"I am the Charliefish," were the words that came out of the fish's mouth.
L.B.T. felt the room begin to spin around him. It was as if his head were going to fall into pieces.
"The...?" he began, but could say no more.
"Don't be afraid," the fish said. "Please. I know this is a shock to you. But there's nothing to be afraid of."
L.B.T. stood, mouth agape. The fish, not even three inches long, eyed him from its place on the ruler.
"This is impossible," L.B.T. finally said.
"No, no, not impossible," the fish said. "In fact there's a good reason it's happened."
"A good reason?"
"I've been waiting here to talk to you, you know. It's taken awhile for my vocal chords to develop."
"You're not really a fish," L.B.T. said.
"I'm a fish and I'm not a fish. Of course I'm a fish! What do I look like?"
"You're possessed!" L.B.T. blurted out. "I suspected it before. There was something..."--he paused, looking for the word--" something disgusting about you. You're..."
"Alright," the fish interrupted. "Say I'm disgusting all you like. But you're wrong to say I'm possessed. Or at least in the way you mean. I mean, you too, or at least your body, is possessed, if you want the truth."
"The truth? This is ridiculous! You're a demon talking to me through a fish!"
"I'm certainly not a demon," the fish said calmly. "There's a purpose for everything, especially things like this--I mean, my appearance here like this. And there's a reason for the possession of your body I was just talking about. It's the very reason you're here to begin with."
"I am not possessed," L.B.T. said, stepping back from the tank. "What's possessed is this fish I ended up with!"
"No, no," the fish said. "You're not getting my meaning. When I say possession I don't mean demonic possession or anything like that. What I mean is that the soul occupying your body is already a kind of possession. The soul occupies your material body. It was made for your body, in a way, but also not made. It's the same with me. I wasn't really made for this body, you know, but look what's happened. Here I am anyway. I was put into this body for a reason, that's all I'm saying."
"I don't like it," L.B.T. said. "I don't like the way you're talking, and I don't believe you a bit."
"Well, eventually you'll understand. I've just begun my talking."
"I mean, how can I even...?" L.B.T. gestured in frustration, unable to finish his question.
"I'll just have to explain," the fish said.
"So I'll have to begin."
"So begin then!" L.B.T. said. "Why not?"
"Alright," the fish began. "It's just that I didn't intend to get into things so quickly. I thought at first I'd just get to know you bit by bit, but since you're so scared of me--"
"Who wouldn't be?"
"Fine," the fish said. "The fact is I'm here to communicate with you about my failure, the failure of my part of the Work. I'm here because you're the one who's to receive the communication."
"Listen" the fish said. "It's because of your soul--your character. You're the only one who'll know how to continue the Work where I left off. It was clear that you were the one appropriate for continuing the Work."
"You want me to work for you?" L.B.T. said.
"No. Not for me. But as part of the project, part of the Work, yes--you are the one to continue it. It can only be you, L.B.T."
"There's a reason you came to the night market that night, and there's a reason I ended up with you."
"And what's the reason?"
"The reason is because you are the one to continue the Work!" the fish said somewhat frustrated.
"But I don't know what work you're talking about," said L.B.T. "I don't know anything about any work, so I don't really want to continue it. And besides, maybe I just ended up with you at random. Did you think of that? Maybe it was because the others thought you looked strange, so they pawned you off on me."
"That's not how these things happen," the fish insisted. "You shouldn't be thinking in this way."
"Why not?" L.B.T. said. "I don't even know what's going on here! You keep talking about some reason behind it, some work I'm supposed to do, but you still haven't explained anything. This is just too...." L.B.T. tried to find the words. "I think there's something wrong here," he finally said decisively.
"Yes, there's something wrong,"
the fish replied. "That's for
sure. But the wrong is not where
you think. I mean, I needn't
impress on you how hard I had to struggle to get here, do I?"
"How hard you had to struggle?"
"I was a man then," the fish said. "I'd taken up the Work, the transmission of the words. I'd dedicated myself to it."
"So the work is about transmitting some kind of words. What words? What are you talking about now?"
"I mean if I hadn't been so dedicated to it--if I wasn't so serious--in that case the failure wouldn't have meant coming back like this. Coming back like I have--as a fish! Which I admit is pretty ridiculous."
"So you were dedicated to some kind of work having to do with some kind of words. That's what you're trying to say. And if you're here as a fish now, it's got something to do with this work, with continuing it."
"But what is the work you're talking about? That's what I still don't understand!"
"But you're beginning to understand," the fish said. "And it's a good thing. I mean, at least you can see that the Work I'm talking about is not something easy. And not something trivial either. The few opportunities I had for a normal life--I had to leave them behind. Everything I did, finally, was only in hopes for the Work."
"The work, the work!" L.B.T. said. "You keep repeating about the work. But what is it? Why don't you answer my question? Why don't you just tell me?"
