J.T. Townley’s work has appeared in Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, The Threepenny Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and other magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net award, and he holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University. To learn more, visit jttownley.com.
So I slink out of Infinity Spa, no mean feat at six-five, two-twenty, head down, wary of being spotted. I’ve been coming here for a month now. Six weeks. It’s slowest on Wednesday mornings, empty, just the way I like it. Less chance of unexpected run-ins with friends or colleagues or casual acquaintances. No one knows about these regular visits to the hottest new salon this side of 635. No one knows about my secret new habit—not even Jeannie.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those fruity guys with the lip gloss and glitter makeup that hangs out on The Strip in Oak Lawn. The only reason I ever even braved Infinity in the first place was for Jeannie’s birthday present, a gift certificate for their fanciest day-spa package. I like to plan early and be prepared, but now look what’s happened. Still, it’s just a massage for the hands and feet, with a little something extra. And it’s called a manny-peddy, by the way. They’d give it a different name if it weren’t for men, okay?
So far, no one’s noticed.
The whole place has a Far East theme, what with the music and décor and little women who run the place, so I’m not surprised to discover a small koi pond out front next to one of those Zen gardens full of boulders and raked sand. I’ve never noticed it before, but today something’s different. As I stride past, on a beeline for my black F-350 with the crew cab and lift package, I hear a gurgling that sounds like, “Waddup, Coy?” I glance around, burning with shame, but all I see are gray-haired retirees and mothers with children traipsing in and out of the natural food store next door. Then here comes that voice again: “Ain’t you gonna dab me up, man?”
I sidle over to the pond. The fish are huge. Orange and white, gray and gold. Too many to count. They cluster at the surface, splashing and jostling, their little mouths biting at air. When I don’t scatter fish feed, the koi flop and writhe, then glide away into the pond’s dark corners. All but one. He lingers, swimming figure-eights and slapping the water with his tail. Splashes me right in the face. Then he swims to the surface, stares me dead in the eye, and—there’s no other way to put it—smiles. It’s possible I hear wet laughter. I shake my head, hoping for a little clarity, then turn to go. Behind me, that same voice: “Alright then, Coy. Peace.” Without looking back, I march to my truck, fire it up, and rumble out of the lot.
Although I crank Bob Wire’s “Drownin’ Blues” the whole way home, the distraction does little to dispel my doubt. The thought that one of my buddies, or worse, one of Jeannie’s friends, might recognize me and start asking questions petrifies me. But a fish in a fish pond? No big deal. Except that maybe I’m losing my mind.
The twins come squealing as soon as I’m through the door: “Daddy!” I hoist them into my arms and spin them around. When I set them back down on the polished hardwoods, Marcie gazes at me, eyebrows scrunched together.
“You look funny,” she says.
“Smell funny, too,” says Andie.
“Funny how?” I say, grinning to mask the heat flushing my cheeks.
Then Jeannie bustles into the room, half-dressed, hair in curlers. “You’re home.”
“Hey, babe,” I say.
“Would you mind feeding the twins?” She digs through a kitchen drawer, though for what is unclear. “I’m running late and have to get all the way to Lake Lewisville.”
“I told you about this,” she says. “It’s girls’ night.”
“At the lake?”
“Fish Bowl,” Jeannie says over her shoulder, speed-walking back to the bedroom. It’s a boutique bowling alley and wine bar right on the water.
I trail the twins across the kitchen into the dining room and find them elbow-deep in, of all things, a jigsaw puzzle. Shouldn’t they still be playing with dolls? They haven’t gotten very far, but I can tell what it will become from the box lid: a Jacques Cousteau seascape, with brain coral, reef squid, and several varieties of tropical fish.
“It’s coming along, girls,” I say.
Their eyes brighten. Their little lips curl into grins.
“Y’all getting hungry yet?”
When they don’t answer right away, I lean against the lintel and watch them work for a while. Puckered faces. Casual bickering. Moments of muted glee.
“I was thinking Big Pappa’s. Sound good?”
Maybe they just don’t hear me. I figure there’s no way they’re gonna turn down a large double-cheese and some pepperoni rolls, so I dig out my phone and place the order.
By now Jeannie’s spruced up for girls’ night, and I see her off at the back door. “Y’all have fun,” I say.
Jeannie licks lipstick off her teeth. “There’s some mac ’n’ cheese in the pantry, if you want. Or Starfish & Stripers.”
“We’ll figure something out,” I say.
Jeannie gives me a funny look.
