BIG FISH STORY
BY IRWIN R. LEWIS
Jerry held the bowl in both hands afraid that, with his bad thumb, he might drop and kill Henry. Hed be in for it then.
As he walked from the apartment toward Ted's beat and rusted Ford work pickup, his breath looked to him like wet smoke in the cold morning air, and he tried to blow a few smoke rings. But after a couple tries, he gave that up because it didn't work so good and because he was sure Ted would say something about it if he looked over and saw what he was trying to do.
Ted would say, "What the fuck you doin, numb nuts?" or something similar. Jerry couldn't think of how he'd answer, and it wasn't working so good, anyway, so he gave it up. At the truck, shivering and wishing he'd worn his other coat, he shifted the fish bowl to the crux of his left arm so he could open the passenger's side door.
At first, Ted didn't even turn his head as Jerry climbed inside the cab. Ted just sat behind the wheel, one hand tearing small strips of label from the beer he held between his legs, one hand resting against the broken horn, fingers impatiently strumming the steering wheel.
But as Jerry slammed the door shut, Ted glanced over--"You're gonna break my fucking ear drums...."--then had to do a double take, blinking, leaning toward Jerry, then leaning back, trying to get a better angle on the round, glass fish bowl, the little red fish inside half hidden amongst plastic plants and staring back out and blowing, what looked to Ted like, lippy fish kisses.
Ted blinked, again. Looked, again. He couldn't quite make sense of it.
"Jesus it's cold," Jerry said.
"What the fuck is that?"
"That's Henry," Jerry said holding up the bowl and peering inside. "He's a fish." He put the bowl back down to his lap.
"I can see it's a Goddamn fish."
"Man, it--no, I mean it's my wife's fish. Man, it reeks in here." Jerry was looking closely now at the oversized, black gym bag on the cab's floor that he had crawled over getting in.
"Nah, really? I thought it was your fucking lunch. What the fuck you doing with the fucking thing?"
"Man, it really reeks in here," Jerry said, purposely looking down at the bag. An old airplane claim ticket was wrapped around one of the bag's handles as camouflage.
"It takes money to make money."
"Man, I can't afford gettin picked up with a bunch of dope, you know?"
"Stop fucking whining. You're not still on parole, are you?"
"Probation. It wasn't ever parole."
"Okay, so you're not still on fucking probation, are you?"
"Then stop crying. I just have to drop this off on our way. Now, what the fuck is with the mother fucking, fucked up fish?"
"I was supposed to drop this by the school. It's for some kid thing or something."
"It's right on the way," Jerry said, defensively.
"We have to go the other fucking direction to drop this off."
"We still have to come back, right?"
"Jesus Christ, it's too fucking early for your antics." Ted put the truck into reverse and did a backward half circle in the parking lot, saying, "You're so fucking pussy whipped. Why didn't your wife take the fucker?" He put it into first and took off out of the parking lot, turning right and out onto the road without stopping, cutting the driveway a bit too close and clipping a little of the curb.
"The car's still screwed, so she had to take the bus--it's right on the way," Jerry said holding the bowl a little off his lap, angling it right then left, trying to compensate for the bumped curb. "We can just--"
"Oh, Jesus Christ, stop fuckin whimpering already. We'll stop by on the fucking way back."
Jerry pushed on the bag with one foot and could feel its soft bulging mass. "Man, Patty would shit if I got busted with a bunch of dope."
"Jesus, are you gonna keep this shit up all day? You sound like somebody's little bitch. Fire up that joint," Ted said pointing a finger at the ashtray.
Jerry saw that the brown spaghetti stringers of tape belonging to Born in the USA still hung out of the cassette as he picked the joint out of the ashtray. He was tired of mornings without music, but Ted was already on a tear, so he wasn't about to say nothing about it. "Man, last time you got me stoned before work, I stuck a hammer through the dry wall. About broke my thumb off."
In a mocking, high pitched voice, Ted said, "'Last time you got me stoned...' 'I'm on parole.... Waaa, fucking waaa. Would you shut up? You're giving me a fuckin headache."
Jerry pulled out his Bic lighter and lit the joint out of peer pressure. "I was just saying, I don't do my best work...." He held in the hit and passed the joint.
