He didn’t like it when people touched Fish. It felt like peeling off a layer of skin and poking at the raw meat underneath. Not that this had ever happened to him. But he imagined it would feel about the same. Fish didn’t mind, of course. He never sought out attention but he tolerated it, allowing people to pet him or rub his belly, as long as Billy was nearby and there were no rats. When Billy got up, though, that was it. There was never any doubt about who he belonged to.

It always bothered women. Some of them found it cute at first, like Fish was a test he’d set up to prove his parental worth. This usually lasted until they woke up with a fifty-pound pitbull squeezed between them like sandwich creme, or when they discovered that Fish paid zero attention to anything they said unless Billy was there to back it up.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like the women. He liked their bodies and the way they smelled and the way they could walk to the coffee shop and come back brimming with stories. It was reassuring to know that so many thoughts and feelings existed, blowing around like viral strains. But he never knew what to say to any of it. It was easier looking into Fish’s blunt, triangular face and reading what was written there. They understood each other.

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