When you ask people if they’ve been to San Diego, they say No, but I’ve been to San Francisco. If you happen to be looking at Google Maps, they start pulling at the screen with their lemon-cake fingers, pawing at the crenellated land while searching for familiar reference. Generally, they’re scrolling the wrong way down the coastline.
We’ve been before. The touchpool is a new addition at the aquarium. Hip height but shallow, a false bottom to force the fish up to the surface so you can put your hand in, feel their strange skins.
You reach out and stroke the cold, fresh water. You pull back, and turn, looking around.
—Aren’t those fish dangerous? I ask.
The attendant comes forward, slowly, one leg in front of the other as if she’s walking a fine line.
—Don’t worry, she says, as she stops by us. They’ve had their stingers removed.
She walks off.
You look in, see the rays dozily flapping, dragging behind them their pinkish stumps. You turn to me.
—Imagine it, you say, the other way round.
This is a recurrent theme. You dream it a lot. Retribution. Like panda bears wiping out eighty percent of the world with hunting knives.
—If people had their stingers removed.
—What, I ask, like that that guy over there?
—The one with the bad haircut?
—I think he heard you.
—Don’t worry, you say, plunging your arm into the water. He’s not from round here.