Fish

Even though I don’t own a fish, I print off several articles about euthanizing fish.

The articles are all available on the internet for free, but now I have paper copies of them in the real world.

I find this so convenient that I shake my head.

I recommend that you find opportunities in your own life to shake your head in wonder.

If I had the resources at my disposal—a fish suffering needlessly, medical supplies—the way I would euthanize fish would be to inject the fish with an overdose of barbiturates, which is one of the methods recommended in the articles.

My father and mother are veterinarians, so I have often helped euthanize animals with an overdose of barbiturates, so for me this method of euthanizing fish would be like riding a bicycle or putting on an old and forgiving pair of sweatpants.

If you feel strange about me telling you that I have helped euthanize dozens of animals, don’t be mistaken: I’m not bragging.

I didn’t like euthanizing the animals.

It was my job as the son of veterinarians to help kill animals sometimes, and I tried to approach the office with a measure of solemnity.

For instance: if someone mentioned that we were going to “put an animal down” I wouldn’t make a joke about insulting the animal to death.

I showed restraint.

I’m not sure why I’m printing these articles off.

I came across idea of euthanizing fish and found it fascinating, head-shakeable.

I have a hard time identifying with fish.

I feel that I am not alone in this.

I agree that fish are living creatures and don’t deserve to suffer and so give mental assent to the idea that in certain circumstances euthanasia may be called for.

But I have to admit that I find it comical to imagine a human drawing up a large dose of Euthasol in a needle in order to give the gift of eternal rest to a fish.

The human flicks the syringe to get them bubbles out.

Gotta get them bubbles out, because even though you’re putting a living creature to death, you don’t want bubbles.

Embolism is a much worse way to go than your typical death by injection of Euthasol.

The Euthasol in the syringe looks thick and deep and red.

They color it to so that doctors don’t accidentally inject Euthasol in circumstances that don’t require euthanasia.

Then the doctor injects a fish with the deep red fluid in order to put the fish out of its misery.

Except that all fish appear to be miserable all the time.

The only times that I didn’t find the death of animals by euthanasia poignant were the times I worked very hard to deny the poignancy.

Most fish have faces that can only express glum resignation to the misery of their sunless lives.

It hardly needs to be said that having to make an effort to deny the poignancy of an animal’s death by euthanasia reinforces the inherent poignancy of watching a living thing breathe its last.

If we’re going to euthanize miserable fish, I’m worried we won’t know when to stop.

I remember assisting in one euthanasia, maybe a few, and praying for the departing soul of the dog, the way I imagined a Native American would have.

I found myself under the sway of the Michael Mann film Last of the Mohicans during this time.

In particular my sister and I liked Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance.

We liked the way he wiped sweat from his face while talking about Huron raiding parties.

He wiped the sweat away and then looked at the sweat on the meat of his palm.

Now that’s acting.

And now the smooth white sheets of paper run hot into my hands.

Now I have these articles about euthanizing fish as proof of people trying to do the right thing and trying to be good.

Fish

Head in a Cooler

The wooden smell of bourbon climbed
up the back of my throat and stopped
sinus high when Brendan said
“there’s a pig’s head in that cooler”

I’d been about to tell the story
of when we turfed a Church of Christ
and then a high school football field
drawing deep brown trenches

“It’s been in there for six days”
His skeptical eyes squeezed tighter
“Maybe ten” the whiskey making
math hard but the decision easy

We walked out into a field
into the dark, up a hill
whose arc carried us out of the world
into a simple black sky

The mud grabbed at my canvas shoes
glad to grip and keep the left one
restitution for the Church of Christ
Brendan unhindered holding the cooler

me still sliding in the mud
like a lobotomized calf
I said “I feel like the amputee
in the hotel hot tub”
not a proverb I ever heard

The top of the hill, the smell clawing
the cooler’s lid, the mud thinking
“I could go for a pig’s head”
The shoe whetted its appetite

