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Another Problem Eels Don’t Need

Story by Elissa Field (Read author interview) September 19, 2022

© SmokeLong

Cocaine washed into the River Thames and wildlife experts made headlines crying out – not for the traffickers’ lost bump and the chance for thousands of Londoners to stay longer into the glitter of a disco night – but for all the Thames’ river eels had already been through. Protected now, sure. Illegal to eat. But all our hundred years of eel living through the litter, the fishing – and now these cast-off bales of cocaine? Eco-experts told The Standard, “It’s just another problem eels don’t need.”

Fact: We eels weren’t bothered. We eels linked and slithered and cajoled. It was a night for sex and writhing hedonism, hug the passing heat, the slick sides of a fellow eel who looked exactly the same as all the other eels and yet we’d swear, sobbing into the four a.m. ache of another night left alone: it’d break us not to see them again. Fact: no eels were quoted in that article.

What’s another problem eels don’t need? Scientists.

Somewhere – sound travelled unevenly in choppy water – there was a splash. Don’t jump in the fucking Thames, science guy, if you need all that equipment – the tank, the dangling snorkel, the regulator, the mask through which your eyes look panicked and shifty, the dry suit against the chill that wouldn’t bother you if you were supposed to be here, the computer VELCRO®’d to your wrist to tell you exactly how long you could be down without dying, without cramping, without the bends, without losing your mind from nitrogen narcosis and slithering yourself off into the deepest trench of shipping channel where even we eels don’t waste days gliding into the diesel-dark filth.

What’s another problem eels don’t need? Flash photography.

No one came paddling over to document your stag and hen parties. The bump of cocaine – two million pounds sterling, if you want to know – was not as much of a problem as the disco-less wildlife expert would have you believe. Eels are remarkably accepting. It was mating season. That bump, don’t you know, let the bawdy boys work up the best nests of saliva – going over and over again as they hadn’t done since they were barely spawn in their elven glassy state – and those slinky females got down in all their eggs. Spit-and-egg gleaming nests of eel eggs up and down the Thames far as you could see. Did not need to see that blasted across your eco-crisis Instagram come morning.

You know another problem eels don’t need? Your headlines.

We know what got you down here, science man, but keep it to yourself. We’ll boil down here, just the same, without knowing your temperatures, without knowing it is the blown dust of Saharan drought that bleeds the sun. What we know? That desert filter colors our dancefloor a brilliant shade of rose. We don’t need you choking sobs through your regulator about quadrupling cost of living to justify your paparazzi shots and press for “a quote from the eels.” Just get on with it. Let us enjoy it, the writhing throngs of us, protected from the pot, steeped in the buzz of your careless drug trafficking, the wash of edibles that filter down from your street runoffs like candy floss.

Fact? We swam three years from Sargasso to get here, darkening our elven glass bodies to blend with river bottoms, weaving into root and mire. We get this right, we outlive you. Don’t worry us with your economies, your nonexistent childcare, your filibusters and 10 Downing Street ravers. Keep your vaccinations and ammunition and recharging stations and fossil fuels. We don’t need your prayers or masses or silent minutes of remembrance, don’t need your disco-less science. Just wash down into the Thames that little bump, here and there. Let us enjoy these wild nights when you, above, fuck up.

Another problem eels don’t need? Poets.

Wtf we supposed do with you now, scuba man, awkward now you know all the whining, disco-less wildlife experts were wrong? You try instead for a human interest angle, thrashing to stay neutrally buoyant, holding out your underwater clipboard with a waterproof printout of Mary Oliver. Jazzing on our coke, sliding mindless, body to body, barely recognizing one another anymore – do you really need to ask what we’re going to do with our “one wild and precious life”? This. We’re going to do this.

About the Author

Elissa Field is an American writer with fiction and essays in SmokeLong Quarterly, Adelaide, Conjunctions, Scary MommyWriter Unboxed, and elsewhere. Her fiction has been shortlisted for various awards including the James Jones First Novel Fellowship for novel-in-progress. She lives under an ancient mango tree in South Florida, and teaches history and journalism at a school for the arts. You can find her on twitter @elissafield.

This story appeared in A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.