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A Fish Story

by: J. Bal


Colin woke to the salute of his proud member. At age sixty-two, he wasn’t exactly the picture of virility. He was still capable from time to time, but the time between times was becoming greater in length. Amy, his wife of thirty years, had suggested that maybe he try one of the new pills on the market for erectile dysfunction since the doctor had ruled out anything wrong with his prostate and he was in excellent physical health. Wanting to please her, but preferring the natural route and taking an interest in herbal medicine, he had started taking ginseng about two months ago and had noticed a slight difference. Maybe it was starting to really work. He knew that it took some time for vitamins to build up in the system.

The old Asian man at the market had smiled at him when he purchased it and had said, “It’ll make you a strong man!” They both had laughed. “I’m living proof. I have seven children.” He didn’t know why it was such a big deal, it didn’t bother him that much. He was getting old, he accepted that. He and Amy had never had what he would consider an “active” sex life anyway.

His fingers wandered down to an itch and he noticed something peculiar. There was an unevenness of skin at the base of his member. He got up immediately and went to the lavatory to inspect.

He switched on the light, which magnified the immaculate white tiles and white walls and porcelain white bodies of the toilet, sink, and tub. The room seemed to radiate as snow does, and it was cold, very cold. Amy liked the cleanliness of white. She enjoyed noticing when things transitioned from clean to dirty: a stray black hair here, a splash of urine there, a white splatter of plaque on the mirror, a speckle of blue toothpaste, a faint orange ring inside the toilet bowl (for which she employed pumice). Using bleach was an odd catharsis for her. She liked the lingering smell it left on her fingers.

Colin pulled down his white trunks to inspect the unevenness of skin. It looked like a pink rash was beginning to form around the base of his member. Sloughs of skin circled the area all the way around. He was peeling. He decided to put a dab of lotion onto it, maybe it was just a dry patch. He massaged the lotion into the area, put on his robe, and went downstairs to get the paper.

Retirement was treating him well, although he did miss his privacy. Going to work eight to nine hours a day was a separate life he had away from Amy. He didn’t particularly enjoy doing people’s taxes, but it was a place where he could socialize with his colleagues, talk about politics or whatever the hot topic might be, a place to exercise his brain. He and Amy talked, but it was usually about one of their three children or ten grandchildren, about something they might want to change about the house, about gardening, about trading the car in for a newer model, about the answer to a crossword clue. Amy had spent the last thirty years inside the home, which he thought she had enjoyed, the current events she kept abreast were medical in nature, and she had only one friend that she corresponded with that lived in another city many miles away. She often commented on how nice it was to have him all to herself.

Recently, little things were beginning to bother him about her that he had not noticed before. He had always loved the fact that Amy set out his clothes for work the night before, he didn’t have to iron or think about what would match or pick out his tie; the clothes were laid out on the white chaise lounge next to the door, boxer shorts, business socks, slacks, tie, and shirt. Nothing had changed, his clothes appeared every night before he went to bed, but now it bothered him, maybe he would like to make a decision about what he was going to wear. Everything was beginning to feel predestined, but each day instead of choosing something different to wear, he stuck by her choice.

By mid-evening, the sloughing had moved up the staff and was nearing the fold of its circumcised head. The sloughing left behind a thin scaly layer. He had to change his trunks several times because of the skin that was shedding away. It reminded him of a nature show he had watched a while back about a snake molting its scales. It was frightening the way it was moving across his member. He resorted to using an antifungal medication, as he could not think of any other plausible explanation.

When he and Amy were first married and before she became pregnant (it was a short window), they had taken a trip to the coast. Amy had never been and Colin thought it would be romantic. It was an overcast day and quite warm when they got to the beachfront hotel. They ran straight for the water before they even checked in. They had only stayed on the beach for a short time, but it was long enough to turn Amy’s fair complexion into a tight red sheath. After a few hours, her skin curdled with yellow bubbles. He’d never seen anything like it in all his life, second degree burns, and the way she peeled after that and the way it itched, she swore she’d never set foot on the beach again and she never had.

“You alright in there?” asked Amy at the lavatory door.

“Fine, dear, out in a minute.”

“You sure? You’ve been in and out of there all day.”

“Everything’s fine.”

If Amy found out about this, she would surely make him go see Dr. Jackson and he could not stand to go back, not again. He was certain that even Dr. Jackson felt sorry for him, but he would never say anything because what did he care, he was getting paid. He arranged for Colin to come back every three months per Amy’s insistence. Did Colin ever get tired of hearing about Dr. Jackson, the miracle worker. He hated the office. It reeked of piss and muscle cream with dirty beige carpet and light blue seats with dark soiled rings. He could only hope the accidents occurred far enough into the past to avoid a stain on his own trousers. It was interesting because Amy never mentioned how filthy the office was; she was a different person when she stepped inside that room.

