The Old Man and the Fish

The old man sat at the table across from his wife, his head slowly drooping beneath his hunching shoulders. It was his birthday, and she’d decided to take him out to one of his favorite restaurants to celebrate. She’d scurried around all morning—confirming reservations, inviting friends, calling family and enforcing a dress code that “should have been taken care of by the restaurant anyway.” She wore the highest heels her old knees could bare, resurrected every corner of her makeup table, and sported a “sexy” black dress which, as the salesman had put it, made her look twenty years younger; a comment she so loved to regurgitate to the amusement of her family.

Smiles swelled around the old man- nearly too many to bear. He never did care for his wife’s side of the family; or his side for that matter. Noise swelled his ears as lively conversations unfolded in front of him. He let his head fall heavily into his outstretched hands- to rest for just a moment. But the restaurant skidded quickly as, in a flash, every head at the table turned and beamed toward a young waiter emerging, cake in hand, from the kitchen. The room grew quiet as every pair of eyes surfaced from conversation, intrigued by the glorious candles slowly swaying before the old man.

George Sloan, Age 10, Wyncote Elementary © 2012

He picked his up head from his feet, allowing his eyes to focus steadily through the window of his glasses. The pixels of surrounding faces slowly came into focus- his wife’s overwhelming lipstick; the waiter anxiously watching; the others diners looking on, as if granting approval for him to continue. And amidst all this roaring silence he found time to turn his head slowly toward the fish tank in the center of the room…

His heavy eyes pierced the thick glass, floated amidst the bubbles and grime of a thriving underwater city. Glorious colors of fish flew by in a highway current before disappearing into the blanket of blue. Crabs slowly groped the sandy bottom, carefully avoiding the silhouetted impressions of dozing starfish. And soon one particular fish caught his eye: one small speckled flesh floating anxiously amidst the hue of coral. Its fins danced in a slow quiver, as if struggling to remain in place, to resist the powerful tug of the tanks current. It seemed coldly alone, almost scared—eyes darting amidst the dark blue, prone for a sudden surge of movement.

And suddenly the old man was out of his chair and rapping at the glass. The fish’s eyes remained fixed toward the pulse of water amidst the thriving rush of bodies, and so the old man rapped harder, a slow rasp emerging from his throat to sooth this speck of life. Again the fish stared, retreating further into the safety of the coral.

And before the old man knew what was happening, the glass caved in- water rushed over the broken shards, tinged white by the crystal, and quickly flooded the restaurant floor. Diners screamed and jumped to avoid the monsoon of water, but the old man didn’t care- he quickly searched the flopping bodies, looking for a speckled fish.

And then he found it: a sodden lump of flesh, glistening like dew beneath the heat of the restaurant’s lights. He stooped to pick it up- felt the dwindling lump of life shudder in a futile struggle to breathe—to live. And he slowly brought the dying fish to his eyes and stared. Just…stared. And in those eyes the old man saw a cracking pair of spectacles; saw a drooping brow and withered frown; a wrinkled face, heavy with the weight of sorrow. And for just a moment, the old man saw what he had become. Saw himself, truly, for the first time in his life, as the fish’s tensed muscles relaxed, the face slowly fading in its glazing eyes.

Jacob Golden is 17 years old and goes to Jenkintown High School. He likes writing and playing football and soccer.