One Afternoon at the Aquarium
The lives of three pairs of people are forever changed during a visit to the Aquarium
The Sapphire Seas Aquarium was visited by people from all backgrounds - residents, tourists, friends, families, couples, young, elderly, animal lovers, people who were indifferent to animals, those who were interested in sealife and those who simply wanted to pass the time. One thing was certain - everyone who set foot in the aquarium remembered their visit there.
This is the story of how on one Thursday afternoon, three pairs of visitors from different walks of life took a trip to the aquarium and left with their lives forever changed.
Emma and Jordan, Part I
Young lovers Emma and Jordan were in the early stages of their relationship and had decided to book a short city getaway. They were staying in a hotel near the Sapphire Seas Aquarium and had decided to visit.
"Are you sure you're feeling okay?" Jordan asked Emma as they entered the Aquarium. "We don't have to do this, you know."
"No, it's okay." Emma replied, but she still looked a tad green around the gills. "I think it was just the shrimp last night. Did it taste off to you?"
"Nope. And if it was the shrimp, I would've been chucking up this morning too."
Jordan smiled sympathetically and put his arm round Emma's shoulders.
"I think I'm just nervous." She said, as they joined the end of the short queue leading to the front desk.
"Like I said, we don't have to do this if it's going to trigger your anxiety." Jordan said, "But… I've heard there's a giant sea turtle at the end… and I know how much you love turtles!"
Emma smiled. She loved that Jordan took an interest in what she liked.
"To get to the turtle… I will have to go past the sharks…" Emma said, glancing at the blue glow coming from the Caribbean Reef room behind the reception desk.
"And I'll be right here." Jordan said, squeezing her shoulder. "I'll protect you from those big, carnivorous, razor-toothed beasts!"
Emma let out a small laugh. "You're not exactly helping my shark phobia by saying that."
They were next in line. There was a family in front of them with three small kids.
"I need to see octypus NOW!" one of the younger ones demanded. Emma's stomach twisted and turned.
When they got to the desk, she asked where the toilets were and told Jordan she needed to make a quick trip.
Jordan was worried - Emma wasn't herself. Was it the food poisoning, or the anticipation of encountering her biggest fear? Or was it something else entirely…?
Kat and Mel, Part I
Not long after Emma and Jordan had paid for their admission, two young students entered the Aquarium.
Mel was a film student who liked to express herself - she wore ripped jeans, a crop-top with long flowing sleeves and her long braided dreads and nose ring were the cherry on top to complete a very Bohemian look.
Kat dressed a little more casual with a baggy AC/DC t-shirt, black jeans and converse.
"Thanks for coming," Mel said to Kat, "I'd feel super awkward walking around filming stuff on my own."
"It'll be fun." Kat said cheerily, "What are you doing your project on again?"
"Shelter," Mel answered, "so I'm looking for animals with shells, like sea snails, lobsters, that kinda thing."
They joined the queue, and Kat moved closer to Mel.
"Hey, Mel…" she said in a hushed voice, leaning over and opening up her rucksack so that Mel could see into it. Kat checked nobody else was looking.
Mel glanced inside and caught sight of a tiny clear bag containing two pink ecstasy pills.
She let out a small laugh. "What, here?"
Kat nodded. "When we're inside."
"Okay - but let me get some filming done first."
The two of them approached the front desk and purchased their tickets.
John and Dennis, Part I
72-year-old retiree Dennis sat opposite the jellyfish tank. He watched as their bodies pulsed rhythmically and their long, white tentacles rippled like silk gowns in the wind.
He had been waiting for almost 10 minutes now. What if the person he was waiting for had decided this wasn't a good idea?
It probably wasn't.
At that point, John arrived. He beamed his unforgettable toothy smile when he spotted his friend.
Dennis stood up and the two exchanged a brief hug.
"Sorry I'm late, I didn't realise how much this place had transformed since the 70s! My goodness!"
"Oh yes," Dennis agreed, "it's like a maze, isn't it?"
"Indeed. Well, at least there's more to see." He patted Dennis's shoulder, "So c'mon, let's learn about marine life and catch up on the last fifty years!"
The two of them proceeded to walk to the next area - Southern Seas.
Dennis hoped deep down that there were aquatic attractions that would trigger John's memory of a particular day fifty years ago.
Emma and Jordan, Part II
Emma hadn't gone to the restrooms because she needed to barf again - it was because something had been playing on her mind and the events of the morning had intensified her concerns.
Once she found the toilets, she locked herself in a cubicle and fished around in her bag.
She'd missed her period and felt more bloated than usual. Then again, she wasn't always regular and it could have been all the holiday food they'd been enjoying. She'd bought a test before they went away, but hadn't used it because she wasn't sure it was necessary. But the intense sickness she'd experienced was one classic pregnancy symptom too far.
She took the test out of the box, followed the instructions and then nervously waited for the result to appear in the little window. One pink line = negative, two pink lines = positive.
