Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Short Story: "Something Fishy"




John Morgan peered through his dark attic window. In the streetlight outside, he spied his daughter Kelly stepping out of her boyfriend Blake’s car. The June night was balmy; both of the seventeen-year-olds were in short sleeves. Kelly glanced toward the house, but John knew she couldn’t see him. After a few seconds, Blake followed her out of the car and she bounced onto her toes to kiss him.
            “Well that’s not so bad,” John mumbled.
            Blake plunged his fingers into Kelly’s blonde hair.
            “Watch yourself,” John added.
Blake slipped a hand around Kelly’s waist and cupped her bum.
            John felt his chest tighten. “Alright. Over the line, kid.”
            Finally, Blake reached into the car’s passenger seat and pulled out an eighteen-inch salmon, which looked to be fresh from the nearby harbour. He held the fish by its tail and grinned, performing a few bicep curls. Then he presented it to Kelly with both hands in a mock bow.
            “What the hell?” John Morgan spun away from the window and fell to the floor like a sack of dirty laundry. When he heard the front door open and shut, he stumbled to his feet and snuck back out of the attic, beating the dust from of his slacks. When he’d reached the head of the house’s main staircase, he spotted Kelly at the door. She was taking off her knee-high boots. The salmon was no longer in her hands.
She glanced up and caught him furrowing his brow. “God, Dad. It’s before nine-thirty, you know.” She checked her watch. “By a long shot.”
            John shook the gloom from his face and snorted. “No no no, I’m not mad. I was just trying to remember where I left something.”
When Kelly had moved out of sight, John stalked down the stairs and made for the kitchen. When he got there, he threw open the freezer’s stainless steel door and searched inside. There was no smell of fish in the house, only the simulated, flowery scent of Glade plug-ins.
            “What’re you looking for?” Kelly said from behind him.
            John was startled, but he collected his wits and threw a glance over his shoulder. “Is there something I should be looking for?”
            “Anything but ice cream. Mom said you can only have one bowl a night, and we all watched you eat one after supper.”
            He shut the freezer and shuffled along the kitchen counter, keeping his back to his daughter. “I’m not a child, Kelly. I know what your mother said.”
            Kelly shrugged and left the kitchen. When John heard her moving back upstairs, he retrieved his shoes from the hallway closet and left the house through the front door. Once outside, he checked the hedges in front of their windows to see if Kelly had hidden the salmon there. But there was no sign of it.
            “Hey!”
            John spun from his house and looked to the road, where he saw Blake rolling past in his rusted Sunfire. The kid’s head was sticking out the window. 
            “How’s it goin’, Mr. M?!”
            “Why are you still on this street?!” John shouted back.
            “Pffft! It’s a cul-de-sac, bra!” Blake said before speeding away. John cursed and stomped back into his house. Next time he saw Blake, he planned on giving the kid a solid chewing-out about speed limits in suburban areas.
Inside, his wife Marion awaited him with a smile. Her curly black hair was tied back in a loose bun, showing her grey roots. 
“What is it?” John said.
            Marion recoiled at his gruffness, but quickly steeled herself. “Sheesh. I want to defrost something for supper tomorrow.” She turned her back to him and made for the kitchen. “What do you want?”
            John glanced up the staircase and saw Kelly descending. “Salmon,” he said. But his daughter didn’t so much as glance at him as she continued down the steps.
            ----
            That night, John found himself hiking through a dank jungle, which eventually led into a well-lit clearing that had a Tyrannosaurus Rex standing at its centre. The ridiculous giant didn’t seem to notice him, but it stood at rigid attention, sensing something wrong in its surroundings. Then, without warning, a donkey rushed out from the underbrush and sank its teeth into the dinosaur’s leg. The Rex tried to attack its assailant, but for some reason the move proved too awkward. The donkey persisted in biting the dinosaur’s leg until it opened a wound the width of a medicine ball. Then the ass forced its head through the wound, then its midriff, and finally its hooves, until its body was fully inside the leg like a burrowing tick. John gaped in disbelief as the Rex went mad with anguish and crunched its jaws down in its own leg, desperate to kill the donkey. After several bloody chomps, the leg came completely off, and the poor lizard fell shrieking to the ground. John Morgan turned to retreat, but felt like there were thousand pound weights in each of his legs.
            ----
Sweat was beading down his forehead. It was morning, and John was shocked to find that everyone except him was already out of bed. Strange dreams were supposed to wake you early, he thought, not make you sleep in.
            When he entered the kitchen, he was struggling to slip his green necktie into a half Windsor. Marion twirled away from the countertop in her bright yellow sundress and sang, “Guess what I went out and got this mooooorning?”
            John shrugged, trying to pick some balled crust off his eyelashes.
            “Salmon! Fresh from the market.”
            John felt his legs turn to jelly. He lifted his watch and read 8:15. “Superstore isn’t even open yet.”
            Marion waved a spatula at him with a tut-tut-tut and turned to scoop some bacon out of a pan. “I went to the market,” she called over her shoulder, “and bought it straight from the men who were unloading it from a truck. Fresh as you can get!”
            John winced. “So you bought the salmon whole?”
            Marion turned her head and winked at him.
