Eleven knew that it was a bad night for boating, but Twelve had insisted. So much of their marriage had been like this. Eleven said one thing, Twelve said another. This time, Twelve got his way by saying he wanted to look at Eleven’s hair in the moonlight, how it rippled and flowed, how the shine of it echoed the stripe of light on the water. Eleven finally gave up and went along. Besides, she reasoned, it was the least she could do now that she was going to leave him.
Twelve had other women. Schools of them, it seemed. He couldn’t help it, he would tell her, not his fault. They flipped and flapped themselves at him and what on Earth was he to do?
She told him how ridiculous that sounded and that they would be better off apart. That’s when he begged her to take this one last ride, to the spot on the lake where he had proposed.
It was 9 pm. Long after the boathouse had closed and Twelve said, it’s okay, we’ll be safe with the moon. He freed up a rickety rowboat, boards loose and splintered. They rowed themselves out to the center where Twelve pulled a bottle of wine out of his knapsack. Eleven was charmed in an ancient way.
That’s when the fish, huge and flecked silver in the white light, punched itself up through the boatfloor.
Eleven had never seen a fish that strong, a fish that stupid, one that would literally fish itself into a boat, to flip and flap itself right there and lay itself down as prey.
Only one thing to do now, Eleven thought and hooked her foot over the side of the boat, which had begun lowering itself, inch by inch. Rather than go with her, Twelve grabbed the fish, which was still alive, and said “I can use this to stop up the hole.”
“No wait,” Eleven said, “you leave that poor girl alone!” She has no idea where this was coming from. This empathy, this understanding of how desperate this fish must have been. Maybe the fish just needed companionship. Maybe the nearness of a man. Eleven started to wonder if she should believe what Twelve had been saying about his other woman and she felt an almost forgiveness for him.
But by then Twelve was little more than a blubber of bubbles. The fish, set free, was skimming away under the waterskin. Eleven had no choice but to swim alone towards shore, The boat sinking behind her as she swam into a white stripe of moon, her hair flowing and rippling out around her.
Francine Witte’s flash fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous journals. Most recently, her stories have been in Best Small Fictions and Flash Fiction America. Her latest flash fiction book is Just Outside the Tunnel of Love (Blue Light Press.) Her upcoming collection of poetry, Some Distant Pin of Light is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. She lives in NYC. Visit her website francinewitte.com