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Teach a Man to Fish
On a business trip to the isles a group of three strangers and I was being led by a
distant acquaintance through the grand entrance of a hotel. There was some talk of an
informative conference. A chandelier glowed overhead and an elaborate design in dark
colored tile adorned the floor beneath us. We were taken up a flight of steps to an
outlook at which point the leader turned back to us.
“I must go for the moment,” he said. “Down the corridor you will find a man who will lead
you to the meeting point.”
We began to continue down the corridor as he walked away.
“Hello,” said a man whom none of us had ever seen before. “I am here to lead you to
room 607.” At this we began to follow him down the remainder of the corridor and into
an elevator. It was on the elevator control panel that we saw floor 6 as the second
highest in the building, and when we reached it we followed the man into the hallway.
No one said a word, and when we arrived at room 607, he opened the door, which had
been left propped on a wooden doorstop.
“Here we are,” he said, and we shuffled inside one after another. When the last of us
had proceeded through the door it slammed shut, and immediately the man began to
produce handcuffs from his pockets.
“What is the meaning of this?” one of us inquired. The man who had led us to the room
did not answer, and in fact the room was mostly silent except for the sound of the chains
on the shackles which rattled arrhythmically. The man closed each handcuff around
each wrist one at a time, everyone holding their pair while they awaited the inevitable.
Finally, once the whole of the stock had been administered, he directed us into cages,
where we had only enough space to turn around and crouch. He then disappeared
through an open door.
“I believe we should plot an escape,” said the man who had protested earlier. “I was told
that we were to attend an informative conference.”
“Here now,” remarked another, “What will the boss say when he discovers that we have
left in haste? We must simply wait here until it’s time to be led to the meeting.”
“You poor fellow—you can’t see what’s inches from your face, can you?” said a third. “I
am in also favor of an escape. It’s likely that this man has nothing to do with our
conference, and in fact any waiting around in these wretched cages will only cause us to
be late.” With this the three men began to quarrel, each one’s cage rocking as he shook
it violently in anger. After some time I decided to speak up.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I am no more familiar with these circumstances than you are,
however I also believe that we should try for an escape.”
“Now someone is talking some sense!” said the first man. “What have you got planned?”
“Someone?” said the third man, as though he had been deeply offended. “I agreed with
you that we must escape from the beginning!”
“Well yes, but it seems that this fellow who has remained quiet until now has hatched
some sort of plan for us to put into place,” the first man responded. At this time I saw
that all eyes were on me.
“Well, no,” I finally said. “I don’t have a plan, and in fact I have never done anything
quite as brave as staging an escape in my life. But—” I did not have the time to finish
before the three men set about quarreling with each other once again.
It was around this time that the man who had led us into the room emerged from the
open door. He approached each cage and dropped some sort of grain through the wire
grid. As soon as they were delivered their ration, each man dropped to his knees and
began to devour it, sucking the dust directly from the ground once they had come to the
end of their pittance. The man finally reached to the end of the line.
“You,” he addressed me. “I have been watching you. You are not to be fed. You are to
come with me.” With this he opened the lock to my cage and took my hand, pulling me
out through the small wire entrance. He led me into the next room, where he had been
sitting all along, and motioned for me to sit at a table, where two places were already
prepared. “I hope you like swordfish,” he said.
Never having eaten swordfish, but being most aware of its reputation as belonging to a
luxurious palate, I said that I did, and did as I was told. The man sat in the chair directly
across from me, and after a brief silence we were each brought out, on silver chargers,
no less, two enormous swordfish steaks. Not having eaten in some time, I reached for
my dinner fork and plunged it into the meat with my left hand, my knife already prepared
in my right to slice into the slab.
“I see that you are hungry,” said the man. “I am glad to have provided you with a good
meal at such a disappointing time.” At this very moment he reached for his silverware in
much the same manner as I had done and began to cut into the meat himself.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” I started quietly after having eaten a single bite of the fish,
“What is your name?”
He swallowed the food in his mouth, at which point he patted at his lips with his napkin
and set it back to rest in his lap. He gazed at me from across the table, a look of
sincerity in his eyes, as he began to open his mouth to speak. “My name is Edmund
Rothschild. But you may call me Ed, if you would prefer.”