It was always filled, standing room only, with the same geriatric characters with their colostomy bags, oxygen tanks, and walkers with tennis ball feet. He loathed the listening end of conversations he inevitably sat through in that waiting room, “my shingles are killing me, my wife just passed away, my dick’s as limp as a wet noodle, they said I needed surgery for my glaucoma, I’m a prisoner in that goddamn nursing home, my kids never come to see me.” When had they turned that corner? When was he going to turn that corner where he resorted to talking to strangers about his ailments? When would he lose his dignity?

He had just had a colonoscopy several months ago because of Amy’s insistence, “Dr. Jackson says preventative medicine, that’s the key to a long life,” and that was by far the worst and most humiliating thing he had ever been through so maybe he was on his way. He still could not believe he agreed to that one. Why didn’t he ever tell her no? He tried, but she wasn’t one to take no for an answer, she was always capable of turning it around. She was very meticulous about their physical well-beings and he had always been healthy, which Amy boasted was because of her. He took several vitamin supplements each day. She kept a log of their yearly physicals and diagnoses and checked with him periodically to make sure his bowels moved regularly. He didn’t feel that a person should go to the doctor each time he had a sniffle. That was why the world was filling with superbugs and viruses that antibiotics couldn’t kill. Some things were just a part of life.

He decided to keep this to himself for the time being. He was certain that it would pass in a few days, after all it didn’t hurt, what was the big deal? He would try to limit his time in the lavatory and maybe he would throw his trunks out to avoid Amy’s suspicious nature, she had a nose that could smell something the minute it began to spoil.
           
Colin awoke the next morning to the same proud salute. He couldn’t believe it, two days in a row! It hadn’t been just in the morning, it was periodic throughout the day. When he looked over at Amy, he saw that she had noticed the tent he was making with the sheet.

“Hello, Mr. Rothschild.” She moved in close to Colin, but he quickly scooted out of bed.

“Give me a minute, honey. I have to use the lavatory.” Small thin pieces of his dried flesh floated off him as he walked. If one looked closely at the white carpet, a faint orange trail was beginning to form between the bed and the lavatory.

Amy slumped down into the bed and sighed. Colin closed himself into the lavatory to examine his member. He could feel a strange festering in his scrotum, but it didn’t look any different. The sloughing continued and in areas where he could see his skin it looked like it was raising up in sectioned layers the size of small gemstones and it had an iridescent carroty color to it. 

After he urinated, he was still stiff. He most certainly would have to keep this from Amy or he would no doubt become a specimen under a microscope. It was somewhat nice to have a secret for once. As he jiggled off the excess dribbles, he noticed something else. There were two small button size nodules on each side of his member near the urinary opening. Were they cysts? Was it possible that he had cancer? That was impossible, he’d been checked for prostate cancer only months ago. Was it possible that he was having some allergic reaction to the ginseng? He decided he would discontinue use of the ginseng immediately and perhaps he would go back to the market and see the old Asian man.

“Colin, what are you doing in there?”

“I’m getting into the shower, Amy. I’ll see you at breakfast. Could you make me some pancakes, love?”

“Pancakes? You never eat pancakes during the week.” During the week, they ate bran flakes with buttered toast and a glass of Metamucil. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Amy would slice up a banana and put it in his cereal. The coffee pot allowed for four cups and they each drank two that was all. They did not deviate from this routine Monday through Friday.

“I know; I just feel like having pancakes.” He asked for it just to get her off his back and to buy a little time.

He noticed some orange flecks of skin near the base of the commode and wiped them up with some toilet paper. He started the shower and stepped into the warm water. As the water ran down his body, his member began to perk up. It flipped from side to side on its own as the water ran down it and Colin began to laugh.

After breakfast, Colin drove to the market. All through breakfast, Amy had studied him instead of working the morning paper’s crossword puzzle and sudoku. She looked at him crookedly as she sipped her coffee. She was a smart woman, she knew that something was up and it wasn’t just his cock. She asked him what had happened to the trunks he was wearing yesterday. He lied and said that he had ripped them and thrown them away.

Inside the store, Colin observed a young man stacking heads of Napa cabbage next to a bin of Japanese eggplants. He went to him.

“Uh, hello there,” said Colin.

The young man turned to look at him.

“Hi.”

“Yes, I’m looking for an older gentleman who works here.”

“Who?”

“A short Asian man…bald, goatee.”

“What do you want with him?”

“I’d like to talk with him. Is he here?”

“He’s in the back.” The man pointed to the back of the store. “Outside.”

Colin stood there lamely. The man put down the cabbage head he held in his palm and led Colin to the back of the store. Outside was a courtyard with deep green foliage and pink hibiscus flowers. He pointed beyond and Colin walked dumbly forward. The man sat with his back facing Colin. The sky was grey and wanting to rain. The humidity caused a cold sweat under the layers of Colin’s shirt and sport jacket.

“Uh, hello.”

 The man turned to look. It took a moment, but he was able to place Colin, “Hello, you back for more man root?”

“Excuse me?”

“Ginseng.”

