By Emily Williams
I go to God at Warton’s Aquarium of the Blue Ridge. The animals there are all on sale in the sense that Warton’s is a commercial vendor who buys and treats its products cheaply: $75 for a day’s experience, your timeline, your treat. It’s not that I mind. Maybe my bar for religious moralism is low.
When you go in, there’s a tall column of a tank with puffers, slow-trawling Triggerfish, and Sea Bream. They ignore you. I cannot blame them. If I lived at the doorway of a deity, I’d forget the mortals, too.
I wonder if they even see us anymore. My father used to tell me that a tribe of Native Americans could not see the ship of European invaders because they did not know what it was. This is a man who ties crystals to his forehead when he gets sick.
And yet, I just noticed that the stairs in the shag carpet-basement of my childhood home has a handrail.
In movies, unheralded artists and, now, CGI experts leave for us a realistic-looking backdrop. The public, apparently, is in need of defined borders. You give folks two A-listers pretending to be a divorced couple who are eating fondue and you put them in front of a green screen: no one knows what to do with it. Chair the same actors, who are divorced in real-life, in front of an imaginary meadow that stretches off into a lake with no luxury homes crowding its banks, and everybody buys popcorn and cries for the characters who are no longer in love. In real life, the background is invisible.
I don’t know what to tell the old man when he asks, politely, about my day. We are at the predator tank. Forty feet above us and only a foot of plexiglass away, rays and a lone sawfish take the place of birds. He asks to provoke me to move for the two grandchildren boiling over at his either side. I oblige. Sometimes it is shocking to be noticed in public.
Even two small families away, the tank does its reverent work for me. It is something to have your own rules broken. I like to look out, beyond the glass and know that I am seeing my God, who is hinted at best in the unimaginable. The tank is a case and the building I am in is a case. And the world in its puff of atmosphere is a case? Then, everything after that is just a girl watching fish swim in this lukewarm world of distillation, and I know that it is all just as true as it is not.
Emily Williams is a teaching candidate at East Tennessee State University. Her work has appeared in ETSU’s campus magazine, The Mockingbird.