This is tumultuous. I’ve never told anyone that they may address me by my abbreviated
given name after having only just met them such a short time ago; however, given, in all
likelihood, the confusion caused by the circumstances at hand, I suppose that
exceptions to rules like these must be made, and that this colloquial gesture to my
present company will be received as good taste, as a token of compensation.
He is offering no tell of emotion—as was only to be expected, I suppose—but very well:
at least I have put forth the effort. Still, it feels as though my heart has sunken to the
bottom of the ocean. I decide to slice another bite from the first steak on the silver
before me. To be quite honest, when I saw swordfish on the room service menu I was
taken aback that a place in such industrial waters would make an attempt at such a
seafarer’s delicacy, and had, in fact, set quite low expectations for what I assumed
would be served to my guest and I here tonight. However, then the first bite was
exquisite, and upon digging my fork into the meat, the entirety of the cut flowed in a
single, fluid motion with the rhythm of my knife, and the first bite had come off like butter.
And two slabs! What a milestone this meal has already been.
I plunge my fork into the cut again—behold the dance of the swordfish, the mighty
swordfish! And to think that at one time these were the beasts of nightmares; yet here
we are today, never once venturing near the sea ourselves, nonetheless devouring the
carcasses of the things as though we were old skippers—and lift it to my mouth,
prepared for a second bite, which proves to be just as delicious—more, delicious,
perhaps—as the first.
In a single blow he was writhing in pain on the floor. I had struck him in the jaw with my
fist, and it had landed perfectly. He let out an uncanny howl, and he rocked back and
forth in anguish. Blood began to emerge from his lips, and in an instant he grew very still.
Seizing the opportunity, I leapt to the floor and began to wrestle him. He put up a fight,
and before I knew it, he was on top of me, suddenly alive with rage, pummeling me with
“Stop, Ed, I beg you!” I cried, but to no avail. Instead he dug a fist into my stomach. I
hurled the piece of swordfish that I had swallowed just moments before across the room,
and it hit the wall with a dry smack. With the remainder of my strength I lunged for his
shoulders with both hands, bringing him level with the carpet, and flailed to grab for a
needle that I had seen on the tabletop during the meal. In a single motion I pulled it from
the table and down into his stomach, which brought an instant halt to his struggle. When
I looked from the puncture wound to his eyes, I saw that they had already been glazed
over. I wrapped his lifeless body in a dove white towel that I found at the side of his bed.
When I reemerged in the next room, the others had seated themselves with their feet
against the sides of the cage and their knees in the air. They looked dazed, perhaps
from having filled their stomachs with the seed that they had been rationed.
“I have done it,” I said, effectively breaking the silence.
One at a time the three men broke from their stupor, and stared at me as though they
were looking into the window of a strange room.
“What have you done?” asked the second man, who had been adamantly against
escape from the beginning.
“I have killed him,” I responded. “We can find the leader and attend the informative
“Why have you done this?” demanded the first man, whose idea it had originally been
to escape. “Are you insane?”
“No,” I pleaded, “I am not insane, I simply did what we agreed needed to be done. You
said it yourself, the situation called for action.”
“You fool!” the third man finally yelped, much louder in volume than the first two. Large
tears began to flow down his face. “We had everything! We had food when we were
hungry! A cage to protect us from one another! Most of all, we did not need to worry
about being reprimanded for turning up tardy to the conference, we were simply to have
been here all along! But now you’ve ruined all that—what a thing you’ve done! Just wait
until the leader finds out!” With this he spat at my feet, and all three men turned to face
away from me.
I left the cages and returned to the adjacent room where I had struggled with the man
who had led us to 607. Beside the bed, where I had left it, I saw the body wrapped in
white cotton. A red stain was beginning to disperse throughout the fibers. As I
approached the mass I reached out my arm to grab hold of a corner of the towel, and
when I pulled it open I saw only a small fish lying there completely scaled. A sense of
panic overwhelmed me, and I felt immediately that I had been had. But in an instant I
saw the puncture wound, still open, in the abdomen of the fish. I closed the towel again,
looked at the door, and sat, waiting.