OR SALE: Large, tangerine-colored, nuclear-powered '67 Volkswagen. Heater
works. Recently overhauled. Enough room in trunk for cattle ranch or
commission of murder. 10,600 K. $1,800 or best offer. Sacrifice. Current
owner about to enter treatment center.
"It's a fish," Robert said, adjusting his bra.
"It's not a fish. It's a barracuda," Robert said.
Robert looked at him. "If it's not a fish, then why is it
Robert looked puzzled. "Olympic time trials?" he said. He began to
cry. He was always beginning to cry. It had something to do with a leak in
his lachrymal gland.
The doctors told him not to worry. Of course, they were all coked out of
Meanwhile, every condo in the valley had this whistling sound.
Sometimes it was "The Yellow Rose of Texas"; other times it was
"The Bridge Over the River Kwai."
Robert preferred it when it was hip-hop. He often went to work that way,
dressed in nothing but a grapefruit.
The boss had a tendency to complain.
"It's just a fish," Robert said adjusting his bra.
"You call that a fish?" the boss said, pointing a revolver at his
forehead and squeezing the trigger.
The sound of the bullet exiting the gun backwards was visible in Boise. It
was just turning winter there, and the skiers were out in force, wearing
black armbands and chanting tributes to Sonny Bono. One of them had recently
graduated from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. Being fearless, he maintained it was not a fish, it was a barracuda.
Robert didn't care what he thought. After all, he had this large, ulcerous
sore growing on the back of his tongue. He often lay in bed at night, gasping
It had something to do with DNA. No one was quite sure. When it was time to
watch football, all they wanted to do was watch football. The barracudas and
the fish could go to hell for all they cared.
Meanwhile the condos were whistling, Robert was choking, and the Volkswagen
sat in the driveway collecting rust. Several old ladies next door walked
their dogs nearby and encouraged them to piss on it.
The lucky thing is, piss is sterile when it leaves the body. Not that you'd want to
make a regular habit of drinking it. But in a multicultural society such as
this--really who's to say what anybody else chooses to drink?
You think the fish would care? Or the rude, little old ladies walking their
dogs? Only Robert would care, although Robert wouldn't.
That's the way it is in that neck of the woods. Obviously, neck of the woods
is an idiom. The reader ought not to be confused. A woods does not literally
have a neck. Speaking of a "neck" of the woods is a metaphoric
method of discourse. Unfortunately it's also a cliché. Ask any sports
writer if you want to talk clichés. But don't get them started on whether or
not it's a fish.
Poor Robert slowly choking to death with this huge, ulcerous growth slowly
constricting his breathing passages, and his parents back in Iowa don't even
know if it's him or his brother Robert who's dying. Two or three times a day
they call Boise and discuss it with the skiers, but most of them are out
drunk lying skis-up in the snow.
Meanwhile the doctors are on sabbatical again. And the fish? They're
attending debating society meetings. It all conforms in the most rigorous way
to Roberts Rules of Order.
The first fish says, "I believe it's a man."
"No," the second fish says, "it's a barracuda."
* * * * *
H. Turnip Smith lives under a winged, moving
sidewalk in Kettering, Ohio. More of his work can be accessed