"It's my dry wall, what do you give a fuck?" Ted took the joint, took a hit, looked over at the fish as he made a left without stopping or signaling, shook his head, and said, "You are so fucking pussy whipped." Ted took another hit before passing the joint back, but as Jerry reached for it, Ted held onto it--he wouldn't let go until he had said, in a raspy voice, still holding in smoke, "You're a perfect example of the feminizing of the American male."
Jerry took the joint back, looking offended. "Im not feminized."
Ted went into a coughing fit blowing out smoke, slapping the steering wheel a few times, then taking a swig off his beer. "That's the good chronic shit, there." Then Ted held his beer up in his right hand and pointed it at Jerry. "The whole goddamn country is feminized. It'll be the fucking end of us in the next war."
Jerry, thinking Ted was holding the beer a little too much in the open, took a look around for cops, looked back down at the black bag nervously, took a hit.
"Take that movie," Ted said, finally dropping his hand back down, "that remake of that Peckinpah movie--it had that Baldwin guy and that blonde babe, what's her name? I always forget her name--Kim--fucking Kim-something--"
"Yeah, yeah, that was a good movie. The Getaway. I saw that. That was all right." Jerry was already starting to feel it, and he couldn't help smiling.
"Yeah, it was fucking okay, sure, but did you see the original?"
"Sure, sure, couple times. It had Steve McQueen and that one girl, what's-her-face--"
"You notice how fucking different they were, though?"
Jerry just shrugged and tried to offer the joint back, but Ted was on a roll, so Jerry just held on to it, letting his hand drop to the top of a spring that was sticking out of the seat cover by his left leg.
"Remember the scene where--it was just after the guy, Steve, finds out his wife made a deal with the one dick head who got him out of prison, and she's been fucking him, and--"
"Yeah, yeah, and she double crosses the guy and shoots him, instead of Steve." Jerry bounced his hand up and down on the spring a little, becoming slightly absorbed by the action.
Ted shook his head impatiently. "Yeah, but she was fucking the guy and--the part where he pulls off the road and starts ragging on her."
"Yeah." Jerry was suddenly self-conscious of playing with the spring and thought it might look really stupid, so he stopped.
"Well, you remember in the original, Steve just slaps the shit out her, right, and she just kind of takes it, right?"
"Yeah, right. Yeah, I remember." Jerry tried to take another hit, but it was green bud, and the joint had gone out. He pushed in the dash lighter, forgetting about the Bic in his front-shirt pocket.
"But in the remake, Baldwin--Kevin or whatever--they have so many fucking Baldwins--but in the remake he slaps her, but then she, like, slaps him back and shit. Remember?"
Jerry looked out the front windshield like he was seeing the scene at the drive in. "Yeah, that's right. That's right."
"See what I'm saying. Sam knew how to make movies. Remember that one with Dustin Hoffman?"
"Yeah, yeah. Something-Dog." The lighter popped out, but Jerry ignored it, still looking absently out the window. "Reservoir Dogs. No. Dog-something." The fish bowl almost slipped out from between his legs, but Jerry grabbed it by the rim.
"Whatever--careful with that shit--it was the one where the girl gets drug around by the hair by the guy, the one guy, and he makes her fuck him--her husband is some math geek or some shit--but then she starts getting off on it, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, I remember that." Jerry lit the joint with his Bic after the second attempt with the safety switch, and he put the fish bowl on his lap to hide an early morning half-hard-on as he took a deep hit.
"Sam knew how to fuckin make 'em. You don't see shit like that anymore." Ted took the joint back finally, and hit off it as he tried to change lanes, but then had to swerve back into his own before hitting a Vega. A gray harried woman in the car honked the horn at him and mouthed something. Ted waved hello as he blew smoke into his side window and watched it mushroom. "You don't see 'em like that, anymore." He turned back to the road. "Now, Kim slaps Baldwin--Eric, whatever--and that shit effects your mind. Media stuff. It has an effect. That's proven scientifically." Ted held out the joint, but again wouldn't let go so that Jerry was forced to look his way as he said, "That's why everyone is so pussy whipped, now. That's why everyone is a pussy whipped, little whining bitch like you running around with a fucking salmon on his lap trying to prove how fucking pussy whipped he is to his fucking old lady." Ted finally let go, and turned back to the road in time to swerve and miss clipping a guardrail.
"Man, I don't mind doing stuff. I don't do that much, and Patty's really good to me."
