Live from the Aquarium Lounge

flash fiction

Jim Esch
3 min readDec 7, 2021

Her fingertips delicately hold a red plastic cup as she tramps past the VOX amp and stands near a six-foot tall roadie with seaweed hair, tipsy drunk, leaning into the music waves. Pilsner dribbles over the lip of her cup to the sticky floor.

An iron suit approaches behind, crab fingers dancing the tarantella up her back, approaching the border of her buzz-cut blonde hair. His metallic blazer and vacant eyes like bicycle reflectors — none of it adds up. She doesn’t know him, can’t recognize the species crawling over her. She wants to flick him away, but she is transfixed. By what? Eyes as deep blue as the Texas blues banging off the dark glass walls, the VOX blowing out its swampy thwomp, the gummy floor anchoring her boots.

Why are the fingernails gripping her shoulder tipped with dried blood? She looks over her shoulder, her lips puckered into a goodbye kiss, a signal plea to be left alone.

She recalls the sensation of leaving home, the way she shrugged when she said goodbye to the parents, the way her car rounded the corner and accelerated, and her mouth formed a rebellious smile, wicked and happy to be the cause of such pain and loss. It was payback for a life of stalled dreams and vanilla habit, and she was determined to forget it all.

She wants to leave this too, her second home, as if you can leave home twice, another skin to shed. The man in the iron suit hasn’t let go. He squeezes harder.

The marlin tacked to the wall watches and sighs, rueful at being fished out of the Gulf of Mexico for this. She sees the hanging marlin and thinks of swimming, floating off without an anchor.

Large bodies dance in front of her, like manatees loping through murkiness, too thick to show desperation, too dull to desire anything other than these stale waters.

They move humorously. She grimaces. As if manatees could laugh. As if people could understand laughing manatees.

Around her, lizards and flippers embrace fleshy parts pulsing with the house band music, hollowing out a watery dark space nowhere near the sun, a liquid swelling, trance-like and unbalanced, like the bony drummer who can’t keep a straight beat, stuck in a fraying pocket. The man’s tongue is licking her earlobe. She receives it, listening for whispers, for promises that won’t come.

Photo by Charles Asselin on Unsplash

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