I had decided to go fishing that day. It seemed like a good thing to do; to get away and clear my head. I wanted to spend a little quiet time with myself. Besides, I wanted to prove something, that I could catch a fish. Not just for me, but for my mother. I wanted to bring home a beautiful fish for her.
It was gorgeous day. As I journeyed out on the boat, just me and my thoughts, I passed some other hopeful fisherman in a boat that waved to me. For some reason, when people are on a boat they always wave to you. But if you put these same people in a car, they would flip you off or run you over. Maybe everyone should be driving boats to work. I guess humans are just more relaxed on a boat; either that or they’re just drunk (And everybody’s happier when they’re drunk).
I had been out on the water for several hours, but nothing was biting. Maybe it wasn’t my day. Suddenly, I felt a tug on the line. ? We fought back-and-forth. He pulled, ? I pulled.?He yanked,? I yanked.? He shimmied,? I shook… and we were both out there having fun… in the warm California sun.
The battle raged, but somehow, I managed to pull the monster in. It was a twenty-two-inch sea bass with big puffy lips. We wrestled for a moment as I freed him from the hook. And eventually, through all the flips and flops I managed to get him into the cooler. I was exhausted and ecstatic. The dumb fish had no clue who he was tangling with. Game over.
I cracked open a beer to celebrate my conquest. I sat there looking up at the sun. The warm rays dancing on my face. I was glowing, proud of my catch. Someone had to win and I deserved it, I had never caught a fish before.
I heard a noise behind me. It was a rustle which moved into a faint flapping. I assumed the wind a kicked up, rattling something on the boat. Maybe it was the waves slapping the hull. I went back to my beer. Then, out of nowhere I heard a voice.
“So, what brings you to this neck of the woods?” a voice casually bellowed.
Stunned, I dropped my beer and spun around. I was surprised at what I saw. Much to my amazement the fish had found a way out of the cooler and was now sitting on the back seat staring at me. He looked very relaxed, unfazed by his surroundings. I was shocked. Not only that a fish could talk, but that he was curious as to why I was here.
“Catfish got your tongue?” the fish quipped.
“Well I… I just thought it would be a nice day to fish,” I cautiously responded, not sure if this was really happening.
“Well, aren’t you just the go-getter,” he quirked.
“Excuse me?” I asked trying to verify the wise crack.
“It is a nice day to fish. It’s a beautiful day. The sun is out. There’s a warm breeze. Not a cloud in the sky. Who wouldn’t want to fish today? How long you been a fisherman?” he inquired.
“Oh, I wouldn’t call myself a fisherman. I’m actually a copywriter for an ad agency,” I continued. “Fishing is more of a hobby. I don’t really do it much. Actually, you’re the first fish I’ve ever caught.”
“Well ain’t I the lucky bastard? Just think, I was just swimming around, going about my day, minding my own business and the next thing I know, someone is yanking me out of the water with a rusty hook in my mouth. What a joy to have my whole day interrupted so that I could come up here and shoot the bullshit with some hack slogan writer.”
“Sorry Charlie,” I chuckled.
“Aren’t you cute? A seventies Starkist Tuna reference,” he said rolling his eyes. “I doubt an idiot like you was clever enough to come up with that one.”
“There’s no need to be rude,” I blurted.
“Hey, how would you like it if you were sitting on the couch and pepperoni pizza was dangling on a string in front of you and when you bit into it ya got hook in your gums?” the fish snarled.
“Well I, I, I….” I stumbled.
“Well I, I, I,” the fish mocked in a sing-song tone, “Ya wouldn’t like it, princess. I’ll tell ya that.”
“You don’t have to sound so bitter,” I contested, “I’m not the only one who’s ever caught a fish.”
“There it is. The old ‘everybody does it so why shouldn’t I’ excuse,” the fish remarked. “If everybody jumped off a bridge, would you?” the bass questioned.
“Stop that. My mother used to always say that to me,” I fired back.
“The fish gave a half smirk.” Proud he had touched a nerve. “So, why don’t you tell me a little about your mother and maybe a little about your childhood,” he pried.
“Why? Whatta you care?” I skeptically questioned as I cracked open another beer.
“You think a fish is too small to have a heart? I’m not completely cold-blooded,” the little mammal answered. “Pop open one of those brewskis for me. Let’s talk, big fella.”
For the next hour, I threw down beers, while he drank… like a fish. The alcohol caused me to open up about my life and in no time, I was rambling on about my relationship with my mother and the upbringing I had.
“My father had died when I was eight. He cut his tongue licking the inside of soup can and bled out.” I babbled. “I always blamed myself because my mother had set that soup aside for me that day, but instead I filled myself with Hostess Twinkies and some Good-N-Plenty’s. He lay on the floor grunting, while I sat in my room watching The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I heard him but… I just thought that he was just practicing his break dancing again. It was my fault.”
“It was an accident, Jeff. It could’ve happened to anyone,” the fish said with compassion as he puffed on a stubby stogie he had found floating in the water. “You need to let it go.”
“I can’t. I have recurring dreams where a large tin can of alphabet soup is break dancing, and then it falls over and the noodles spill out spelling DADDY KILLER.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” the bass emphatically stated.
“My mother resented me after the soup death. It changed her. At night, she began to walk the streets” I sheepishly uttered.
