by Robert Rinne
Josh sat next to the tall, fake, potted plant and watched the fish dash and dart about in the large tank.
“Larry will be along in a few minutes,” the lady told him when he signed in.
“It’s okay. I don’t mind,” he had replied. He minded. He minded very much.
He minded how many people had sat in this same lobby looking at the same fish for the same reason – because Larry didn’t know how to manage his time. Josh signed in at 10:30 am for their 11:00 am meeting and the clock on the wall – a clock caged behind a red, metal grate like the ones in his grade school – had just struck noon.
I have a job. Same job for five years with a good company. But times are changing. I need to change, too.
He enjoyed fish the same way some people enjoyed art – he didn’t know much about them, but he knew what he liked.
Skinny fish, fat fish, colorful fish, small schools of fish, fish all by themselves, fish darting around tall, green stalks, fish hiding under broad leaves. The back of the tank looked like a cave wall, covered with what looked like moss. But one, lone fish caught his attention. It swaggered through the rocks and plants in the dark water of the tank, noticeably aggressive towards another fish.
The white markings around its mouth could have been teeth.
Is it a piranha?
He grew up in Ladyburn Pond, just outside of Algonquin Park. He remembered the town paper, The Duck’s Echo, telling a story about a school of them being found in the local lake.
Can you even keep a piranha as a pet? He had no idea.
Someone passed by him, smiled, and went in through the door he had expected Larry to come out through. Josh returned the smile, but the passerby didn’t take a moment to notice.
The lone fish lunged again at another tank mate.
Do they know it might be a piranha?
Whoever built the tank seemed to care for it. Josh would even guess they knew what they were doing. He didn’t know for sure if it was a piranha, but as far as fish went, he didn’t think it was a very nice one.
The waiting weighed heavily on him.
I gotta call Van.
It was 12:15 pm and he scheduled lunch with her for 12:30. She wanted to know everything about the interview once it was over. When she measured his desire for a challenge against the having a steady paycheck and no surprises, it wasn’t hard to determine which she found wanting.
“A job shouldn’t be your whole world,” she had told him. “There are plenty of ways to make life challenging.”
I may still not be sure what she was talking about, but I am sure that fish is a piranha.
It fired towards its fellow again. This time it did not feint. A volcanic eruption of vermillion clouds plumed silently and immediately, obscuring the two fish and filling the tank in seconds. Josh looked from the tank to the clock – 12:17 now – and in that time it turned into a frothing, bubbling dark cauldron, with streamlined shapes darting and dashing through it.
“Excuse me,” he said to the receptionist before leaving, “but I have to go.”
She looked up from her computer, beaming brightly. “I’m so sorry it’s taking so long. Larry gets really busy. I’m sure he didn’t forget about you.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
The bubbling in the tank stopped, but the water remained winedark. He imagined the fish, whatever of them remained, circling among the floating remains of the fallen, hiding where they could, waiting for the piranha to strike again.
“Have a nice day,” Josh declared. But before he could leave, he held the door for a visitor, someone entering just as he was leaving. The newcomer made eye contact with the receptionist and flashed his hand, open palm and waist high, in greeting.
“Larry has been expecting you,” she said. “Please, have a seat.”
The fish tank frothed now, foaming furiously, spilling pink water on the floor all around as the piranha resumed its attack.
He didn’t say anything about the interview during lunch until she asked but she didn’t seem too upset to learn he didn’t get the job.
“It’s okay,” he said, taking her hand to him from across the table so he could kiss her knuckles.
He didn’t tell her about the fishes.