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An Exceptional Display

Reginald receives an unexpected invitation

By Ahna LewisPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 6 min read
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

Reginald Fairbanks wasn’t one to take risks. He was a man of order and precision. Hair perfectly coiffed, parted on the side, combed to the left. Meals three, served exactly six hours apart. Handkerchief square in the right pocket of his brown satin vest. Morning study, afternoon music, evening stroll, and twilight chess with a glass of cognac. Reginald was as predictable as the wheels on a bus and only slightly less interesting. He was a perfect clockwork of disciplined dependability. So even Reginald couldn’t quite understand why he agreed to the invitation.

The letter arrived on Tuesday, folded neatly in a crisp white envelope. Reginald carried it to the study as he did with all correspondence. He tore the seal with his gilded letter opener.

“Congratulations, Mr. Fairbanks! You’ve been selected for a complimentary ticket to The Aquarium’s grand opening. We look forward to seeing you Friday, November 18 at the corner of East Market and Winslow.”

Reginald sniffed. Complimentary ticket indeed. No doubt a money-making scheme of some type. And an aquarium? This city didn’t need an aquarium. What it needed was a thorough street cleaning. He was about to throw the invitation in the recycling bin when something stopped him. His eyes lingered on a singular word. Selected. He had been selected.

Now Reginald Fairbanks was not one to take risks, but he also wasn’t one to turn down a compliment. At this moment, to be among the chosen was more enticing than the comfort of consistency. He would go. He’d wear his tweed suit and carry his walking cane with the amber handle. He’d polish his shoes just a little bit extra. Yes, he would go, and he would be someone worth seeing.

The wind pushed the last of the autumn leaves in circles about his head as Reginald Fairbanks walked to the aquarium. It was Friday morning and he was looking fine. His plan was to make a polite appearance, enjoy a few sights—he’d always wanted to see a pufferfish—and be back promptly at 12:00 for his midday luncheon. He’d requested a pan-fried filet of sole and he wasn’t about to miss it.

Reginald stood outside the building, its silver plates reflecting the sunlight like scales. The words “The Aquarium” were attached to the silver paneling in watery blue letters. It’s a wonder he’d never noticed this place before. The building was truly awe-inspiring. He pushed through the spiraling glass doors to enter the lobby. Sculptures of green glass seaweed framed wide windows, sparkling cheerfully in pockets of sunlight. A seashell-painted walkway twirled along the tiled floor. The interior was as impressive as the exterior. As for crowds of eager visitors, there weren’t any. The aquarium seemed entirely empty except for one receptionist at the front desk. Reginald walked forward.

“Identification.” Her voice was deeper than he expected. She must want to see the invitation to confirm he'd been selected.

Reginald reached into the side pocket of his tweed suit for the letter. He placed it on the desk while resting his cane in the crook of his arm. It was the perfect angle to make the amber handle sparkle.

The receptionist's eyes looked glazed. Here he was the first visitor, and she was already bored. “That’s not the right one,” she said.

Reginald stared at her blue sequined dress. There was something fishy about her. The way her eyes bugged out to the sides.

“It’s my invitation,” he said.

“I’ll need an official government issued ID for you to enter the aquarium, Sir.”

“Alright, seems rather unnecessary—”

“It’s for your protection, Sir.”

Reginald handed her his identification card. She immediately took it, ran it through some high-end scanner, and started rapidly typing into her computer. Reginald leaned forward just enough to catch a glimpse of a screen in front of her. It flashed up his picture followed by the words: Reginald Fairbanks, Homo sapien, caucasian, native to the British Isles, male, 46 years.

Oddly specific, Reginald thought.

“Here’s your card, Sir. Enjoy The Aquarium.” She handed him his ID along with a visitor's guide and a map.

“Thank you,” he mumbled, immediately starting out of the bright lobby and down one of the dimly lit hallways. He was ready to get away from her. Maybe he was jumping to conclusions, but that receptionist gave him the creeps.

