A True Story about Eating Fish with High Mercury Content
It is May. I am about to take part in a fish eating competition. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t even be taking part, but the prize money on offer is huge. You see, I’m just a poor boy from a poor family, and I desperately need the money.
Just as we’re about to start, one of the fishmongers comes running in, warning all of us that the fish we are about to eat has very high mercury content. The organiser of the event is evidently under pressure from advertisers and demands we continue. “The show must go on,” he says.
Whilst debating with myself over whether to take part or not, one of the other competitors asks rhetorically, “Who wants to live forever?” - a point so persuasive that I decide to stay in the competition.
Soon firmly in the lead, my girlfriend runs up to me and begs me to stop.
“Don’t stop me now,” I say to her coldly. It is the last time I ever see her.
I remember when I was in prison, they would feed me (and the other prisoners) fish with high mercury content every day, and it would make me feel terrible. I recall that I kept screaming, “I want to break free”… to no avail, of course. But, this time, rather than feeling ill, which I had feared, the fish makes me feel very powerful. It’s hard to explain it, but it’s a kind of magic.
One by one, the contenders fall.
“Another one bites the dust,” I observe, as I am now left with just one other opponent. I am enjoying myself so much that I actually ask one of the fallen if I can eat their leftover fish.
“How much do you want?” he asks.
“I want it all and I want it now.”
After several hours, it is clear that that there is not going be an outright winner so the two of us are declared joint winners.
“We are the champions, my friend,” he says to me. He introduces himself to me as Phil Taylor. “But not the darts player,” he adds with a smile and wink.
I get to know Phil very well. We become very close. I fall in love with him. We often meet up to eat fish with high mercury content together. On one of those occasions, I tell him how I feel about him.
“I never had a real good friend — not a boy or girl. Ooh, you’re my best friend,” I say.
“Friends will be friends,” he replies.
“I miss you when I’m not with you,” I say. I go on to tell him that he isn’t just my best friend; I disclose to him that I love him.
He warns me to be careful. “This crazy little thing called love? Remember, too much love will kill you.”
I can’t stop sobbing. “But I think I was born to love you.”
He breaks my heart by telling me that he’s flattered by my affection, but he’s into women, specifically fat bottomed girls.
“It’s a hard life,” I say. “Can anybody find me somebody to love?”
We are interrupted by Deacon, the owner of the restaurant, who approaches and tells us we have made too much mess. He expects us to clean it up. Phil asks what we should use to clean up the table. The restaurant owner is very over the top in his reply. “Flash, oh-oh, saviour of the universe!”
After we finish cleaning, we go back to Phil’s house to eat more fish with high mercury content. As we’re scoffing away, he gets a call from his mother who is not feeling well; she is very distressed. We head straight over to her house. She claims that she has mercury poisoning from a sandwich Phil had made her earlier that week. She starts having some sort of fit.
“What should I do?” he asks.
“Tie your mother down,” I say, but it’s easier said than done.
Phil’s mother starts crying, and it’s clear that Phil can’t stand to see her upset.
“Momma! Didn’t mean to make you cry,” he says, by way of apology.
Eventually the fit subsides, but when she stands up she looks like death on two legs. After helping to get her to bed, I decide to leave — Phil is not taking me seriously and reducing everything I say to innuendo.
I call Phil up a few days later and we awkwardly say nothing about my confession to him.
“What are you doing tonight, hey boy?” I ask him.
We arrange to play tennis, but Phil is quite the tennis novice it turns out.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asks.
“All you have to do is play the game.”
He’s not very good, so we decide to go for a cycling excursion instead, but when we get to our starting point we see a sign telling us we’re not allowed to cycle.
“I want to ride my bicycle” he says petulantly, “I want to ride my bike.”
“Where do you want to ride it?”
“I want to ride it where I like.”
We throw caution to the wind, get on our bikes and go, and we decide to have a bicycle race. “On your marks, get set, go!” I shout.
We are both whizzing about until I’m rushing headlong out of control and accidentally fall into a pond. It would not be a problem for most people, but I can’t swim so it feels like the Seven Seas of Rhye to me.
“Save me!” I scream.
He dives in and saves me. I dry off, and just before I’m about to get back onto my bike, he wipes my face with his hand.
“You’ve got mud on your face, you big disgrace,” he says tenderly.
We cycle for a few more miles before stopping for our favourite snack — fish sandwiches with high mercury content. We watch the stars. Phil talks about how music changes through the years.
I read a newspaper story out loud about a plot to kill a queen.
“Killer queen?” asks Phil.
“No, kill a queen.” I clarify.
Phil starts talking about Frankenstein as if he were real. I tell him my views very sternly, probably a bit too sternly: “I don’t believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein, or Superman.”
Phil always knows how to calm things down. “What the hell are we fighting for?” he asks.
Well, it turns out that fish with high mercury content really isn’t as good for us as we had thought. After years of eating it regularly, Phil falls very ill. I go to see him at the hospital. He looks very frightened.
“I think I’m going slightly mad,” he says. “It’s a miracle I made it this far.”
It’s so heart-breaking to see him so ill.
“Whatever came of you and me?” he asks.
I don’t dare to bring up his rejection of my love, so we talk about all the good times we’ve shared instead. It’s clear that Phil is losing his mind.
“Honey, you’re touching something. You’re touching me,” he says.
It makes me so sad to hear him say that. He should know that I would never prey on him, or anyone so vulnerable.
I speak to the doctor outside his room. “Can anything save him?”
“Only a scientific breakthru.”
I visit Phil every day, and each day he drifts further away from me.
The last time I see him, I tell him “Every night and every day, a little piece of you is falling away.”
He pulls me close, with every last bit of his strength. “I had a dream when I was young — a dream of sweet illusion; a glimpse of hope and unity, and visions of one sweet union. But a cold wind blows, and a dark rain falls, and, in my heart, it shows.”
I can barely see from tears. I tell him, “If I could make you smile; if I could only reach you; breakthru these barriers of pain; breakthru the sunshine from the rain — I’d turn my heart inside and out for you now.”
But it’s all for nothing.
“Look what they’ve done to my dream,” Phil says.
And with that, he dies in my arms.
I don’t know if there’s a god or any kind of justice under the sky; if there’s a reason to live or die. All I know is another heartache. Another failed romance. On and on… does anybody know what we are living for?