Final Fish Death
Maddy Raskulinecz

At the beginning of each year the family buys twenty to thirty fish and throughout the year they die. By the end of the year there is only one fish left and its death process is beginning. In the first stage, it shows signs of insanity or failing motor control by pointing itself upright and swimming repeatedly to the top of the tank. This display is frightening and cannot be altered or prevented. The children of the family run to the fish tank after school each day to see how the fish's death has progressed and present their findings to the parents of the family. In the second stage, the fish becomes weak and lies at the bottom of the fish tank for periods of several minutes, plunges upward, and floats back down. When there were several dying fish they floated down together like leaves falling from a tree in autumn but now there is only one fish and alone it does not evoke the autumnal image so strongly, or at all. In the fish's final stage it is sucked towards the filter and curls around it, and appears dead until closely examined for gill movement. The fish's body has many tiny bones but it appears to have none. Then the fish dies and looks the same except when examined for gill movement. The fish loses some color but remains intact. All the previous dead fish were nibbled by the live fish until their chewed flesh came loose and swayed in the currents provided by the filter. The second-to-last dead fish was mostly intact because this fish was the only one devoted to eating it. The final dead fish is removed from the tank and the tank stands empty. The family leaves the filter running for its bubbling noise, which calms the family at night and helps them sleep. In the new year the family will buy new fish but the remainder of this year is their period of reprieve and convalescence.

Maddy Raskulinecz lives in Baltimore, where she's an MFA candidate at Johns Hopkins. Her stories have appeared in Word Riot, Spork, Everyday Genius and others.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of BD.

Read MR's postcard.

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