            “Hey Dad!”
He spun around and saw that Kelly was already set for school, wearing a tanktop that looked like it belonged in the eighties. One side of it hung properly over her shoulder, while the other slid down to mid bicep. “What?” he asked.
            “We’re gonna’ be late.”
            “We’ll be fine.”
            “God! You’re always raggin’ on me for getting up late, and now I actually am up, and you wanna’ take your sweet time.”
            “Since when are you so eager to get to school?”
            Kelly heaved a sigh and stormed out of the room.
            Marion laid a hand on his shoulder. “You should take her,” she said. “Getting out the door a little earlier wouldn’t be the worst habit for her to pick up.”
            John sighed, nodded, and kissed her.
            “Hungry?” she asked, offering a well laden plate.
            “I guess I should grab something at work, if Kelly and I are going to go now.”
            “Nonsense!” Marion gathered a fistful of bacon strips and stuffed it into his mouth. The tangle of meat and gristle formed a ball in his right cheek that felt like a wad of chewing tobacco. He worked it down as fast as he could, making enough room to mumble I love you before he left.
            “You’re sweet,” Marion said, handing him a warm mug of coffee.
            As he stepped toward the driveway, John suspected that his wife’s cheerfulness had been exaggerated that morning. The thought nagged him until he got into his green Buick, where Kelly was already waiting on him. When they pulled into the street, she reached forward and flipped the radio to a channel that was blasting club mixes.
            “Do you mind?” he asked. “I didn’t sleep well last night.”
            Kelly folded her arms and turned away.
            “Is something wrong?”
            “Yup.”
            “What?”
            “I can’t tell you.”
            John tightened his fingers around the steering wheel. “Is it about last night?”
            “Why would it be about last night?” She flashed a hard look at him. 
            They stopped at a red light, but John still looked ahead as he spoke. “You were out with Jeff.”
            “ And do you think we were up to something bad, Daddy?”
            He kept silent and put Marion’s coffee to his lips.
            “Of course we had tons of unprotected sex. But that’s not what’s bugging me.”
            His brown mouthful exploded onto the windshield and dashboard. “Jesus Kelly! Your seventeen goddamn years old!”
“Chill out. I’m just messin.’”
He turned to yell at her, but the traffic light turned green and the car behind them drowned him with its horn.
“Why would you talk like that?” he asked once they were back underway.
“To remind you that you have no clue what I do with my life.”
He stared ahead once more, but he could tell that Kelly’s eyes were now burning a hole through his temple. “What is it?” he asked.
“I should ask you the same thing. You’re acting all weird today.”
He ground the meat of his palm into each eye socket. “Like I said, I didn’t sleep well.”
“Why?”
“Bad dreams.”
            “About what?”
“Dinosaurs and donkeys.”
Kelly shook her head, pulled out her cellphone, and started writing a text-message to a friend. “You’re fucked,” she said.
“Hey! Watch the language. And if you don’t want to know about my dreams, don’t ask about them.”
They rode the rest of the way to Kelly’s school in silence. When she finally stepped out of the car, she motioned for him to roll down the passenger window.
“Hey dad. I forgot to tell you that Jeff and I were out on the pier last night.”
John gave a defeated nod. “That’s great, Kell. And what was going on there?” He didn’t want to hear the answer.
“Well of course we were making out, but that’s not the point. The point is that both of us had fishing lines in the water, and Jeff pulled up this huge thing he said was a flounder. You should’ve seen how huge it was.”
John tilted his coffee to his mouth and pursed his lips as he swallowed. “And why are you telling me this?”
For the first time that morning, a look of uncertainty spread across Kelly’s face. “Well, isn’t that what’s been bugging you? The fish?”
John suddenly felt a golden wave of relief wash over his heart. But he fought off the smile that was tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, knowing now that Kelly hadn’t seen him in the attic window the night before. He told Kelly he loved her and pulled away from the curb. He checked the rear-view mirror and saw her on the sidewalk, watching him leave. Now he allowed himself to grin.
But something was still nibbling him when he sat down at his desk that morning. It was muggy in the insurance office, and the lazy ceiling fan above him was doing nothing to improve things.
“Hey,” he called to one of his colleagues, an obese claims processor named Bill Waters who was ambling past his office. “I've got a quick question for you.”
Bill turned and entered the office without a word. His upper lip dangled slightly over his lower.
“You ever fish down at the harbour?”
Bill nodded.
“Ever catch any flounder down there?”
Bill needed a moment, but eventually nodded again. Now John felt his discomfort lessen significantly.
“And how big can those things get?”
Bill puckered his lips and made a couple of farting sounds. “‘Bout seven pounds, if they’re big.”
John smiled and lowered his head to his morning’s work. Bill waited for him to give some explanation for the questions, but it never came, so he eventually moved away from the door.
“Bill, wait!” John called.
The man slunk back to the door.
“Does a flounder look anything like a salmon?”
Bill threw back his head and hooted. His posture snapped straight, and it seemed as though he'd suddenly grown three inches taller. “Not even close, John,” he said, then turned to vanish from the doorway.
John sat in silence for the next minute or so, then surrendered to a fit of violent giggling.

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