Sunday, June 11, 2017

Four Ways to Prepare A Fish

Here’s another in my series of short-short story experiments. I hope you enjoy it!
Four Ways to Prepare A Fish

Lemon and Garlic

The waiter delivers me on a fancy plate, covered with what I think they call a cloche—that shiny dome you see in old movies where people have servants. Chef Reginald Erlach steamed me himself, with a little lemon and a mild garlic sauce. The place is nice, and the man picked a good table, one isolated enough so that the other patrons aren’t going to notice when his girlfriend starts to cry. It’s a classic—another woman. A fellow lawyer. Tall, slim, Ivy-league educated, although he isn’t going to mention that. He’s going to play the “grown apart” card. I know, because I see it. I always see it ahead of time, just before I reincarnate. The vision comes either as I’m dying, yanked from the water with a brief but horrible burn in my lungs, or it comes as I am born, in a glorious salty rush of new life. Either way, I always see my future, indelibly bound up with the next doomed couple. I’m the break-up meal. I can’t comprehend what karma has led my soul to this fate, but I have long come to accept it. 

The crying starts, then the yelling. She’s making a scene to embarrass him, but also because she’s hurt. She considers throwing her water in his face, but decides he’s not worth that level of drama. Also, a part of her is secretly relieved. She met another man a few weeks ago, a scruffy, curly-haired potter with glasses and a sprawling laugh. She felt fully at ease with him, natural, herself. She sees herself laughing with him, throwing off the mask of pretention she’s so carefully maintained for this man.

Cedar Grilled

The woman is an avid outdoorsy type, bare-faced, what they call nowadays “crunchy”. They’re camping. The man hates camping, but he loves her. At least he thinks he does; he’s never been in love before but he figures this is what it feels like: Amiable attraction. There’s been something heavy and unspoken between them for a while now. The tension has been growing on this trip. She’s been uncharacteristically irritable and stand-offish. He’s been spending a lot of time on his own at the lake, drinking cheap canned beer. She grills me on a cedar wood plank with a dash of dill and black pepper, and divides me up carefully between two biodegradable paper plates. He finishes me in two big bites, and she yells at him for being an unconscious consumer, thoughtless, deadened to the natural world, an automaton obsessed with filling his spiritual void with useless material goods. He suspects this is about the car. Last week, he bought an acid-yellow Porsche Turbo S new off the lot and drove up to her llama farm, honking proudly. He was puzzled by her disgusted look and refusal to jump in and go on a joyride with him. He drove home and spent the evening alone, polishing the car in his driveway. 

She vanishes into the tent and thrashes around for a little while. When she emerges, she has a full pack on her back and the LED lantern in her hand. She throws him the keys to her truck. She’s going to hike back to town and call her friend Ellie to pick her up. He can finish the trip without her. She hopes he will take advantage of this time alone to think about his life choices and reconsider his values. She doesn’t kiss him or hug him before clambering down the hill into the deepening dusk. He eats the rest of me from her plate and settles into the tent to listen to the game in peace. 

Baked and Breaded

She breads me and bakes me in a shallow casserole dish with a mushroom cream sauce. Her mother’s recipe. Over the years, she’s become an expert at timing meals to coincide with his arrival home at 6:20 on the dot. This is one of the last meals she’ll have to time. She sets me on the table just as he enters, and carefully moves the envelope of papers away from where it might get soiled with food. She lets him get halfway through the meal before handing him the papers. She wants him to know there’s no shame in this, no failure. The kids are on their own now, and they’ve had nothing between them for a long time. They did what they were supposed to do—married young, bought a house, built a good life for their children. She can’t face one more meal eaten in glum silence, one more weekend of politely ignoring each other. She doesn’t want anything but her fair share, enough to get a condo, a car, and a little to live on as she reinvents herself at the age of sixty-seven. His face is pale and immobile, but he doesn’t argue. They finish me efficiently, and she clears the plates. As she sets the dishes in the sink, he comes up behind her and touches her, for the first time in years, gently on the back. 

Three weeks later, she is in a nice first-floor townhouse with a garden patch and a picture window. He’s fixing the house up to sell, and considering a hiatus to travel. He’s never been to Europe. 

Broiled with a Honey Glaze

He broils me with a honey glaze, because his man loves a good coating of sweetness on everything, as evidenced by the soft paunch of his once-slim belly. A little sugar to soften the blow, he figures. He packs it in an insulated carry bag along with a bottle of mead, and meets his boyfriend in the park at “their” spot. He’s struck in the chest with sharp blow of pain, knowing that this is the last time they’ll meet here, but it’s short lived. He sets a strict timeline on all of his relationships: Exactly eleven months from start to finish. It’s eleven months to the day since they became official. Time to nip this thing in the bud, before needless complications set in, and talks turn to moving in together and “deepening their commitment”. He warned him, he warns all of his lovers, but they never believe him. They think they’ll be the one to change his mind. This one is no exception. He never even eats me. He throws me on the grass in a rage and stomps on me, takes the mead, and stalks off to get day-drunk by the river. I hate it when my flesh is wasted, but that’s the way it goes. 

As for myself, I will never have a lover to break up with, a spouse to leave. It is for me to spawn and respawn, to rise up on the water, to be plucked from the cold depths over and over, to live with these visions, these memories. The sweetest moments are the ones in which I am considered, and thrown back. 

--Kristen McHenry

1 comment:

Jo-Ann said...

I love the last paragraph. Reminds me of Tennyson's words: "Ours not to reason why, ours but to do and die". But isnt that the sweetest moment for all of us, when the pattern is changed, when we are considered.