An Aquarium In A City You’ve Never Visited
He can’t remember when he started working at an aquarium, whether it’s a summer job or a long-term-plan, whether he’s starting university next year or just finished. What he has to do is stand in front of groups of children and take questions and relate facts about feeding and habitats. The children might at any moment raise their hands, lose interest, turn their attention towards someone else and always as one, as something collective, and really he finds this scarier than literally anything.
There are other people who do the same job and who sit and eat in the same break room and who seem, when they handle a crab or point out the pattern on the scales of something, to have inside a genuine and earnest amazement at just the fact that these things are. He can – he has, sometimes – look at a tank of jellyfish for half an hour and then afterwards not know whether he found it beautiful, interesting, distracting, anything. He suspects the other people are very convincing at affecting amazement. He suspects he is ignoring a lot of things: beauty, other people. He suspects one day he will have to respond to a question and his mouth will hang open like some sort of eel and he will just kind of moan, and the children will look at each other knowingly and solemnly carry him above their heads and place him in a large glass tank.
A man (still can’t remember what this man looked like) who reached into one of the pools and calmly carried a dripping manta ray towards the exit. Later he described it to people in the break room. They were eating small white sandwiches and just shrugged. His supervisor couldn’t believe that he didn’t try to stop him, but what can you do? He suspects everyday that the man will come back for something else.
The day is mostly under lights and glass, which means under an always shifting and always darkly luminous kind of air that fills your brain to the brim, so that when he leaves and has to walk down the single sloping road to the station, the sun (early evening unending summer-type sun) feels in contrast so pale and definite and constant that he doesn’t know anything apart from this road and this light and his own blankness smacking him in the face like someone else’s hand. He uses his 32 teeth to feed, mostly on different kinds of pasta, and sends emails to people who might not exist.
Alex Chambers is studying art in London.