“No human being, however great, or powerful, was ever so free as a fish.”
-John Ruskin, art critic and author
You put the Two of Diamonds onto the Three of Clubs. Then you drag the Queen of Hearts, with its full entourage all the way down to the Two of Diamonds, over to the King of Spades. Thus unveiling the last needed card. The Ace of Diamonds. Click it twice and it automatically places itself at the top of the screen with the Ace of Hearts, the Ace of Clubs, and the Ace of Spades. You could just right-click it, but what’s the fun in that? Then you click the Two of Diamonds. You click the Twos in the other stacks. You click the Threes. You click the Fours. You click every status, stratum, layer, class, and suit until you have nothing left but the Kings. Of the Hearts, the Clubs, the Spades, and the Diamonds. Then you have just four Kings left. A clique of royalty. The heads of four monarchial divisions of state. Rulers from their respective lands. Their suits. Their own wives. And savor this because it takes some time. Maximize the screen for maximum viewing pleasure. Do not click the clique. Savor this by dragging each and every one of them to their respective places at the top of the screen. Send them back to their foreign lands. These four Kings. Drag the King of Hearts, the King of Clubs, the King of Spades, and the King of Diamonds.
Now sit back.
And watch the cards fall.
Watch as they cascade brilliantly across the screen, eliminating every speck of green background as they go. They bounce, leaving little trails behind them to indicate their speed. Revel in the mastery of a game that, only a few years ago, had astounded you with the level of skill and intelligence that it necessitated. Marvel at the computer programming that is now bringing you the organization, the fluidity, the beauty of cards toppling one by one in backwards order. A countdown. A procession.
This was Will Denude’s Friday and Saturday nights. Now its his every night. This is solitaire.
“Will. I thought you said you were going to clean the Pleco tank?” This is my psuedo-boss, the manager-in-lieu. The stand-in. The vicarious boss. His name is Mr. Dempsey. And though I have no respect for him as a boss, as an employee, or as a fellow human being, I’m paid to patronize him while the real boss is away. I’m paid to pretend like I care about aquariums and fish. These fish.
“Will, listen, I don’t mind cleaning the Pleco tank, not a big deal. But if you’re not going to do it then don’t lead on like you are. I gotta know. I can do it or I can have somebody else do it so long as you give me some leeway.”
I don’t mind feeding the Plecostomus. I don’t even mind taking orders from Mr. Dempsey. In fact, I actually like cleaning the Plecostomus tank compared to some of the other fish. And Mr. Dempsey, through all his faults, really does know his shit when it comes to fish.
Sometimes, when I’m falling asleep at my register or in the back room or leaning up against a broom, I need a little pinch to know that I’m alive. To remind myself that I’m awake.
So that’s when I clean the Plecostomus tank. Plecos have these scaly plates all over their body that terminate in razor tips. Imagine having straight shaving razors adorn your entire body. And a Pleco, a usually timid creature, will avoid your hand while you clean the tank. Most people who clean it will nervously clean only certain parts of it. One of my coworkers, named Barb, just dumps some more Dechlor into the water and says she’s done.
But when I’m cleaning the tank, to remind myself that I can bleed, I touch the Pleco. And I don’t just touch him, I grab him. Not hard enough to hurt him, but hard enough to hurt me. And he wiggles and he shakes like crazy. Working those razors in. And I let it happen. I watch several streams of blood agglomerate and cloud up the water. Frenzied bloodbath.
This is what it must look like in a shark attack.
Then I let go. Then I get to clean out the wound with some peroxide and get the rest of the day off. Paid.
But now I don’t want to clean the Pleco tank. Aside from the fact that my hands are still healing from the last time… Aside from the fact that I enjoy using this ploy when Leonard can’t seem to grasp that I might possibly be doing it on purpose… Despite the fact that I’m really fucking tired and need a reminder that I’m awake, that I’m alive, that I’m not a vampire without blood… I just don’t fucking feel like it.
I’ve gone beyond that amount of tired where you want to wake up into that territory where you just don’t care about anything or anybody anymore. Not that I cared all that much to begin with.
You see, I was up until four in the morning last night playing solitaire. I got 765 points in standard scoring system. That’s pretty good, but nowhere near my high score.
The only bad thing about computer solitaire is that it doesn’t record your High Scores for you. So I have a little Word Document on my Desktop that lists my top scores, my initials, and the date and time. I have one for Standard rules solitaire, one for Vegas rules, and one for Spider solitaire.
So I don’t argue with Mr. Dempsey. What I do, in my tired yet feigned enthusiastic voice, is apologize and tell him that if he would kindly clean the Pleco tank for me, I’ll change the filters in the back.
