The Tale of the Fish by Elizabeth Ruth Deyro

The Tale of the Fish

From the depths of the ocean she now walks on land with legs, once the dream of the mermaid princess, covered with scabies and mosquito bites. What she calls home, once the kingdom of Atlantica, is now a patchwork of plywood and rusting yero standing atop a dead creekside river, reeking of the stench of human feces and urine, where fish are made of plastic candy wrappers. These sacrifices she endured, all in the name of love, never thinking twice if love was worth it.

The sun has barely risen, but rowdy vendors and their patrons already crowd the marketplace, customers hurrying to get ahead of one another before meat sellers run out of chicken intestines and hardened pig blood. Topless men carry sacks of hulled rice grains and pick at blocks of ice. Plump old ladies wave sticks with strips of plastic attached to drive flies away from ground pork and beef strips. An old man running the only karinderya in the marketplace reads the daily tabloid while market-goers finish their lugaw and tokwa’t baboy.

It’s easy to tell that she’s new to this, her face painted with hesitance, her knees shaking in fear, hands ice cold. But when she feels his arms around her, his lips on her forehead, her anxieties subside. She smiles and looks at him, studying the arcs of his face like she always has done since the first time she saw him. In spite of the noise and foul odors of the wet market, she knows at this moment that, as long as she’s with him, she’s home.

Soon, they prepare their newly-sharpened tools and start their day at work. She pours pieces of ice from a bucket to the tiled table, along with the fish, still alive and moving. Tears forms in the corners of her eyes, watching the tilapia and bangus fish helplessly trying to breathe, their gills and mouths opening and closing to no avail, but there is nothing she can do. Instead, she wipes her eyes dry and arranges the fish according to kind and size, the small ones on top of the bigger. In front of the fish, she places a small sign inscribed with “₱150/kilo”. A woman, not older than 50, walks toward their spot and says she wants to buy half a kilo of tilapia. Still dazed and hesitant, she just stares blankly at the lady, unable to answer and prepare the fish to be purchased. Her lover takes over, his gaze shifting from the fish he cuts open to her, sadly watching him take out the fish entrails.

Since they started a life together, he has noticed how she reacts differently whenever they clean and sell fish, always with rage and pity. The other day, just as they were starting their morning, making coffee and preparing scrambled eggs for breakfast, a neighbor knocked on their plywood door and said he’d seen the fish they were supposed to sell thrown into the creekside river. He knew that she was behind this, and for the rest of the day they did nothing but argue and shout at each other, much to the dismay of the other residents around the slums. Days before this, as they rode in a tricycle and passed by the wet market, she cried and screamed at the sight of a lady chopping a large tuna fish with a kitchen knife, startling the driver, who lost focus on the road and almost hit the jeepney on the other lane.

Even she is puzzled why she cannot fully adjust to the new world she now belongs in. In her sleep, she is pestered by the feeling of unease, as if she were hearing the fish’s plea for help. She cannot tell her lover about these experiences, though she knows he loves her. She does not want to be labeled a liar, or worse, as delusional. It pains her to see her former subjects die in the hands of her fellow humans and her own spouse, but she has to learn to accept this new life for him.

Every day, she tries to slowly separate herself from her affinity with the creatures of the sea, reminding herself that she is no longer the mermaid she used to be, but this is never enough to make her completely forget about where she came from.

Years pass, and she is left inside her ragged home, watching her five scrawny children play by the creekside river and her marriage running stale, like the clouded waters of the river, filled with waste, filled with regret.


the tale of the fish


Elizabeth is a Filipina writer and student-director from the University of the Philippines Los Baños. She is the Editor-in-Chief and Creative Director of two forthcoming literary journals, both set to be launched in 2018. Currently, she is the fiction editor of Rag Queen Periodical, essay editor of Cauldron Anthology, and prose editor of Minute Magazine and Culaccino Magazine. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Ellipsis Zine, Black Napkin Press, Laurel Magazine, {m}aganda Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and The Tempest, among others. Find out more about her at


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Image: Bernard Spragg, NZ