Another one of those great Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenges over at Terrible Minds. Last week, the challenge was to write a very simple but very powerful single sentence. This week, the challenge was to pick one of those sentences and create a story around it. The sentence I chose, from someone named Noel who didn’t link to his website, is the first line of this story.
She couldn’t be sure that the fish was a condescending dickhead, but she was starting to suspect as much. It was neither its look nor its body language, but more his never-ending screed of racial slurs aimed at passersby.
Donna had gotten over her amazement at the reality of a talking catfish quickly after hearing its taunts of “Look atcha, ya fuckin’ beaners!” as a Latino family walked past. Shocked and mortified on their behalf, they themselves acted as though they heard nothing, continuing on to the other exhibits.
Edging slowly to the tank, she stopped only once to watch for a reaction from the black woman who stopped briefly to look at the fish. It had just let loose with some borderline criminal comments regarding the woman’s lineage, but again, the woman seemed not to hear it. Donna felt her face flush again in horror, but the woman looked at Donna and, smiling a friendly smile at her, walked away.
Looking at the catfish, Donna leaned closer yet to the glass partition separating her from the racist fish wondering if that particular term had ever been used in the history of ever. Her nose nearly touched the glass when the fish turned and made eye contact.
“Help you, fatty?”
She jumped back, stunned for a second, then angry.
“I’m not fat,” she whispered at it.
“OK. Wal-Mart called. They want their scooter back, ya pig.”
“My weight is actually below the national average, thank you very much,” Donna said, her voice a little louder.
“Yeah it ain’t. So you aren’t as fat as you could or should be. That’s like being the lead retard at the Special Olympics.”
“You shut up!”
This hadn’t been whispered; in fact, it was yelled rather loudly. People around her were looking at her. Did she just tell that fish to shut up, she heard a teen-aged girl twenty or so feet away ask her mother. Donna gave a shaky smile to those looking at her and turned back to the tank.
The catfish (she definitely felt ‘it’ was a ‘he’ based on tone of voice and the fact no woman Donna knew of, fish or not, would be so crass in public) was still looking at her. Expecting the newly-sexually-identified him to be scowling at her, he was, in fact, not. Talking with a Philly accent must have anthropomorphized him enough.
“You shut up,” she said, much quieter. It dawned on her when he spoke, the fish’s voice was clear as day. Odd, being in water behind thick glass and, you know, a fish at all. She decided to try something.
Can you hear me, she thought, looking the fish dead in his eyes.
He looked back at her, saying nothing.
So much for that, Donna thought. She began chastising herself for thinking a fish could read her mind but shook that thought out of her head. It was a talking catfish. Communications with such a creature haven’t been, to Donna’s knowledge, established, so she should be proud of herself for thinking outside the box.
“Yeah, I can hear you, chubby,” the fish said, interrupting her thoughts. “And you are fat. Like I always say, can’t see the ribs, not taking dibs, am I right? But I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of ribs at plenty of buffets. Does it count as cannibalism when a cow like you piles a couple big racks of ribs down your gullet?”
She was about to speak but remembered it wasn’t necessary. Plus, she didn’t want those around her thinking she was any more weird.
Why are you so hateful? Donna glared at him. I’m not fat and you’re not going to get to me.
“Really I’m not?” the fish asked, a sneer in his voice if not on his face. “You’re about to start bawlin’ and you’re talking to a fucking fish!”
With that, he swam to the other side of the aquarium, casting his eyes upon a group of children looking to be no older than eight or nine.
“Jesus, the gay practically seeps outta that kid,” he said. “A haircut like that and those shoes pretty much scream ‘Cock, party of one, please!’”
That’s so mean and, well, doesn’t really make any sense, Donna thought at the fish. Does that mean he’s the one providing the cock for another gay man or that he’s a party of one requesting cock? I don’t get it.
“Huh? The fuck are you talking about, Chief Walkswithawobble?” he asked, again with attitude in his voice if not on his features. “The point is, he’s gonna have more men inside him than the locker room at the Rose Bowl. And he’s not going to be a power bottom, either. Look at that little fruit…you know he’s gonna be someone’s wife.”
Just stop it! Donna screamed at him in her mind. You’re just a fish! Who cares what you think anyways? She was on the verge of angry tears, staring daggers at the back of the fish (whom she kept thinking of as Charlie for some reason) while he continued to look upon the children.
Charlie, sensing Donna’s eyes on his back, turned towards her. He came at her fast, nearly hitting the glass, screaming “HEY!”
Donna started at Charlie’s yell. When she regained her composure, the fish, the aquarium, and in fact most of the people, were gone. She closed her eyes and gave her head a little shake, hoping to knock whatever was loose back to normal again, the normal including a talking, racist fish.
She opened them again, but Charlie and the aquarium were still gone. In its place, a doctors’ office waiting room, filled with people staring at her. Angrily. A security guard put his hand around her bicep, lifting her to her feet.
“Ma’am, you have to go. Right now.”
“What’s going on,” she said, eyes moving across all the angry faces. “Why are you staring at me?”
“I’m sorry you feel bad about your weight and all,” the guard said, “but that’s no reason to say horrible things to all these people. You’ll pardon me for saying so, but being overweight and angry doesn’t give you the right to be a racist bitch. If you feel that way, just keep it in your head like everyone else.”