He’s happy to oblige, he says, and after a short lecture, he lets me do my damned job. I need a little wake-up call, you see, and the tanks in the back have sea anemones.
The place I work for is a nationally renowned Aquarium store. We have our own marine biologist. We have showcases of jellyfish. We sell pet lobsters. Now there’s a commodity. We have four-foot sharks in our break room. We have mahogany aquarium stands. Cast-iron stands. Gold-plated stands. We have libraries on fish books and treatment methods. Biology books. Anatomy books. Feeding instructions for species so deep in the ocean that only seven or eight people alive have actually seen them. If we had tanks large enough to sell dolphins, we probably would. If we don’t have a certain species of fish or underwater plant, we could probably get it. Provided it isn’t endangered or some shit.
Like many of the fish, everyone at the store has nicknames.
I’ve already told you about Mr. Dempsey. Kiss-up manager wannabe. Our nickname for him is “Triggerfish”, because his mouth is really tiny when its small, and ridiculously huge when its open. And like a Triggerfish, when he opens his mouth, very little of any importance comes out. But I have seen disgusting amounts of various foods go in.
I’ve also briefly mentioned Barb. We call her “Arulius” Barb. And though I can at least claim to have a certain amount of respect for my other colleagues’ respective fish knowledge, this cannot be said for Barb. She not only knows nothing about fish, but she’s deathly afraid of them. While Mr. Dempsey and I can reach right into the Oscar tank and pull out a healthy fighting male for sale, “Arulius” is afraid to even scoop up a couple of guppies without the assistance of Mr. Green Scooper Net Thingy.
The sort of girl that never should have gotten into the aquarium business to begin with.
Then there’s “Jack-Knife.” I don’t even recall his real name, if I ever learned it. But this guy takes pieces of foliage and pokes the shrimp and crawfish, coercing them to fight. He asks people to place bets. He agitates the puffer fish until they puff up. He withholds stress-coat with a maniacal belly laugh.
When parents ask him what kind of fish are good for their infant children, he tells them to buy cichlids.
Whereas “Arulius” Barb never should have looked for a job here, “Jack-Knife” should have been barred from the store after his first interview. The brilliant hiring process that allows nut jobs like this to enter a place of business and get paid to mess with the fish needs some serious examination.
I hope that the people in the personnel department up at corporate can’t look in a mirror. I hope they have trouble sleeping at night. I hope they can’t live with themselves.
Because “Jack-Knife” is one crazy fuck. And I can see where the name came from. I try not to talk to him.
Me? I don’t have a nickname. But if I did, I would want it to be “Humu-Humu-Nuku-Nuku-A-Puaa.” Will just hasn’t been doing it for me lately.
So how do I deal with sadistic, ill-informed, or just plain annoying co-workers? In a teensy bit of hypocrisy, I use the Moray Eel to my advantage.
The first time I did this, I found that the Moray Eels would not cooperate, so I do something normally adverse to my categorical imperative. I coerce them. I find a Moray Eel, and I goes abouts a-pokin’ ‘em.
So imagine, if you will, the following thoughts of the Moray Eel.
‘Ello-’ello? What’s this wanker doin’ in me tank. He’s fuckin’ puttin’ ‘is fuckin’ fingers in me bloody tank! Bloody hell! ‘E’s got ‘is whole ‘and in ‘ere, ‘e does! ‘Ey! Sod off, mate, I’m sleepin‘! Get away from me! What’s this? ‘E’s pokin’ me in the face, ‘e is! Well, we’ll see ‘ow ‘e likes it when I bite ‘is fuckin’ fingers off!
They don’t really take your fingers off, but they do latch on pretty good. So well, in fact, that you can pull your hand right out of the water and he’ll still be there, flapping in the wind wishing he were an electric eel.
The only way to get one off is to peel it off, and a nice big layer of skin comes off with it. So it looks like you have a nice, cleanly circumcised finger. That’s good for a couple days off work.
The idea of Spider Solitaire isn’t just to eliminate all the cards, its also to see that you can do it in as few moves as possible, bringing your score up. There are ten stacks at the top of the screen, and at the bottom a stack where you draw from. When you line up an entire suit of cards from King down to Ace, those cards are eliminated. Several decks are used. On the computer, you can decide to work with one suit, two suits, or four. It gets more difficult as you go.
But instead of dancing or bouncing cards, at the end you get a fireworks show. And I live for this.
