Well, I’ve done it again, haven’t I?
I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of the air conditioner’s finger, wet and sliding along the rim of a wine glass. My throat is swollen, my sinuses closed and I’m gasping for breath – only the number, flickering on the LED screen of the air purifier assures me that I’m not in the wrong fish tank.
With me, it has always been fish tanks. When I first moved to Latin America, the overwhelming (oppressive) conclusion I drew was that I was a river fish in a tropical fish tank. As a kid, my brother kept a tank of neon tetras and one day introduced a solitary samuria fish – it didn’t go well. In Latin America, I was a carp amongst angelfish: the air was orange, wet and inescapable.
How do you escape air? You can’t, can you? You’re in air; you can’t take a break from it.
I kept goldfish terribly. I had one called ‘Twix’ (what a terrible name for a pet – totally non-connotational and irrelevant: he wasn’t even one of twins). I kept him terribly in a too-small bowl. He’d look at me disconsolately through the browning algae. He’d wither me with his unblinkingness. But I’d still not get round to cleaning his tank out.
I wish someone would clean my tank out. Perhaps this is a cosmic comeuppance: I’ve earned this time of terrible adjustment. The air is grainy and scouring and the foreign words I’m learning to speak seem to come from some other part of me that I’d previously used for clearing my throat or expressing shock or surprise. And the air’s algae obscures the printed word, making arkane pictograms of the alphabet, rendering all meaning tantalizingly out of my aching reach.
My brother’s friend was in a band called ‘The Loveblobs’ and they wrote a song about my goldfish. It was called ‘Carp’ and it more than adequately expressed Twix’s anguish and prolonged terror. It got put out by Wiiija Records in the early nineties. John Peel liked it.
John Peel liked a song about how poorly I maintained my fishtank.
John Peel’s gone now. Up, down or nowhere: it’s hard to say, and it’s not for me to judge. I do wonder, though, what he’d make of me here, sat in a fishtank of my own making, jarring along with the air purifier and dreaming of freshwater.