His grandmother gave us home-made pickles over the holidays. They hung suspended in a neatly-labeled jar, along with some herbs and peppers to spice up the taste. Each time I opened the refrigerator for some creamer for my tea, I would see them staring back at me. The peppers swam about invitingly, like goldfish. I opened the fridge again, and watched the goldfish, fluttering their fins and opening their mouths as they struggled through the brine. I live with active hallucinations every day, and this was no different, in fact it was far more innocuous than most of the things I have to pretend to ignore. I slammed the refrigerator door and flopped onto the couch, glaring furiously at my book.
But perhaps it was the minor nature of the thing that made it stick in my mind so well. I couldn't focus on the book. As if sensing weakness, like they always do, the voices that resound endlessly from vacant corners of the room trained their attention on those poor fish in the pickle jar. All at once stoking my curiosity by asking what harm it would do if I helped the fish "just to be on the safe side," while at the same time, teasing out my deeper fears by laughing at my ridiculous delusion. I just told myself over and over again to be proud that this was one situation in which delusion was clear. But just then, that thought and certainty would slip through my mind. Pushed out of the way by useless drivel from alien voices filling my own uselessly small mental capacity. I could almost feel that tenuous grasp on reality sliding like scales through water, and then it was gone.
A jumble of mismatched syllables made reading impossible, and I arose for another cup of tea, and to get those fish. Did my mother give those fish to me? She must have, since she was the last person who telephoned me. Yes, that logic made perfect sense. I pulled the jar out of the refrigerator, and hugged it against me. They were so cold. Poor little things. I struggled through racing thoughts to place the word "net" and just what I intended to do with that noun. I set the jar on the counter, and glanced at the bubbling tank in which our real fish swam. I observed the delicate fins of the phantom fish as I began to unscrew the lid of the jar. And then I realized that I should do what I always do when I'm feeling wrong, and my speech patterns can't resolve themselves enough to talk to anyone else. I should ask my fiance about this whole situation. The fish blurred in my vision as I squeezed tears out of my eyes as my heart was seized with the failure that my resolution meant. And amidst an overture of voices jousting with my own self-control, I laid down on the couch and waited. Useless.
He came home later, it could have been minutes or days as far as I was concerned. I greeted him cheerfully, and he did the same, and then he retreated to his work shop. I followed quietly, and watched him prepare to relax with his hobbies. "I have a silly request" I said, with a smile. He didn't look at me, but pleasantly asked me what it was. "There's a jar of pickles on the kitchen counter. Could you please check to see if the peppers have turned into goldfish, and then return them to the fridge if they haven't?" He turned to look at me curiously, and I could feel my face turning red. He walked to the kitchen, made a spectacle of inspecting the jar, and returned it to its place in the refrigerator. We laughed, and then he sat down at his computer, and we were silent for a while. I poured out the rest of the tea so that I wouldn't have to get any more creamer, and then returned to stare at my own computer from my place on the couch across the room. I was too crazy, for now, to occupy myself with normal tasks. I saw my new screen-saver, the "Marine Aquarium" digital saltwater fish, and I remarked aloud that I was happy that I had them installed, other than the fact that it made me imagine fish in our pickle jars! My fiance didn't look at me, but said in a pained voice, "just... Don't talk about it anymore."