Fisherman

A man was night fishing at surf’s edge in the darkness of a new moon.

He felt a strong tug on his rod and the battle began with what he thought must be a hammerhead shark. But as he began to win the contest and reeled the creature to shore, he saw a tumble of arms and legs. These were so pale that they glowed with their own sort of moonlight. These human limbs were almost phosphorescent.

It was a boy, he figured a corpse, some luckless soul drowned at sea.

As he pulled the body onto dry sand, using his hands now, he heard a sputtering, and fish-like sounds came from the mouth. Though it appeared to be a boy with long jet black hair, webs and fins were all about the body. This “boy” had human legs. It was not a merman. The creature seemed stunned from having been pulled from its element.

“Speak!” the man commanded the creature.

But it could only gurgle in the air. Perhaps, he thought, it could speak only underwater.

So the fisherman took his club and beat it to death.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When the fisherman served the flesh of the sea creature in a soup to his son, the boy was puzzled by the strange taste.

“What sort of fish is this?” he asked. A clear distaste was evident in his face, the twisting of his handsome features.

“Monkfish,” the father replied, without looking up from his own bowl.

They had only each other as family. The boy’s mother had died in childbirth. He had learned to trust his father. Though the young man did not like the taste of the strange “fish,” in fact despised it, he dutifully finished the meal.

Soon after that night, the fisherman’s son fell sick. He fell into a torpor and then a fever. He raved in his bed as he tossed and turned. He talked constantly of the sea. He told his father he would die if he were not placed in the sea.

A doctor was consulted but could do nothing. The father felt great shame for having fed his son the flesh of the creature. Oddly enough, he himself had not fallen ill, though he had eaten the same meal.

After more than a week of his son’s suffering and worsening of his condition, the father took his son to the sea. The moon was now restored, bright. He carried the boy to the surf’s edge. He laid him in the soothing, wet sand.

As soon as he began splashing some water on his son’s face, the boy seemed to improve a little. He said it helped.

“These clothes,” his son moaned. The father understood and helped him out of his sweat-drenched vestments. He was horrified to see the fins that had sprouted on his son’s arms, on his legs near his ankles, the webbing between his toes and around his neck.

The boy began to crawl towards the sea.

The father saw him struggling and helped him to reach a depth of water where he could float. He could feel his son growing stronger by the minute as they went further into the ocean.

His son smiled. Then he laughed.

“Thank you, father. Thank you thank you thank thank you….” he said as he swam away.

(This is my adaptation of a Japanese folktale of which countless versions exist.)

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Sometimes I forget to exist and am instead  like a nail driven into an expensive but antiquated stereo system by a vengeful, slightly older brother. Nevertheless nevertheless nevertheless. I follow myself home. Some days, I mean, I follow myself home. Everyone in this office feels the need to prove their sanity to everyone else. That’s not a good sign. Have you ever been to a track where the horses run around in an oval: I forget the name of this. Three of the horses win and the rest of the horses evaporate into mist. Fog. Something like that. Their parents buy very expensive, luxury coffee machines that are stainless steel and never mention disappointment again. When someone never mentions their disappointment to you again, you have truly lost.  That means the samurai moment has passed.

Gorillas

A frustrated man in an unhappy marriage traded in his wife for a gorilla.

It was a male gorilla, but the man put it in a truly vavoom pink polka dot dress, put makeup on its face, and placed a smart, pink toque on its head. The he took the gorilla out, everywhere, just as he had been accustomed to do with his wife.

The man was able to take the lead when they walked together and even steer this “ship of two,” and the gorilla didn’t run away from him in the stores to look at clothing or jewelry or other shiny things such as would formerly happen with his wife.

The man was now able to speak first. He was able to speak as much as he wanted also. But he didn’t know how to speak first and the gorilla couldn’t speak, so they went everywhere together in total silence.

Other men in shopping malls would see the man and his gorilla walking together, the man’s right arm wrapped around the hairy, left arm of his companion in a somewhat forceful, proprietary manner, and use this example, this object lesson, to demean the wives or girlfriends walking beside them.

“She might not be much to look at,” they would say while staring directly into their partners’ faces with the searchlight of an unstated accusation, “but just look at how well he’s got her trained.”

And then the wives or girlfriends would look at the sarcastic, smug expressions on the faces of their husbands or boyfriends and immediately think about replacing them with gorillas.

Archibald’s Skin

scifi

Archibald’s mother was looking for him. She went into her son’s bedroom to find Archibald’s skin, but not Archibald, lying on the bed.

