Fish Stocks Limited by Michael Summers - HTML preview
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Chapter 19 – In Tuition
It is strange the way connections are made when a lot of people live together. Ambrosius caught a rickshaw into the city centre, incidentally giving the driver enough money to buy a fish for tea. This fish was caught by a fisherman who used the money from its sale to feed the petrel that drove his boat. He proceeded to catch a bumper haul of infinity fish. He then sold these fish to a dealer in town, which brought down the price of fish a small amount. This slight drop in fish prices caused other traders to lose confidence in the price of fish, leading them to sell more of their stock. An avalanche ensued, both making and breaking fortunes as it went.
In a strange way then, the fare for today's commute can affect the movements of the markets next week. This is why Ambrosius had to smash his abacus to start making money: the interaction of such an astronomically large number of factors goes into determining the price of fish that any attempt to predict the fluctuations minute by minute fails - all but that peculiar ability we call intuition. The strange thing about intuition is that it is extremely difficult to justify, yet often accurate. How is it that we “know” something, without being aware of the logic for such knowledge? Clearly we are drawing upon something hidden and mysterious – powerful too. Why does that spark which we call perception not venture into that hidden part of our soul? The evolutionary advantage of doing so must surely be vast. Perhaps then, there is something fundamental that stops us perceiving those dark, powerful areas of our souls. Do heaven and hell lie in these waters? Does God? It is easy to get distracted with such matters, so enough for now. Let us just concentrate on our protagonists day at work.
There was tangible electricity in the air as Ambrosius entered the trading floor, eyes flickering microprocessor glances at him, evaluating and assessing this peculiar new component. Ambrosius integrated himself into his work with measured diligence; today was less frantic than yesterday, and he had more time to think. Under less pressure Ambrosius performed less well, but with less risk. The deals he made were solid and he made a reasonable profit. By the end of the day he was tired and happy, like he had just eaten a well-rounded meal. He went back to Stan's hovel and talked to him for a while about his day, then they enjoyed the perks open to the wealthy amongst the City's restaurants and nightspots.
Such a routine continued for days, then weeks, then months. Work became second nature to Ambrosius. But as he became wealthier and wealthier, Stan became increasingly pale and wan, and ever more distant. One night, about five months after Ambrosius had started his job, Ambrosius felt compelled to ask his acquaintance about his increasing melancholia.
They were in their favourite restaurant, the one where they had first enjoyed dugong steak. This time they had ordered and enjoyed a fine infinity fish fillet and were sitting digesting and supping an equally fine cognac. The conversation, as had been increasingly the case over the past few weeks, was sparse.
“It's just that I feel...” started Stan when Ambrosius tactfully mentioned his glumness. “Well, I feel as though I have granted you a wish – be that for good or bad – but I feel like I am unable to grant my own. This is not because I lack the resourcefulness, it is simply because I don't have one. A wish, that is. What do I want more than anything else in the world? I can't say.”
“There must be something,” said Ambrosius.
“No, it's true, I don't have one. I used to have dreams, lots of them. Now there's nothing. I feel like I am living vicariously, helping other people achieve their goals without ever really achieving my own. How can I help remove the speck in my fellow man's eye when I have a plank in my own?”
“Interesting way of putting it,” said Ambrosius. “Think about it. What would make you happy?”
“I honestly don't know.”
“Do you remember when we first met?” asked Ambrosius. “You told me to find my vice, as everyone in the City does. Well, I have to reflect that idea back at you. What's your button?”
“How about Miss Striga?” asked Ambrosius, gesturing subtly to the young lady who, as ever, sat alone and in the corner of the restaurant. “Go and talk to her. Ask her out.”
“No,” said Stan. “That is too obvious.”
“Obvious? Maybe that's for a reason.”
“No, Miss Striga is not the answer,” said Stan firmly.
“Then go and get drunk,” said Ambrosius.
“No, that is not my style.”
“I have my own kind of power, I want no more.”
“As long as I have enough to live I am happy. I have no hunger for wealth.”
Ambrosius thought for a while. What the devil does he want?
“You won't get it,” put in Stan. “All I can say is it is likely to be very abstract.”
Ambrosius ran his finger round the edge of his crystal wine-glass, which resonated dully. “Let's look at this logically,” he said. “When was the last time you were happy?”
“Truly happy? When I was an honest window cleaner.”
“What did you have then that you don't have now?”
“Easy,” said Stan. “Reputability, integrity, honesty...”
“No,” said Ambrosius. “They weren't things you had. They were things other people thought about you. Nobody is reputable on their own, it's impossible.”