“What is it?”
“Did you get a haircut?”
“Last week. Why?”
She shakes her head, inspecting me like a drill sergeant. “That’s not it.”
“That’s not what?”
Jeannie squints and ponders. “I can’t put my finger on it, but something’s different.”
“I probably just look tired,” I say.
She doesn’t seem convinced but drops it. “Y’all have a good night, okay?” She kisses me again then heads out the door.
The food arrives fifteen minutes later. I carry it into the dining room, where the girls are still hard at work. “How bout some pizza?” I say.
This time they both look up.
“Mommy doesn’t like us eating pizza,” says Andie.
“Mommy’s not here.”
“Could we have fish sticks?” asks Marcie.
I catch a heady whiff of garlic, butter, and parmesan cheese. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. “You want fish sticks instead of pepperoni rolls?”
“Please?!” they whine in unison.
I dig out the Van de Kamp’s box from the back of the freezer and pop a dozen fish sticks into the oven.
When the food’s ready, I do my best to coax the twins into the living room, where I’ve got an action-thriller disaster movie, Hurricane Season, playing on the big screen, surround sound speakers working overtime. Yet Marcie and Andie prefer to eat at the kitchen table. I can’t even lure them with the promise of Under the Sea, their favorite mermaid movie—Jeannie has them trained too well—so I humor them while they munch fish sticks. I’m happy to be near them, even if the stink of ketchup begins to turn my stomach. When they polish off their supper, they skip back into the dining room to work on their puzzle.
By now my Big Pappa’s has gone cold on the kitchen counter, garlic butter darkening the bag, cheese grease staining the box. I carry my food into the living room and sink into the couch cushions. Although I start the movie over from the beginning, for whatever reason, I can’t get into it. By the time I’ve polished off half the pizza, I’ve completely lost interest. So I shut off the system, put away the leftovers, and wipe down the kitchen. I can hear my own daddy’s voice the whole time: “Are you doing woman’s work?”
When I wander in to see how the puzzle’s coming, I notice the girls have turned on the aquarium lights. They love those fish: angels and zebras, rainbows and bettas. Then I notice it. The huge goldfish. It looks just like the one from the pond outside Infinity, not that I’m any kind of expert. A couple-three quick steps and I’m right next to the glass. The fish glides by, once, twice, three times, then it’s all grins and bubbles. I blink, rub my eyes, blink again. But it’s still there, staring at me, a smile plastered across its face.
“What’s with the huge goldfish?” I stammer.
“It’s a koi, Daddy,” the twins holler in unison.
When that fish won’t stop staring at me, I kill the aquarium lights and escape back into the living room.
Sunday is Father’s Day, so I drag myself out of bed in the pitch dark and drive a couple hours to Lake Palo Pinto. After Mama passed away, Daddy sold their house in town and moved out there full-time. I agreed to go fishing with him, the only gift he said he actually wanted, though it hasn’t been my thing since I was little.
And I’m clearly out of practice. First, I cast too close to the shore and hook a tree limb, then I get my line all tangled up. By the time I’m finally settled, Daddy’s already caught three fish, though only one’s a keeper. While he grins each time he pulls the hook out, all he says is, “Ain’t that sumpin?” His hearing’s shot, so his shouts echo across the open water.
I listen to the brown waves lapping at the side of the boat. The dank odor mingles with the sweet scent of mountain cedar. As the pink and tangerine sky fades to pale blue, I stare absently past my cork bobbing in the ripples. I feel myself getting antsy, and I can’t understand how I ever enjoyed this so-called sport. Soon Daddy sets the hook again and reels in another keeper. I haven’t even gotten a bite.
When things get slow, Daddy motors to a new cove then another. We drop anchor again, go through the process of baiting hooks and setting out lines. The sun’s now up, and it’s already starting to get hot though when has the heat ever bothered Daddy? He sits up front in contented silence, focused on his cork. The warm breeze picks up, carrying mesquite smoke from someone’s charcoal grill. I feel my stomach rumble. I pour myself the last cup of coffee from my thermos, but it’s gone tepid, so I dump it into the water. Then I hear a familiar voice.
“Ain’t you got no manners?”
Daddy sits silent and motionless in his casting chair up front, waiting for another hungry fish to take his bait.
“Don’t you know this is our home?”
I scan the water near the boat. A splash to port, then when I glance that direction, another splash, this time to starboard. When I turn back, I catch a quick glimpse of orange and white before getting squirted right in the face.