She hadn’t known that boys could do snake tricks like that sometimes. But it didn’t really surprise her. She had learned not to be surprised at anything boys do. She ran in her silly, marvelous little heels to the back door and put one hand against the wrinkled screen. Her fingers nervously tapped across the gritty, orange-rusted, orange-frosted metal of the screen, as though it were a decayed typewriter. At the same moment, her other equally manicured hand went up over her brow to perform the function of a hat visor as she stared into the full-bore assault of a summer sunset. She was trying to see if Archibald was playing in the field of wildflowers behind their house, as he so often did.

The glare was too much, so Archibald’s mother had to step outside. She could see that many boys were playing.It looked like a spirited game of tag. But she still couldn’t make out any details yet. They were all just silhouettes against the ridiculous histrionics of light the sun was engaging in as it left the earth, or rather, as the earth left it.

Then she saw that all the boys had shed their skins. It wasn’t just her Archibald. All the boys looked like mice that had just been born. It disturbed Archibald’s mother when she realized how much all the boys looked alike now. Which one was her Archibald?

But  she had her answer as soon as she asked, since one red (well, actually, his exposed musculature was almost pink) boy came zipping over to the woman, only to laugh, “Hello, Mother!”

She was not amused.

“Archibald, I’m going to make a roast, and when I stop in your room in fifteen minutes, I expect to see you in there and back in your skin. You will be going to bed early. But I may bring your supper to you there if you’re there the first time I check. If not, not.”

And then she turned and stalked off to her kitchen. She wasn’t going to dignify any possible disagreement by listening further.

Archibald’s mother trusted that he would be a good boy and listen, so she prepared a plate for him. The generous slices of tenderly bloody roast were still steaming among the baby carrots as she carried the plate up the plush stairs, walked it down the plush hallway and entered Archibald’s plush room.

Archibald was in his bed, a stuffed animal laid over his face like a mask. He looked like a little shaman. It was a raccoon. The fake animal covered his eyes. The tail hung down over the side of his face, the side of the bed. It was a realistic looking tail.

“Now that’s my boy!” said his mother. And she brought the plate to his side.

She saw that Archibald had not only gotten back into his skin, lickety-split, but he had also discreetly put pajamas over it. She loved how the pajamas had feet in them that glowed in the dark. They glowed a shade of green that only exists in the movies.

Mother served Archibald in bed. She even tucked his napkin like a bib. It was the royal treatment.

She had been stroking his belly while he ate. The child found it disturbing. The mother did not.

“Mother?”

“Yes, Archibald?”

“I’m quite enjoying your roast, Mother. And the baby carrots are sooo succulent.”

“Good. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, sugar flakes.”

“But, Mother, have you looked in my eyes?”

And it was like a lightning bolt. Archibald’s mother looked into the eyes inside Archibald’s skin. They were not Archibald’s eyes. They were the same color, almost the exact same hue, but they did not have the sparkle unique to the eyes of her son Archibald, which was a bewildering sparkle like lightning in a lake where somebody is politely drowning. These eyes presently inside her son’s skin were more mischievous eyes. They were more monkey eyes.

“Bobby? Bobby Wilkins? Is that you? Is that you inside my boy’s skin?”

He giggled like a drunk in Las Vegas then, though he was just a boy. He felt himself an accomplished prankster, a Loki, the monkey at the top of the tree. And he had even gotten some mature female companionship out of his shenanigans.

“And I have something else to tell you,” Bobby said.

“Go on,” Archibald’s mother said, seemingly without trepditation.

“My Daddy has been wearing your husband’s skin for a week. And you never even knew! Aren’t daddies funny?”

Bobby threw himself back on the bed, clutching the stuffed raccoon, and squealed like a freak.

“Bobby, I knew. Look closely into my eyes now. It’s Mother.”

Bobby leaped forward, puzzled. He realized she spoke the truth. His mother was now wearing Mrs. Hassenpfeffer’s skin. How had he missed that one?

“I’m sorry to inform you, Bobby, that your father is dead. Now we need to get our things together and get out of here. Please run to wherever Archibald is and tell him you need your skin back immediately. Tell him we’re going on a family trip.”

Bobby hesitated. He was to the door but he hadn’t exited yet. He stared with horror and fascination as his mother slipped out of the dress and skin of his best friend’s Mom.

He stared at the crumpled breasts lying on the floor.

He wondered whether it should have turned him on. He was at that age. After all, wasn’t he someone else? Wasn’t she?  But wait. They were both the same.

