We are sold this idea that love will complete us. Watch any movie and you'll find it over and over again - the highest aspiration of women is always marriage. Endless possibilities in storytelling and they've got us chasing down cupid's arrow. Love, a divine part of life doesn't complete us, and turns out physical perfection or luxury won't make us happy. Being beautiful, an overrated human quality, has little to do with the physical self, but we are sold these ideas because inadequacy equals money. They call us ugly to sell us shit. We buy into absurd ideas of success, ticking off life goal boxes in a survey we can't explain the reason for. It all seems so clear now after the storm, past individual perceptions and transference, past clinging to the delusions we all need to survive. Life is just seeing how much truth your spirit can take. And hindsight is 20 fucking 20. No one knows what the hell they're doing. We're all stumbling around blindly trying to find answers, and in that crazy dance we hurt each other. We feel alone and never truly understood, just like the billions of people who watch the stars with us. I never truly knew Mark. I hate to admit it, but I fell in love with a perception. An idea of him, a reflection of what I needed in a person, pure untapped potential. Romantic whirlwind? Yeah. Fucking deluded? Absolutely. I didn't hesitate for a second to send the guy I had known a whole 3 months intimate photos when he asked. But it's only rumours. No point worrying until you have something to worry about. Looking back there were red flags that I artfully ignored in my rosy delusions and thrill of rebellion against my own better judgement. Even when I knew I wanted out, the delusions only got louder. Are you really going to meet someone better? You're safe. This is comfortable, just see where it goes. It'll get better when (insert apathetic excuse here). Fuck that life. We all eat lies when we're hungry, but I'm leaving the table. Oh shit, Toby's here. I can hide, or lock the door... Too late. Pull the blanket up and pretend to be part of the lounge? "Hi" He looks like a five year old trying to look sad while concealing an exciting secret. Ladies, gentlemen and loose cunts - my friend Toby. The transparent pumpkin headed fuck. I feel my heart start to drop before I hear the first word of the story that I know is coming. "Mark showed everyone some photos today..." Of course he did, probably the first bit of proof that anyone's ever been interested in the stupid asshat. I feel my heart start burning a hole through my chest. I can pretend not to care, take the whole empowering, above it all angle, but I don't think I have it in me. "You know what I think?" I look at Toby with a level of apathy reserved for gothic hipsters but he continues. "Consent is sexy. I think everyone knows Mark is an asshole". Ah, when logic overrides slut shaming. You've got to appreciate the little victories. I may have been a little harsh on my pumpkin headed friend. "Thank you Toby." He looks me dead in the eye "you're still a fucking muppet". "Goodnight Toby." I pull the blanket over my head and hear him leave. I could just live under this blanket for at least a month. I just need my laptop and a power point. On second thought I should probably avoid... Facebook. He wouldn't. I should have cropped my face out. No. There's no fucking way.... 106 notifications. Holy shit. There it is. There I am. That's me. Untag untag report report deactivate. Deactivate from everything, from it all.
That was months ago now. I'm still deactivated. Detached, depressed, deluded and destructively disillusioned. Then I met Sabina. Craving korma from the local Indian joint I saw them sharing a table, Mark and a stranger clearly on a first date, huddled in close to the window overlooking the wet street. For a moment I watch in the shadow of an illegally parked RV that reeks of wet carpets and weed. They're drinking red wine. He's wearing a new blue shirt. Even without sound it's clear they're making small talk. Mark's expressions and gestures hint at a sensitive nature. She seems passive. They are hitting it off. I imagine walking past the window and acting surprised to see him. Maybe do the fake escalator. I turn to walk back home the long way. It's funny when you realise you've crossed paths with people. I didn't recognise Sabina from that night at all. She was just the gorgeous woman who sold me a fish.
