The brush of the broom slowly drifting back and forth across the dappled gray floor created a sort of lulling melody. One many would deem a monotonous or perhaps dull annoyance, but Sam thought it was impressive in its simplicity.
The worn bristles slid so smoothly, humming to a timeless rhythm, carrying away the debris of life. It was the soundtrack to Sam's little piece of this world.
It was the sound of security. It was the sound of money, hard earned. It was the sound that staved off loneliness.
And he would no longer hear it after the day's end.
He was too old, they said. He was starting to miss things. His hearing was going. His eyesight was failing. They said all kinds of things, but none of them held a lick of truth. The CEO's nephew needed a job, and Sam was replaceable.
It didn't matter he'd been employed at the aquarium for most of his adult life. It made no difference that he never missed a day of work. He didn't matter. Not to them.
The finality of the next few hours set in, stealing his breath from his lungs, and the broom slowed to a halt. Sam gripped the tip of the long handle with his worn palms, resting his forehead against them. His eyes squeezed shut as they welled with unshed tears.
He told himself he wasn't going to do this. They could force him to leave, but they couldn't choose how he dealt with it. He was trying to remember that, he really was.
His father's words kept whispering in his ears on repeat, urging him to listen.
Son, I'm going to tell you something that will see you through this thing called life. A man's place in this world is often out of his control. Good things will come along and make you want to dance for joy. Bad things will too, and those may cause you to stumble. But no matter what happens, you can choose how you go on.
Sam hastily wiped at his eyes, his spine straightening. He needed to shake off this melancholy.
He looked around at the vivid colors and the undulating water that spoke home to him. The jellies in their grand, floor-to-ceiling tanks dancing to a song he felt down to his bones.
He envied them. How easy life might be without a heart to hurt. A brain to feel the sting of betrayal. Lungs to fill with silent screams.
Always on the outside, looking in. Sam wondered if that's how the sea creatures felt. It was a simple matter of perspective, but made such a profound difference.
He'd been trying for the last few weeks to imagine what his days would look like without the refuge of this watery haven. And he couldn't. He just could not.
His cramped apartment already felt empty in the few hours he spent there when he wasn't at work. No children, no siblings, parents passed on. There were a few neighbors he got on well with, but he wouldn't call them friends.
No, his real friends lived in a world he could only observe. But they always listened. They never judged.
He hummed and sang while they swam along beside him.
He twirled his broom, gliding across the room like Fred Astaire, and in his mind, they applauded.
All his dreams, his regrets, his desires, they absorbed it all like sponges, never letting on they held his secrets.
It couldn't end like this.
He wouldn't let it.
Mind made, Sam propped his broom against the far wall and sat down on the bench meant for visitors.
He drew in a deep breath, letting it out slowly, then bent to unlace his shoes.
* * *
"Mr. Sam, you in here?" Xavier called. Where was that old coot?
This stupid aquarium creeped him out at night. All those sets of eyes unblinking, staring at him wherever he went. If he didn't need this job to keep him out of jail, he would never set foot in here again.
As Xavier moved to turn on the overhead lights, a large shadow loomed in his peripheral. "Gah!" he wheezed, clutching his chest. "You stupid, freak-ass monsters!"
Thankfully, it was only those dumb jellyfish.
Wait, why were they all floating together? He stood there a moment trying to make out what he was seeing. The strange sight drew him closer and closer until he was right against the glass.
And then it clicked.
They were surrounding a human form splayed out on the bottom of the tank clothed in a drab green uniform.
Xavier stood mesmerized by the morbid scene playing out before him, unable to look away.
The colorful swarm shifted to and fro as though dancing to a song that played only for them. Their long stinging arms passing over ashy skin, causing the steel gray hair of Sam's corpse to move and sway.
It was kind of weirdly beautiful.
He wondered briefly if there was anyone who would miss the old man. And then reality came crashing in.
Xavier was staying out of jail by the skin of his teeth. It would not look good if he was found here with a dead body.
He turned swiftly, moving back through the eerily lit room, leaving Sam to his final dance.
About the author
Coffee/reading/writing/family–my favorite things in life. I have a degree in biochemistry but my split personality loves creative writing just as much!
@heather_hubler on Twitter
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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