Today, we are pleased to publish “The Golden Arowana” by William Pei Shih, the second runner up for our Short Story Award for New Writers. In this story, a man and his grandmother take a road trip to claim a valuable fish; each sentence of their journey shimmers.
“The Golden Arowana”
It is dead upon arrival. As soon as Jimmy is home, he tears the box open, cuts through the matching brown tape with the sharp edge of a key. Inside, the carcass. It is lying in a thin thread of water. The deflated plastic bag, like a balloon past its prime. Encasing all this, a styrofoam interior to insulate against any sudden changes in temperature. The case is nearly overflowing with the water that had leaked, dyed blue from the conditioner used to remove the traces of ammonia. Jimmy can clearly see that the fish had once been a beautiful specimen—a solid body of slippery gold. Its mosaic-patterned scales still somehow glisten under the basement fluorescent lights. Its eyes, a pair of precious stones, and just as lifeless.
“That’s a big fish,” Granny Ngin says. She is on her toes, tries to catch further glimpses of the fish from behind Jimmy’s broad shoulders. “And so gold.”
“It looks as if it must have been very expensive. How much did you pay for it?”
Jimmy won’t say. He doesn’t know how to put it to a woman who’s worked over thirty years as a seamstress at a garment factory in Chinatown. She had made nickels and dimes by piecework.
“Oh God, that much, huh?” Granny Ngin says. “For all that, why didn’t you just buy real gold?”
“Aiya, Granny Ngin. It wasn’t that much.”
“Ah, but it is still, a waste.”
Jimmy doesn’t quite know how to explain that golden arowanas are technically illegal in the States. Unlike its evolutionary counterparts—the silver or the Australian or the black—the golden arowana is the only species of the fish that is presumed endangered. It is a kind of misconception. He knows what most lawmakers won’t bother realizing—that golden arowanas are being heavily farmed in the rain forests of Malaysia. There, one can find gargantuan pools brimming with them. There are pictures on fish forums online: bodies swimming upon bodies, a golden orgy of domestication. How they seem to dazzle under the tropical sun like a bounty of treasure. It is nothing short of alluring. The fish are then shipped to fish keepers all over Southeast Asia. To Europe. Even to Canada. But alas, not the US. For here in Brooklyn, golden arowanas are practically an impossibility. Unless smuggled in, somehow.
To read the rest of this Short Story Award winner, click here.