I stay up ‘til all hours of the morning doing this. Without deadly fish around, I need my trusty MP3 playlist to keep me awake. I use the Beatles, because they’re pretty uplifting. No better cure for three a.m. solitaire sleepiness than cheery Beatles music. Except for that song, ‘I’m so Tired’ off The White Album. That’s why I usually listen to my personal favorite album, Help!
Help me if you can I’m feeling down…
And I do appreciate you being ‘round…
Help me get my feet back on the ground…
Won’t you please, please help me!
That always seems to get me going in a certain mood.
So be it Spider, Canfield, Klondike, Big Forty, Idiot’s Delight, Streets and Alleys, Tower of Babel, Clock, Napoleon at Saint Helena, or Pyramid, my personal life is about as exciting as a fish’s in a tank. After all, aside from working and cleaning out the aquarium, what else is there to do?
Oh yes, did I mention that I have my own fish. A goldfish. A minnow. Why, out of all those options I have at the Aquarium store, do I own a simple goldfish? Because when I was seven my father took me to the pet store to get a dog.
“Look Willy, don’t you want a Retriever? Or a Lab?”
He tried to convince me to get a big, manly dog with manly dog-musk. One I could wrestle with and teach tricks. One that would teach me responsibility. Every boy, after all, needs a dog.
But instead I saw little tiny goldfish the size of your thumb being fed to larger, meaner-looking fish. ‘Feeder Fish’ they call them. Ten cents. I begged my dad to buy all the feeder fish for me, so that they wouldn’t have to die. I promised to take care of them and clean after them and learn responsibility.
So here’s my dad, who’s ready to buy me a dog, something most kids would kill to have, and I’m asking for goldfishes. Lots of ‘em.
We compromise. I get one feeder fish and he gets a dog. Funny, I don’t remember seeing that dog around the house much. Can’t even recall it’s name. Spot or Rex or something unimaginative like that.
I named my little fish Emma Tropia, because it has such perfect vision out of both eyes, facing in opposite directions. Fish-eye lens. Plus I wanted to brag about how clear the water in my fishbowl was always going to be.
And it was. Every chance I got, while other kids were smacking their dogs with rolled up newspapers for piddling on the carpet or spraying their cats with water bottles for jumping up on the dining room table, I cleaned my little round fishbowl.
That was eighteen years ago. The dog, somewhere along the line, died for some reason or another. Most of the neighborhood dogs have died. Most of the cats have as well. My fish is still alive and swimming strong.
And before you ask, no, my fish didn’t make it into the Guinness Book of World Records. The oldest Carassius Auratus on record lived to fifty some-odd years. It is said that in Asia, where goldfish originated, they have lived to seventy years.
They have teeth in their throat, which means it can’t bite or sting or inject me with anything. This creates a very different relationship than any of the fish or people I have to work with, which cause either voluntary or involuntary pains to me on a regular basis. Also, consider that this organism has been in my life for a constant eighteen years, which is more than anybody else. Including my father.
For Emma’s third birthday, I got a twenty-gallon tank with some of those little bubbling air filters. In a matter of months the fish grew to accommodate the size of that container.
For Emma’s fifth birthday, I bought a fifty-gallon tank and some rocks and decorative stuff. A skull and a treasure chest. Once again, Emma grew to a larger size.
For Emma’s seventh birthday, I bought a one-hundred-gallon tank and one of those little pirate ships that was large enough for Emma to swim in and out of. That is, until the little fish got too big for that, even.
For Emma’s eleventh birthday, I bought a one-hundred and seventy-five gallon tank with an Emperor Penguin 6000 automatic filter and more Dechlor than Jacques Cousteau could get his hands on. I didn’t bother buying decorations, because they only seem to impede Emma’s path and growth.
For Emma’s fifteenth birthday, I bought a two-hundred and fifty-gallon aquarium and so many filters that it looks like giant mutant leeches adorn the entire rim of the tank, spewing forth fresh, clean, healthy water.
So that now, in the 400-gallon tank, when people come to my house, (which is rare), they say, “My, what a lovely koi you have. But surely it must be lonely in there all by itself?”
And I thought about this for the first time the other night, as I was sitting playing solitaire. Is my fish lonely? Is there any part of the tank that Emma hasn’t wandered, swam, examined, philosophized, and pooped on, in that order? How many new experiences can arise when your scenery remains the same? When your entire world consists of a four foot by seven foot by two foot glass box? When your entire life consists of eating and pooping, eating and pooping, eating and pooping?
“The wish of most fish is a wish to be me
But the wish of my fish is a wish to be free.”
Then I thought, no! Sadly, a goldfish has but a memory span of thirty seconds. Thus preventing Emma or any other feeder fish from a fate of death by boredom. In fact, I’d bet that even if a feeder fish was swallowed whole by some much larger fish, it would totally forget what was going on as it was on its way down the gullet to the belly and just enjoy the ride.