After Mark shattered my self esteem and ruined my favourite take out place, I often found myself at the pet shop on the highway, in front of the aquarium lost in blue otherworldly silence. Sabina tapped me on the shoulder, I didn't know how long I had been standing there. "See anything you like?" she chirped "Yeah serenity" I reply, transfixed. She sized me up in a long sideways glance. "Follow me." I turn and see her, a woman brimming with energy, all swishy black hair and teethy smiles. She leads me to an office cluttered in 1970s decor. I awkwardly wait at the threshold until she ushers me inside towards an old bulky cabinet, I peer inside and see a row of the most beautiful Siamese fighting fish gracefully floating in pristine glass spheres. Their delicate fins dance around in swirls of colour, in the centre sits a bowl larger than the others. Inside flashes of bright gold and turquoise circle the bowl rhythmically, little black eyes burning like embers. I am mesmerised. Sabina fumbles with a key on a long brown cord. I notice a row of padlocks on the cabinet doors. She darts her head back for a moment then unlocks them, jerking open the creaky wood. She slowly scoops up the bowl with the prized fighter inside, darting furiously. She extends her arms out, the flawless glass bubble fitting perfectly between her palms. I look at her confused as she steps towards me gesturing to take the bowl. "How much?" She smiles and shrugs "nothing". I hesitate for a moment before reaching out. The glass is smooth and cold against my skin. "Well, just a promise to keep him safe". I hold the bowl up to my face and look at the now motionless ethereal fish staring back at me. "But you should go now". The feeling of wonder is shattered as she pushes me towards the door. "Wait. Are you sure I don't have to pay? This doesn't feel right". She pauses and blinks hard. "Do you have a car?" "Yeah?" "Come back at 3 and give me a ride home. It's gonna rain."
Climbing the stairs to my apartment I hear my neighbours feud through the walls as I fumble for my keys. Inside it's dark, I yank open the curtains and carefully place the bowl on the windowsill overlooking the dead tree still covered in fairy lights in the backyard. He glides around the bowl curious of his new surroundings. I need to think of a name. Turning on the stereo Lou Reed croons as I stare at the strange beautiful creature sharing the room with me. I glance wistfully at the pile of unopened mail towering precariously on the table, then lay on the floor gazing at the ceiling. How did I get lonely enough to agree to this? I regret it already. I tune out when Toby tells me gossip because I can't muster up a shit to give, and now I'm going to be social with a stranger? Maybe it'll be good. I need a change. I stopped anguishing over why Mark wanted to ruin my life. Maybe he was sociopathic, hated women, hated himself. Maybe l had the same haircut as the first girl to break his heart. I'm not making myself sick for a riddle I'll never solve. But I can't stay numb forever. She was right. It's raining.
I pull off the highway into the empty car park, turn off the engine and check my phone. 2.54pm. No messages. She's locking up the store. A black 1970s Plymouth pulls up behind me. I glance back at Sabina and my jaw drops. In one swift movement she sweeps the side part of her hair to the opposite side, revealing platinum blonde hair underneath. She looks completely different as she runs through the rain to the car. She burst inside like an explosion of fire "Go!" "Woah, OK where?" "Just drive!" I look in the rear view mirror and see a lumbering man get out of the car and menacingly stride towards us. I start the engine and skid off, just as his hands thump violently on the back window. On the highway my hands are shaking against the wheel "what the fuck was that!?" "Do you know Orange Sundays?" "The cafe!?" "Yeah. Let's go there. We can talk." We walk in and sit in a booth at the back. A preppy woman scowls intensely at Sabina from the next table. Finally Sabina stands up and walks over to her, smiling widely. "Hi. I noticed you're giving me more eye contact then your friend here." The woman narrows her eyes and scowls. "Guys don't like that much make up you know." "Well I suggest they stick to a light BB cream and mascara then" she replies to the bewildered woman before walking back to our table with a happy shrug. As the dinner crowd came and went, we sat talking until it was dark. She told me about the asshole who nearly smashed my window, about the vicious fights he would host, making bank by forcing the rarest and most beautiful animals to fight, suffer and die. The fighter she saved was worth $8,000. He payed in cash, telling her he'd be back to pick him up. She decided in that moment she couldn't be a part of anymore death. She pocketed the 8k, rung her boss and quit on the spot, before seeing me standing at the aquarium. When I ask what other animals he fights her eyes go dark. She silently sucks in a deep breath as if about to start a long story, but then suddenly stops, shifting uncomfortably in the booth. "I'm not sure what I'll do with the cash..." she starts, trying to change the subject. I'm about to push it further when we both clock the Plymouth pull up to the curb. I'm frozen to the spot when Sabina grabs my arm and pulls me into the bathroom. I look back just in time to see the huge man shatter my windscreen with one perfect blow from a hammer. "Right. Well I know my first purchase" Sabina quips, tugging at my arm. After what feels like an eternity in the bathroom being strangely bored waiting to possibly die, we go scout the damage and it's bad. It gets worse when it starts raining. Sabina runs into the dollar store next door looking for a solution. We find it in the form of garbage bags and a cheap scuba kit. Driving the car down the freeway in garbage bag ponchos, goggles and no windshield, screaming through the rain I made the decision. I named him Moirai.
