by Dan Sanders
One day, my wife bought a painting at a thrift store, it’s a fish. It’s a fish underwater. It’s really a good painting. I like it. It’s a goldfish. It’s the idea of a goldfish, it’s blurry like you were underwater with the fish. It’s hard to make it out, but the second you look at it, you know it’s a goldfish, and it looks straight out at you. So by extension – if you follow the painting – you are a goldfish. You’re two goldfish looking at each other. That’s the idea of the painting, that’s how I took it anyway. I don’t see how you could look at it any other way. She just says it’s pretty. That it doesn’t mean anything.
Anyway, we came home and hung it on the empty wall across from the entryway. It’s hung so that the second you walk into the house, you see this blurry fish staring at you. I like the painting as a painting. I want to make sure that’s understood because when we argue about it, I think she thinks that I’m making fun of the painting, but I’m not. I just think it’s weird to walk in and suddenly be confronted by this fish. So I’ll come home and go, “oh my god, a piranha” and sometimes I’ll jump on the couch, or run back out the front door, or if she’s in the room, I’ll go “Look out!” It’s not passive aggressive. Maybe it’s a little passive aggressive, but the kids think it’s hysterical. She’s a little tired of my whole routine in general, I think, she won’t say so but I know so.
She knows I like the painting, but she knows that I know that she knows that I have some issues with the fish and might be aware that I’m not full on joking. It’s just weird to me sometimes. I think if we hung it somewhere else, it’d be fine. I think I’d be fine with it then if it – even if we put it in the kitchen, you know, so that when we’re eating food we could at least pretend this dumb fish is staring at us because it wants what we have to eat. That’s fun. That’s a fun fish game. That’s not a trap. Nobody is imprisoned in a small bowl in that scenario.
I don’t know, it’s blurry.
If you were seeing the fish clearly then it’s just you looking at a fish in its tank, but it’s blurry so you’re also underwater. There’s just no way of getting around that. But maybe you don’t have to be in the fishbowl? Like in a lake or something. A sunny day in a lake, maybe. But there’s. No. It can’t be. And even if it were!
Look, if you were swimming in a lake and you came face to face with a goldfish that big you’d get out of the lake. Your fun sunny day would be ruined. You’d be terrified. It’d be the same size as you – based on the perspective of this painting. It’d be a human sized goldfish. AHHH RUN! I don’t know what goldfish eat, but a thing that big can eat whatever it wants. I’m sure it could take your head clean off, your whole head would fit in its mouth easy. Easy. Also goldfish don’t live in lakes. They’re exclusively a bowled creature at this point. She won’t move the painting, is my point. That’s my point.
It’s imposing. You walk in and it’s like a threat. If you look at it like, you’re a person under the water, there’s the fear of being eaten – that’s almost fine. Not fine, but I like that better, it’s more natural and over quicker. If you’re also a fish, there’s this immediate idea of being trapped with this other fish. You’re a stupid little fish in a stupid little bowl and that’s your dumb life, and just that’s it. I know all this might sound nuts, but I think it’s important that I be completely open and honest about the many layers on which I have come to hate this painting.
It just creates more questions than answers. Five bucks at a thrift store. Why did it speak to her so much? Which fish is she, and in which scenario? Is she drowning? Is she trapped in this glass bowl? Am I a terrifying murky figure? Does she think she’s trapped? Is it about the kids? They seem fine! I don’t know what the hell it is. And every day I came home and the first thing is this painting and “Welcome to the Fishbowl.” I’ve asked her what she thought it meant, and she just says it’s pretty. She likes the colors. And again, she’s not wrong, it’s pretty as hell. But what the hell could it be in her head that makes a thing like that important enough to hang where she hung it, and also, after I voice my concerns about the layers of meaning and it being right in front of the door – why not just move it for my sake? Right? Why not just go, “ok he’s having a weird reaction to this, lets hang it in the bathroom” or literally anywhere else. I would glue it to the ceiling, I’d have stapled it to the hood of my car. Anywhere but there. But she just says I’m being weird. And she’s right. But can we move it somewhere where I know how to handle it? Christ. This fucking fish. It’s killing me.
