Fish and Hogs

Fish and Hogs

A Story by 49k_jdys

Loss doesn't break you.


Rose wondered if the turning point was when she discovered that fish get depressed. Of course they do, she’d thought, all they can do is swim and swim in twelve inch circles. For days the thought became a swirling, flipping guppy inside her head; it nibbled behind her eyes�"she saw fish and their sad buggy eyes�"it bumped against her lips�"“did you know that you can get sharks that are only this big?”�"and it invaded her dreams. When she couldn’t swat that guppy away any longer, she bought a three-thousand gallon fish tank�"which cost her about as many dollars as it had gallons. She bought the fish at the grocery store, the fish at the carnival, the fish that came in vases full of floating plants. Soon the tank was full and Rose felt a quiet desperation at the fact that she couldn’t save all of the fish. She bought another tank; more fish.

Her savings account had one-hundred-seventeen dollars and eighty-nine cents.

Rose stopped thinking about retirement.

                  Her friends figured she was crazy, and she knew they attributed as much to Earl. Madge thought Rose should quit her crossing guard job and just accept some help from her church. Her neighbor Sissy thought Rose was getting too old to live alone. Crazy fish lady. Squanders her money. That house reeks of fish food. Rose regarded everyone’s opinions with a smile and not a word. As if people didn’t think she was crazy before.

                  Rose watched as a fat goldfish swam against the glass of one of the tanks. The light that shone through turned her face blue. She zipped up her orange safety vest and did a little twirl. She felt like a goldfish. The fat one in the tank seemed to grin at her, and once again Rose was caught between guilt and triumph. She touched two fingers to her lips and then to the glass where the goldfish floated. In front of the mirror, she placed Earl’s hat on her head and stepped onto the porch, locking the door behind her.

                  “Miss Rose, did you know that bears are actually herbivores and they eat berries which I never thought they did since bears are huge and could eat any kind of meat they want like deer or rabbit or venison or fish or squirrel or chipmunk or even dog if they wanted to, since some dogs probably taste good if you’re really hungry like in the winter.”

                  Rose smiled and patted the chubby, creased hand that clutched hers. “What are they teaching you in school? Of course bears eat dogs.”

                  This sent the boy into a fit of laughter. “Just not mine,” he said.

                  “Never,” Rose winked, “He’s too stinky.”

                  The boy laughed again and squeezed her hand tight.

                  “Okay, Travis, looks like we’re in the clear.” Rose glanced over her shoulder at the two long-haired, pink-backpack-carrying middle school girls and said, “You’re good to go, ladies.”

                  They ignored her and crossed the street.

                  Travis waddled behind, still grasping Rose’s hand and holding his baggy jeans up with his other hand. Safely on the other side, he let go of her hand and said, “See ya tomorrow, Miss Rose.”

                  Rose stuck out her hand and Travis slapped her a high-five. “See ya tomorrow kiddo.”

                  When he turned around, she waved. She watched him until he made it around the corner, and then she stuck out her stop sign and crossed back to the other side of the street. She had about twenty minutes before the high school let out, so she took a short cigarette break. Rose liked one now and then. She liked the taste. But she gave up the smoker’s life after Earl. She smiled, remembering how he had been so charmed by the lipstick residue she sometimes left on her cigarettes.


                  When she got home, the neighbors’ cat was floating in one of the tanks. The second one since September. With a sigh and an eye roll, she fished out the bobbing feline with a broom handle and called Sissy. Then she counted her fish five times. All there. 

                  Earl hated cats. All’s they do is whine at ya and get in the way and shake dander all over the damn place. Ain’t got no use for one of those. Unless you have a hat pattern that you need a skin for.

                  Rose hadn’t wanted a cat either, but Sissy asked so pitifully if they would take the last of her b*****d mongrel kittens, and feeling guilty she asked even though she knew the answer.


                  Sissy burst through the door. She had never been the knocking sort.

                  “I can’t believe this,” she sobbed and retrieved the sopping cat from its place dangling off the broom that Rose had placed on the table, “Another one. My sweet Precious. I can’t believe this, I just can’t believe it! Rose I thought you were going to keep that window closed since Scruffy fell in?”