There are more dangerous humans on earth than dangerous animals. I told Sabina to keep the money. The car, now parked in my pokey little garage was not only a write off, it was a target on my head. I had to sell it, or better yet throw it off a cliff - eliminate the link and collect the insurance. Sabina didn't laugh at that joke, she just looked thoughtfully at her coffee. Strangely my job, the only thing that had made sense and mattered to me all these months became irrelevant. Almost forgotten. It wasn't until I listened to my bosses frantic voicemails asking where the hell I'd been that I started thinking about the reports that were due on Tuesday. About that little cubicle. The knick knacks on my desk. The numbly suppressed panic of my co workers. I was so worried about making it feel like a good fit that I didn't bother acknowledging that it wasn't. I just loved the purpose of it all but now it seemed... redundant. Stupid even. I don't give a shit about the money. I'd rather choose to spend my time with nothing then waste another second at a desk doing something I don't care about. Letting my being bleed into nothingness, lest it run down my corporate value. But if I'm doing this I'm doing it right. No internet. There's no point in walking to the edge of truth just to look down at a screen and work out how to condense what I find. No more distractions, I need to be sharp - painfully present. When Mark shared my photos I allowed the palpable shame to twist the finger of blame onto me. But I am not to blame. He'll be held responsible and learn that. "You're awfully quite" Sabina almost whispers, blowing the steam from her coffee. "Can I tell you about something that happened to me at the start of the year?" When I finish telling my story into my hands, I look up and see tears streaming down her face. "It's the same fucking story" she slowly whispers in a deep voice. "People getting kicked by apathetic control freaks who just walk away unscathed. Women, black people, the gay community. Every minority and freethinker. It's a constant barrage of shame, violence and barriers to our human rights." There it was. She had articulated into words the rage that seared my conscience. You notice the first time you lose it, that ability to try as truthfully as possible, as honestly as possible to let it all in... Otherwise what's the point? "I hope I've inspired some trust in you" she asks emphatically. "You've inspired more than that." We decide to meet at the butterfly bar later that week. Though I'd never heard of the place, it felt like home as soon as I walked through the black double doors covered in Día de Muertos graffiti. The dark narrow alley to the bar is lined with hundreds of ancient candles. Towering wax sculptures light up the layers of faded posters on the exposed brick, pure testaments of time. The voices and music grow louder as I approach the red archway in the distance. I breathe deeply to slow my pulse before I cross the threshold and step into a bar that feels like the retreat of an eccentric collector awash in a strange beautiful warm glow. Huddles of striking people speaking low are rhythmically punctuated with bursts of laughter and a four piece band lazily improvising in the corner. I scan the room and see Sabina sitting alone with an untouched beer. She looks up and smiles at me, then looking past me her face suddenly lights up in joyful recognition. My heart does a backflip as I turn in happy bewilderment only to instantly feel sick as I see Mark walking toward me. We lock eyes in a horrible moment of acknowledgement, and he keeps walking as if I were a stranger. I turn to watch them embrace, joke, kiss. She gestures over to me lovingly, and I see the colour run from his face as he glances over. She looks at me strangely, emphatically gesturing for me to join them. My legs feel like cement. I smile weakly and make a drinking motion before stumbling towards the bar. This will buy me some time. Time? For what!? That's the love of her life. The man we've been planning against. "Double jameson and dry please." Holy shit. Ok. I'll just leave. If I follow the bar she won't see me... "Hey stranger!" Sabina grabs my shoulders from behind and spins me around. "Are you alright?" "Yeah. No. Not really. Ah this sucks..."