“She became a prostitute,” the fish surmised.
“No, you filthy little fish. She just walked the streets so she wouldn’t be home with me,” I exclaimed.
“It sounds like to me that you’re struggling with an Oedipus Complex,” he concluded.
“And what the hell does that mean?” I questioned.
The fish shifted in his seat as he leaned back in a relaxing pose. “The Oedipus Complex is a child’s desire, that the mind keeps in the unconscious via dynamic repression, to have sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex. You wanted a deeper love with your mother.”
“You’re a sick, sick bass. I oughta gut you right here,” I snarled through my gritted teeth. “What the hell do they teach you down there in those schools you swim in? I think we’re done here. You’re going back in that cooler.”
I began to move towards the fish to end the banter.
“It’s not your fault, Jeff,” the fish whispered.
I stopped. I didn’t believe him. He was just trying to save his life. I picked up the knife and began to approach him again. The boat gently rocked as I try to maintain my footing, taking shorter steps.
“The soup tragedy,” the bass murmured, “It wasn’t your fault, Jeff. It wasn’t your fault.”
“My mother doesn’t love me,” I cried out.
“But she does, Jeff,” the fish strongly stated. “When was the last time you saw her?”
“Shut up!” I screamed.
“When was the last time you saw her, Jeff?!” the bass yelled back.
“This morning,” I stammered. “Before I left. I brought her some Tupperware and told her I was going fishing,”
“And what did she say?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I responded.
“What did she say, Jeff?” the bass pushed.
“Damn it! She didn’t say anything,” I squirmed.
“Come on, Jeff. What did she say?” asked the giant guppy.
I began to choke up. “She said I was too stupid to catch a fish. She said that even the dumbest fish could outsmart an idiot like me.”
“I get it, Jeff. You’re hoping you can go back to your mother’s house with a beautiful fish in your hands and present it to her. Show her you’re no dummy. You’re hoping after that, just maybe, your mother will love you?”
Exacerbated, I slowly nodded.
“It’s not your fault. It’s not up to you to try and get your mother to love you. Never focus on the things you can’t control. What you can control is loving your mother and, maybe over time, she’ll give you the love you have longed for.”
“You think?” I hopefully asked.
“I do. You are a good person. It wasn’t your fault. I need you to say that,” he said.
I sat there thinking about it. Suddenly, I felt a wave of all of my guilt and remorse explode from my body. I felt new again. Reborn. I began to cry, “It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.” I fell next to the fish and buried my head into his scaly chest.
I felt his fins pat me on the back. “It’s okay. Everything is going to be alright,” he assured. “We’ve had a wonderful break through today.”
The catharsis was amazing. I was a new man again.
“Do you think my mother will hug and kiss me when she sees the fish I brought her?” I asked.
“Excuse me?” the fish replied.
“You know, momma said I was too dumb to catch a fish and, well…,” I articulated.
“Have you not heard a god damn word I’ve said today?” the bass huffed. “This isn’t about bringing your mother home a fish. This is about your relationship with her. She just wants you to wrap your arms around her and tell her that you love her. That’s what this is all about. Damn it, Jeff. Go home, hug your mother and tell her how much you love her. And apologize for killing your father.”
“But you said that wasn’t my fault,” I queried.
“Well, in a way it was. But that’s not important. Your mother just wants to hear those words ‘I love you.’ You don’t need me or any other fish for that matter. This is about you, Jeff,” the fish stated with a warm smile.
“This is your journey.”
He was right. Love is the answer.
“So, I guess I won’t need you anymore?” I responded.
“No,” he said. “I’ve done my job here. Now it’s up to you to go find some reconciliation and some peace in your heart.”
We drank one last beer together and said our goodbyes. I hugged the fish, kissed him on his head and threw him overboard. Strange, before he hit the water I could’ve sworn I heard a giggle, but chalked it up to the wind. It didn’t matter. I had caught my fish.
That night I arrived at mother’s house. When she opened the door, I beamed with a smile. Without hesitation, I hugged her and told her how much I loved her. She pulled away and looked deep in my eyes and asked “Where the hell’s your fish?”
“Oh mother, what an extraordinary day I had. I caught a fish this big. Then we talked for hours… about you, me and father. Everything. It’s going to be alright. Everything’s going to be alright again,” I chirped.
Then, mother began to laugh in my face. “I knew you couldn’t catch a fish. How could you? At least a fish has a little brain. You got nothing.” She began to laugh harder. Her tobacco pipe breath scorching my cheeks. My eyes began to water then twitch. “Well don’t just stand there,” she snapped. “Get inside. The toilets clogged again. The plungers broke so I need you to reach down in the john hole and loosen everything up. And don’t ask me for any rubber gloves. There too damn expensive. Now get in there. Let’s see if you can do something right for a change.”
The last thing I remember was everything going black.
I sat in the cell with a priest. “Fish, alphabet soup, and a Twinkie? Kind of an odd last meal request,” Father McWiggins remarked.
“It’s the only thing I could think of,” I solemnly replied.
“I think the fish played ya,” McWiggins added.
“Looks that way,” I shrugged.
“Why did you do it, Jeff?” the priest asked. “Why did you mount your mother on a wall?”
“It just seemed like the thing to do at the time,” I sighed.
by Jeff Charlebois