Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

The Flying Fish

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

The Flying Fish

Article excerpt

A ventilation fan came on, its hum overpowering the steady drone of the airport. Napkins in glasses fluttered in the flow of air, a newspaper quivered in someone's hands, the corners of tablecloths waved, ashes slid slowly into one corner of the ashtray, a breadcrumb (on the table) began moving. Tiny, almost imperceptible movements commenced. On the floor, a dust colony drifted by; a mouth exhaled smoke which then immediately vanished, as if the mouth had drawn it back in; a woman's styled hair rippled; the dry flower arrangement on the bar rustled.

He stuffed a pickled pumpkin cube into his mouth, ran his tongue over its grooves, and let the associations roll. A woman washing laundry. She scrubs the sheet rhythmically along the washboard, water splashing over the sides of the basin; the woman bends over, then straightens, leans over, straightens herself, steam billowing to the ceiling, the suds rising like a mountain . . . interesting--if you write a word on a tiny pumpkin with a fountain pen, does the word grow along with the pumpkin? . . . Look, the suds are already overflowing. Tasting soap in his mouth, he worked the cube under his tongue. Now it's growing, slowly growing, pushing his tongue upward, the corners already pressing against his cheeks, his cheeks become square, grow, his chin becomes square, his jaw cracks, stop, I'm suffocating, stop. Nitroglycerin, the large, square nitroglycerin tablet shrinks, melts, my tongue slowly settles, I am no longer suffocating, strength flows into me, enough strength to suck methodically on the next cube. . . . Jeez, what was I thinking of?

Having eaten, he glanced at his watch. Still plenty of time. He went up to the bar. Would you pour me a cognac? ... On one side of the road stretched a rickety old wooden fence; holding lightly onto Mary's elbow, so that the girl would not trip in her high heels, Lueas helped her cross the narrow strip of land pitted with rabbit holes. . . . Would you pour me a cognac? Yes, yes, just a moment . . . the still youngish, redheaded, primly dressed Mary Carson glanced over . . . Are you almost done with the page? The girl pulled herself away from her book and poured a splash of cognac into a large glass.

He sat down in his seat and watched as the girl sank back into her reading. Like a cat, she moved her head along with the lines on the page, her expressions mirroring the text. Studying the girl's face, he tried to imagine what she was reading. Look: the girl freezes, stops twirling her hair, smiles faintly. . . . I'm sorry, very sorry--he rose, stood for a moment stroking the carvings on the back of his chair. He had risen very deliberately, but in his slow fingering of the carvings she sensed confusion. For the first time, she saw Harry . . . no, better yet Victor . . . confused. She sensed that she now would have to say something cruel so that he would leave without having lost his self-respect, so that he would leave angry, defiant in the face of insult. . . . The smile vanished from the girl's face. Someone stopped at the bar, and the girl had to pull herself from her book again, her face lost its animation, and she turned toward the new customer with a mechanical smile.

Still plenty of time.

He swallowed and squinted, trying to merge the human silhouettes, the lines and edges of the room into a variety of geometric forms. Two young women in tight slacks were sitting at the bar. They appeared to be--humanists. The pear-shaped silhouettes straightened into triangles and vibrated slightly in the man's eyes. A family rose from a table--two children with their parents. They approached the door, each with their own gait. The woman moved smoothly and evenly until, with the shine from the surface of the round door reflected on her, she rolled out of the restaurant. A little behind her, on either side, were two bouncing tennis balls followed by a heavy clothespin swaying back and forth. The amplitude of the husband's oscillation was disturbing; it seemed that he would tip over at any moment. …

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