The toilets had their own fish tank with a pump that released bubbles every ten seconds, amplifying the silence of the toilets and making the anticipation all the more unbearable.
"Wlurmp." the pump gurgled, almost visceral, like the sound of a baby's heart in the womb. One line started to materialise.
She'd only been with Jordan three months. What were they going to do if it was positive?
They were both focused on their work - did they really have time for a kid?
The sound of the pump began to drown out as the slightest hint of another line started to appear. Emma moved the test around to check whether it was just the lighting, or if she was imagining it.
But by the fourth "wlurmp", there was no mistaking it - there were definitely two pink lines.
"Shit." Emma said to herself.
A couple of minutes later, she found Jordan by the seahorses.
"Hey, Em - it says here that male seahorses get pregnant and give birth instead of females!"
Emma tried to crack a smile, even though her heart was racing because she somehow had to tell Jordan that she could very much relate to a male seahorse right now.
Kat and Mel, Part II
The freshwater crab tank was teeming with vibrant crustaceans - hues of purple, blue, yellow and red shimmered as the crabs scuttled over rocks and sand.
"This is great!" Mel said excitedly, zooming in for a close-up on the colourful critters.
Kat was chewing loudly on some Haribo gummy sweets and held the open bag out to Mel.
"No thanks," Mel responded, "you know I can't eat those, right?"
"Why? They're not meat."
"No, but the gelatin in them is crushed up animal bones and skin and urghh-" she shuddered, "this is why I'm vegan."
"Oh," Kat responded as they moved to the lobster tank, "still, it's hard to find vegan sweets. And no offence, but they probably taste like shit. I don't think I could go vegan."
"Why? Lemme guess - you couldn't give up meat?"
"I don't think so. Well, I definitely wouldn't give up fish - they don't even feel pain, do they?"
Mel laughed as she crouched down to record a pair of beautiful blue European lobsters.
"What?" Kat protested, pointing at the lobsters, "Are you seriously telling me you think they feel pain?"
"I don't think. I know… lobsters have complex nervous systems and they avoid experiences where they previously felt pain. They mate for life, too."
Kat popped another Haribo in her mouth and raised her eyebrows.
"That is interesting… but then how do you feel about aquariums? I thought vegans would be against those."
Mel finished getting her lobster footage and stood up again.
"Well, I don't agree with them, no." She said, "But where else am I gonna get clear images of marine wildlife?"
Kat shrugged her shoulders. "True… anyway, wanna do drugs?"
John and Dennis, Part II
"So how long were you a lecturer for?" John asked, as they watched penguins darting around their pool like torpedoes.
"35 years." Dennis responded. "I did my masters here in 1980 and then decided to stay and teach at the same place."
A small whistle escaped John's lips to show how impressed he was. "I bet it's changed since we studied there."
"Mm," affirmed Dennis, "A lot more techy. A lot more students."
John smiled, but it wasn't quite the same, big, vivacious smile as earlier.
"What about you?" Dennis asked, "What have you been doing for the last fifty years?"
John chuckled, but with a hint of sadness. "The same thing for too long. Do you remember why I left here? To get married to a girl in my hometown. A long marriage it was. Three kids, now all adults with their own children. And we divorced five years ago."
Dennis's eyes lit up with surprise.
"Oh John, I'm so sorry."
"It's okay. The truth is, I haven't been happy for so long, Dennis. This is why I'm back living in the city… but enough about that. This is the first time we've been here in decades! We should be enjoying the penguins!"
John and Dennis moved to the window where visitors could watch the penguins outside of the water. At that moment, a pair shot out from under the surface in perfect syncopation and landed with a flop on the artificial rocks. They stood up and waddled curiously towards John and Dennis.
John and Dennis laughed at the unexpected but delightful sight.
"Oh look," John said, reading a plaque, "it says here that these two are a pair of males that successfully reared a chick together. They are one of many recorded examples of homosexual behaviour in penguins."
"Incredible." Said Dennis. The two of them and the penguins stared at each other for a little while.
Neither of them were ready to talk about the elephant in the room; why John had been so unhappy, and why Dennis had been so excited to meet him. They just continued to look into the penguins' eyes and see who they wanted to be staring right back.
Emma and Jordan, Part III
Emma had been so focused on the pregnancy that when they reached the sharks she wasn't even scared.
Jordan held her hand as they passed a ceiling-high tank in which a tiger shark shimmied past effortlessly, its yellow eyes gleaming and its bottom jaw studded with layers of sharp, jagged ivories.
"Are you feeling okay?"
"You're doing so well. I'm proud of you." He squeezed her hand.
"Mm-hm… um… Jordan… I kinda can't think about the shark at the moment."
"What do you mean? Is it too much?"
"No…" she let go of his hand and put her own hands up to her face. They stopped walking.
"Em… what's wrong?"
She took a deep breath.
"I really need to tell you something. And I know it's probably not a good idea to do it here, but it's going round in my head and I don't know what to do or how you're going to react but I think I need to say it."