                  Rose had said no such thing.

                  Sissy was tightly hugging the cat to her ample chest. If there had been any life left in the little f****r, it was certainly gone now. “Oh, my precious darling Precious, ohhhh…”

                  This went on for several minutes.

                  Rose got a shoebox.

                  Precious’s vigil was a daintier variant of Scruffy’s. “They have different personalities, you know,” Sissy said, and then she let out a sob before correcting herself. “Had, Rose! They had different personalities!” As she placed Precious’s Stride-Rite box casket in the shallow hole Rose had dug in Sissy’s garden, Sissy gave a kiss goodbye gesture and mumbled, “I’m going to have to call in sick tomorrow,” before slumping away dramatically and slamming the back door behind her. Rose filled in the hole and smoked another cigarette. In Precious’s honor, of course.


                  The night was warm and unusually light, so Rose decided to take a ride. She threw on her gear�"all leather, a gift from Earl�"and saddled up. Thelma was sleek and black and rode the way Rose imagined a luxury car would run. Sometimes she thought she might ride Louise, but it had only been a year since Earl, so she let her be. She was more suited to Thelma and her thunderous noises, anyways.  That fat old sow, Earl used to say.

                  “But she’s reliable,” Rose whispered. She could see Earl’s blue eyes wink. Reliable ain’t a valued quality when you’re ridin’ hogs, Rosie. She imagined him revving past her on Louise. She loved the smell of gasoline and the screech of Earl’s tires and the trail of gray exhaust that sputtered back at her.

                  She was so proud of him when they sidled out of the lazy cul-de-sac. He looked a bit like a beefed up John Slattery with what Earl referred to as his extra six- pack.  When that Mad Men television show became so popular, Rose loved to watch all the little old ladies in the condo complex watch him. Beulah Watt started getting the paper in her makeup. Petite Jerry Stuart wore tiny wedge heels to the supermarket. Angela Davidson suddenly brought over pies once a month. Earl flirted with them and took their veiny, skeleton hands in his, but after he tipped his hat, or steered away the cart, or took the pies inside, he always made his special wink at Rose. Mostly she didn’t mind, but once in a while the schoolboy nonsense wore thin.

                  It was only on those days that Rose didn’t wink back. She wasn’t manipulative in as much, but she knew that under the leather, and the sunglasses, and the squat, gray beard was a man as soft as down. You’re my Rose. You know that, silly girl, he’d say.  And she did know, but it didn’t stop her from accepting the flowers or thin leather bracelets he liked to give as recompense.

                  Silly, silly girl. Rosie, Rosie. You’re my Rose, he sang to a tune he invented. Earl was always inventing little things. After Rose complained that Earl ought not to even look at Beulah when she wore those ghastly chino a-little-too-shorts, he gave her a teeny red castle he had built. It was to go in the fish bowl that he secretly placed on her bedside table. Earl started Rose’s fish fascination.

                  He gave her beautiful fish�"silky beta fish, skinny reedfish, cichlids, rainbow fish. They had a small tank that took up most of the counter space. The red castle glowed in the tank light like a happy demon when it was dark. It lasted through six months of fish. It lasted through six months of Earl.


Rose sped past the crosswalk and smiled at Travis’s fascination with the omnivore bears. She thought she’d tell him tomorrow that some fish were omnivores, too.


It took Rose almost an hour to feed and count the fish, so she woke each morning at five-thirty.

One of the guppies had died. She fished him out and touched his little head as if she were some type of fish shaman. She let him freefall into the toilet. She reached for her notebook in the cupboard and scanned the two page list of names. Before she flushed him, Rose named the guppy Caesar and wrote it on the page under Sassafras and Popeye (Popeye had one eye that protruded from the center of his head).

She zipped herself into her orange vest, locked the door and walked down the street.

Rose arrived at the street corner early. She liked to watch all the house lights come on. The street looked like a fish tank in the twilight. She imagined all the kids inside the houses moving like different types of fish as they ate their cereal groggily, or darted through mountains of clothes for a missing shoe.  And when they came outside rubbing their eyes and hefting backpacks up on their shoulders, Rose thought of the little red castle with its doorway and tiny painted windows.