"A woman ain't nothin but life support for a pussy."
"Come on, man, you're just into all that because you've been burnt."
"Life support for a pussy."
"That's not every single woman, Ted."
"Every fucking one of 'em ain't shit."
"You can't say that about all women. That's prejudice. That's like saying every black guy's a nigger. But there's niggers and then there's good black guys."
"Show me one."
"What about Elliot?"
"Elliot's cool. Nobody better talk shit about my man Elliot."
"The same with women. There's bitches and then there's good women, Ted."
Ted shook his head, swigged down the last of his beer, and pushed the bottle behind the seat as he blew through a stoplight. "Bullshit. Look, I, like, had this girl once, and I wanted to fuck her in the ass--I don't--I had some wild hair or something--but I wanted to fuck her in the ass, see, but she wouldn't do it, right? I was, like, fucking hitting on her for, like, ever, right. But she wouldn't go for it. I mean, this chick would do everything else, too. Suck my crank, let me tit fuck her--whatever, but she wouldn't let me mine her poop chute, right? So I finally laid down the law, pulled that, 'if you really loved me' shit, and that, 'if you don't feed the dog he'll jump over the fence,' shit, and so I finally fucking get her to do it--I mean, it took me, like, forever, but she finally let me, and right then, man--I mean, right then, bam, that was it--I lost all respect for her." Ted snapped his fingers as he made his point conclusively, and he reached under his seat to get another beer.
Jerry nodded and looked down at the floorboard as if he was letting the point sink in. After a few seconds, he said, "How do you get someone to do that?"
Ted twisted off the cap and took a drink still happy with his winning rhetorical argument. "What?"
"You know, fuck, like, somebody in the rear?"
"What, take a Sunday drive down the Hershey highway?"
"Yeah, how do you approach someone with something like that? I mean, you just ask 'em 'can I fuck you in your butt,' or what?"
"You never fucked a chick up the ass?"
Jerry shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "Not totally."
"What do you mean 'not totally?' You either fucked someone up the ass or you didn't."
"I mean, not--"
"You wouldn't forget something like that or, like, not know you did it or not--"
"No, not really," Jerry said
"Don't give a shit how fucked up you were."
"I mean, not--"
"You either have or you haven't?"
"Nah, nah, not--no. I mean, like, I couldn't face asking someone something like that."
Ted held his beer down low in his right, using one free finger on the steering wheel as a state police car drove by in the opposite direction. "You don't ask somebody, 'Hey, baby, can I fuck you up the ass?' You don't ask; you just do it. You just kind of get down there and play around down there and just do it."
"What, I mean, you get down there and just suddenly shove it in?"
Ted, taking another drink, pulled the beer bottle away from his lips too fast and let backwash dribble down the front of his coveralls. "No, Jesus Christ, you don't just 'suddenly shove it in!' Jesus, it's not like, 'Hey, look over there,' then, wham--'surprise!' What the shit, you some kinda rapo fuck?"
"Nah, man, I was just asking."
"Not like, 'hey, your shoe's untied.' Ka-wham."
"Nah, man, I just--"
"'Hey, you dropped the soap.' Pop."
"Not like that. I was just asking. What do you, like--I just couldn't ask someone something like that."
"You don't ask--man, didn't your dad ever give you a lecture about the birds and bees? Look, you just kind of play around in that area and keep going until she stops you. You just keep playing around. Maybe oil it up like you're putting oil on their pussy, like baby oil or whatever. Maybe start by rubbing their back and then go down to their thighs and then their pussy--I mean, this is in a long-term relationship, like, weeks or months or somethin. You just maybe start like playing around in that area on the outside and then kind of stick a finger up there first. It's like the first time you ever fucked some virgin bitch, you know. You gotta be real gentle. Show 'em they can trust you. Show 'em you only have the best intentions, and shit."
"Think Patty'd do that?"
