8. Ectoplasmic

The woman fiddles with the bunch of keys at her waist, picking out a long-necked key as she comes to the door. Next to her are several buckets containing algae, krill, and anchovies. The door’s just a verdigris patch in the vast slab of concrete wall that looks over the West Sands. There’s no one around apart from the seagulls. They look somehow larger today, more cross. No chips, she thinks to herself. No scraps from the tourists to eat. One of them sidles along a picnic table, glaring at her. It’s one of those huge gulls, the size of her neighbour’s armadillo. She stares back at it for a moment, and then she unlocks the door and hauls the buckets inside.

It’s warm and dark in there, and it smells of seaweed.  As the woman’s eyes adjust, the darkness gives way to glowing patches of light – pale greens and turquoises, a glow of pink here, a flash of yellow there. Silver ripples shimmer across the ceiling as a shark turns and slips away in one of the tanks that line the walls. She walks through the glass maze, past the bananafish, the stingrays, the thornbacks and the cuckoo wrasse. The rays draw their bodies around them like cloaks, and the bananafish fly towards her as she walks past. She opens a door to a walkway, high above the tanks. It’s lit by a succession of opaque skylight windows, through which she sees the shapes of the seagulls wheeling overhead.

The woman moves along the walkway, scattering the contents of the buckets right and left. Then she approaches the last tank. The wind whistles through the window above, which is slightly ajar. The woman peers into the tank, but there’s no sign of the ghost catfish that lurk there, deep in the seaweed forest. There’s nothing but a strange patch of a watery yellow-green residue, like foam, or ectoplasm, on the rim of the tank, and on the walkway. The woman steps in it, and curses.

When she leaves, the seagull is still on the picnic table. She shooes it away, and it rises up in the air, high above her. She watches it go. It is only as it turns towards the sun that she sees, still protruding from its beak, the translucent lineaments of the whiskers of a catfish.

Catfish, drawn in St Andrews Aquarium, circa 2010.