That mob of protesters was growin'. I can mostly slip by undetected and start my job without their harassing hatred for this place, but some days they catch me. "How can you be so cruel?! Those are sentient beings in there! Release them to the ocean!" The taunts follow me. I ignore them as I push past the crowd. I used to wait to change into my coveralls when I got to my maintenance closet, but now I just say fuck it, I'm tired. This job pays well. And those fish don't seem bothered at all. Hell, it's probably cleaner than the ocean these days with all that crap that's floatin' in there. I remember when I first started this job, people loved aquariums. Those were the days. People smiled back then. Makin' memories. Nowadays all they want to do is yell about stuff.
I slip past the mob, staring straight ahead as I normally do, squinting to block out the early morning rays of sunshine. It's gonna be another hot one. That means screamin' children, sticky floors, and fingerprints on all the glass. The lineups are starting to file in; moms pushin' their strollers, little kids runnin' on ahead with ballcaps pushed down over their ears, smellin' of sunscreen. Grandparents who can never keep up, but bless 'em for tryin'. Every day, a new crowd of the same damn people. I become invisible to them as I push past with my mop and bucket. They only see me when they need somethin'.
The radio calls on my hip that a slushie has spilled by the shark's tank. I'll never understand why they sell that crap so early in the mornin'. I push my mop and bucket towards the tank, careful not to get into anyone's way. I hug the edges of hallways, slink around corners. I guess you could say I'm the sucker fish of this place, in more ways 'an one.
The blue frozen slop is piled by a whiney brat. I push my cart up to the mess and place the yellow caution cone for wet floors, and get to work. The yellow cone always brings the fish nearby which doesn't help my cleanup. The crowds press in as the shark swims by to see the bright colour. I try to push them back from the mess but they came for the shark, let's be honest, they don't care about the mess. Big Red we call him, though he's grey like all the others; he paces back and forth as they ooh and ahh.
It happens slowly at first but then one by one we all understand what's happenin'. My ankles knock together like I'm on a tightrope walk, the glass bottles begin to rattle in the fridges by the food court. Mothers scoop their little ones up and look towards me in a panic. It's like poof there I am again now that they need somethin'. Ed'll take care of you. Pfft.
The panic is like a wave of it's own, starting low then building with each family until they're all runnin' for the exits. The siren starts and the recorded voice comes on the loud speakers. "Earthquake. Remain calm. Find the nearest doorway or table. Remain calm." But they don't. They run in all directions with kids thrown over shoulders and old people pushing into the crowd, tryin' to get to the exit. I don't know why but I don't move. Instead I watch the fish. The crowd moves away from us, the fish and I, like a school of anchovies. Running as one mob of fear. The shaking is constant. The water in the aquarium is moving like jello, slowly swishing up the sides and the fish start circling in a crazy kinda way. The chaos inside the aquarium looks like the choas of the people tryin' to escape. But, these guys have no escape.
Big Red swims over to the glass by me and we lock eyes. The room is shaking and things are breaking in rooms all around me, but there's also this moment between us that feels calm, and I wonder what happens to fish when there's an earthquake in the ocean.
Big Red is tellin' me he needs to leave, and I decide it's time for me too.
About the Creator
Author, Mother, Wife. Recipient of the Paul Harris Fellowship award and 2017 nominee for the Women of Distinction award through the YWCA. Climate Reality Leader, Zero-Waste promoter, beekeeper and lover of all things natural.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme