The Fish and the Flower multimedia work by Alison Wong

Once upon a time there was a beautiful small village nestled within a forest of varied trees and dappled light. The tidy little village was everything you could want: old stone buildings, tree-lined streets, pots of flowers, and lively shops and cafés.

The town square was built into the smoothly sweeping curve of the little laughing creek that marked the edge of town and provided the village with fresh, sweet water. The villagers had long ago built a path by their creek so they could enjoy walking along it, sit on little benches and listen to the tinkling sounds their creek made, or gaze into the depths of the pretty forest across the way and the heights of the glorious mountain range beyond.

Charming stone bridges, themselves planted with pots of flowers, spanned the creek here and there, so it was convenient to cross over into the forest. The villagers enjoyed picnics in one of several serene and sunny meadows and harvested mushrooms when they were in season. The hearty and hale among them took long walks through the forest and the fields and into the mountains.

One of the most interesting aspects of the town, and one that made it — in certain circles — rather famous, was that in their creek there lived two rare and very different species. It wasn’t unusual for botanists and zoologists to visit the village, so rare were these two phenomena. The first, exquisitely beautiful, was a plant — not ordinary in any way. It was by genus a lotus, the most unusual lotus in the world.

Their lotus was a luminous silvery white, large and so fleshy its flawless petals looked like a child’s skin and made you long to touch them. During each full moon, the lotus released a scent. Everyone who smelled it described it differently, but most agreed its aroma held elements of civet, jasmine, and May rose. This lotus, special to the pretty little village, was the only scented lotus discovered anywhere in the world.

The villagers were pleased and proud to have such a plant among them. The other species, also unique to them, was a source of far less pleasure and pride. The villagers, in fact, viewed it as an enemy. It was a fish, resembling a catfish, that lived in the creek and was always to be found proximate to their lovely lotus. This fact was a source of irritation. It was distracting, even detracting, to admire the lovely lotus when, swirling around it just below the surface of the water, swam an ugly, slimy fish.

Apart from its ugliness and the fact that, as far as anyone knew, it lived nowhere else in the world, there was nothing special about the fish. It wasn’t tasty to eat, and certainly it never smelled good. The villagers tolerated it. What else could they do?

One day, a scientist came from the city to study the fish and the flower. She came for the perigee moon, a moon that, as a result of its cosmic alignment, is brighter and larger than any other type of moon. She wanted to learn about the effects of this large and bright moon on the lovely lotus.

What she learned surprised everyone: while the lovely lotus showed no change as a result of the perigee moon, she observed the village fish feeding off the lotus’ pale green, tender, and luminescent stem. Further study revealed that the lotus was the ugly fish’s only food! This revelation was too much.

The villagers met and decided the fish must be gotten rid of. And so they started killing it. Everyone, from the youngest child to the oldest adult, was encouraged to kill the village fish — unless to do so would be to harm the lovely lotus. It wasn’t an easy process, and it took years to complete, but finally it seemed that the village fish was completely gone. None were left to nibble on their precious lotus.

As expected, the lovely lotus, once rare, began to flourish. In fact, it clotted the creek and on a full moon the scent of civet was almost unbearable. All those luminescent white flowers, fleshy as they were, pushed and rubbed against each other, and when they did, they bruised each other’s petals. The bruises turned into oozing sores.

It looked sickening, and it was. The creek water, once so fresh, sweet, and tasty, was infected by the ooze running from the sores on the lovely lotus’ petals, and made it taste, mercifully faintly, of rotten meat. The villagers, once so happy and robust, began to turn pale, and the edges of their gums turned violet. Their teeth and bones began to rot, and they, too, developed oozing sores. The worst of it was that they were all so sad, angry, and confused that they could barely move.

They only left their homes to gather food. Had you been there, you would have seen the villagers wandering the streets, often yelling at each other or mumbling to themselves, sifting through garbage, pillaging one another’s gardens, and crawling across the fetid creek to seek mushrooms and anything else they could scavenge from the forest floor.

Their bones hurt so much it was agonizing even to eat but, bad as things were, they did not want to die. Through this haze of pain and despair, the village elders of course realized that something must be done. And so it was decided that they must kill the once-lovely lotus as it was obviously poisoning them. They were so weak and they argued so much, that the task was heroic, but, little by little, they pulled each and every lotus from the creek, threw them on the banks, and watched them die.

As their lotuses died, their health slowly returned. By the time the last lotus was gone, they were almost entirely well. Over time, they replanted their gardens and flowers, and village life once again resembled what it had been before that fateful perigee moon. The villagers returned to the carefully maintained path by the creek and once again sat and walked by the friendly, laughing waters. When the weather was fine, they crossed the pretty stone bridges, brightened with pots of flowers, into the forest to have picnics or look for mushrooms.

So much time had passed that many of the villagers were too young to remember the fish and the flower. Those who were either old enough or still alive to remember did not want to talk about it.

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This article was originally published at annacolibri.com and republished here with permission from Anna Colibri.

I work to make the web a more beautiful, accessible, and functional place. I use dreams as a form of planning. And I play because it’s fun.

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