“Got your attention now?”
I backhand lake water out of my eyes. That’s when I see him. The fish. That same fish. Only how much sense does that make?
“Remember me?” he says, grinning. Then he swims a couple quick figure-eights before darting beneath the boat and splashing up beside the shimmery port gunwale. “We ain’t been properly introduced. Name’s Dr. Fish.”
I blink and shake my head. Heat must be getting to me. But when I open my eyes, the fish is still there.
“Now’s when you tell me your name.”
“But don’t you already know it?”
“Play the game, man.”
“Fine, I’m Coy, and I’ve gone off the deep end. Nice to meet you, Dr. Fish.”
“Same here,” he says, then goes under for a few seconds. When he comes back up, he says, “You shouldn’t be out here, Coy.”
“Because of the heat?”
“Because you killing my homies,” he shouts.
I glance at Daddy, who’s fussing with his pole.
“Know something else?” he asks but doesn’t wait for a response. “You shouldn’t be serving up no fish sticks to your kids.”
“And you damn sure shouldn’t be getting no manny-peddy.”
That catches me off-guard. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
Dr. Fish flops and splashes, then squirts me in the face again with a long stream of funky lake water. “Wake up, Coy Brown. What do you think that pedicure’s all about?”
“It relaxes me,” I say.
“You playing for the pink team, man?” He splashes again. “Anyway, why you think it’s called the fish cure?”
“You mean fish pedicure, right?”
Dr. Fish flops and spits. “How you think they convince them Garra rufa, the so-called doctor fish, to eat all them corns and calluses off your disgusting feet?”
I wipe my sunglasses.
“Cuz that shit’s nasty, Coy. You feel me?”
My cork bobs and dances, but it’s just the wind.
“Ain’t rocket science,” he says. “They starve them half to death.”
“What are you talking about?”
“As in, withhold all sustenance.” Dr. Fish ducks under, then pops right back up. “Somebody starve you, Coy Brown, I bet you’d go to town on some dead-ass skin. It’s animal abuse, plain and simple. And now you part of it. What kinda man you think that makes you?”
With that, Dr. Fish squirts me in the face one last time, then disappears into the brown depths.
When the wind picks up a little later, we reel in our lines, then Daddy fires up the engine and points the boat across the lake. The hot wind whips. The Evinrude whines. It’s white-capping out on the open water, and the hull slaps hard against the waves. The trip seems to take forever.
Back at the cabin, Trish, my little sister, puts the finishing touches on an impressive Father’s Day lunch. Homemade hush puppies, homemade French fries. A mountain of fried fish. She wipes her forehead with the back of her hand and says, “It’s all what Daddy caught.” That means crappie, black bass, maybe some catfish.
“Let’s eat, y’all,” says Junior, Trish’s common-law.
I wash my hands, then help Trish finish setting the table. She lays out the food, and Junior digs in, though Daddy’s still puttering around outside. Trish slaps his wrist. Junior chews his mouthful, wiping his greasy hands on his shirt, though I just laid out paper napkins. Daddy lurches through the sliding-glass door.
“Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” says Trish.
“Happy Father’s Day,” I echo.
“Soup’s on, Carl,” says Junior.
Daddy shuffles to the fridge and guzzles a can of beer without even closing the door. He gazes down at everyone, crushes his can, and belches.
“Come and get it,” says Junior. “’Fore it gets cold.”
Daddy wanders over and sits down. “Sure looks good! he shouts, as Trish scurries over to serve him.
I plate some food and sip my ice tea.
“Y’all catch anything this morning?” asks Junior through a mouthful.
“Daddy did,” I say.
“Good on you, Carl.”
Daddy just grunts.
Junior smirks my direction. “Expert like you didn’t hook nothing? Where’s the justice?”
“Be nice, hun,” says Trish.
I nibble a couple fries, staring at the blob of fish on my plate. It’s breaded and fried and bears no resemblance whatsoever to Dr. Fish. Still, I feel a little queasy.
“What for?” says Junior. “He ain’t gonna get his sissy feelings hurt none.”
“But he’s a city boy now,” says Trish.
“That’s right,” Junior says with a snide grin. “Big D.”
“Plano, actually,” I say. I’ve never much cared for Junior, but it’s Father’s Day, so I refrain from needling him about his kids—three daughters by two different women, from what I understand.
Junior helps himself to seconds without even offering Daddy any. “What is it you do again?”
“You know he’s a lawyer,” says Trish.