"If you really led up to it. If you showed her just how good it could feel. Like, when you're playing with her clit, just play around the outside of it at the same time. Stop with that a bunch of times. Keep going slowly. Thing to remember in all this is a girl can never go back. It's psychology, and shit. A girl who's slobbed your knob can't go back to just giving you hand jobs, right? See, you'll always be able to go as far as you've already been. If you've gotten a finger up there, and you go too far, and she starts squirming too much, and shit, you just stop and go back a little. If you tried for two fingers, you go back to just doing one for a while. But you'll always be able to go back to doing what you've already done before. You just keep going a little farther, a little farther until you finally get it, and shit. Now, with a bitch like Patty, it'd take awhile. She's got class, position, up-standing member of the community and all that shit--I don't know how she hooked up with a loser like you but--but you just got to go slow, man. But you can get that shit. I've gotten it off all kind's of women."
"All the time."
"No shit? Janet?"
"I used to dog her up the ass about once a week just to keep the marriage interesting."
"No shit?" Jerry had a sudden case of the Marijuana paranoias as Ted passed a Rider moving van on the right, and he grabbed his shoulder belt.
"And it's good too," Ted said. "Different. Not just tighter good, either, but different good. You just got to take it slow. You can get 'em to do that shit. You can get 'em to do about anything, you take your time."
Ted took a long swig as Jerry gave up on the belt and let it fall back in place when he couldn't coordinate getting the other end out from between the seat pads with holding on to both the roach and the fish bowl.
"See, the thing is," Ted said, "psychology and shit again, is women don't like to be responsible for shit. As long as you take complete responsibility, they'll do anything you want. They'll be like 'oh, God, I can't believe what you did to me' right, but then they're right there the next night looking for the water balloon trick again."
"As long as they don't have to take responsibility, you can get 'em to do about anything." Ted picked a pill out of his front coverall pocket, popped it, and washed it down with beer.
Jerry wasn't sure if it was his regular medication since he didn't have it in the bottle, or if it was something else, but he was already feeling higher than he had planned to before nine in the morning, so he didn't ask to share.
Ted sighed after taking the beer from his lips like he'd just finished a good meal and said, "Now, there's some shit I can't see trying to talk some chick into, myself. Like, I can't see getting some chick to piss on you or some sick shit like that."
Jerry scrunched up his face. "Oh, no shit."
"I mean, how could some guy ask someone to do that?" Ted said.
"Maybe they don't ask--I mean, it's like the same thing. You just kind of go slow, and--not that I'd ever want to."
"No shit, me either--fuck."
"Just can't see it."
Ted took another drink. "Or, like, how could some freak, like, fuck an animal or something? How could you do that?"
"There's guys that do it, man."
"Oh, I know it," Ted said.
"I mean, I met a guy in the joint who was--somebody said, anyways, that he was in for mule fucking or something. I mean, I guess they even got laws against that shit."
"Jesus, a fucking mule. You know how hard those things can kick?"
"Which I can understand--the laws, I mean. Who wants some vagrant jumping your fence to ream your German Shepherd?"
"Like, how the fuck could you get a hard on and, like, keep it up for a fucking goat or a sheep or something?" Ted said still scrunching up his face. "I couldn't just look at a goat pussy and get a hard on, you know. I mean, maybe if I was thinking of some woman or started jacking off first to some fuck mag or something, but then, what's the point? I mean I can see someone trying to fuck some guy or something. Just for the psychological challenge to get some guy to suck your dick."
Ted punched Jerry in the arm, but because of the angle and having to drive, he didn't get much force behind it. "Fuck you. I wouldn't do it. I'm just saying I could see it'd be a challenge to, like, out-wit some guy, psychologically dominate some guy or something, but a fucking sheep or a bird or some shit? Some dumb-shit animal? What's the point?"
"You can't fuck a bird, can you?"
Ted took a last drink of his beer and shoved the empty bottle behind the seat. It made a glass on glass clanking noise back there. "I know this other guy whose wife is a fucking school teacher, too, and she did some kind of kid thing, only with birds instead of with fish."
"With kids and birds?! Jesus, the guy?"
"No, not the guy, the fucking guy's wife, the school teacher."
"She fucked a kid with a bird?"
"No she--where the fuck did that shit come--man, you got beasts and shit on the noggin."
"I said this guy's wife was a school teacher, and she was doing a fucking school thing, just like your wife and the fucking fish, see, but it was with birds, see. You get it?" Ted reached under the seat, got another beer.
"Yeah, yeah, I see."
"The sun starting to rise? The fuse get replaced? Dumb shit, 'fucked a kid with a bird.' How the fuck do you--where does--any fucking way, they hatched this chicken and this duck together, see, in this class thing. And these birds, they like bonded and shit. Now, they were both males, but, get this shit, they started going at it and fucking each other."
