Fish Market

Lori Hashashian

The first fish market we walked into had the typical, pungent smell of salt water and dead sea creatures. I remember hating the smell when I was a child but it didn’t bother me anymore. The floor was covered in a thin layer of water with black mats put in place so that customers wouldn’t slip and fall. I walked towards the back of the market, the fish staring up at me. They looked inexplicably beautiful as they lay on top of each other in a bed of cloudy ice. A rainbow of muted colors, from silvers to browns to reds. Their gleaming scales contrasted with the bony structure of the fins and tails. Their eyes were glossy and sparkling. They looked alive. I watched as a woman talking on the phone took the metal tongs stuck in the ice and grabbed a fish. She turned it around, examining the other side. I didn’t stay long enough to find out whether she decided to buy it. I walked past her, turning my own body carefully so that I wouldn’t bump into anything. One table held humongous fish, probably as long as my torso. They seemed to be frowning, their mouths forever frozen in upside down parabolas. I noticed they were $30 and thought about how cheap that was for a life. Imagine selling a human for that little money. Imagine selling a human at all. As we neared the back where they kept the shellfish, my grandpa slipped on the wet floor. Instinctively, I reached out to help him, but he had caught onto a metal tank and stopped himself from falling. Inside the tank were the live blue crabs. The dirty brown top of their shells was covered in small white dots. The bottom of their claws were an ombre blue, fading out into white. A few crabs were upside down, their soft bellies exposed. Some of them slowly moved their legs around, attempting in vain to get somewhere. Some had already given up motion, or maybe they were dead. One crab had a pile of soapy bubbles on its mouth. The bubbles moved as the crab breathed. You’re going to die, I thought, trying to telepathically convey this undeniable fact to the hapless crab. I wondered if it could understand me. Behind the crabs, a man who worked at the market was helping two women get a live lobster. He reached into a large pool, grabbed a lobster and placed it in a plastic bag. The lobster was a brownish orange color, with bright orange bumps near its face. The claws were kept shut by blue rubber bands. The women thanked the man and went to the line to pay for the animal. I wondered whether the lobster knew that it was going to be killed. Probably not, I figured. I imagined the pain of being slowly submerged into scalding liquid. One part of your body burning at a time until you were dead and felt nothing anymore. I imagined the lobster’s brown shell turning a neon red, signaling it was ready to eat. It’s strange how the animal becomes completely different when it’s about to be consumed.
The second fish market had a huge sign hung on the wall outside. “LIVE MAINE LOBSTERS! 2,000 POUNDS SWIMMING IN OUR TANK.” Having an abundance of live animals that customers could pay money to kill seemed like a strange thing to brag about. We walked up the steps and swung open the plastic-covered navy blue door. My grandparents remarked that it had changed, that they had added a restaurant portion. The restaurant was small, just a few tables in the front of the store and a stand where they were serving seafood soups. When we walked through the door a man greeted us, welcoming us to his store and asking if we needed help finding anything. My grandfather turned to me and said, “they’re becoming more commercialized.” I nodded in agreement, even though I had never been to the store before and had no way of knowing if they were in fact changing their business model. Not able to bear looking at the dead fish again just yet, I walked through the aisle of fillets. It was full of vibrant oranges, pale pinks and stark whites. The salmon fillets were thick and glistening with the shine of raw meat. The thin white curves running through the flesh were symmetrical, a sign of natures beauty. The flounder fillets were floppy, barely tinted with a light pink pigment. Straight lines indented the meat, like a series of arrow heads. Normally, the fillets in supermarkets are enough to gross me out. When I see them, I picture the rest of the fish. A visual of the butchers cutting the fish in half and meticulously removing the fragile spine floods my mind. I hope the fish can’t feel pain when they’re dead. But there, surrounded by all the other gruesomely gorgeous specimen, I didn’t find the fillets vulgar. They were stripped of any characteristic aspects. An entirely new form that bore no resemblance to the fish that were killed to make them. I thought about how one fish could become two fillets, each taken from a different side of the spine. The two slabs might end up going to two different families, consumed at two different times, with no consideration for their relation. I thought of all the animals that are separated this way, each body part rotting at a different tempo. My consciousness moved back to the present situation. I was aware of how cold and lifeless the fillets look. They seemed lonely.
As much as the fish markets made me unhappy, I was drawn to them. They were alluring. I hated that all the fish were dead. I hated that the lobsters were living just to wait for their death. I hated that the floor was wet and the air smelled bad. I hated that everyone else who was there wasn’t bothered by any of it. When I was in the fish market, I had something to hate.

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