Junior shovels fried fish into his maw. “Naw, I mean what do you actually do all day?”
I take another sip of ice tea. That queasy feeling’s getting worse. “I broker energy deals between venture capitalists and—”
“And I’m sure we’re all impressed,” says Junior, snickering. “But lemme ask you sumpin. When’s the last time you put a three-inch lift on a Ford F-250? Or rebuilt a Cummins diesel? Or replaced a—”
“Hush, Junior,” says Trish. “You’re being rude.”
“All I’m saying is, I do man’s work. That’s more than I can say for that pansy brother of yours.” Junior glares at me. “Got him a high-dollar pickup with all the bells and whistles but probably can’t even change the oil.”
“Can I get you anything, Daddy?” asks Trish. She doesn’t wait for him to respond, scampering over to refill his tea. Junior rattles his ice for more, but she pretends not to notice.
Though by now I feel green around the gills, I manage to say, “I just came here to spend the day with Daddy.”
“And shouldn’t he be grateful,” says Junior through a belch, “shining star such as yourself.”
Right then, and with no explanation, Daddy reaches across the table and grabs my left wrist. We lock gazes for a long moment. He inspects my palm, flips my hand over and examines my knuckles and fingertips and nails. I know what he’s looking for: calluses and blisters, scrapes and bruises, dirt and grime. The best I can offer might be a paper cut.
Trish’s face puckers. Junior grins so wide he can barely chew. I flex my jaw, since protesting would only make things worse.
“Hate to tell you,” says Daddy, shaking his head, “but you got lady’s hands.”
“Lemme see them things,” hollers Junior, braying with laughter.
Trish gets up and goes to the freezer. “Who’s ready for lemon icebox pie?”
I suffer through most of dessert, but the nausea has bloomed, and my gut’s roiling. I rake my chair back and say, “Guess I better get moving.”
“Don’t let us keep you,” says Junior.
I pat my father on the shoulder. “Glad we went fishing together, Daddy.”
He nods and loads another forkful into his mouth.
“Give our love to Jeannie and the girls,” Trish says.
I wander to my pickup through clouds of black gnats. Mosquitoes whine around my ears. Before I climb up into the driver’s seat, I double over, expecting the worst, but it’s a false alarm.
Jeannie and the twins have a special evening planned, with homemade fajitas and silly games, but after the long drive, I feel even worse. So I beg off and head straight to bed, tumbling into a deep, watery sleep.
I glide through the bottle-green lake, fixated on food. But there’s no scarcity. In fact, my buddies are already having a field day at the all-you-can-eat buffet. “You gotta try this stuff, Coy,” they burble. “It’s amazing.” I don’t even greet them as I arrive, ripping and tearing at the bounty. And they’re right. It’s good, really good, the best thing I’ve ever eaten. Crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside. Delicious!
Still, questions dance like shadows across my mind. Where’d it come from? How’d it get here? What is it? I know I shouldn’t care, but I can’t help it. Maybe those flavors and textures are simply too good. Maybe I’m drawn by a power larger than myself. Whatever the case, a new hunger mutes my ravenous appetite, so I drift away from my feeding spot to get a better view.
It’s hard to make out in the strange, slanting light. But it looks like it might be a—body. A human body. I’ve been feeding on one of the feet. Not the muscles and bones, just the skin. It’s disgusting when I think about it, so I try not to.
“Dumb jackass,” my buddies gurgle.
“Fell in and drowned.”
“Got himself dead and dumped in the lake.”
The man’s body bobs and jerks with the force of little teeth as it sinks toward me. I skim up to his head, squinting in the murky light. My buddies nibble at his ears and nose and lips, but I nudge them aside so I can get a better view. And that’s when I realize:
The dead man is me.
I awake panting, my heart racing, the sweaty sheets knotted around my legs. I think I’m gonna puke, so I lurch out of bed and beeline to the guest bathroom so I won’t wake Jeannie. I hunch over the toilet bowl. Now here come the water works. I’m prepared for the inevitable, and it might make me feel better, but I don’t even retch. I wait for a few minutes, then step to the sink and splash cold water in my face.
I can’t go back to bed in this state, so I pace the downstairs, trying in vain to avoid the creaky floorboards. If I keep at it, I’ll wake up the whole house. So I wander over to the aquarium and flick on the light. I watch the angel fish glide through the clear water. It’s mesmerizing and helps quell the lingering disgust from my dream.