Ah, ignorance is bliss.
And really, how could Emma even claim to be bored when I dote on the dirty tank like an obsessive compulsive father. I clean the damned thing twice a week.
Excessive? Perhaps, but if you were to see this damned 400-tank when I get home from work each day, you’d understand why. After an especially harsh day at work, I come back to find a green, opaque glass box of bacterial, algae-encrusted doom!
I scrub it constantly, eliminating every speck of green background until nothing remains but sparkling clean goodness. I vac it out with the tube-hosey thingy that I seem to replace every month. I go through filters like Emma goes through food. Which, I assure you, is a lot. Rocks and gravel are futile.
I bought a Chinese Algae Eater, Gyrinocheilus Aymonieri, because it’s the only fish that can eat away the disgusting green goo and still remain unharmed by the voluminous amounts of ammonia that minnows put out.
It died two days later.
I tried chemicals to subdue the algae threat, (though killing it is really only aesthetic and more of a challenge than anything else). The amount of chemicals, I found, that it would take to kill this level of stubborn, recurring algae would not only kill Emma, but probably also myself when the fumes were unleashed.
I thought about buying a lighting system under which no vegetable matter could grow, thus killing all potential algae before it formed. But the fear of growing a superform of algae that would evolve and adapt its way out of the tank and into my bed, strangling me to death, prevents this from being a viable option.
I spend more money on stress-coat that I do food for myself.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the fish weighs about thirty pounds. Perhaps it’s the fact that when it shits, poop doesn’t just trail behind it in a nice long, single strand like normal fish, but instead spatters in a fire hose affect akin to a racing horse with diarrhea. Maybe Satan put a curse on my tank so that I will forever be forced to clean it in my own form of a Sisyphean task.
Whatever it is, I clean the tank because I love my fish. I want my fish happy. I don’t want it obscured in grime. It’s the only thing in my life that hasn’t voluntarily left me, and it’s the only thing that will actually be around ‘til death do us part. And I really only have love enough in my life for one thing, and I suppose that’s Emma.
It’s Tuesday, which means cleaning time.
Despite the thirty-second memory span, the damned fish better not ever feel unloved.
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.
Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be.
There’s a shadow hanging over me,
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.
Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong now I long for yesterday…
…and…zyzzyva (zîz´e-ve) noun: Any of various tropical American weevils of the genus Zyzzyva, often destructive to plants.
[New Latin Zyzzyva, genus name, probably from Zyzza, former genus of leafhoppers.]
Hey look, there’s a picture.
Well, that does it for the Encyclopedia Britannica 1998. I suppose that I could start with the Encyclopedia Britannica 1999, but its bound to be more of the same and I really doubt if this is doing anything to alleviate my boredom. If anything its going to procure for me an early grave.
I do get so bored when the only other thing to talk to in the house is a fucking creature that stares blankly at you with strangely positioned eyes and an ill-proportionately small brain.
I mean, I like the little thing and all, it’s been my best and most constant friend since as long as I can remember, but really… would it kill you to start some intelligent conversation? You know. Intelligent? Is it so much to ask that you evolve a form of communication that doesn’t involve shitting yourself or breathing through inferior organs?
And dear God! Does the tank need to be cleaned again? It was just cleaned… what? Yesterday? The day before yesterday? Either way this is getting really excessive. I mean, it was excessive before but now its just ri-Goddamn-diculous.
Seriously. It’s just a vicious cycle. I wake up and do the exact same thing every fucking day! Where’s the excitement!? Where’s the adventure!? I’ve read about those types of things! I could be Indiana fucking Jones or James Bond or some shit. I could stop busses with bombs on them or fight masked super villains. I could learn how to fly!
Ooh. Cool! I mean, really… who doesn’t want to learn to fly? Really? There has to be some trick to it. For God’s sakes, you’ve just read the entire Encyclopedia set. Again!
So its settled. I’m learning to fly. I’m getting away from all this shit. I can do anything so long as I put my mind to it.
And first thing I do when I learn to fly is set out on my own. I mean it.
Okay. Now I have got to find some way out of this fish tank.
A guy came in today and started bothering me about fish. It’s not like this isn’t my job, I’m used to it. But this is one of those fucks who tries to tell me he knows everything about fish there is to know about fish, when I’m the one working at the fucking fish store.
Then he starts whining to me about his damned glowing fish.
“Why is the Gar eating my Danios? Why is the Gar eating my Daniooooos? Wh-Wh-Wh-Wh-Why? Why is the Gar eating my Danios!?!”
