The table in our hotel room in North Little Rock had a fish.
Jack checked himself out in the mirror, fresh from the shower, and decided today was the day. For what, he wasn’t sure yet, but it didn’t really matter. He smoothed his mustache and nodded at his reflection. Today was a no-shirt day, so he pulled some pants on and headed downstairs.
His wife Sarah was busy cooking breakfast in the kitchen, rattling pans and splashing water. Jack startled when he saw her, because it was far from pancakes in the frying pan on the stove.
“Fish? For breakfast?” he asked, squinting one eye and pulling up the side of his lip in a sneer.
“Aye, admiral!” Sarah answered. “Twas a tragic thing, and I feel guilty for it, but I bought this fish for dinner yesterday and then forgot all about them when you said you wanted pizza.” She shrugged and returned to her clatter.
Jack turned toward the coffee maker with a gloomy look on his face, but perked up quite a bit when he saw that she’d also gotten his favorite brand of coffee, in spite of her distaste for it. “Fish it is!”
Frank picked up his phone and called the pet store. The empty aquarium had been bubbling in his living room for far too long, and it was time to do something about it.
Some punk kid answered the phone with disinterest, and Frank simply ended the call. There was no way a part-time teenager would know anything about tropical fish. No way.
He pulled on a pair of jeans, shoved his feet into some sandals, and grabbed his keys from the table by the door. It was only a couple of miles to the pet store. He flip-flopped his way in and paced back and forth in front of the wall of fish tanks for nearly an hour.
All four of the employees had stopped by to check on him, more than once, but he waved them off, a fierce look of concentration on his face.
Finally, he froze.
“That’s him!” Frank announced to the whole store at the top of his lungs. Three of the employees immediately trotted over to find out which was the magic fish. Frank’s finger was following a beauty of a yellow tang, lazily flicking its tail as it circled the tank.
The pony-tailed girl wearing a name tag that said Deloris quickly snatched up a net and a plastic baggie for the lucky fish. She deftly scooped it up and tied the baggie before handing it to Frank. He cradled it lovingly and headed straight for the registers.
Frank nestled to bag into the crook of his elbow to use one hand to open the drink cooler and snag a blue Gatorade, which he placed on the conveyor belt. He paid and brought his new friend home.
Frank never took a break from the upkeep of his saltwater tank, so he popped the fish right on in there and stepped back to see how it liked its new home. He gasped, appalled that he’d nearly forgotten the most important part. He unscrewed the Gatorade bottle and used an eyedropper to collect a bit.
And then he counted four drops into the aquarium.
Frank wasn’t quite right in the head.
My favorite thing about most holidays is the meal. I love cooking, and while I don’t necessarily need an excuse to make a big fancy meal, I feel a little less silly when there’s any reason besides simply dinnertime. So, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Labor Day, Presidents Day, whatever, I’m excited because I get to make something special. Okay, maybe not Presidents Day, but I’ll start a tradition for it next year!
We’d originally planned to have a big fancy meal, but when I was feeling down the other day I suggested that I just cook the ham and some rolls and we eat it in bed watching movies all day.
Yeah, I couldn’t really do that.
So there’s a pie crust cooling on the stove to be filled with chocolatey goodness.
As I finished up throwing some leftovers into another crust for a pot pie dinner, I realized I hadn’t looked at a cookbook in a while. So I got down my favorite from when I was a little girl, the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. This was one of the two standby books I turned to for entertainment, mainly because of the 94 glossy pages of almost every kind of dish you’d want (the other standby was actually a dictionary, but that’s another story).
I took my book to the living room, and paged through the yumminess until I got to The Fish. And I just had to tell you about it.
My mother made The Fish when I was nine years old, and scarred me for life.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a wee bit.
But the horror!
My dad has been an amateur fisherman for as long as I can remember, so it’s not like I never saw a whole fish before. Heck, we lived on a sailboat until I was three years old! I don’t know why none of that prepared me for the ghastliness of this poor red snapper, lying in his Pyrex coffin, staring me down.
I’d seen plenty of fish before, dead fish, live fish, cleaned fish, filleted fish, but I’d never seen a whole cooked fish. It was the eye that got to me. Cloudy but still shiny, sinister in the way it wanted to follow me around the room, like a creepy painting.
I did not eat The Fish. I bore the derision of my mother as best I could and went to bed hungry.
For a long time after that I was unable to partake in any meal that could look at me. I’m a south Louisiana girl to the core, and I couldn’t even peel my own crawfish for years, because of course, they still had eyes. And they looked at me.
I grew out of that eventually, though I’m sure I will never bake a whole fish.
I leave you with my first chocolate pie: