Here’s the short story I submitted for this years Yen Magazine short story competition, the theme was ‘ripple’. Enjoy.
Bartholomew, what is the square root of 2,658? I know you know it.
He made his way out of the tangles of seaweed, forehead pressed up against the glass and blinked at me. His orange face looked indifferent. He didn’t know the answer to my maths homework; he never did. I could never understand the problems my teacher set for me, and if my fish couldn’t either, then I just didn’t know where to look next.
As I was contemplating life’s most difficult mathematical question, I heard thumping down the hallway. Black Nike Air Force 1’s were hitting the floor and making their way towards my bedroom.
“Tammy!” I heard my brother yell. I didn’t respond. He continued to make his way towards my room and suddenly appeared in the doorway, holding a knife, a fork and a spoon.
“What’s your favourite utensil?” he asked me.
Seriously, Dan, I don’t have time for this bullshit.
“I don’t know. A fork, I guess?”
“That’s a stupid answer.”
“Well, what’s your favourite utensil then?”
“I’m trying to figure that out”
Guess we’ve ruled fork out of the equation then.
Equations… I need to answer this bloody maths question.
I beckoned my brother to come in, just motioning with my hand that I wanted him to enter the room, with as minimal speaking as possible. He sat down on the edge of my bed, waiting for an explanation as to why he was in such small, pink confinements. He looked at me, and then back to the utensils again, clearly struggling with an internal battle. Which utensil was his favourite and then, why does she need me in here?
Not wanting to ask him for help, I stared back at Bartholomew in the hopes that he learnt the answer in the past five minutes. Dan made his way over to the side of my desk, crouching down and placing his nose inches from Bart’s. His gaze became strong and then curious. Lifting his right hand that held the dull butter knife, he placed it inside of the fish bowl and began to stir. I thought the motion would pick up pace, I thought maybe he was trying to create a whirlpool. I was waiting for this moment to occur, so that I had a reason to be angry. But the stirring stayed steady, until it suddenly stopped. Dan slowly raised the knife out of the bowl and I thought, “Cool, he’s done with that now”. Then the rounded edge of the blade slowly made its way back through the surface, creating a ripple that expanded from the knife to the brim of the bowl.
Dan kept doing this. He lifted the knife slowly in and out of the water. It was with this motion that he decided to pick up his pace.
“Dan,” I said, “Don’t.” He said nothing.
“I mean it. You’re going to give him heart attack.”
“Since when can fishes have heart attacks?” he scoffed at me.
“I don’t know? Since forever? I’m pretty sure they can. Just stop what you’re doing.”
I was thinking of yelling for Mum, but I didn’t want him to mock me. Besides, Mum would join the circle around the fish bowl, instructing Dan to do exactly what I said—“stop”—and he still wouldn’t. I could call for Dad on the other hand, but then we’d all be in trouble. If Dad yelled at all of us, I would end up in tears—too much of an emotional wreck to complete any math problem or further homework I had set for this evening. This was something I had to handle on my own.
I poked Dan in the arm that remained by his side. He turned his head in my direction; eyes burning into me, as his greasy, mousey hair flew the opposite way. He held my gaze for a moment longer and, with gritted teeth, I told him to stop one more time. He released the hold on my eyes and continued to lever the knife up and down.
Bartholomew was dodging the knife, burying himself behind blades of seaweed in hopes of avoiding potential disaster.
This excited Dan. He began inserting the knife into the bowl at an unreasonably fast pace. Water was pouring over the sides and, like Bartholomew, I began to panic.
“Stop it!” I screamed, “You’re going to kill him!”
Dan didn’t look at me this time, he just kept moving his hand up and down, the knife breaking through the water in the same direction every time, but always landing at a different spot on the bottom.
“Dan, I mean it!”
I reached for his hair and pulled it. I scratched at his arms and let out a shrill gasp simultaneously to the sound of a bursting balloon. The bowl that sat on my desk slowly turned into a dark shade of crimson. There was no more movement. Through the thick layers of colour that began to dye the clear substance, I saw an orange fin flutter through the seaweed, making its way down to the purple pebbles.
How the fuck am I going to solve my maths problem now.