Now I could tell Mr. Fish Expert here that his Gar is eating his expensive glowing Danios because they’re the same size as the fucking minnows he’s been feeding his Gar for years now. I could tell him how you’re not supposed to mix certain species of fish in the same tank. I could tell him that his Gar is eating Danios because they sound like a fucking breakfast cereal. But of course, that would be a waste of time. Mr. Fish Expert probably already knows all of that.
So I say, “Well, I can’t help you, but if you buy a black light maybe your Gar’s shit will glow.”
I get people in here that put uber-chlorinated water into their fish tanks. I get people that put poisonous plants in with fish. I get people that put sharks in with very expensive and very fragile little exotic fish.
But most people just come in and say, “Why’d all my fish die?” And they expect a full explanation with that little information. When I press them for details, they look dumbfounded and say, “Well, you’re the Fish Guy.”
“My fish chewed up my other fish I want my refund.”
“My friend was watching my fish and fed it a shrimp. But we’re Jewish and eat kosher. I want a refund.”
“My fish ate a quarter and I want a refund. And a quarter.”
“I dropped my fish in the parking lot and I want my refund.”
Oh? Can you go get the fucking fish while its still flapping around on the ground out there? We may still be able to save it, jackass.
You know how “Jack-Knife” is a sick fucker? Well, he always volunteers to go save the dying fish in parking lot. He always comes back in about ten minutes later and says, “Sorry. Couldn’t save this one.”
And they always demand a refund. They don’t ask, they demand.
But my personal favorite…
“Somebody told me to pee in my saltwater fish tank so I did… and all my fish died.”
So I explain to them how this is an old method that used to be published in books. What it did was start the ammonia cycle. How fish give off ammonia and in a concentrated area, they die. But little bacterium come and eat the ammonia away and replace it with a harmless waste product. So if you start with a little ammonia the bacteria will come and start their cycle before you ever put fish in the tank. I explain to them that this method is years old and outdated and even at that, you should never pee in a fish tank when the fish are still in it.
And they always respond with, “I want my refund.”
Another fun thing to do to remind yourself that you’re still alive is to stick your finger in the Oscar tank. Tease ‘em a little. See how many seconds you can keep it in there before you get nervy and pull it out of the water. Usually about the time they open their mouths threateningly and back up to propel themselves forward. You get a thrill much better than roller coasters. Freudian death instinct.
Or at the very least losing a finger should count for something. For added kicks do this during their scheduled feeding time.
See, Oscars are types of cichlids. Believe it or not, they’re some of the tamer ones. What I want to do, if we get any in, is mess with some African cichlids. Swirl your hand around in their tank for about a minute and they suddenly start to take out tiny little chunks all up and down your arm. You won’t lose a finger, but God help you if you wear press-on nails. And it can’t be too good for the fish either.
And by the way… Piranhas are pussies
I know what you’re thinking. Oh, sure, this guy’s all tough putting his digits into cichlid tanks, but he’s afraid of a few piranhas. Fuck you. I am not afraid of a few piranhas. Ten thousand piranhas, sure. Five? Fuck that. I see them scatter when we throw goldfish in there, so what in the world would lead me to believe that my fingers are in danger?
I see kids daring each other to stick their fingers in the piranha tanks, like it’s a big deal. Mr. Dempsey yells at ‘em, sure, but we all know piranhas are pussies.
This guy was about to buy a piranha. He said he wanted the biggest one. But it had a piece of a plant stuck in its teeth. He bet me ten dollars that I wouldn’t reach in and pull it out of its mouth. I promptly grabbed the flapping fish, pulled it out of the tank and slid the grass out of its mouth. Never saw a piranha so freaked out in my entire life.
I got ten bucks and the customer decided to buy a cichlid.
I’d tell you kids not to try this at home, but I’m really curious to see if you do.
And today, after the fish expert came in but before “Jack-Knife” started naming all the goldfish, my least favorite customer came in.
(You may be thinking that it is out of character for “Jack-Knife” to do something as harmless and indeed friendly as naming goldfish, but he only names them so that he can taunt them by name when he feeds them to larger fish. He does this, when he can, in front of children.)
And today, as almost every day, I had to put up with Lunar Wrasse. Lunar Wrasse doesn’t like fish, she doesn’t hate fish. She doesn’t come here to even look at the fish. She’s got her own life somewhere else that doesn’t necessitate harboring dozens of dependants in an aquarium somewhere in your home.
She comes here to look at one fish and one fish alone. One organism lone and sheltered. Me.
What happens at least three times a week is that she’ll walk up and start asking random questions that don’t even make sense, just to instigate some conversation. She’ll ask how much of this particular chemical she should put in a gallon of such size, or what’s the scientific classification of this such animal, or how many fish would make a baker’s dozen.
As if it would impress me, the interest she were taking in my work. I mean, who the fuck cares?!? It’s obvious that she doesn’t even care what the answers are, because the entire time she’s batting her eyes and jutting her breasts forward and being a general slut.
I, like most men, am not very good at picking up on signals. But for the love of God!
With her cheaply-dyed hair and overused punk makeup. Plaid catholic schoolgirl skirt that’s supposed to make her look innocent but it always does just the opposite. And black shirts that say things like, ‘Angel,’ and ‘Brat,’ and ‘Daddy’s Girl,’ and ‘Princess.’ And knee-high black boots that cover over half the leg. Is that supposed to be sexy? It’s like punk-goth-metal suddenly came in around the Catholic girl’s school, and this was their dark and angst-ridden reject.
I don’t know how old she is, and I don’t care to judge. She drives here, which says something I suppose, in a mini-cooper. Something ‘Daddy’ must have bought for the ‘Angel.’
And today, I decided to brush her off once and for all. No more subtle rejections. No more maneuvering about the store in avoidance. I was going to tell her off and make it implicitly clear that I am not interested.
I figured the more abrupt and rude I can be, the more distance we can put between us. I supposed that she wouldn’t be able to return that sort of hostile sentiment. I figured she wouldn’t even want a man as verbally abusive and emotionally shut-off as me. I supposed that a girl like that deserves someone else. I’m not saying someone better. I’m just saying someone else.
Lunar, the goddamn hippie, sauntered over and put a hand on my shoulder to get my attention, though I was already facing in her direction.
“So, William,” she said. She always thought that using my full name would somehow bring me to my knees. Ooh, the seductress! She really knows how to get a man going.
I figured that about now I could just do it, tell her to beat it and be done with it. I supposed I might have gotten fired for having been rude to a customer, but then I would assuredly never have to see her again.
“Look, Lunar. I know why you’re coming in here, and I’m going to be upfront about this. I don’t like you. I never could like you. The sight of you fills me with annoyance-migraine-juice. It’s not that I hate you. It’s just that I have only so much love to go around and its already being healthily directed at other sources, so for you all I have is disdain and apathy. So, and I’m giving all the honesty I have here, I want you to leave this store and never come back unless you seriously want to buy a fish, or perhaps drink some chemicals. And then, at the very least, ask for somebody else to help you, hm?”
I supposed this would work. I figured most women would be put off by this. I supposed and figured that most women would be put off by me without even having said anything.
I figured and supposed wrong.
“Well then, William. If you’re going to be upfront than so will I. I do like you. I like you very much and I don’t care that you don’t like me. And I’m not the sort of girl that gives up easily on love, as evidenced by the fact that I come into a store full of chemicals and fish and glass tanks that I have little to no interest for or in, and flirt with an attractive guy who has little to no interest in me. That being the case, I’m going to continue to come into this store and be rejected, and brushed off by you until I make some progress. I’ve already invested so much time in the whole ordeal that it would seem a waste to stop now. I mean, look at us! We’re making incredible progress already. Yesterday you didn’t want to be on the same side of the store as me and today you’ve gotten your fiery Latin temper all fired up to tell me off.”
She smiled as she recited all this. Almost as if she had had it prepared for weeks and was waiting to use it. She smiled as an actor would smile in satisfaction that she’d remembered all her lines correctly. Her smile formed when I started to speak, as a matter of fact, as if she had just seen her opportunity to strike with snake-like precision. Like a moray eel. And I done poked her.
“But,” she continued, “even if you never accept me, I’ll still be in here to face rejection day after day, because I have that little glimmer of hope for love, and that’s what love is.”
The self-sacrifice in the face of insurmountable odds, it had me all dumbfounded. When she had little to no hope of succeeding, she still wanted to pursue me. I’d be flattered if I had any emotion left to give. It was almost noble, if it weren’t so sick.
“W-why?” I asked, as much a question to her motives as a feeble protest for my sanity. A cry out to God.
“I don’t know,” she said, slinging her purse across her shoulder as she started to leave, “I suppose I’m just a bit of a masochist.”
About four in the morning I fell asleep, having reached a high score in Spider Solitaire that does absolutely nothing for me. I crawled over to my bed and passed out.
