In the July issue of Dazed & Confused we invited 11 young and exciting novelists to write a short story inspired by their favourite song lyric. The literary playlist includes everything and everyone from The Cure to Nirvana and Cher to Elvis Presley. We present the story in full here by author Arthur Bradford.
We were fishing off the banks of the canal, a murky place full of filth and debris, when my friend Bill hooked something strange.
“I’ve got one,” he said to me, his fishing rod bent and twitching.
“It’s probably just trash,” I said. “I don’t know why you even brought us here. What kind of fish live in a canal like this?”
“We’re about to find out,” said Bill. “It’s not garbage. It’s alive, see?”
Something splashed down below us, a deep, powerful splash. Whatever he’d hooked was large and slow-moving. Bill settled in for a long fight.
There was a store nearby and I left to go purchase some beer. Inside the store were three men and a woman I knew named Grace.
“Bill’s hooked a large fish in the canal,” I told Grace.
“I’m surprised to hear that,” she said.
Grace sold me some beer and everyone followed me back to the canal to see how Bill was doing. Grace hung a sign on the door of the store which said, “Back in 5 minutes”.
Bill was still holding his bent rod, tired but determined. One of the men who’d followed me turned out to be Bill’s cousin. Bill handed the fishing rod to him and drank a beer. Then he sighed, took the rod back from his cousin and pulled the big fish in.
It was an ugly beast the size of a dog, more like a lizard than a fish. It had thick bumpy skin instead of scales. I pointed this out to Bill and he said, “But it doesn’t have legs. It has fins. It’s a fish.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Grace. “You should throw it back in the canal.”
“The hell I will,” said Bill.
“It’s talking,” said Bill’s cousin.
“You’re drunk,” said one of the other men.
But the fish was making noises. “Ooo!” it said. “Aaahm!”
“That’s not talking,” said Bill. “Those are fish noises.”
Then Bill turned and reminded me that we had a date that night. We were going to visit the Harper sisters and they had told us to bring dinner. That was why we had gone fishing in the first place. The Harper sisters enjoyed fish.
Bill’s cousin helped us haul the fish to the truck while Grace and her friends stayed at the canal to finish the beer. If anyone was waiting back at the store they’d sure wonder how long “5 minutes” was to her!
The fish continued its monologue even after we tossed it in the back of the truck. “Awww! Ewwww!” it said.
“I don’t like the way it’s talking,” I told Bill. “I don’t think we should eat it.”
“Those are just noises,” said Bill. “It’s okay to eat fish. They don’t have any feelings.”
The Harper sisters lived in a small house outside of town. They were shockingly beautiful, both of them, with black hair and wild, light-colored eyes. Rose, the older one, had been in some movies. Evelyn, the younger sister, was my date. She too could have been in movies, but she was shy and disliked attention. When we arrived Rose said, “Where’s the fish?”
“It’s in the back of the truck,” said Bill.
We all went to look at the fish.
“What the fuck is that?” asked Rose, when she saw it.
“Bill caught it in the canal,” I said.
“I don’t know if I want to eat that,” said Evelyn.
“Oooww,” said the fish.
“It’s talking,” said Rose.
“Those are fish noises,” said Bill. “All fish make noises like that. Come on, let’s go inside and have a drink.”
We went inside their little house and Rose lit up a marijuana cigarette. She and Evelyn smoked them all day long. Bill looked in the refrigerator and said, “Do you have any lemons? Fish tastes better with lemons.”
“We have oranges,” said Rose.
“Okay,” said Bill. “I guess that will do.”
Bill set to work preparing some kind of fish sauce but then Rose got frisky and took him by the hand into her bedroom. Evelyn and I sat staring at the floor while they removed each other’s clothes and rolled around on her creaky bed.
“Let’s go outside,” I suggested.
There were stars in the sky and everything would have been alright except that big fish was still alive and making those noises.
“Waaaah,” it said.
“I don’t like those sounds at all,” said Evelyn.
“Me either,” I agreed.
We decided to get in the truck and drive back to the canal. Evelyn helped me carry the fish to the spot where we’d been and there we found Grace and Bill’s cousin and the other two men I’d met in the store. They were still out there drinking beer.
“Help us throw this fish back in the canal,” I said.
“We’d be glad to,” said Bill’s cousin.
We all grabbed hold of different parts of the fish and together gave it a big heave.
“Yaaaaaa!” said the fish as it twisted and flopped through the air. It landed with a slap in the muddy water and then disappeared into the dirty depths.
“Boy am I glad to be rid of that thing,” I said.
“Me too,” said Evelyn. She lit one of her marijuana cigarettes and looked shy and stunning.
“Grace,” I said, “do you have any fish in your store?”
“I have frozen fish,” said Grace. “You want frozen fish?”
I looked at Evelyn and she said, “Sure, that’s fine.”
We purchased a frozen cod and returned to the Harper sisters’ house to cook it. Bill was furious that we’d thrown back his big canal fish, but the cod tasted good with his special sauce and I could even believe what Bill had said before about it not having any feelings. Those fish that swim in clean ocean waters aren’t like us. They understand and accept the laws of nature. It’s our technology and trash that’s made us soft and so full of all these crazy feelings.