“Do you think they eat people?” Travis asked as they waited at the corner.

“Of course. Some of them,” Rose said with a mock-serious face. It was true, after all, but she didn’t want to scare the kid.

“Wowww. I wish my mom would let me have a fish.”

“Why won’t she?”

Travis looked at his beat up sneakers. “Fish food costs money.”

“Ah,” said Rose. “Haven’t you got an allowance?”

The kid shook his head violently.

Rose squeezed her lips together and thought very hard as he took her hand and they crossed the street. On the other side, after their usual high five send-off, Rose dug into her pocket and rooted around for change. She was going to buy that kid a fish. And some food, too.


She liked to think that sometimes life tried to trick you. Life was a sort of an illusion sometimes; one of those pictures that changes when you look at the black dots. First it’s a fish, and then it’s a shark. First it’s a pregnant belly; next it’s blood on the bedsheets. A tank to a pile of glittery shards. A hole in the screen door near the scratchy record player blaring Gershwin.

First a man cleaning the fish tank, then a man lying in a pool of blood and smoking cigarettes.


When Rose added new fish to her tank, she usually went to the gardening section of the grocery store first. A snotty-nosed employee had told her with a vast sigh that if the flower arrangements died, they were tossed out, so the fish probably went along with.

Travis reminded her of a puffer fish. He was endearingly round with stubby fin-like legs and a spikey haircut. His eyes were beady and shiny and he seemed to grow in size when Rose shared trivia on their ten second walks every morning and afternoon. A puffer fish.


The fish was in a plastic baggie inside a paper sack that also contained a little castle (not red, though), several containers of fish food, and a palm-sized booklet on pufferfish maintenance. Rose hoped that Travis’s mother would at least consider sparing a bowl.

“His name is Earl,” Rose said brightly as she handed Travis the bag after school.

The boy unrolled the top of the bag without a word. Sullenly, he shoved it back at her. “I don’t want it.”

“It’s alright. There’s plenty of food. He’s just one fish, so it should last you a while. And I can buy you some more if�"”

“I. Don’t. Want. It.”

“It’s a really cool fish. You can name it something else if�"”

Travis recoiled in disgust. He threw the paper bag onto the sidewalk, hard, and with a purpose. “Listen lady. I’m in first grade. You don’t need to buy me fish, and you don’t need to hold my hand, and you don’t get to be my friend.”

Before she could stop him, he darted across the street. She gasped as he narrowly escaped a break-squealing car.


Rose had ridden in the ambulance with Earl. He rolled his eyes and told her that he had simply had a little fall; he was getting old after all. Oh, Rosie. You know me. I’m tough as a shark. Just let me go home. I’ll getcha a new fish… Please?

But it wasn’t just a little fall.

Rose knew that.

And yet, life’s illusionary disposition gripped her by the wrists and the ankles and the neck. It tricked her into believing. It tricked her into tricking herself.

Of course it wasn’t a little fall. Of course, of course, of course.

Often she wondered if, had she been awake, she could have saved him.

He had looked so gray, so old for the very first time as he lay in the hospital bed.

She had prodded his arm. She whispered, “Wake up, you geezer. Wake up, duke of Earl. Wake up, wake up!” First she was smiling, and then she became confused. She was inside a tank of slow-moving fish. They floated all around, they bumped against her, tried to force her back into the armchair where she’d been sleeping. Nurses, doctors, fish. Earl was floating at the top.

“Rose, some kid almost got hit on your watch. I’m not so sure you’re spry enough for the job anymore.”

Her nature was to argue, but it seemed that her aging senses couldn’t both respond and replay the image of the fish flopping on the tar. When she’d tried to save it, her mind found ridiculous solutions. Carry it home in your mouth, use that lady’s hose, resuscitate him!

The fish was doomed. She had set him in the grass�"more dignified, she’d thought; she had kept her eyes averted as the little puffer flopped more and more slowly.

“So. You understand, then?”


“I need you to hand me your vest, Rose. I’m happy to put a good word in at another job, but I can’t just look the other way on this one. I’m hoping and praying this kid doesn’t tell his parents.”