And I had the same recurring dream where I’m cleaning the fish tank and the damned stand falls over. Everywhere there’s glass and a flood of water ill-proportionate to the actual amount of water that would have been in the tank. Enough to puddle the entire room, but not enough to allow flapping, helpless Emma to breathe there in the center of the room. Emma flops and flops digging jagged shards of glass into golden orange scales.
In the dream, green Nickelodeon-textured slime oozes from the gashes and wounds in my fish’s sides. It floats about the room defying gravity. It clouds up like my blood does in the various fish tanks of the aquarium store. This green blood leaves my baby and empties the body of life.
Gasping for breath, eyes becoming more opaque with each empty gulp, even the gills of my fish gush forth green goo. And I’m helpless to do anything about it.
I reach over, in the dream, and pick up my baby, wriggling dying in my arms, begging me for help.
At this point the green substance has begun to fill the entire room and cover the white walls and windows with its sticky opacity.
I run to the bathroom, which is also green by now, and see that the bathtub is miraculously filled with water. Panicked, I hurl the heavy form of Emma at the water, hoping that its enough and that its free of chemicals. It appears to be the only part of the house now that hasn’t been invaded by the green goo.
Instead of landing safely in the water, however, Emma smacks against the wall hard with a crack! and bounces back onto the tiled floor.
I pick up my fish and attempt again, but each time I am much too frenzied to aim correctly, and Emma becomes worse for wear.
It’s about this point in the dream that I would kill to have a Moray eel or a Plecostomus come over and pinch me to let me know I’m not awake.
The dream always ends like this; I am holding the limp and barely twitching form of my baby in my arms, the only thing that I have to live for any more, the only thing that I love and the sole recipient of all of my love, and there’s not a Goddamned thing I can do about it.
And I always wake up in a cold, fishy sweat over it.
This time, I woke up to find, floating several inches in front of my face and another inch above the sheets, Emma Tropia. Dripping wet onto my clean sheets and belly underneath, the fish opens and closes its mouth as usual, looking quite healthy there in the oxygen-rich environment. I open my mouth in horror, for this and the dream are too much for me to even formulate a scream.
That’s right. Don’t talk. Anything you would need to say I can sense anyways.
This is too fucking much, man.
So you’re wondering why I’m out of my tank. How I can float or at the very least how I can breathe oxygen. Fair enough. I don’t have much time but I’ll start as far back at the beginning as I need to.
Do you remember when your stereo was receiving those experimental satellite radio transmissions? You do? Well, that’s when my brain, as a highly adaptive piscine organ should be, began to be bombarded with and receive waves not familiar to my primitive nervous system. Wires began to be rerouted. Wrinkles in the brain were formed. Evolution leapt forward. Simple problems like a thirty-second memory span just wouldn’t do anymore, so I had to adapt out of it. This was the hardest task, as you can understand, when you only have a thirty-second memory span. With my unnecessarily advanced intellect, however, I was able to overcome certain… setbacks, we’ll say.
So it wasn’t long before I trained myself in the ways of telepathy, telekinesis, and astral projection. After learning everything I could about the sole provider of my life, you, my master, I grew bored. I must say, by the way, that this didn’t take very long when your entire world is boiled down to computer card games and the Beatles. You should know, for the record, that I’m an Elvis fan.
Can I just say, you really ought to get yourself a woman?
So I began to read the great works of Homer and Shakespeare, vicariously and telepathically, that is, through English professors and students all over the world. I learned every language I was afforded, including dead languages like Latin. I learned about biology, and metaphysical studies. Physics, geometry, philosophy, psychology, and art. The combined knowledge of every living human being on this entire planet. With as much free time as a goldfish would have in a tank for eighteen years or so, and with a highly-developed telepathic brain with the processing speed of a supercomputer and no waiting for dial-up, it wasn’t hard.
With practice in the art of astral projection, I was able to explore and see places on this planet and in other galaxies in a matter of split seconds. I was able to learn things not known to humans or fish, or many alien species. By taking the knowledge of many races and cultures I was able to extrapolate information and facts beyond Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, or even Albert Einstein.
But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to physically leave this place and this tank. The first part was easy. Levitation. Having studied physics and metaphysics, I was able to employ electromagnetism and reverse polarity fields, with the assistance of telekinesis, to defy gravity efficiently and fluidly.
The second part, adapting my body to breath outside of the water, this was more difficult. On a faraway planet I found the answer. Coupled with the knowledge of evolution and adaptation on this planet, I was able to use their biological alteration process to ‘talk’ my body into changing. I concentrated until I was an amphibian. I was also able to take a few pounds off, did you notice?
Of course you didn’t. You ass.
Now, with amphibious breathing apparatus, telekinetic force fields, the ability to read minds and the gift of flight, I am free to leave this place.