Brendan flipped the lid off
and dumped the head into the mud
and we ran from the pursuing smell
the mud eager to keep us back

the smell carried a stone crock
brimming and slopping over the side
full of a kimchi made from sin
made from every last sin

and we didn’t make it
the smell caught us
tore off our arms
scattered us across the field

the smell hangs in the field still
floats diffuse like an amputee
in the hot tub at a Holiday Inn
or Best Western where his feet
and calves have drifted away and might
be found on the ceiling or in the sauna

Head in a Cooler

Kindness

my daughter and I pass
the back door of the building
cowboy hat man smokes

my daughter’s bag slips
down her shoulder slope a bit
cowboy reaches for her

she hops off the curb
into the still parking lot
zips away from him

her eyes rolling to him
showing off much of their white
the way cows’ eyes roll

cowboy looked at me
laughed like what you gonna do?
what to do, partner?

with his mouth open
I could see his gums hanging
black blanks for fled teeth

I think he reached out
to pull the backpack strap up
her twitchy shoulder

sank away from help
sometimes kindness terrifies us
holy hell they’re awful

the dangling gums of the kind

Kindness

In the Kitchen in the Morning

My dad had the paper. Shook that paper. Shake, shake. Like let’s get some music from this paper. Show me what this paper can do.

I prayed before I had my cereal. Prayed hard. Each top eyelid crushing each bottom eyelid. Please make me a mutant. I want to be able to infuse objects with kinetic energy so they explode. And have heightened agility. Please, Lord. Even if it’s just agility.

There was a honk outside because my younger sister went with another family to visit the old folk’s home on whatever the day was. She didn’t want to go. The birds in the maples that jerked in the sharp blue sky didn’t care that she didn’t want to go.

“You’re fine. Don’t go downstairs,” my dad said. Yeah, don’t go downstairs. That’s for sure. “You can stay upstairs this time. You don’t have to go downstairs.”

My sister’s mutant ability was old people thought she was a boy.

“Go to Hopewell today,” my dad said to my sister. He stood up. Hopewell was what they called the place people went to settle in to being dead. There they dipped a toe into the Styx, tried it out. My dad put the paper down and went to the door, opened it. Put a hand on my sister’s shoulder and scooted her out the door. “Tomorrow we’re going to the fair.”

I prayed something desperate would happen at the fair and the stress would reveal my abilities.

Last time my sister went to Hopewell, she went downstairs. Downstairs the lights didn’t work. They flickered. It’s where they tossed the people who had walked so far down dementia road that they’d gotten to the place where the pavement becomes chunks becomes gravel becomes spaces between gravel becomes just white space trying on white space. It smelled like urine that far down the road, down the stairs.

“What a nice little boy,” said a woman who wore a dental bib because she couldn’t stop drooling. Kshzzk. Kshzzzzzk. The lights flickering. “I want a hug from the nice little boy,” the woman said.

The CNA with my sister said, “She’ll give you a hug.” She scooted my sister toward the woman, hand on my sister’s shoulder. The drooling woman grabbed my sister and pulled her in. She opened her mouth and bit my sister’s arm. She had no teeth, so as bites go, this wasn’t one. But she clamped, and my sister cried out, pulled away, pushed the woman’s head away with her free hand, and the drooling woman laughed. It was surprising for someone to intend to bite you, and try to, and then laugh about it. What a surprise for my sister.

My sister going to Hopewell again, I crunched my cereal between my teeth. I looked down at my shorts. They were long, sort of billowy, gray with darker gray splotches, a drawstring. Not bad, I thought. Good for free movement. The shorts themselves heightened my agility.

My dad shook that paper. The corn husk pages slapped against each other, dry and crisp.

“Let’s see what the carnies are up to,” he said. The crime blotter got good with the fair in town.

I prayed for a more stressful breakfast, one that would help me express hidden abilities. The chirping birds outside failed me. When I poured them, the cornflakes sounded like dehydrated coins in the bowl. Did they smell like urine? Maybe. Something tangy in the smell of cornflakes. I’ve tried to figure that out. I still don’t know.

My dad’s mutant ability was to never have to lick his finger to turn the page.

In the Kitchen in the Morning

Speedy Gonzales in Decline

Speedy walks through
the streets of the city,
yesterday’s heat still echoing
in the round smooth houses
ready for the slanted sun,
as he remembers being fast.