"...Okay." Jordan responded, slightly worried.
"I've been feeling ill for a few weeks now, and I wanted to be sure, so I took a test… I'm pregnant."
There was a pause whilst everything sunk in.
"Oh, oh okay…" Jordan said.
At that point, Emma's eyes welled up.
"I don't think I'm ready, Jordan."
Jordan's face immediately softened, and he pulled her in for a tight hug. "Hey, it's okay! Look, I'll be here no matter what you decide to do… the choice is completely yours…"
Emma shed a few tears out of gratitude for such an unbelievably caring boyfriend. She really didn't know what to do right now, but he made that feel okay.
"...make sure you do what's right for you, okay? And please don't worry what I think. I'm not the one carrying it."
Emma let out a laugh through her tears.
"You're not a male seahorse." She said, her voice muffled by his hug.
"Unfortunately not." He said. They unlinked and looked into each others' eyes. "Do you wanna leave? If you need to, I really don't mind."
Emma looked towards the next room, looked back at Jordan, and smiled.
"Let's visit the giant turtle first."
Kat and Mel, Part III
The effects of the ecstasy were now in full swing.
Kat and Mel staggered through the aquarium's glass tunnel, in awe of the colours, creatures and movements surrounding them. Mel felt like the glass ceiling could cave in at any moment, and she'd be painted with all the hues of a coral reef.
Kat was perched on one side of the tunnel, gazing at the beams of artificial light that danced and sparkled through the clearness of the water.
"Hey, Kat!" a male voice echoed. It had the accent of a New Yorker.
Kat looked around slowly.
"Over here! By this rock shaped like Dwayne Johnson's head!"
On the opposite side, there was indeed a rock shaped like The Rock. Kat approached it with a very confused expression on her face. That's when she noticed a small, red octopus chilling at the side of the rock. It seemed to be looking directly at her.
"So, my ocean friends tell me ya like eating them - we hear everything, ya know?"
The sound seemed to be coming from the octopus. Kat looked around her, dazed. Visitors who passed by gave her strange looks.
"Wait - why are you talking?"
"Oh, we could always talk. Just nobody would listen. But now you're listening… don't eat us, okay? Crustaceans, birds, mammals, doesn't matter… just be kind to us. Like your friend."
"Yeah, just be kind, Kat!" a cheery voice came from an Angelfish that swam past.
"Yeah, just be kind!" A shoal of tiny tetras squeaked in unison.
"Beee…. kindddd…" a giant manta-ray boomed deeply as it cruised overhead.
"Okay, I promise I won't eat you anymore!" Kat said, standing up and walking over to Mel.
"Thank you Kat!" the marine animals chirped behind her.
"I think this ecstasy is way too strong." Kat said to Mel.
"I know…" Mel said, her eyes wide, "Let's find the giant turtle!"
They marched to the tunnel exit, and as they passed a nearby rubbish bin, Kat chucked away the rest of the Haribos.
John and Dennis, Part III
The atmosphere between John and Dennis had been somewhat icy since the penguin encounter. It was clear they weren't fully engaging with the sealife on display and that they had something on their minds.
As they were about to get to the sharks, Dennis stopped and turned to John.
"Why are you really here, John?"
John looked at him with dewy eyes from behind a flop of silver hair.
"I remember that day, Dennis." He said, "The day when we were together… here. I want to relive it. And then maybe take you out for dinner."
Dennis's eyes glittered with excitement, and he didn't really know what to say. He just smiled, and then said:
"Let's go and find her."
"Our turtle. She must still be here!"
The Giant Turtle
The three pairs stood a few metres apart and watched as the Aquarium's 70-year-old green sea turtle - one of the largest in the world - swooped, glided and owned her cyan waters with the greatest of ease.
For Emma, the turtle's existence was a reminder to stay in the present - and that with Jordan by her side, everything was going to be okay.
For Kat, the turtle reminded her of the revelation she'd had and how it was okay to embrace change. She was ready to make a positive future for herself and the world and thanked Mel for helping her realise this.
For John and Dennis, the turtle took them on a journey to the past, back to when they first realised their love for one another. Dennis put his hand on John's, and John knew he no longer had to be afraid of who he really was - and Dennis knew he wasn't going to lose him ever again.
About the Creator
I like to write, create, pet kitties, listen to owls, talk about life, watch indie films, laugh, make new friends 😊🐌🌻💋👾🧠⚡️🪐
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters
i love the way you structured this piece - very nice work :)
aii its interesting... gud work!!!
I think this is a fluid and well crafted piece of writing. I particularly liked how the aquarium creatures reflected the concerns of the protagonists. Neatly done!
This was very inspirational and I really enjoyed your work! 🥰
Wow. This was so moving! I am so inspired by how you created three such intense emotional journeys in so few words. This story really shows that big changes and even complete transformations can take place in as short a time as few hours at the aquarium.