Something you didn’t realize was that, as an empath, I was able to subconsciously pick up on all of your negative emotions. The more lonely, pissed off, or medically depressed you got, the more fucked up my tank got. Talk about a brain fart. Every time you lost a fucking game of solitaire, I let loose a dump that puts Marine Sergeants to shame. For God’s sakes, man! The two goes onto the three! I can see it, why can’t you!?
And did you ever think that perhaps the answer to your problems was outside this fucking house? At the very least off of your fucking computer?
I can’t believe, even with the limitless knowledge of the cosmos, that you could actually enjoy cleaning that tank. I lived there and I couldn’t stand it. For God’s sakes, I was swimming in my own poop, man!
That’s why every waking moment of my life, (which is quite a bit since I sleep with my eyes open), was spent formulating a way out of this shithole.
“Y-you’re leaving me, Emma?”
I don’t need this shit, man! I’m out of here. By the way, I’m a dude. Emma’s a girl’s name… douche.
I think I’m gonna be sad, I think its today, yeah.
The girl that’s driving me mad, is going away, yeah.
Aw, she’s got a ticket to ride.
She’s got a ticket to ride.
She’s got a ticket to ride,
And she don’t care.
She said that living with me is bringing her down, yeah.
And she won’t never be free, when I was around, yeah.
Aw, she’s got a ticket to ride.
She’s got a ticket to ride.
She’s got a ticket to ride,
And she don’t care.
This morning is especially bad. Not to mention the usual things like an entire night that could have been spent sleeping was instead spent playing solitaire. Vegas style. But in addition to that, the one thing in my life that I thought would never leave me did just that. The thing that I loved so much that there was never any room for anything else just emptied itself from my heart and basically told me and my computer solitaire to fuck off.
So I need some special medicine today. Something I’ve only ever done once. It’s good for a couple of days out of work, at least, maybe even a hospital trip.
What you do is you get some hot scalding water running in the other room. I mean boiling. I mean the sort of hot, scalding water that makes potatoes wish they were being deep fried at McDonald’s, if they even use real potatoes.
Then you stick your hand in the lionfish tank, and you smack your fingers against its little poisonous barbs.
You see, the pain you get from the poison is pretty bad. Okay, let’s be fair, it just may be the worst thing you feel aside from childbirth, and I’m a man. And the only way to get rid of the poison, to keep it from spreading, is to dunk your hand in the scalding water. The poison’s temperature-sensitive. So this is an added bonus in pain.
And everybody in the store freaks out, because they think that my arm is going to turn black or some shit and fall off. And its dangerous, too, because the fact that I have boiling water already prepared in the back room looks a little suspicious to Mr. Dempsey or some of the other, more intelligent co-workers.
And I’m all prepared to do this, too, I’m getting a bucket for the water. Oh, you can fucking watch me.
I’m heading back to the back room to fill this fucking bucket up with boiling water. Fucking watch me do it, man. I’ve got a fucking rag to bite down on and everything. Never mind that the rag was used to clean the shark tank, I’m about to fucking do this, man. Oh, I’ll fucking do it.
Then, as I cross the store, I see Lunar Wrasse. And I think of all the times that we talked, that she attempted to flirt. And I think of all the cute things she wears to try and impress me. I notice what she’s wearing today. I notice the cute little Catholic schoolgirl outfit. I notice that she isn’t wearing a bra. And I notice the color of her hair is a sort of strawberry-blonde with tastefully done highlights. I notice that her eyes are the most stunning shade of blue I’ve ever seen, and I work in an aquarium store, so that’s saying something. And I notice that she has a smile that could stop traffic and reroute highway rubberneckers around wreckage. And I notice her body. And I notice the boots that flatter her already sexy legs. And I think of what may be underneath all those clothes that she wears to impress me. And I think of how much interest she takes in my work. I think of her intelligence, wit, grace, and determination, but mostly I’m thinking of how to get inside her panties.
And most of all I notice that she’s poking the crabs and mouthing, “I’s gonna poke this un gooood.”
I’ve just seen a face I can’t forget the time or place,
Where we just met, she’s just the girl for me,
And I want all the world to see we’ve met.
Mm mm mm mm mm mm.
Had it been another day I might have looked
The other way And I’d have never been
Aware, but as it is I’ll dream of her tonight.
La la la la la la.
Falling, yes I am falling,
And she keeps calling me back again.
I have never known the like of this
I’ve been alone and I have missed things and kept
Out of sight, but other girls were never quite like this.
La la la la la la.
Falling, yes I am falling,
And she keeps calling me back again.