He wasn’t going to stay here for long, he reminded himself as he walked down the hallway. If there was no one to appreciate his presence, then what was the point? This whole outing was probably a mistake. And Reginald Fairbanks hated making mistakes. He was so flustered, he power-walked past the first row of displays. Or had there even been any displays? He wasn’t sure now what he had seen and what he hadn’t.

He opened the map given to him by the receptionist. Pufferfish…pufferfish…where are the blasted pufferfish? The hallway was so dim, it was hard to read the map. From what he could deduce, he was heading towards a large interior chamber. “Display” was the only description listed. That must be where all the fish are. He had to be getting close now.

The downward slope of the hallway evened out and Reginald found himself in a large square room. This must be the display chamber. Now where are the fish? As Reginald looked around, he noticed something. The walls of the chamber—they were made of glass and they were shimmering. There must be water behind them. It seemed the tank was surrounding him—how creative! Well, if he got nothing else out of this experience, at least he could appreciate the brilliance of the architecture.

There was a sudden flash of color, the shine of scales. And then Reginald saw them. Fish. Hundreds of them, swimming in little groups past the glass. The vibrant colors and unique shapes made them so beautiful and so fascinating to behold! He stepped closer to the glass to get a better view. And most wondrously, the fish stopped moving past. It seemed they were getting closer to the glass now too. More and more fish gathered right where he was standing. Funny little creatures. He had imagined most fish to be rather skittish, but these were entirely friendly.

One brave little fish even tapped its striped nose against the glass. Reginald laughed and tapped back with his finger, sending the fish into a joyous frenzy. There were more than ever now, pressing their noses against the glass and…staring at him? Yes, there was no other way to explain it. They were definitely staring. Reginald waved and the fish twirled excitedly. Ha, it was like they enjoyed watching him. He took his cane and twirled it a couple times as he walked back and forth across the chamber. The fish went almost hysterical, pressing in more and more to see him. Reginald kept it up for several minutes, trying different acts like bowing, tipping his hat, and even dancing a little Irish jig he had learned in grade school. The fish were absolutely mesmerized. Even when a few of the groups did eventually leave, others always came to take their place. He was a definite hit!

Reginald smiled to himself. It had been a memorable morning after all. He still hadn’t seen a pufferfish, but he had been the main attraction. And that was something he always enjoyed. He waved one last time to the schools of fish and started back toward the hallway. He was deliciously tired and ready to go home to lunch.

Smack! Reginald hit solid glass. How silly of him! He thought the hallway was in this direction, but he must have got turned around with all that dancing. He turned the opposite way, this time holding his cane out in front of him. Click! The cane too, hit solid glass. Wrong again? It must be the other way. Reginald’s heart started to beat faster. He dropped the cane and started to feel with his hands around the edges of the chamber. Glass. Glass. Glass. GLASS. GLASS. GLASS. Reginald suddenly felt he couldn’t breathe. There was a sick feeling in the depths of his stomach. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be real.

At last, his fingers brushed something that wasn’t glass. It was some type of metal plaque fused into the glass. Reginald leaned closer. He could just make out the engraved words in the dim lighting of the chamber.

Reginald Fairbanks, Homo sapien, caucasian, native to the British Isles, male, 46 years. Joined the Aquarium, November 18. New Display!

Short Story

About the Creator

Ahna Lewis

Just a high school English teacher who never quite got over her dream of becoming an author. :)

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Comments (5)

  • Roy Stevensabout a year ago

    HaHa! This would make a good Twilight Zone episode. Why do we always enjoy the English fops being put in uncomfortable situations? Whatever the reason, it's delicious, just like pan fried fillet of sole!

  • Robby Talabout a year ago

    Excellent work! Truly enjoyed reading this.

  • Gosh Ahna, you ending! My jaw dropped! Poor Reginald, lol! And I loved the little show he put on for the fishes. This is such a brilliant story!

  • Kristen Balyeatabout a year ago

    Oh my goodness, this is so great! Loved it, Ahna!

  • Donna Renee2 years ago

    Hahah! I enjoyed this… it was so fun! And full of great one-liners. :D

Ahna LewisWritten by Ahna Lewis

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