Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mr. Fish

Feeling restless and I need to write something, anything. It’s going to be a freewriting day. [Let me explain again what I do. Without looking, I grab a book from my bookshelves, open to a random page, put my finger down, and find a sentence. That sentence becomes the final sentence in whatever piece I write. I don't go back and rewrite, don't do paragraphs, just let something come out. When I start writing I never know how I'm going to get to that sentence.]

John Irving—A Prayer for Owen Meany, p. 183

“Mr. Fish, perhaps to compose himself, was humming the tune to a familiar Christmas carol.”

The most remarkable thing about Orville P. Fish was his ears—huge bulbous ears with earlobes nearly reaching his shoulders, ears far out of proportion to the rest of his body. It seemed that he tried to distract attention from those monstrous ears by letting his hair grow long on the sides. But he was three-quarters bald and the skimpy hair on the sides of his head could never hide those ears. He had the beady eyes of a civet and a pencil-thin mustache just above his upper lip that appeared to have been drawn carefully with a charcoal pencil. He was a short sinewy man who wore the same clothes every day—a white shirt buttoned up to the neck and shiny black trousers belted much too high above his waist. He never smiled, never laughed, barely spoke to anyone in town. One could say that Mr. Fish was not a loveable man. Mama used to tell me that everyone had once been some mother’s angel child and I must try to see the good in everyone. So I tried imagining Mr. Fish as baby and all I could see was those beady eyes and those horrific ears. I wondered if he had the mustache when he was a child. I wondered if his mother dressed him in white shirts and black pants pulled up under his armpits. Even as an imagined baby, he was a fearsome sight. For as long as I could remember, Mr. Fish drove the local Wonder Bread truck, delivering bread to markets and diners all over the Eastern Shore. That’s really the reason that the story came out. Mama’s cousin Billy McEntee moved to the other side of the bay, down near Lusby, and he had a Wonder Bread route too. Billy used to tell us stories about delivering bread to Peaceful Shores, a nudist colony that was part of his route. It was a Saturday morning just after Thanksgiving and Billy was delivering an order of bread to the kitchen at Peaceful Shores. Christmas music was playing in the adjoining dining room and some of the members were putting up a Christmas tree and stringing multi-colored lights around the room. Billy was saying goodbye to the cook when he came out of kitchen door, smack dab into the bare buttocks of a man on a ladder stringing lights. The ladder wobbled a bit and the man stepped down and turned around, chuckled, and said, “Whoops, almost got me there, but I’m okay, I’m just fine, it’s just part of the spirit of Christmas.” There was no white shirt, of course. There were no black trousers pulled up to the armpits. But the beady eyes, the mustache, the hair, and the ears—those one-of-a-kind monstrous ears—were unmistakable. It was Mr. Fish in all his natural glory, wearing what he was wearing when he came into the world as his mama’s angel child. His civet eyes froze when he saw Billy. Billy said not a word and quickly gathered his empty bread trays as Mr. Fish climbed back on the ladder. Mr. Fish, perhaps to compose himself, was humming the tune to a familiar Christmas carol.

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