Then I spot the new Coy. Dr. Fish. He swims into view, then darts behind a bright bloom of coral. But I know he can see me. Hear me, too, probably, so I don’t mince words.
“That’s not right,” I say. When he pretends not to hear, I tap on the glass. “Hey, I’m talking to you. I know what you’re up to, Dr. Fish. Can’t be a man without humanity—kindness, compassion, empathy for all living things. Don’t you think I know that? But I’m not the one to blame, okay? If anything, I’m the innocent victim.” Now I slap the aquarium wall with so much force I’m afraid it may crack. “Go torment somebody else!”
“Coy?” calls Jeannie, her voice thick with sleep. She emerges from the hallway shadows, squinty and off-balance. “What are you doing out here?”
“Who were you talking to?”
“I heard you shouting, Coy. It woke me up. It scared me.”
I focus on her at last, her matted hair and baggy t-shirt. She’s beautiful, even with bed-head. “Just a business call.”
“It’s two in the morning.” She gives me a groggy frown. “You don’t even have your phone.”
“Maybe I was sleepwalking?”
“Sleep-shouting’s more like it.” Now she studies my hands. “What’s going on with your fingers.”
“My what?” I look down. My fingernails seem to be glowing, as if under a black light.
“And toes,” says Jeannie.
I shift my weight and fold my hands behind my back. Her own nails look perfectly normal. “Probably just the light.”
“Weird,” she mumbles. Then, “Come back to bed, Coy.”
I nod. “I’ll be right there. I just need a minute.”
Jeannie shuffles back into the shadows. When the bedsprings flex, I turn back to Dr. Fish. He floats into view, a faint smile on his lips. Just before I turn off the aquarium light, he blows me a bubble kiss.
For Jeannie’s birthday, I take her to Fathom, a hot new restaurant on Lower Greenville. The space is sleek and open. A fire crackles in a slick stone pit. Ambient music creates a watery feel. I was smart enough to make a reservation two weeks ago, so the hostess leads us past waiting throngs to a corner table at the far end of the restaurant. Murmurs ripple and swell. We step through faint clouds of lemon butter and sautéed garlic. Even as I glance at waiters gliding out of the kitchen, their enormous trays laden with dinner, I can’t discern what type of cuisine we’re in for.
Perhaps the ubiquitous aquariums should’ve clued me in as soon as we stepped through the door. They’re everywhere, freestanding, suspended from the twenty-foot ceilings, recessed into white granite walls. Beautiful, too, what with the brightly colored tropical fish and coral and all that aquamarine light.
Now we’re seated and comfortable, menus open. Jeannie’s beaming and talking a blue streak. Then I glance at the appetizers: fried calamari and fresh oysters and rockfish-and-conch fritters. What have I done?
“Let’s get some oysters,” says Jeannie, giddy.
“They’ll bring us bread,” I say.
The waiter, an ageless, genderless person named Quinn, offers a brisk, subdued greeting, then tells us about tonight’s specials. For starters, they have shrimp croquettes, lobster bisque, or sea urchins with crostini. For the main course, there’s pan-seared tuna steak with soy-ginger glaze and steamed asparagus, grilled swordfish with garlic-potato mash, or sesame shrimp scampi with linguini and roasted vegetables.
Jeannie orders oysters on the halfshell. I ask for a bottle of dry chardonnay, her favorite. A gofer brings a basket of warm wheat sourdough.
Although Jeannie shivers when the AC kicks on and shrugs a cardigan over her bare shoulders, I feel sweat beading and rolling down my back. The air hangs heavy with garlic-and-butter stench. My vision goes fuzzy around the edges.
Quinn pours the chardonnay with an understated flourish.
I raise my glass and say, “Happy birthday, Jeannie.” We clink stemware, and I pretend to drink.
“Excellent choice,” she says after a long swallow.
I remembered to bring her gift, and, sweating into my collar, I slide it to her across the slate tabletop.
She opens the envelope, reads the card, and tears up. “That’s so sweet, Coy.” When she discovers the Infinity Spa gift certificate, she’s all teeth and little squeals. “It’s just perfect,” she says. “How’d you know?”
What can I tell her? The fish pedicure’s even better than she’s heard? “The twins might’ve mentioned something,” I say.
Jeannie grins some more. “I can’t believe I finally get to go.”
By now I’m slouching and sweaty and feeling green.
“Coy?” says Jeannie. “Are you okay?”
“I’m not sure.” I sop at the sweat with my crisp, starched napkin.
“Because you don’t look so good.”
