“I miss you.”
“You too. I’m so happy you called.”
“How are you doing?”
“I’m good, it’s 5am and I’m talking to a pretty girl on Skype. So I’m good.”
“Aw, you’re sweet.”
“So, how’s the job hunt going?”
“I still have no job.”
“Just be an artist.”
“What have you been applying for?”
“Everything. Nothing. Five things…in two weeks. It’s not that much. Yesterday I applied to be a travel agent.”
He burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry. It’s just, that’s pretty funny. But what about the temping?”
“Oh, I got my final warning.”
“I can’t sleep again, not at night. The manager caught me napping at my desk because I was so tired. I’m screwed if they fire me. You have to call me every night before bed to help me sleep, ok?”
“Sure. Do you want a story now?”
“Ok, this one’s called, uhm, The Excellent Adventures of the Shiny Salmon.”
“Of course it is. So where did you meet this shiny shaman? Sorry, salmon.”
“They have salmon in Amsterdam?”
“They do when you’re on LSD.”
“Ha! Is this a true story?”
“It is the true story of my dreams.”
“Of course it is. Tell me.”
“Ok. So one September there was a shiny salmon. It was time to leap up the waterfall to food and safety with all the other salmon, but he could feel it in his fins, he just wasn’t ready.
‘There’s so much I’ve still to explore downstream,’ He told him mum. ‘I heard from this koi about a pool downriver that lights up with bioluminescence under the full moon, and all the snails around do a moon dance under the stars. Oh mum, I want to do a moon dance! I want to catch a ride on the back of a pink dolphin and be tickled by strange, glowing moss. I want to taste the inky plankton who live on the edge of the creeping waterlilies a thousand miles away, and to hear the sweet songs of the Narwhal Symphony Orchestra up north. I want to live, mum. I can’t go upstream, not yet.’
Him mum kissed him on the gill and said, ‘I love you and want you to find meaning in your life, but just know that you won’t be so young anymore when you eventually do come to climb the waterfall, and you’ll have none of your friends around to encourage you up to the top. Even if you do make it back up, we’ll seem different to you. You’ll seem different to us. Our bonds will change, and you might find the peace and security of a regular salmon’s life difficult to settle back into. You’ll miss the open seas, but you’ll also feel envious of your cousins who have begun to lay eggs with other salmon.’
The shiny salmon began to cry. ‘I love you mum.’
‘I know, shiny salmon. I love you too.’
With that, she kissed him goodbye and flipped up the stream.
For years, the shiny salmon had the time of his life exploring the world’s rivers and oceans. He danced with the most beautiful cod he’d ever seen to the song of a thousand Narwhals. He tried hallucinogenic seaweed with a group of dazed plankton, splashed on the backs of friendly pink dolphins in the Yangtze, and at a snowy hot spring in Japan, learned how macaques live and vowed to bring such mammalian acts of physical care back to his own community.
He spent a summer drifting along Turkey’s rivers, getting massages from garra rufa fish until he grew thoroughly fed up with exploring, bored of being alone, scared of growing complacent at all the places he’d been. He missed his mum and his salmon friends, was sick to death of all those dumb, gurgling spider crabs who got in his face and whose language he just couldn’t grasp no matter how hard he tried. He was tired of falling in love with the wrong fish and the wrong mermaids on the wrong side of the world. It was time to go home.
But when he made his last flip to the top of the waterfall where all his friends and family lived, his mum didn’t even recognise him. After all, shiny salmon was now half blind from the muddy waters of the Yangtze, and was still recovering from swallowing black oil in the warm seas off Mexico. His cousins shunned him, told him they didn’t need his help finding food. He was just too full of dangerous talk of how salmon should really, really live like monkeys. He was just too weird.
Tinkering around, bored, one day, shiny salmon discovered that if he mixed local dragonfly legs with a little algae, it tasted just like the shrimp he remembered from his nights spent dancing and feasting off the Jamaican coast. He cooked up a big dinner for his old friends, cousins, and mum.
‘That was the best meal I’ve ever had,’ whispered his old friend, Sarah, kissing him on the fin. And little by little, he began to see the beauty of staying in one place, of living life slowly.
What I’m trying to say is, if you love life upstream, love feeding and laying eggs and growing chubby with your friends, then that’s beautiful. But it’s ok that it’s taken you a little while to climb that waterfall. It’s ok that your life upstream isn’t quite there yet, and that you’re a little envious of your friends who are now way ahead of you. It’s ok, because you did what was right for you, and things will come together. Do see what I’m trying to say?”
“I’m the salmon.”
“Something will come up. We’re hopefully going to live a long time, ’til we’re 80 or maybe even 90. A gap year or three is still just a few percent of your life, and you’ve had a great life. You’re a great artist. And I’m no guru, but it pays to travel when you’re young and limber and too sweet to be cynical.”
“You’re right. I’m going to approach some galleries today.”
“Night night, sweetheart.”
“Night night, and thank you.”
“Just, you stop me from feeling like a ghost girl.”
“A ghost girl?”
“It’s just nice to talk to someone once in a while, to feel less invisible.”
“I know. I know. Sweet dreams.”