“You think the same applies for integrity and honesty?”
“I don't know. Those two seem like opposites. If you're really honest with yourself, you always want what's best for you, so it's often impossible to have integrity. A man catches an under-size fish. The man who has integrity lets it go. The man who is honest says “I'm hungry” and has it as a snack.”
“An interesting point,” said Stan.
“So what was it that you really enjoyed about window cleaning?” asked Ambrosius.
Stan thought hard. He finished his cognac, swilling the last mouthful pensively round his mouth before swallowing. “You want to know the truth?”
“Go on,” said Ambrosius.
“I liked seeing into other people.”
“You mean other people's rooms and stuff?”
“Yes, but more than that. Have you never found it fascinating that when you are faced with a window you can either focus on the glass or focus on what's through it?”
“I've noticed it, but it's not that interesting really.”
“Well, when you do that as a job you sort of get very good at it. You start being able to do it with people as well.”
Ambrosius smiled. “How can window cleaning make you able to do that?”
Stan returned the smile. “You've never been a tradesman, have you, Ambrosius?”
“No. But all you do is rub a sponge over the window, then get a squeegee...”
“Yes, there is that to it. But people are more complicated than that – they read things into their work. No matter how simple or demeaning the task, if you are of the right mind you can always learn things from it. In fact, the more simple the task, the more you learn. Why do you think ascetics go out and live in the wilderness, where there is nothing more than the shifting of the sand for stimulation? Minimalism focuses the mind. Suddenly the window, the ladder, the bucket, all become metaphors for something more. The universe is put together in such a way that everything is a microcosm of something bigger."
“Is that it then?” asked Ambrosius. “You thought cleaning windows gave you some kind of insight?”
“I suppose so,” said Stan. “I miss being in tuition.”
“Have you ever thought of going back to your old job?”
“I've tried,” said Stan. “It just doesn't make sense to me any more. The work just doesn't speak to me like it used to.”
Ambrosius shrugged. “Perhaps you need to find another job which does.”
“Easier said than done,” said Stan. “You know, perhaps the time just isn't right yet. Perhaps I just need to wait. Fate generally throws things in your direction, you've just got to be patient.”
“And you're happy with that? Waiting for something to come along?”
“Like I say, I can't actively chase a dream that I haven't got.”
“What if nothing happens?”
“I get old and die. There are worse things.”
“I'm going to use your own words against you. What then of your soul?” Stan shifted uncomfortably. “Ah, yes. Like I told you, there is something wrong with it anyway.”
“But you're never going to rectify that if you sit around waiting and moping for the rest of your life on the off chance that Fate might take an interest in you.”
“I am different from most people,” said Stan. “I can sense that Fate has plans for me, for good or bad. Something will happen.” Stan's eyes had that dilated, mesmeric look that they had when he was sat round the fire.
“Sounds very mysterious,” said Ambrosius, unconvinced by Stan's theatrics. “I wouldn't base my entire life around some dreams if I were you, though.”
“What else is there? Life is a dream, of sorts.”
“It's just a truism. Reality is just that part of the dream which sometimes we share.”
“Yes, well,” said Ambrosius. “We've had this big long conversation now and we've come no closer to determining the cause of your unhappiness.”
“If it were obvious I would know what it was. Anyway, it is good that we are talking about achieving our goals. You mentioned that there is a girl back in the treetops...”
Ambrosius had talked at length about his flight from the Hundred Boughs and his pining for Sunbeam during the evenings spent round the fire in Stan's hovel. He was a little thrown by Stan's sudden change of subject. “Yes,” said Ambrosius. “Sunbeam.”
“You love her?”
“I think so.”
“Then you must go back.”
“Of course you can. You said she told you that the day she would love you would be the day you caught a fish. You've caught thousands of fish, albeit indirectly, on the stock market.”
Ambrosius thought for a while. “Yes, that's true,” he said.
“I say go to your boss, ask for your wages in stock. Get him to have a certificate drafted to show how many fish you own. That way you can take the certificate to Sunbeam and prove that you've caught more fish than any monkey-boy treetop dweller could ever wish for.” Stan beamed.
“You reckon it'll work?”
“How could she turn you down? Women love money.”
“Sunbeam's different...” started Ambrosius.
“Then she'll be the first that is,” said Stan. He sighed, then leaned forward. “Go.
Go in your sharp suit, your patent leather shoes, your best hat. Tuck that tail of yours into the back of your trousers along with your shirt and show her the certificate. She'll swoon straight into your arms when she sees all those zeros.”
“But what about my job?”
