I want that snapper from the moment I first see her, snorting sea slug paste off a flatfish in the men’s toilets. She wipes her snout and offers me some, holding the flatfish between her fins like a platter of hors d’oeuvres.
I ought to call over the cafe manager, or at least say no, but my shift here ended two minutes ago and I’m already desperate to blitz it from my memory. The first hit is a white detonation, bleaching my conscience and blowing us out into the street.
A few dive bars later the snapper is saying that we should head downtown, against the current, where the water is warmed by volcanic streams and the blue-darkness is split by bioluminescent signs screaming JAZZ LOBSTERS: THE BIRTHPLACE OF SCALLOP SWING. On good nights the line goes back a block or two, all flashing scales and chattering antenna, and at the door we’re being told by a hook-lipped salmon to hold your cash, man, no entrance fee required.
It’s dark inside. A sunfish loiters in the hallway, spitting bubbles from a coral pipe. I swim up beside the snapper, blabbering about krill takeaways and how miserable it’s been temping all summer, especially in regions as low pressure as the reef, but she suavely ignores my attempts at conversation with a swish of her dorsal fin.
Love to chat, baby, but we’re going to miss the show. When we get to the bar it’s leaping, bathed in the gauzy lamp-glow of anglerfish, and onstage the Oystercrats wait on beds of green seagrass, instruments poised between heavy stone lips.
And then comes the hush (quiet! quiet!), and the old crabs clicking in their booths, and when the saxophone wails it sounds like a humpback crooning in the deep.
The snapper pirouettes above me, leaves whirlpools in her wake, and when the oboe chirps our fins wound the water with vibrant swirls that would shame even the most flamboyant of cuttlefish.
The chorus sings (oh Neptune!) while jellyfish billow above us, lifting dresses of phantom frills, and when the song ends it’s like the tide rushing out.
I come to my senses on the dancefloor, gulping. The water is cool and dark; it seems to gently vibrate with the memory of last night’s music. I spot her in a loose shoal by the now empty stage, a twist of gold among bronze bream.
She gives me a sympathetic look when I tactfully ask to take her home, then squashes my question with one of her own: why don’t you find another blobfish to go home with?
Somebody says that the morning has come and turned the black water blue, so we filter out into the street. At the corner, waiting for a whale to catch a ride on, I listen to the ramblings of a blind Greenland shark.
Nearly three hundred years old, he remembers when Fat-Nosed Sam (a blobfish, just like you) played at the Lobsters. This was long ago, he says, before Finless Fred had his accident and when the Oystercrats were just eggs bouncing around in their mama’s shell.
He tells me the day Sam died was the day jazz died, then asks for some change. I mean to give it to him, but my whale is pulling in and I don’t want to be late for work.