“Oh, right, yes, well, actually, I hoped, yes I hoped rather that I could ask you about that.”

“Have a seat. What is it?” A half-eaten sandwich with pink meat lay on the table next to a mug of steaming tea.

“Well, you see,” Colin chuckled nervously, “it is working, but I’m having some rather strange effects from it.”

“Too much strength?” The man laughed. Dead leaves picked up by the wind shuffled behind him and Colin shivered.

“No, no, not too much, the strength is fine. It’s just, it, I don’t really know how to say this.”

The man looked at him inquisitively.

“Are there any side effects from the ginseng?”

“Side effects, you mean other than wanting more?” He raised his eyebrows a couple of times.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know. You think you might be allergic?”

“Well, I don’t know.”

“Well, if you were allergic you would know right away. People react differently to allergies, but you would probably get a bad itchy rash or something like that.”

“In one place?” Colin pointed to his groin.

The man raised his eyebrows.

“I think it would be over your whole body. I would go see a doctor if I were you. You don’t want to take chances with that area. Am I right?”

“Right,” said Colin. “Well, I’m sorry to have bothered you. I’ll let you get back to your lunch.”

“You take care of yourself.”

Rays of sun parted the clouds and reflected off a circular pool across the courtyard. As Colin moved closer to the pond, his scrotum began to tremble and his member began to tingle and move.

The drive home was an aggressive mix of cacophonic thoughts twisting and turning like the haunting movements in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1; allegretto, moderato, cadenza-attacca, and allegro con moto. The clouds began to drizzle rain, the sun had disappeared. Pressure was beginning to build at the head of his member. It throbbed and at the same time, his urinary opening felt as if it was being stretched open, like something was trying to break through. How much longer could he and should he keep this a secret?  

Colin went straight to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a scotch. He drank it down and poured another.

“Where have you been, darling? You missed lunch,” said Amy.

“I was…I was at the market.”

“Oh, God, not for more of that ginseng I hope?”

“What?”

“Well, I hate to say it, darling, but you’ve turned into quite the cold fish. You haven’t touched me in weeks. I thought that maybe this morning something might happen…Why not try some real medication. Would you like me to make you an appointment with Dr. Jackson?”

“I’m tired. I’m going to go lay down.”

“Colin, whatever is the matter? Why are you drinking in the middle of the day? Don’t feel pressured, honey, it doesn’t matter so much to me. It’s just part of old age. Are you depressed?”

“I’m tired; just let me take a nap.”

“I can see you’re upset. Can I get you something? Would you like your sandwich?”

“No!”

“Alright, alright. I’m sorry.”

Colin went into the lavatory and took a valium from the medicine cabinet. Maybe the alcohol and the valium would put him and his member to sleep, this he hoped for.

Colin slept through into the night and in the wee hours of the morning he awoke from the tearing of his skin and what felt like the eruption of blisters. He whimpered like a child and crept into the lavatory, locking the door. The fronts of his white trunks were marked with the red head of a cauliflower and they danced atop his flopping member. The cauliflower grew a trunk and turned into a tree. Red drops floated down to the white tiles. The red drops reminded him of Amy’s toenail polish. When they reached the ground, he could see that the drops were much thinner than polish and they didn’t stay in globular forms. They spread out, some with skinny fingers, some looked like royalty crowns, others like wrappers from a box of chocolates, and some got caught up in the hairs of his legs and trickled to his ankles. He could see the drops drying up in front of his eyes, darkening. Time moved in two different speeds, cauliflower to tree, drops slowly falling, wet to dry, dancing member.

Colin pulled down his trunks and they fell around his ankles. He stared down at the gaping mouth, opening and closing without reason, the orange scales, the fins; the two black eyes stared up at him, looking directly in his eyes. Blood oozed from the openings caused by the protuberances. His scrotum, which was once sagging with loose skin, was swollen to the size of a grapefruit. He had to alleviate some of the pressure. He walked to the sink and from the medicine cabinet he withdrew a razor blade. He tried to hold onto his member, but it was slick and it fought him. He did his best to make a small straight incision along the top of his scrotum and as he did small golden eggs spilled into the sink. He dropped the razor blade and turned on the faucet. The inner line of his member extended him towards the running water and the open mouth took in water, gills fanning open and closed.

“Colin! Colin! What’s the matter? Where is all this blood coming from?”

The sound of her voice brought Colin out of his shock. He didn’t know what to do. His member pulled him towards the water. The sink was riddled with golden eggs that continued to dribble out from his sack. The doorknob jiggled and Amy grew more hysterical. “Answer me! Please, Colin. I’m going to call an ambulance.”

There was only one thing for him to do. He picked up the razor blade from the sink, rinsed it under the water, and began dismemberment starting at the edge of the tail fin. He felt no pain as he swiftly separated it from his body. It flopped into the sink and bowed its body from side to side, maneuvering toward the open drain. Colin stood by shivering and watched it, time moving ever slower and the sounds of Amy’s cries disappearing into the clean white, cold as snow.

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