A few weeks ago, I posted a creative writing prompt using myths, legends, or fairytales. I did the prompt myself, and the result is my flash fiction piece, “Fish(er)man”, which is below. It is also a companion piece to another flash piece I wrote last fall, “Swim Challenge”.
The characters are different, but the setting, Rainy Lake, which separates the border of Minnesota and Canada, is the same. Also, both pieces have a touch or more of magical realism.
“Fish(er)man” is a reinvention of the legend of the pink river dolphin.
By Laurel Osterkamp
“You can’t stay here, Rosie. You’d be miserable. It’s time you start planning for the future.”
He’s half right. I know I need to go, but I’ve never liked planning for the future. The future will happen whether we plan for it or not. I sip my coffee and look out the window. All I can see are trees, water, and a dock. Then, the world just stops, but not for Dad.
Dad is a fisherman. He makes his living catching walleye and river trout from Rainy Lake and Rainy River.
“I can’t leave you, Dad. Who would keep you company?”
“Don’t worry about me. Figure out what you want out of life, and I’ll be happy.”
So, I set off on a soul-searching walk along the shore of Rainy Lake. Here and there, I might accidentally cross the Canadian border, but if so, it’s nothing more than my toes dipping into international waters. Most of the time, I just fix my gaze, letting the lake’s ripples and waves hypnotize me.
At dusk, I am especially lost in thought. I realize that while I may not know what I want for the future, I do know what I want right now. I want to swim, and my desire is urgent, like I might stop breathing if I don’t submerge myself in water. It has been one the hottest days of the year, which means the lake won’t be at its usual ice-cold temperature. Without another thought, I strip and get into the water. I pretend I’m a selkie shedding her human skin and shapeshifting into a seal.
The sunset makes everything glow with an orangey hue. In that moment, my world is calm and contained. I don’t sense anyone watching me.
Then, I intuit something bottomless and personal. A merging of souls.
I shiver and look to the shore. A man brazenly stares at me and my breasts, which rest against the lake’s surface. I am only seventeen. I barely know anyone, and I have never had sex, but for a second, I think maybe I know this guy. Our eyes lock, and I recognize him from before, from a time that we were intimate. Rationally, I know this is impossible.
I must be possessed by some water demon because I stand up. He sees me in all my naked glory. I have been reborn.
“Do I know you?” I ask.
“No,” he replies.
“Who are you and where are you from?”
“I’m Bardo, and I’m a fisherman.” He pauses, pressing his lips together. “You are so beautiful. Can I kiss you?”
People occasionally tell me I’m pretty. But beautiful? No.
Yet, with his eyes on me, I could be Helen of Troy. And he is like a god himself, with his golden hair and honey-kissed skin, deep blue eyes, and a body as ripped as any I’d ever seen.
“What do you say?” He asks.
I am hypnotized. “Yes.”
We spend the night together, underneath the stars, and he teaches me all about passion, about how to touch and be touched. After that, we meet every night. We don’t talk much, but really, what is there to say? Maybe it’s not an incredibly deep relationship but lying with Bardo by the shore of Rainy Lake, I feel my limbs are made of fire and water, together and at once.
One day, my dad asks, “Where do you go every night?”
I have no reason to lie, so I tell him, “I met this amazing guy named Bardo. He’s a fisherman and we’re in love. I can’t live without him, Dad.”
Surprisingly, Dad decides to be progressive, and says, “If you’re going to be with him, at least be with him here, where you’ll be safe.”
That’s Dad’s way of saying Bardo can move in with us. Bardo doesn’t have a lot of stuff – I guess he’s a minimalist. But he sleeps over every night, if you call what we do “sleeping.” Yet, every morning he gets up and leaves before Dad or I are awake, and then he doesn’t return until dusk.
One morning, however, everything changes. The sky is bright, and I can feel Bardo still in bed, next to me. Finally, I’m able to spoon him! My eyes still closed, I roll over to wrap my arms around his warm, sleeping form, but I find that he’s slick, cold and wet. I open my eyes, horrified to discover a giant sturgeon in my bed.
Dad rushes in with his shotgun, and shoots the head off the massive, flapping fish that slept next to me. It feels like a hook has been ripped from my mouth to my navel, and now my insides mingle with the blood/fish guts-soaked sheets.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” my dad says, when I begin to sob. “You’re okay. You survived.”
After that, Bardo never comes by anymore. I go to our spot by the shore of Rainy Lake, but he’s nowhere.
Then, I discover I am pregnant. Nine months of nausea, of feeling myself expand and wishing I would just explode, until finally, my water breaks, and out flows a fish.
I take the fish to Rainy Lake and release it. “Go,” I say. “You can’t stay here. You’d be miserable.”
The lake glows a beautiful orange, but it’s not until I close my eyes that I see my future.
I wonder if she is sad after discovering that both her lover and her baby are fish.