Quinn sat with a red fish named Karl drinking beer. That is, Quinn was drinking beer; the fish was drinking milk. They were sitting in an oyster house on Iberville eating fried shrimp. Karl claimed oysters were “nasty,” though occasionally they made him “frisky.” Each time Karl wrapped a fishy fin around his glass and took a drink, water splashed in all directions.
“Look. You’re getting everything wet.”
“I’m a fish.”
Karl flexed his gills and took another drink.
Outside in the streets, a drunken mob waxed and waned, drums and horns, hollers and catcalls. The mob would deposit a devil or saint or gypsy or king into the oyster house, a bell above the door going, “ding!“
“You know I used to eat you. Your Swedish, gummy variety.”
“Never swam the Baltic. I’ve heard good things.”
“You’re not a Swedish red fish? A representation of my subconscious, my childhood demanding attention?”
“I’m a regular fish. See?”
Karl blinked his eyes and moved his mouth in a fishy way: glub, glub, glub.
“Someone must have slipped me a dose of mescaline. These waitresses can’t be trusted.”
“C’mon, Quinn. You know what’s up. The first step is acceptance.”
“Then help me. I’m desperate.”
“Obviously. You’re talking to a fish. And yes, let’s get to work.”
Stacy, Quinn’s sister, would be proud, he thought. Didn’t she claim to be a fish in one of her former lives? A mackerel? Or was it that she would be a fish in a future life? There was definitely a fish somewhere in her equation. Get over it, she once said, join the human race.
The door opened spilling a group of heavily beaded, silver-faced jezebels into the restaurant. They began to shriek. They began to howl. They blew colored stars across the room until the scene faded black.
The TV in Quinn’s hotel room displayed coverage from a parade. The sound was off. A collection of empty Heineken bottles dotted the only table in the room. Quinn could hear the parade as it made its way down Canal, the drums, the crowd, the honking of horns drawing closer and closer. Periodically, a strand of beads would snap against the glass doors leading out to his balcony. Karl was content to sip ginger ale and dig his fin in a twenty-dollar jar of macadamia nuts procured from the mini-bar.
“I thought fish were supposed to drink water?”
“Think about that for a moment. Crystallize. Do you have any clue how sick I am of water? All day, every day – water, water, water, water, water. These macadamia nuts are amazing by the way. Here.”
Karl extended the jar and Quinn declined. Quinn then rested on his bed while sliding a card the color of macadamia nuts back and forth between his fingers. You are cordially invited to the sacred union of Ms. Stacy Williams and Mr. Scott Anderson… They met completing undergraduate degrees at Illinois State. Their first date was a Cubs game. Now, to Quinn’s distress, the knot would be tied at Wrigley Field: row upon row – literally thousands – of tightly packed sweating bodies. He had to go. She never blamed Quinn when mother died without asking to see her.
“What’s your strategy?”
Karl sat in a chair completely waterlogged, a dark patch growing out from underneath. When he moved his feet-fins the carpet went: squish.
“Through me, you’ll gain the ways of the fish. Swim in a school.”
“Sounds like bullshit.”
“Two words,” Karl held up two fins. “Immersion therapy.”
Historical note: Quinn had always been a clinger. His mother, quietly defiant, nurturing to a fault, chalked her son’s neediness up to his young age, a trait he’d likely outgrow. They’d be shopping for groceries and little Quinn never loosened his grip from her leg. The first time Quinn’s mother got truly concerned was during a pre-kindergarten party at Diamond Ricky’s. She had to forcibly throw her son into the ball pit. Frantic, Quinn struggled to gain footing, the other children romping, laughing, swarming around him. Soon he was drowning, gasping for breath. Wave after wave of primary-colored balls forced him to the bottom. A polyester-vested Diamond Ricky employee was dispatched to rescue the now-crying little boy. Quinn’s mother kissed each tear as they traced down his cheeks. Baby, my baby, are you alright? Quinn responded by clasping her thigh tightly.
Quinn, a paper plate mask shrouding his face, stood with Karl on Canal staring down the barrel of Bourbon. They were on the precipice, each with necks weighted by strands of colored beads. For eight blocks it was a solid river of drunken revelers. People on the street yelled at people perched on balconies who in turn threw beads back into the fray. Men walked with alligators on leashes and women walked with men on leashes. A mass of neon signage bled into freaks who bled into streets.
Karl placed a fin on Quinn’s shoulder. “Immersion. It’s best to jump.”
“No. Not drunk enough. But yes, yes. I’ll close my eyes and you push.”
When Quinn opened his eyes, he and Karl had caught a vein. Faces went by in a series of postcards. Tight fists brought grenades to red lips. A young woman wearing a snakeskin bodysuit blocked Quinn’s progression through the crowd. She splayed her legs and took a long drink of hurricane from an upturned fishbowl. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand before the crowd swelled and pushed Quinn along. The vein moved. Feet moved. Hands pressed. At each cross street the crowd swirled, dissipated, congealed, then funneled to the next block.
“Swim!” Karl yelled. “Let your gills fill with water!”
As Quinn and Karl followed the vein, signs in curved neon tubing called out to them: Little Darlings, Larry Flint’s Hustler Club, The Penthouse, Barely Legal, Temptations. In front of an establishment promising “Live Love Acts”, Quinn stopped and was almost knocked over by a man in soft-wash khakis. The man wielded a telephoto lens and had the honest face of a conman. Quinn stepped away, regained the vein, then tripped and backpedaled into two women draped in purple pleather. One of the women reached out and steadied Quinn before he fell.
“Easy there, buddy,” she said, competing with the noise of the crowd.
Quinn apologized. The women then told him they were mother and daughter, Shailene (mother) and Michelle (daughter), here from Gainesville to get rowdy and fuck shit up.
“We’re here to get rowdy and fuck shit up!” Shailene said. “Where’s your drinks at, boys? You and the fish-man are lookin’ thirsty.”
Thirsty they were.
Time elapsed: thirty-seven minutes.
“Look. You can hardly keep your balance, a disgrace.”
Man and fish stood nose to lip.
“Yeah? Savior my ass.”
Michelle grabbed Quinn by the hand and they took off down St. Ann. Tired, Quinn stopped, bent over, Michelle pleading him to follow. He dropped to his hands and knees, beads clattering on the street. He retched. And retched. At his throat there was a large bulge, a growth working its way up his neck. Quinn’s jaw opened and fell back, a yellow sphere forcing its way past his molars. Michelle pulled out her cell and began to record.
“Do it already!”
Pete Stevens is currently an undergrad somewhere in the Midwest whose work has appeared elsewhere.