I swallow hard, rap on the table twice for no particular reason, then stagger across the restaurant to the men’s room. As I pass one aquarium after another, fish of all sorts give me the stink eye.
Inside it’s clean and white and empty. I drop to my knees in the first stall, grateful it smells of mint and lavender. It’s no false alarm this time: everything comes up. Only takes a minute. I heave and pant until I catch my breath, then wobble to the sink. I gargle cold water, splash my face, and dry off with fistfuls of paper towels.
When I feel less dizzy, I suck in a deep breath and step back out into the dining room’s charnel stench. I stand there for a moment next to a tank teeming with live lobsters, catching my balance, fending off the green wave of nausea. The kitchen must be right around the corner because I hear the clank of saucepans and clatter of crockery, the thwack of chef’s knives and shout of orders. And the screaming. At first, I think it’s the high-pitched wail of steam. But then I hear the shouts, grunts, and wailing protests of pain. I lean against the wall, swallowing and breathing and trying not to listen.
“Shit just got real, am I right?”
I glance up. Dr. Fish hovers at eye level, blowing bubbles against the glass.
I shake my head once, but I can’t put words to the thought. More muted screams from the kitchen. I glance that direction, but I can’t bring myself to peer around the corner. The horrors are too easy to imagine.
Dr. Fish glares at me. “Now what you gonna do about it?”
“I only came here for Jeannie.”
“Man, don’t gimme that.” He smacks his tail against the glass. “You coulda gone anywhere. The Buckle & Bean Sprout. Chez Légumes. Mama Jasmine’s Vegan Kitchen. But you didn’t, did you? Naw, you chose this hellhole.”
“I don’t even like seafood,” I yell at the glass just as a svelte twenty-something in a skimpy dress slinks around the corner toward the ladies’ room. I pretend to be on the phone.
Dr. Fish chuckles, but then his mouth twists into a scowl. “Comes down to this, Coy Brown. You a man or ain’t you?”
“What’s that supposed to—”
“A man stands up for what’s right. A man protects those who can’t protect themselves. A man sacrifices his own self for the good of others.” Now he stares me down. “That what you gonna do?”
“I’m just saying—”
“You gotta figger out whose side you on. You gotta man-up.” His fins flutter. He wriggles and sloshes. “Ain’t no half-stepping. Ain’t no in-between.”
More shouts from the kitchen, the vigorous boiling of water, the sharp thwack of knives. And all that screaming.
I step out into the dining room far enough to spot Jeannie’s concern. She’s fidgeting with her napkin and staring at her phone and guzzling chardonnay. She glances up every few seconds, eyes glassed with worry. The oysters sit mutilated in the middle of the table.
I steady myself and say, “Keep an eye out, okay?”
“Now that’s what I’m talking bout,” says Dr. Fish.
I slide a heavy slate flower pot over to the lobster tank. I climb up and teeter on its lip, gazing down into the cold water. From this angle, the crustaceans are blurry pinkish-gray. I’m glad their claws are bound.
“Bring it, brutha man,” says Dr. Fish.
So I plunge into the tank with both arms. I sink up to my shoulders, stretching my six-five frame, balancing on my tiptoes, but I still can’t reach. There’s only one way I’ll have enough stretch. I gulp a breath and dunk my head in, too. Now I’m grabbing at lobsters, as many as I can carry, maybe a dozen or more. I surface with a heavy armful, funky tank water streaming down my face.
“Hells yes,” hollers Dr. Fish, splashing and swirling in his aquarium. “Liberation like a muthafucka.”
I wobble on the edge of the flower pot, trying to blink away my blurry vision.
“Excuse me, sir?” calls a waiter behind me. The voice is too deep to be Quinn. His starched apron rustles as he speed-walks toward me.
I leap from the flower pot and trip into the wall, almost spilling my load. Somehow I only drop a couple crustaceans.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the waiter hollers.
“It’s the M to the A to the N,” Dr. Fish sings.
I peek over my shoulder at the stern-faced waiter quickly making ground, dodging lobsters and brandishing his corkscrew like a cutlass.
“You need a man? Say where and when.”
Then a stream of water from Dr. Fish’s puckered lips arcs through space and splatters the polished concrete. The waiter slips and hits the floor with a grunt. I sprint for the side exit at the end of the corridor.
As I barrel outside, arms full of writhing crustaceans, and steal across the hot asphalt, I can just make out Dr. Fish’s elated burbling.
“Cuz Coy a man.”