forever, we're just&;#8230;babe?
Mark? Are you listening to me? Jesus, that fucking fish!"
As she stiffly springs off his lap in extreme annoyance, Mark's head
snaps back to face where she'd been sitting. Jasmine turns her
fish-back to the glass, her tail flicking the front of the tank.
Lara looks around in impatience and, spotting a rusty pair of scissors
under an old copy of 'Gameplay Weekly', grabs them and brandishes them
frenziedly in Mark's direction.
"What's the problem, honey? Here we are, in love, we found each other,
and for the twenty-hundredth time I find you not listening to me, not
looking at me, not loving me, but making goo-goo eyes at the goldfish!
It's her or me, sugarlips, I mean it."
Lara doesn't mean it, it's obvious from her tone. Mark looks at her
hesitantly. Two weeks of sex every day has opened up his mind and body
to the pleasures of a relationship with a human body. Lara tenses,
glaring at him with pouted lips. His eyes slide down her body - slim,
supple, hang on, she's mad - she's not that mad, there was no dog food
or knives, she's a woman, a woman&;#8230;
He takes her by the elbow. Her face softens, her inane grin instantly
returns to fill her face. He shoves her out of the door, ignoring her
shrill screeches, and slowly walks over to the tank. He kneels in front
of it and presses his lips softly to the cool barrier. Jasmine opens
her mouth and smiles a satisfied smile, blinking.