“I mean it!” Mother suddenly bellowed at him. Bobby saw her teeth had blood in them. Or was that just lipstick?

All he wanted to know, really, was who started it.

But that would take thirty years.

And by then, he would have started collecting skins. Skins nobody really wanted to give him.

“It all began as an innocent prank,” he would often be heard telling anyone who would listen to him. But this was on death row. And he had written a celebrated book about tattoos by then. He had published it the year before the FBI closed in. Nobody reading this bestseller had realized at the time that their enjoyment of the erotic images contained in the book was actually necrophilia.

The name of the book was Skin Jobs.

The Cashier

In the Dollar Tree located right across the small street from the rather deadly housing projects, there is an interesting cashier.

She is young enough to be a natural artist. She is old enough to feel death crowning in her. In other words, she’s an aging kid.

Whenever she gets a customer all by himself or herself, young or old, when there’s no one else in line, no one else in the store, she pauses before handing them their merchandise in those depressingly bright cellophane bags with the store’s name printed on them.

She clears her throat in an almost undetectable way, and then she launches into this fantasia: “You are standing in your grave. This is as good as it’s going to get. The happiest days, all the most oblivious ones, are well behind you. It will not get better. It will get worse. At first, it will be like a record skipping. It will happen subtly, it will happen slowly. You’ll have little dips, little trips to the emergency room, little jaunts to the psychiatrists. Then it will increase. The aftershocks will outdo the earthquake. You will spurn friendships as nothing more than shared miseries. You won’t even possess the imagination or willpower to cheat on your spouse. Parts of you will begin to turn to Playdoh and other parts to steel. Your pubic hair will look like a dead ferret. And then you will realize, near the end, self-stripped of all friends and family, that someone is standing on your head. Someone is standing on your head as you stand in your grave and you begin to sink. You can’t even tell who it is. You can’t look up. But they’re there for sure, and you have the pain of those constantly shifting shoes on the top of your skull to prove it. Because the floor of your grave is wet mud, it’s quicksand, and you’re just going down into it. Like dogshit. Inch by inch. And your hands are tied up. Your hands are holding these cellophane bags full of shit from the dollar store. Your cat food and batteries and off-brand pudding boxes are causing you to sink deeper into the final quagmire, which will probably be a struggle for breath and a prayer to a nonexistent deity, beseeching him for merciful help in stabilizing your skipping heart, which is now like a stone sent skittering over a rain pond in an auto graveyard. Your fate is ricocheting off other’s people’s faces, they’re talking behind your back in your hospital room, and your sinking blood pressure won’t let you even argue with them. You will no longer be able to even do the basic things a body must do to remain a viable blood balloon floating around this planet. That’s it. The earth like a too-thick chocolate milkshake closes over your head and then the top of your head, which is bald anyway, already showing your skull through its skin, and you begin drinking that milkshake of death through all the holes in your face and skull. You sink down into nothingness It’s the best day you ever had. The End.”

And she always ends with “Thank You. Have a nice day.”

The respectable thing is that she delivers this in a really dead monotone. It’s like she doesn’t even care whether you’re listening.

Most of the people just say, “Thank You” back like being dead is no big deal. Probably most of them already knew all this shit. She did cause a few to go into deep depressions. But probably she thinks that is good for them. Maybe she’s right. Who knows.

One day, she will be gone from that Dollar Tree. In her place will be a man who has all the spirit of a broken calculator on a card table at a yard sale.

And that cashier will attempt to smile, and it will feel as though someone has just stapled your body. It will feel as though someone has just stapled your body somewhere very unpleasant to be stapled.

A Bay

Some young men are playing pool and watching as the sails of a small boat become pure distance out on the bay. When the sun gets low enough, it breaks up their syntax. Their young women are holding their babies in hard chairs, in dark corners of this room. The young women are going deep inside themselves and watching, jogging their babies on their knees as young printers will do with sheaves of paper. The room’s high ceiling is covered with a ridiculously ornate, white boiserie that fell from a high style so long ago that nobody can even remember. It looks like swallows should nest in it. Drinks move at an agreed-upon level in space, and space is agreed upon too, except where certain emotions flare up like sunspots or the fringes of a corona. A handful of hours later, after night puts a bandage to this scene, the thing mistakenly called silence plays like the faintest old record in there. The smoky bay is the last to leave this room (and, really, not until morning). The bay turns the blue walls of this room even bluer, gives out many somnolent shades that percolate in drizzled dark, and when the light finally comes around like a headache, it collects all these synonyms for the night and leaves.