Rose nodded. An illusion; job, no job. Fish, no fish. Earl, no Earl.


She took a long way home. She passed the grocery store feeling guilty about the other puffer fish she hadn’t chosen, and then feeling chastened because she couldn’t even save that one.

Rose walked by the park. She stopped to watch the prepubescent figures whirl around the twisty slide and pump their legs on the swings.

“Let go, let go!”

“You ever heard of a face plant, dumbass?”

A yellow-shirted boy was pinned up against the fence by two other boys. A girl watched from the top of the slide.

“Yeah,” said the other crewcut nose-picker, “It’s where we plant the cement in your face.” He kicked the chain link dangerously close to Travis’s leg. “Baby.”

He saw her and fell silent.

The first boy followed Travis’s gaze. He laughed. “Hey look, it’s your grandma.”

“Yeah. Baby.”

“Or is she your girlfriend, ‘cause you hold her hand?” The boy stuck his face close to Travis’s. Travis knew his breath smelled like cigarettes. He sucked in and tried not to exhale.

“Ha, ha. Yeah. Your girlfriend.”

Rose walked calmly down the hill.

“Here she comes! Dun, dun, dundun. Here comes the bride!”

“Haaaa! The bride. Good one, Rufus!”  The boys briefly let go of Travis to high five.

Rose willed the kid to run away, but he stood frozen, and the torturer’s hands were upon him again. 

Billy Johnson, is that you?” Rose said in her most grandmotherly voice, “I thought I noticed that bush on your head from way back there.”

“Yeah. Who do you think you are, you’re just a cross guard, you’re not anybody,” Billy stammered.

“Good comeback, kid,” Rose said, patting the skinny kid’s wild afro. “Let’s hope you aren’t as stupid as you sound. But,” she touched her fingers to her lips, looked up at the sky, remembering, “I did see your last math test in the trash by the bus stop, so maybe you are.” She felt horrible; or maybe just bad. She felt at least a little guilty. But Travis’s beaming eyes encouraged her. She turned to Rufus. “Now, I’m not sure who you are. But I can judge by your association with Tweedle-Dum, here, that you’re not the brightest one of the bunch. Am I right?”

“Lady, I’m in fifth grade. I’m damn smart,” Rufus said. He cocked an eyebrow and jutted his thumb at Billy, “He got held back.”

Billy looked at Travis’s shoes. He pressed his arm further into the chain link.

“That’s great, kid. But if you can’t grow a pair and pick on some little f****r your own size, then I’d say you’re probably not as smart as you claim to be.”

Rufus’s face turned as red as his hair. “I ain’t afraid of you, lady. You don’t know me.”

“I know you better let that kid go because there’s a chick up there watching. Pretty cute, too.” She gestured to the slide behind her. “Girls don’t like boys who act like dicks.”

Billy dropped Travis’s arm. “Let’s go man. Yeah. She said the d-word and the f-word. Yeah. Come on, man. Let’s go.”

Rufus glared at Rose, but dropped Travis’s arm, too. “You’re lucky you’re just an old lady. I could kick your a*s.”

As he skulked away, Rose mumbled at Travis, “Maybe when his balls drop.”

Travis squealed with laughter. He brushed away a stray tear. “If I was Billy, I’d say yeahhh.”

Rose grinned. “He doesn’t have the largest vocabulary, I don’t think.”

“Or the largest brain, either.”

“Ha! Right on!” she slapped him a high-five.



“Will you take me home?”

“Sure, kid. And call me Rosie. I like that best.”

Travis took her hand.

© 2018 49k_jdys

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I am delighted to have been the first, but am sure many now will follow. You have a fascinating style, to be sure. Write on my fine literary friend........All Good Things, Neville

Posted 1 Year Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


1 Year Ago

I appreciate the kindness so so much. Thank you for reading!

1 Year Ago

I am not kind, but thanks anyway.....N

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Added on January 8, 2018
Last Updated on January 8, 2018
Tags: marriage, family, motorcycle, bike, love, couple, kids, school, bullies, hope, strength



Grand Rapids, MI

Want to Be Want to Be

A Story by 49k_jdys