Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

Glass Fish/ Glass Fish

Long ago I saw a film in which one of the key locations was the spare, neat living room in the protagonist's apartment which had, as its only decorative feature, a sculpture of a glass fish on top of the television. The fish carried a strong psychic attraction, seeming to hint at some hidden element of the situation, or part of the protagonist's personality. I soon forgot almost everything else about the film, its name, its plot: apart from this fish.

Some years later I came across the same kind of glass fish, in an antique store in Germany. I recognised it as if it had once been mine, and knew I had to buy it, despite its weight and fragility. When I said I was going to take it back to Australia with me, the shop’s proprietor proceeded to wrap it in vast amounts of bubble wrap. On the other side of the world it emerged safely from my suitcase. On a shelf in my room, it became part of my daily world.

In Jean Rhys' letters she makes a few references to her glass fish ornaments, the "faithful but heavy glass fish I lug everywhere". In 1954 she wrote to her daughter: "I've been busy in my usual way trying to build up my own special retreat from the world, with a few books and pictures, my glass fish, and so on..."

My glass fish is part of my own retreat, the quiet and cluttered room in which I write. Guided by this, in 'Glass Fish', I thought I would write how the fish, the room and me come together in the past, present and future. The paragraphs narrow down in length to a central sentence, then increase again, which I think of like a wave lapping a shore and then pulling back. 

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