And she’s right, it doesn’t look like a piranha. And I don’t thinks she’s a piranha. But sometimes it looks like a piranha. Do you know about piranha? Do you know why they’re so scary? It’s because they live in a place where there’s a very rainy season and then there’s a dry season. Extremes. So during the rainy season, you could poke a piranha in the eye and it wouldn’t do a thing. But then it gets dry, and there’s still a lot of piranha, and the river dries up and creates pools of piranha, cut off from any of their normal rainy season food sources, so you have these puddles of starving piranha. And if some poor creature steps in the pool, it’ll lose it’s leg. Frenzy. They have a feeding frenzy. Just the smallest morsel to work over and they go mad. You can’t blame them, but they just swarm and spin whatever is in the water until it’s gone. Just a churning nightmare, until eventually it all dries up and they die anyway. All that frenzy for nothing. But, A for effort, piranha.
I just don’t want it by the door. That’s all. Just — lets move it. Or get rid of it. I don’t even like art. I’ve been to museums. I’ve never once had any reaction to any painting in my life. I am completely dead inside when it comes to paintings. Fuck paintings. Maybe I hate fish? I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I’m this close to burning the house down. I just think she’s trying to say something with it and then the more I ask, the less she says and the more she just insists that it’s just pretty. It’s moderately pretty. It’s got some color to it but who cares.
She got mad because I went online and got a bunch of posters. Like the kind you’d hang in your dorm room. I told her they were important to me, I hung them in our bedroom. I wanted to buy ten or fifteen of them and put them all over everything, but that’d be too much. She wants to be subtle and not say anything? I can do that too. I got three. One is a magic eye poster, one of those ones where you have to cross your eyes to see the secret image. Get it? The secret image is a horse. I can’t actually see it, I never learned how to do those things. But the thing on the internet said it was a horse. It’s up on two legs. So it’s freaking out and it’s hard to see. You see what I’m saying? I’ll put layers on layers on layers too, if she’s so smart.
I got two others that were just big open fields, covered in wildflowers. Two on each side of the room and then the secret horse is on the wall at the foot of the bed. Open space. Lots of open space, and then secret message horse. Free. First thing you see in the morning. Galloping. Nobody on his back. Just out there doing horse stuff. If you connected all the paintings it’s like he’s covering ground, you know. he’s marching through the meadow and in the middle he realizes just how free he is, and how much of a horse and he just goes up like “Yeaaaaah!” That’s what that horse is all about, to me anyway, I’m new to art.
Anyway she hates it. But I won’t move it. She can’t see the horse, but I told her that it was a horse in there, even though I can’t see it either. Neither of us can see the horse, and if you can’t see the horse it’s less of a fun trick poster, and just kind of a digital fuzz that’s actually kind of hard to look at. I don’t blame her for hating it, but it’s not about the painting, right? It’s about the message buried in the painting. That’s what art is, which I’ve only just recently realized. That dumb fish taught me to appreciate art, and then to hate it again almost right away.
“It’s just pretty. These posters aren’t pretty. I don’t know what’s going on, what’s this all about. I love you!” She says. Exactly! Now who’s playing games!? That’s just what I’ve been talking about. Though, I do know she’s got other stuff going on that I can’t really talk about. Private stuff. And scary. Scary and private stuff. And I don’t disagree, the posters are a mess. It was hot last week and they curled on the corners and got ripples in the middle. The fish is fine, it’s on canvas in a frame. The posters are just kinda plastic and the tape comes off the back real easy.
By the time she took them down, I didn’t even care anymore. She came home one night and I was just upset and staring at the damn fish. Sad more than angry. It’s hard to be this worked up about something and not even know where she’s at with it. With anything. She won’t even allow that I might be right about the fish. She got upset that I was upset and kept saying I’m making this into something it’s not. And I’m not! Who has the time? I’m still trying to come up with something that will trick her into telling me what the fish is about and what I’m supposed to do about the fish. It’s clearly some kind of message to me about me, and about who I am to her and what it all means. I think that’s clear. I don’t have extra time to create some elaborate new problem. I’ve had my hands tied with the fish problem. One thing at a time. That’s what the posters were for. I feel like that was a pretty obvious effort that I’m not getting credit for.
For a while, I got convinced that she painted it. Or had it commissioned and hid it in the thrift store and was just like “oh, isn’t this pretty..” like a trick. I’m not certain of that, I’m not ruling it out, but I think it’s probably unlikely at this point. I don’t think she knows how to paint. Unless she does! How can I know something like that? Maybe she’s great at painting, who knows what she’s got locked up in that head of hers. I checked her clothes for paint spots the last time I did laundry. I checked the accounts to see if there were any checks written that I couldn’t account for. But there wasn’t. Unless she has a secret checking account or paid cash. Maybe she squirreled cash away for a while to pay a painter in cash. How should I know, she’s the painter. What is it? What’s it cost? What’s this all cost?
Next Sunday: Resignation Letters