“Take a holiday, you've earned it. Bring the girl back to the City, then you can both live in urban bliss.”
“It sounds pretty straightforward,” said Ambrosius. “Just think, if I hadn't fallen out that tree I would still be some geeky loser sitting playing with my abacus in some backwards treetop shack. Yes, I'll go. I'll go and it'll be perfect. Stan, I want to thank you.”
That evening passed slowly. They left the restaurant half drunk and went back to Stan's hovel, breathing in the thick evening air as they went. They got in and Stan kindled a fire, which obligingly took until the flames were roaring hot and evil up the chimney.
“You should move out of this place, get somewhere new. I'll give you the money,” said Ambrosius as they sat in front of the fire in two old armchairs whose springs creaked raspingly as they shifted their weight.
“No, I don't take other peoples money.”
“What about when we first met - your post-insurance business?”
“You got your money back, didn't you?” said Stan.
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Ambrosius, unconvinced.
“The real reason I sold you post-insurance was because I knew you were a man of means. I needed a way to engage you. My expectations have been more than fulfilled.” Stan scratched his chin. “I have a good sense for people. Intuition.”
“So you weren't just scamming me?”
“Not that much, no. Maybe just a little bit.” Stan smiled. “I told you, I only used to be honest.”
“Like I said before, perhaps you are more honest now. You admit to being a self-serving ruffian.”
“Gentleman-ruffian, I'll have you know. But don't get any ideas in your head about me being honest and noble and whatnot. You can't go round saying scam-artists are honest because it's in their nature to be scam-artists. You can't have honest dishonesty.”
“True, I suppose.” There was a pause, and Ambrosius' thoughts progressed onto another topic which had been worrying him for so me time. “Stan, I've been thinking,” he said. “I promised before I left the treetops that I would try and solve the whole problem of the fish running out. Without even thinking about it that much it seems like I've become caught up in something that's responsible for that very problem.”
“Don't tell anyone,” said Stan. “Do they know about Fish Stocks Limited back in the treetops?”
“They thought one of their boats was a monster. They wanted me to kill it.”
“I see. Well, they're not going to put two and two together. Have your stock certificate made out without the company name on. They won't realise.”
“What about the fish, though?”
“What about them? You can't stop something as big as this, trust me. The fish will run out, like it or not.”
“It's really that bad?”
“What will it be like without fish?”
Stan looked deep into the fire. “You see that ash?”
“We came from it. We will go back to it. We have burnt too bright.”
“But there has to be hope. I know it. After I've won back Sunbeam I'm going to change the way the Company operates.”
Stan smiled, but he shook his head. “No. The Company does not change. Not any more.”
“That's that. Trust me on this. You can change anything in this world, but the Company is the Company.”
“Then there's another way. There has to be. I'm going to find it.”
“You know, I'd like to help you, really I would. But you need a miracle, nothing short.”
Barnacled with age, bearded with kelp, mottled iridescent with cracked, tarnished scales, shimmering, bright, soulful-eyed, glorious, monstrous and free, a fish – oh such a fish! - awoke. Many names it has been called – the Fish of God, The Infinity Fish of Fate, The One That Got Away – though all names fall short. Sound travels in peculiar ways through the mist, much further than through the air alone. Still, it would be impossible for Stan's words to reach this fish where it lurked in the deepest, unfathomable depths of the darkest chasm on Expiscor. All the same it rose and shook its great bulk into movement. It should be lumbering, but instead it was lithe and unimaginably graceful, like a house doing ballet. This fish was bigger than a boat, strong as a thousand men, unearthly and pale, alabaster-white, like a ghost but as substantial as a hillside.
In that outsize mind that held the music of the spheres, the spirals of the galaxies, the mysteries of love, the humour of death, the futility of power; in that great mind that was goodness pisconified, the fish knew that something terrible was brewing. It knew its progeny were dying. It knew the greed and heartlessness of corporeal men made corporate. It knew that evil was an anachronism when profit was about. And above all it knew a miracle must come. That's a lot to lay on a poor fish. It flolloped a bit in a joyful fashion, but soon it grew tired of flolloping. It hummocked a little, then whinny-spinned, then undulated profusely until it simply had no undulations left. These are not practical solutions, granted, but what other weapons are in a fish's arsenal? It could hardly storm into the Fish Stocks Limited headquarters and demand satisfaction, now, could it? That would be most unfishlike. It shimmered a little in the misty currents. Then it did something it perhaps should have done a long time ago. It closed its sapphire eyes and, with all its animal and transcendental faculties, it prayed.