"I'll get to it eventually. You have to be patient with this."
"I don't want to be patient!" L.B.T. snapped. "I don't know what you want with me! All I can see is that this work, whatever it is, has turned you into a kind of ghost. And now you're here as a talking fish, and you're in my bedroom too! If I'm not dreaming this. You're here to possess me, that's what this is! That's the work you're talking about, and if I'm smart I won't be taken under this spell!"
"You're getting on the wrong track again," the fish replied calmly. "I'm not a ghost, L.B.T."
"You're a ghost or some kind of demon. How is it you know my name?"
"I'm not a demon," the fish said. "I'm only here to continue the Work. And I've come to you because you're the one able to do it."
"If my mother saw you talking to me you'd be flushed down the toilet in a minute!"
"Please. Don't bring your mother into it. Try to be mature about this."
"I'm only seventeen years old, I've never had a job, and I'm going to work for some magic fish?"
"You shouldn't think of it this way, L.B.T."
"And why not!"
"Listen," the fish said. "Maybe I wasn't pure enough to finish my part, maybe that's why this happened. But so what? If you talk this way, as if we're talking about some kind of 'job,' it only proves you don't understand."
"Understand what? You not helping me understand!"
"It will come with time," the fish said.
"I don't want any part of it," L.B.T. said.
"How can you know that if you still don't even know what it is?"
"So finally tell me what it is!" L.B.T. said.
"You're too impatient!"
"And you're a talking fish!"
"Acch," the fish said in frustration. "It's all because of my failure. The Work is a matter of transcribing, of transmitting what needs to be communicated of langauge: it is the transmission of what is necessary in language, what is essential in language that needs bringing forth."
"I don't understand a thing about it," L.B.T. said. "You don't make any sense."
"But it is a matter of knowing the precise diction, the precise words and genre that will reveal the essential. And this is where it is easy to fail."
"Still makes no sense."
"And this is what happened in my case," the fish continued. "Sometimes what should have been brought forth as part of the Work ended up as faulty aphorisms or tales, or not even that. Probably I wasn't dedicated enough, wasn't pure enough."
"But I knew there wasn't a stress on purity anyhow, or at least not purity in the way most people understand it. The Work required that we were to break the mould around things. So how could I have failed through lack of purity?"
"It's not me who said anything about purity," L.B.T. said. "So don't ask me. And still I don't know what the hell you're talking about. In fact every word you say only makes things less and less clear. Why can't you tell me in clear language why you're here, then I can judge for myself if I should trust you or not?"
"I'm trying to tell you in clear language," the fish said. "The Work is a matter of making language speak its essence, and a matter also of making it speak beyond its essence. Because the heart of language beats outside of language. This is a truth that has been transmitted, but it is one that is misconstrued by most or simply unknown. This misconstrued truth, it is a matter of making it slowly obvious, making it obvious through langauge itself, which is the only way. Because the making obvious of this truth is part of the necessary Work."
"You are trying to hypnotize me!" L.B.T. said. "You haven't said the truth you mean and you haven't said anything about what language you're talking about."
"It's because you still have much to learn."
"I have only to keep listening to you to go crazy!" L.B.T. said. "Or to be possessed! Michael was right trying to get rid of you as soon as possible."
"Oh, you just need more time to approach the truth," the fish said. "My words--words like language, essence--these kinds of words--you need to understand what I mean by them before you judge."
"I don't need to," L.B.T. said. "I know what the word language means. But your meaning only keeps getting vaguer as you talk. You're getting under my skin with all this."
"It's annoying to you because even though you don't really understand my meaning, still some part of you suspects you already know it's true--that there's a truth behind what I'm saying. You suspect the truth behind my words."
"No, what I suspect is that you're hypnotizing me," L.B.T. said. "You're putting some kind of spell on me by diverting my mind with this nonsense about language and some kind of work I'm called to do. Then when my mind is diverted I'll become your servant!"
"It's up to you to decide to approach the truth you know is there."
"It's up to me," L.B.T. said, and with his right hand swiftly pulled the ruler from the tank.
Without the support of the ruler, the fish immediately sank back beneath the water's surface. L.B.T. stepped to the middle of the room, holding the ruler at arm's length. Already he saw fish facing him through the glass. He could see its unease at the sudden change: its fins were shaking in protest; its eyes seemed to be pleading.
What to do next?
L.B.T. turned and put the ruler on his desk. He paced a moment. He could hear his heart pounding heavily in his chest. He didn't want to look back at the fish. His thoughts were in a riot. He reached up to wipe away the sweat gathered on his brow.
Again the fish tried to break the surface with its voice; it was calling out something, but the words were garbled. L.B.T. still refused to look. He held his eyes tightly closed, trying to decide what to do.
. . .
[to be continued, by L.B.T. and peers]
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