The Fish

Every morning Harris tries to force his eyes open before he relives the end. This morning he’s able to wake at the point where… he’s riding a surf board between the Emerald Plaza skyscrapers in downtown San Diego. Behind him swells the biggest tidal wave known to man. She is holding onto his waist so tight that he can feel her fingerprints embedded into his skin… even after he wakes, walks over to the window, and looks out to sea.

That wasn’t exactly how it happened, there had been no surfboard involved; maybe if there had been, his life wouldn’t be so fucked up. But idiot assholes rewrote history’s shit all the time. Like when they predicted that the melting ice wasn’t that big a deal and so what if the ocean rose a few feet, a little cement could take care of that. Except a few feet of water turned out to be almost 100 feet and a world without an icecap was too fucking hot.

He grabbed his binoculars. One lens was cracked but he could still see pretty good. His shack up on Mount Helix was safe from the big storm surges but they came closer every year so he kept a lookout for them. He squinted. Out in the Pacific, beyond downtown San Diego, most of which was now an underwater, he could see a dark red smear. Shit. The fishing would be crap again. But he might be able to get something, probably a jellyfish before the red tide go so close it poisoned the coastal water and everything swimming in it. He was sick of jellyfish and so was everyone else. The market for them was bad. While he was out scavenging, he might as well check out downtown for anything that he could salvage. The last storm surge had knocked out the top windows of One America Plaza and he’d found an ancient laptop and a cell phone. Collectors’ items. No matter what the disaster, there were always a few who ended up with all the Golden Fleece.

He climbed into his twelve-foot skiff, which had once been red and still had a few flakes of the paint left here and there. He’d rigged a solar panel to the battery and even though it was fucking gutless it didn’t cost much to run. He motored west. The last storm had also brought in a lot of shit from China, he could tell because of the writing on some of the bigger plastic pieces floating around the rest of the broken up building debris that was always there. He scooped up a tangled net with a few good quality hooks that he could sell or trade.

Up ahead he saw his neighbor, Chip. The dickhead had gotten the jump on him. Harris wiped the sweat that was dripping down his forehead and running down the back of his neck with a ragged towel and then dropped it beside him on the seat. It was already a 103 degrees, which meant they would break 120 today. He looked down into the water, thinking that he saw the shadow of a fish but it was just a piece of wood in the process of sinking. If it had been a fish and he’d caught it, he would’ve had to decide whether to sell it for big bucks or eat it himself. He hadn’t had fish in six months.

He maneuvered the boat into the twelfth floor of Symphony Towers, got out, and then scrounged through three rooms without finding much besides the lid to a Styrofoam cooler. Then he heard a splashing noise. He waded into the next room and found a scrawny kid sitting in water up to her waist, holding onto a net bag with a fish thrashing around inside it. “How’d you get in here?” he demanded.

“A fucking boat, moron, just like you.”

He clenched his fists. “You’re a tough little shit, but it’s not going to do you any good. Hand the fish over.”

“No.” She clutched the bag tighter.

“Look, kid, if I got a fight you, I will.”

“Go ahead,” she said, but the brown part of her eyes was lost inside the whites.

He charged toward her and grabbed the bag, yanking her spindly arm. She fell forward into the water and sputtered but didn’t let go. He twisted her wrist around and started to pry her fingers open. She yelped but still didn’t let loose. When he finished getting her fist open, he grabbed the bag and turned to go. She tackled him around his knees. His legs buckled. “Son of a bitch,” he yelled as he stumbled.

Righting himself, he swung his arm back and hit her. When he heard the smack, he jerked his arm back. He hadn’t meant to hit that hard, but it was the kid’s fault. He heard her splash into the water, then gag and cough.

He waded back to his boat as fast as he could. After he climbed in, he set the fish on the bottom. It was a good sized and he didn’t want Chip to see it. All the way back, he kept a look out for Chip’s twenty-foot zodiac. He didn’t notice the small canoe.

But after he tied up his boat, he scanned the water and saw her paddling toward him. He stood and watched. When she beached the canoe, she got out. With her legs spread and her fists on her hips she said, “I’m Korey with a K.”

“I don’t give a fuck how you spell it. Beat it.”

“Half of that fucking fish is mine. I caught it.”

He laughed. “Haven’t you heard that possession is nine tenths of the law?”

“I want more than a tenth.”

“You’re getting nothing.” He turned and walked back to his shack. It was set apart from the other dozen dumps on Mount Helix. All the million dollar homes had been vacated, ransacked, and the walls hauled off for salvage decades ago. Harris built his place from a cargo container that had washed up nearby. The gaping hole had made a great doorway and he cut out a few more holes for windows, but the place was still in oven and he spent most of his time outside.

In the kitchen, he set the fish on a plywood sheet that was held up by two sawhorses. The spotted bass was a fucking mutant. They all were. But he cut out the tumors on both sides of its gills easy enough. Then he looked out through the doorway. The scraggly brat was sitting on the stump that had his motorcycle saddlebag laid across it. Her chin rested on her knuckles and a scowl furrowed her dirty forehead. Her bare knees were scraped and bruised. She wore flip-flops and a T-shirt three sizes too big for her. Probably an orphan. There were plenty of those around these days. He decided to cook the fish. Let her watch; let her learn that there were things she can’t do shit about.

He carried the fish outside to his cook stove. Everyone cooked outside these days. It was too hot to do anything else. He gutted the fish and scraped the bits of plastic out of its belly and into the recycle bin. Then he threw the fish on the iron griddle that was set in the sun at an angle so that it was always hot. The fish skin sizzled while he chopped up some wrinkled lemons and prickly pear cactus. He felt her eyes follow his every movement. The smell of fish and lemon filled the air. His stomach was growling now. Hers probably was too. He flipped the fish over.

“That’s too much for one person,” she muttered.

“Maybe if you’re a scrawny kid, not for a grown man.”

He brought the fish inside, set it on a plate, grabbed a fork and carried everything outside. Then he sat down to eat. The fish wasn’t too bad, mushy, but they all were, in these bathwater warm seas. He stared at the lemon tree’s brown leaves and the dry blue sky behind it.

After he’d eaten a third, he was full, but he looked over at the kid and kept eating. She needed to be taught where she was in the pecking order.

Halfway through the fish, he started getting sleepy. Around this time, he usually napped to escape the afternoon heat. But if he fell asleep now, the kid would steal his fish. Sweat pooled on his upper lip, and dripped down his ribs and back, creating a fucking swamp underneath his butt. The sun grew hotter by the minute, melting his energy. His son-of-a-bitching eyelids wouldn’t stay open. He closed them for just a second and fell asleep with the fork in his hand.

He dreamed he was surfing between the skyscrapers of San Diego. She had her arms wrapped tight around his waist, like always. He thought that it always would be like this, that nothing on earth could rip them apart…

At the edge of his dream, a shadow flickered and then was gone. Slowly, he opened one eye, then the next. He looked at down. The fork was still in his hand. The fish was gone. Shit. But he’d have done the same thing. Guess he was the one who learned the fucking lesson. The skinny kid was still there. She was holding up his motorcycle saddle. “Where’s the bike that this goes on?”

“Out there.” He pointed toward the water.

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