"No, the fourth graders. Yeah, the fucking birds. They started fucking each other, and the teacher had to get rid of 'em cause the kids started asking questions, right. Not the school board approved form of sex education, and shit. So they took them out to the farm. This guy has a farm. And they--I saw 'em do it, too. A couple times just while I was there for an hour or so making a delivery. They just fuck the hell out of each other. And here's the trip, the fucking chicken does the duck, and the duck is bigger. I mean, what's up with that? I mean, a big old honker."
"'I bet,' what?"
"I just thought being a big guy and all, that would kind of bother you."
"Fuck you, freak. You gonna hold that all day?"
"It's about hashed."
Jerry dug a bag and some papers out of the glove box and put the fish bowl between his feet as he rolled. He said, "I was her first."
"Patty's. I was her first. That's why she ended up with a loser like me. If you're a girl's first, you can always take her again if you want to. It's like you were saying. Psychological. It's some kind of woman thing. Some bullshit woman thing about giving it up to the one true love of their life or something." Jerry creased a Zig-Zag a little below its standard middle fold and poured finger pinches of shake into the formed pocket.
"How old is Patty?"
"Almost ten year's younger than me, man," Jerry said smiling. "Twenty-six."
"You telling me her fucking well didn't get drilled until she was twenty-fucking-four?"
"Patty's way too good looking."
"She's pulling your fucking chain--
"No, I knew--
"spreadin strawberry jam on your bed sheets."
"No--would you--I knew her a long time before we hooked back up this time." It was sense. No seeds. But Jerry was having a hell of a time with the small stems and his bad thumb. "I met her first back in high school."
Ted choked on his beer. "What the fuck, when she was eight years old?"
"I knew you got held back a few grades, but shit--"
"No, not when I was in high school, when she was in high school."
"Jesus Christ, I thought you were a fucking child molester there for a minute. You plumbed Patty when she was still in high school?"
Jerry smiled, proudly. "Yep, sweet sixteen. Almost."
"Wait a minute," Ted said, again pulling the beer away from his mouth too fast. "How old were you?"
First it was pregnant, and Jerry evened that out, but he couldn't stop the stems from punching small holes through the paper. "Twenty-four or five, something."
"What? You were a fucking child molester. You were fucking fifteen-year-old girls when you were twenty-five?"
"I think I was twenty-four."
"Jesus. They should have locked your pervert ass up for some shit like that. Celled you up with the mule fucker."
"She--Patty was a good looking sixteen year old." He licked the glue, rolled it up and over.
"Jesus, fifteen! What the fuck, you hang out around junior highs a lot looking for dates?"
"Hey, man, you should chill running through stop signs with all this shit you got--"
"What fucking--I turned right."
"You still gotta stop first--"
"What, you think I'm some kind of social experiment? Fucking Pavlov's dog, or some shit? Red--stop. Green--go. Fucking purple--salivate." Ted spit on the floorboard just missing the egg-sized hole rusted open by three years of tobacco juice.
"It was a stop sign." Jerry couldn't help looking over where Ted had spit. He could see through the hole to the running black pavement.
"And when you start acting all paranoid that's when you fucking get busted. That's probably how you got busted, cheese dick." Ted shook his head. "Child molesting, cheese dick." Shook his head, again. "Jesus I gotta have a drink just so I can relate to a freak like you. Put that out, save it for later." Ted wheeled into the parking lot of the Silver Dollar. "Bummer for you, though, ya fucking baby raper, everybody in here'll be over twenty-one."
* * * *
The water pipes in the Silver Dollar had frozen and burst during the night, so everyone in the bar was forced to take straight shots. By the time they came out of the bar, Jerry was stumbling a little and weaving pretty badly. "Man, I don't think I better run the circular saw. Maybe I could do some wiring or something, but no way I'm gonna pound a nail straight."
Ted had a little better luck walking but was having a hell of a time with his keys. "You can't pound a fucking nail straight drunk or sober." Ted tried the door and found out he'd left it unlocked. He opened his door, crawled inside, then reached across the seat and unlocked the passenger's door.
