For she’s a jolly good fishy

By Anna Mitcheal

The coffee shop had two extra-large picture windows

That let you see everything happening out on the street.

The walls were painted bright white, except for two giant cartoon figures drawn on a far wall. They sold donuts from a place that was, the barista said, the place to get donuts in Nashville.

I smiled and stared at the menu while I debated (quietly, to myself, not louder than the music trickling from the speakers) whether I thought any donut was worth $3. In the end I decided when you are starving a donut is priceless and took a seat while I waited on my coffee.

It was a very cool scene. Cooler, I’m afraid, than me. It wasn’t the first time since arriving in Nashville I’d had that feeling — that I was out of my element. When it hit me I would think about the last fish we had in our house, a blue betta that insisted on jumping out of the net every time we changed the water in the fish bowl.

“Fish out of water!” my son would scream, while the fish searched for oxygen.

“Well, put it back in the water,” I would say to him. Calmly, or not calmly, depending on the afternoon.

As for me, I had two days until I returned to my water.

“Annie?” The barista yelled for the fifth time. Finally I realized she was calling for me. “That’s me!” I said brightly, while I thought: sort of. And then, flippety-flop, flippety-flop, where’s my water?

Don’t get me wrong, Nashville as a town is warm and welcoming. This was my first time to visit, and I arrived with an itinerary that had been suggested and proofed by the Tennessee-lovers in my everyday life here in Texas. Everything we did there was wonderful. But wonderful couldn’t really change that feeling.

It’s the same feeling I know will also come sometime in January. Some people call it post-holiday blues. Others who make dietary resolutions might consider it a month of sad salad days. A team of statisticians worked out that January 21 is the gloomiest day of the year, so if you want to go doom and gloom that’s available too.

I can’t say those labels fit my January feeling though. Year after year my problem is getting back in the water. The holiday rush is done. Here’s a new year, here’s the possibility ahead, and it’s time to flip flop your way to where you want to be.

I’m not sure what the odds are — one in a million maybe. But as I got finished putting every last crumb of that donut in my mouth I heard someone say my name again, this time correctly. I turned around and then blinked twice. Standing there in this coffee shop was a friend I hadn’t seen in two decades, a woman who lives in Texas but was also in Nashville on vacation.

“What are you doing here?” we both asked at the same time. I wasn’t looking at the barista, but I imagine she cringed from the cheesiness of it all. I couldn’t care, because the moment lifted me up out of my flippety-flop feeling and made the world comfortable and right again. Sometimes we go to our water, and sometimes our water comes to us. And sometimes, like at the start of a new decade, the possibilities ahead can change the shape of the water right before our eyes. In that case we have to do what my old betta used to do every chance he got: just breathe.