Up ahead he sees a crow
perched on the curb.
He turns down an alley.

A woman leans out of a window
and in the glowing hands she extends
out into the air

she holds a mousetrap.
The metal arm and balsa plank
clench against a body.

She lifts the arm, the body drops
into the street.
Too small to splat or thud
it makes a blurrier sound
we don’t have a word for.

Speedy tells himself not to look
and has this thought:
“Why’d they put so much savor
in the unsavory?”

He thinks about how long
he stands at the traps
smooth round squares of cheese
and how it feels—
a newer feeling for him—
to want something
he can’t have.

Speedy Gonzales in Decline

Thirty Minutes After I Placed the Order

the pizza deliver boy
arrived with two pizzas.
I showed him my gun
explained why he couldn’t leave.

He seemed relieved and asked
should he put his hands
behind his head or anything?

I looked at Corinne
the humor of this guy thinking
I stood on that kind of ceremony
her face beautiful
even when glowing hatred.

The pizza delivery guy asked
Continue reading “Thirty Minutes After I Placed the Order”

Thirty Minutes After I Placed the Order

Peace Like a Restroom

I have barricaded myself in the bathroom. I listen for footfalls. I listen for their whiffling groans and small shrieks.  Everything is quiet. The bathroom is the last refuge. The doors—the bathroom has two—are locked. The lights are off. Everything is still. I can feel my heart-rate begin to drop. I begin to exhale deep, even breaths.

You know how it works. The disease passes from one to another. A slight wound is all it takes. From the vantage of early morning I would not have guessed my current, pathetic position—sitting on the side of the tub, trying not to cry.

But one of them told the other that she wanted the hair band back. A struggle ensued. Wailing. “She scratched my eye! She scratched my face and my eye!” The transformation from victim to victimizer takes only a moment. The poison, the pathogen works so fast. The bright eyes darken. Blood and destruction flood the vision. They begin the hunt for other victims.

Three on the couch watching Master Chef Jr. The two shufflers shuffle in. The three on the couch don’t notice the change. The shufflers stand in front of the TV.

“Move, we can’t see,” the three on the couch say. No response. “You have to move,” they say again. Nothing. “Move right now.” The head of one twists around, unnatural. The face has lost the light of consciousness, a sick distortion of the light of humanity lurks behind the eyes. The other’s head bends straight back, the neck extending so that the head travels past the shoulders, slides down the spine. The eyes glare, upside down in the face, at the three on the couch. Both attack, vigorous with rage. All five now shuffle and wail.

I am in the garage, moving bikes and bike trailers and snow tires onto the driveway. My husband went to rent a pressure washer from the building supply. I have earbuds in and am learning about gourmet ramen in the Los Angeles area from Jonathan Gold. I hear a wail. I take an earbud out to listen. I guess it was nothing. As I put the earbud back in, the wail comes back. Others join it. I know what’s happening. They’re coming for me. The door to the garage opens, but I’m already running, out through the open bay door, around the front of the house. Blood thumps and swishes in my ears.

I stand at the front door and listen until I can hear them in the garage, still wailing. I wait. I can hear them heading into the back yard. I open the door and flash inside. The bathroom is a keep. I have a moment’s hope. Maybe a dim memory of the bathroom as a place of privacy has stayed with them, even in their decaying state. Maybe enough of the old neurons are firing that they will leave me alone here. Maybe they’ll respect the inviolable sanctuary of the bathroom.

But now I begin to hear moans, unutterable groanings, too deep for words, and the shuffling footfalls. A shudder riffles through me. They pursue me even here. There is no escape. A hand falls heavy on the door. Another. Clawing, scratching. My shoulders heave and the panic takes me over. Nothing will stop them. Their grief, their pain, their vengeance, whatever it is that drives them, knows no boundary. Even here, in the safest of places, in the peace of the rest room, the moaning and the pounding build. I know there will be no release but death. They will not stop until I am wholly consumed. I know this.

I open the door.

Peace Like a Restroom