Jerry started to get in but then stopped, looking down in shock. "Jesus, I forgot all about Henry." Jerry picked up the fish bowl and looked inside, his nose inches from the glass. A thin layer of ice had formed on top of the water. "Jesus, he's moving around kinda slow."
Ted looked over at Jerry's giant bubble face reflected through the glass of the fish tank as he put a pinch of tobacco between his cheek and gum. "Spit a chaw in there, that'll speed the little fuck up. We used to put Tabasco sauce in the fish bowl when we were kids. Drove the old lady nuts."
"Man, this shit ain't funny. Patty'll kick my ass if I kill her fish, man."
"Oh, here we go. You dumb fuck, just pour the fucking ice off the top. I'll turn on the heater--he'll be good as new in a couple miles." Ted kept trying to put his house key in the ignition, but it wouldn't fit.
Jerry broke the ice up with his knuckle then tried to pour it out of the bowl, but his hand slipped, and he poured everything out onto the pavement including the fish who flopped on the ground a few times, "Oh, man," until Jerry could pick him up by the tail and throw him back in. He held up the flopping fish in the empty bowl. "Man, now what the fuck am I gonna do?"
Ted started to laugh hysterically. "You dumb son of a--yaahaahaahaayaahaahaahaa--you are the most fucked up mother fuck--yaaahaahaahaayaahaa--" He started to get it under control, reached under his seat, and pulled out a beer. "I only keep you around for fucking comic relief, you know that."
Panicked, "Man, what the fuck am I supposed to do? Hey, give me that beer."
"Fuck too, I ain't wasting Bud on that fucking fish. Now, if it was Hams--yaahaahaa--"
"Man, this ain't funny. Patty'll kill me."
"Shut up, you pussy whipped mother fucker. You don't know what the fuck beer might do to it, anyway. Fucking alcohol is, like, a sterilent, and shit."
"What the fuck--"
"Stop crying. You were bitching about having to take a piss inside. Just fucking piss in it."
"In the fucking fish bowl?"
"No, in your fucking sock. Yeah, in the fish bowl, dumb shit."
"You were just saying what beer'd do to him, what about fucking piss, man?"
"Dumb fuck, you don't know shit from Shinola. Piss is, like, ninety-seven-percent pure water, or some crap."
"Yeah, and it's the four-percent piss that fucking kills ya."
"Shut up and start pissing before that fucker croaks. I know your pansy, fucking, pussy whipped ass will try to blame me for it."
Jerry, stumbling a little, tentatively put the fishbowl on the floorboard of the truck. "Man, I don't know about this shit. If it's so fucking pure, why don't you drink it? Keep a little in your fridge next to the Kool-aide?" He started to unzip.
"Fuck you. You don't know--and don't piss all over my fucking truck either, numb nuts." Ted spit brown saliva onto his floorboard, looked back. "Man, you better hurry up, that fish is gonna expire."
"It's hard to get going with you looking at my crank."
"Now, you got stage fright? Dumb shit. Man, you got the smallest prick I ever seen, even for a white man."
Jerry got started. "Fuck you, it's cold as shit out here. And it ain't how big it is but what you do with it."
"It looks like you can't do shit. Is that all you got? 'I gotta go before we leave. I gotta piss like a Russian racehorse.' And that's all you got?"
Jerry held the fish bowl up. There was only enough liquid in the bowl to barely cover the fish but not to let him swim upright. "Oh, man, this ain't enough. Give me that beer."
"Fuck you, here, just give me the fucking bowl."
* * * *
At 1:10, during art period, a shaggy-haired man stumbled through the doorway of room 104 carrying a fishbowl. At the time, the teacher was taking down pumpkins and goblins and putting up turkeys and corn stalks on a pin-up board at the other side of the room. Only the kids saw the man come in, stand swaying as he looked around for a few seconds, then turn and walk back out into the hallway.
The teacher and later parents all over Keizer school district wondered why the kids had left pilgrims and Indians half drawn and had created colorful portraits of a fish bowl over the top of the original work. Even as the drawings hung suspended by banana and apple-shaped magnets to refrigerators--and even later got pasted into scrapbooks--no one had a sufficient explanation for the content, theme, or inspiration of the art.
This included the artists themselves. All they knew was that the little red fish swimming around in the yellowish water was an image so bright it just seemed to be worth imitating, preserving, and sharing.
Fish Art by Matt Amati