Serrusalmus is a short story written by Lesley Glaister. It was published in Contexts in 1992. The themes in the story are fear, revenge and love. Through the whole story Marjorie fears the world, other people and especially Mick. The fear controls her life and makes her stay inside her apartment most of the time. At the end of the story Marjorie does no longer fear Mick and that gives her an opportunity to take revenge on him with help from her fish. After taking revenge on Mick she feels satisfied. The person who caused further fear to her life is now eliminated. She is now able to continue doing what she loves the most – take care of her beloved fish!
The title ”Serrusalmus” relates to Marjorie’s favourite pet, Russ, who is a piranha. The reason why Russ is so important to Marjorie is because he makes her able to take revenge on Mick. Russ makes Marjorie feel stronger even though she fears Mick. The title creates an expectation of that a Serrusalmus will be of great importance to the story and its role will make the story turn out the way it does.
It is a third person narrator who – when it comes to Marjorie – is omniscient through the whole story. This is shown when the narrator tells us about Marjorie’s past, her experiences, her feelings and her opinions. When it comes to Mick the narrator is non-omniscient because nothing but his actions and looks is described. The narrator does not comment the characters and the events so he is also neutral. The characters are not described directly by the author but indirectly by how they act. Every time Marjorie and Mick talk there is used direct speech. There is also used description when Marjorie’s apartment and her tanks and fish are brought up, and when Mick shows up – first time when Marjorie lets him in because of his fishy look and second time when she sees that he has been in a fight.
The text could take place at any time in the past few years. It takes place in Marjorie’s apartment on the nineteenth floor. One wall of her the living room is made of tanks. In these tanks she keeps her many species of fish. The opposite wall of her living room is also glass. The reason why she lives like this could be that she once liked to watch ants, who she thought was just like people. Through the years Marjorie has changed her mind and she now believes that the people are just like ants. Therefore she might like to see “ants” down below when she looks out of her window – her own little world.
The place of action remains the same trough the whole story. Marjorie does not work because she spends almost all of her time in her apartment, which is probably paid by the Social Service. It is expensive to keep that many tanks and fish so she must spend almost all the money given to her by the council to take care of her fish instead of taking care of herself. The Social Service also gave her personal information to a school that included her in a Community Scheme because of her loneliness.
Marjorie is a fish-loving woman who has turned 40. She is the daughter of a woman who had a fear of the mind. As a child she liked to watch ants and she is still kind of doing it when she looks out of her window and sees all those tiny, busy people down below. Even though she likes ants she likes fish even more because of their anti-social behaviour. She is anti-social and isolated herself too and she is aware of that she suffers from agoraphobia. She fears other people with the exception of Ron who works in Fish’n Feathers and probably has the same interest in fish as Marjorie. It soothes Marjorie to watch her fish and she finds them completely different from the busy and social people – and ants. She wishes she could be just as contained and safe as her fish are, probably so she would not have to be so scared all the time. She does not sleep well which is also caused by her fear. “In her dreams on good nights, sleeping nights, she is silver slick and silent, gliding from one glass wall to the other, enclosed and yet entirely free”.
Even though Marjorie is not a fish who lives in a tank, she lives in her own glass-walled world and she acts just as anti-social and non-busy as her fish. Before Mick came into her life her apartment was also pretty safe. Marjorie was not happy before she met Mick but she is even less happy after meeting him. She fears Mick more than she fears other people. She has tried to get rid of him by calling the school but he kept coming back for food and money. She let him because she feared him. “He could have killed her then. She wouldn’t have made a murmur.” Her fish mean everything to her and if only she had dared to, she would have sacrificed her own life to save the life of the fish Mick threw out her window. When one day Mick turns up all bruised she sees her chance to take revenge on him.
She is smart and acts like if everything is normal. Her desire for revenge makes her not care about if she kills Mick which is why she drops several of her tablets for agoraphobia into his drink. She did not have to let Russ eat Mick’s hand too but she wanted to punish him for the way he has treated her. Russ makes her feel strong enough to handle Mick and she holds him where he is until Russ has finished. After this episode Marjorie cleans up the mess and makes tea. “She bears no grudge now. No need. The boot is on the other foot.” She feels strong and she is no longer afraid of Mick. Her way to handle the fact that she has just subjected Mick to torture shows that something else but agoraphobia must be wrong with her.
Mick is a troublemaker who is involved with the system. He is supposed to make life a little bit nicer for Marjorie but instead of doing so he takes money and food from her, he threats her, yells at her and he swears at her. He uses his strength to get whatever he wants from Marjorie well-knowing that she can not do anything to stop him. He has never harmed her physically but he has made her fear him. He does not show any emotions and he cold-hearted killed one of her fish. All he cares about is money and being in charge. When he has thrown Marjorie’s fish out of the window he laughs at her just to punish her even more. Even though he does not show any emotion Marjorie believes that she glimpses weakness and fear in his face just for a second when he sees how sad the death of a fish makes her. Mick does not seem to mix with the right kind of people which could also be the reason why he has ended up in a fight. He is also grimy and greasy and he makes Marjorie glad that she did not have a child herself. He might believe that he is invulnerable and therefore he drinks the drink Marjorie made for him with no doubt.
At the end of the story Marjorie has developed – she does no longer fear Mick. The ending of the story makes us believe that Marjorie’s mind is twisted because of the way she takes revenge on Mick and because of the way she acts like nothing has ever happened after torturing him. But the ending does also tell us that even weak and vulnerable persons can find inner strength to stand up for themselves. We do not know whether Mick is really dead or if he is still alive at the end of the story. If he is still alive he will probably die of blood shortage sooner or later and in all probabilities Marjorie is not going to call for help, because as soon as she gets rid of Mick she will be able to continue her life in her own glass-walled world.
Courtney from Study Moose
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