Don’t Eat the Fish

Wandering through Albertsons, Steve carried his plastic basket and moved rapidly through the aisles as if he had a purpose. He didn’t actually have one, but he always walked that way. It was just a reflex. He would have walked with a purpose if he were wandering through a trail in the wood, or exploring a cave. It didn’t matter where he was, he moved quickly and decisively. As he moved, he scanned the shelves for something that would reach out and say “buy me.” This had nothing to do with packaging or advertising and everything to do with the food itself.

Raman noodles had no appeal to day. The doughnuts looked good, but they didn’t tempt him. Canned vegetables held no attraction whatsoever. He didn’t need any light bulbs. It wasn’t until he hit the meat department that he actually slowed down and paid closer attention to what was displayed in the case. Rump roast, flank steak, pork ribs, ham, bacon, and lamb chops all called out to him. There was a two-for-one deal on the cube steak, but the prices had been doubled to compensate, so he ignored that trap and moved on to the sea food section. Tiger prawns, squid, salmon, fresh tuna, and… what some kind of fish he didn’t recognize. What the hell was that? It looked like something out of a science fiction movie.

Seeing him staring, the clerk behind the counter asked if he could help.

“Yeah,” said Steve. “What is that?”

The clerk smiled. He’d been asked that question more than once today. “It’s a Xthaqnimardium,” he told Steve. “They’re very rare. We almost never get them in. They’re an ancient species of fish that we once thought were extinct. But recently, I guess they’ve discovered a whole slew of them living in some underwater volcanic crater smack in the middle of an uncharted island. It’s a pretty incredible story.”

Steve considered that. It was pretty incredible. You’d think they’d want to preserve a fish like this, not sell it to Albertsons. “Is it pretty expensive?” he asked the clerk.

“Nope. It would be if people knew how good it tastes, but they don’t, and it’s ugly, so most people won’t even buy it. But trust me when I say that it’s absolutely the best fish you’ve ever had.”

Steve raised an eyebrow. “You’re pretty good at selling this stuff. Okay, I’ll give it a try. What the heck. I’ll take three pounds of it.”

“Sure,” said the clerk, picking up the fish. “I’ll be right back. I need to cut it on the band saw. Xthaqnimardium  bones are too thick for a normal knife.”

After a few minutes, the clerk came back out with some brown packages and handed them over. “Here you go. You should cook these on low heat, or you’ll ruin the flavor. Just a tip.”

“Thanks,” Steve replied. And then he moved on, getting the rest of his groceries. Frozen sausage was on special, and so was whipped cream, Tylenol, mint jam, cheap red wine, and rubbers. He loaded his basket and hit the check stand.

“Wow,” said the check out lady. “This is quite an interesting mix. You planning a party?”

“That’s right,” snarled Steve. He hated checkout ladies and their idiotic attempts at witty banter. Why should he have to think while checking out groceries? It was all just a scam – a way of distracting him from the readout so that they could rip him off. You had to watch checkers like a hawk, or they’d steal you blind.  “You got the sausage wrong. It’s only a dollar.”

“Oh, you’re right!” said the check out lady. “That’s strange.” She keyed in a code and changed the price. “That sausage looks pretty good. Are you going to invite me over to your house for dinner?”

Steve, who was probably thirty years younger than her, and half her weight, gave her a disgusted look. “Just because I’m buying condoms and whipped cream doesn’t mean I’m that desperate,” he grumbled.

The check out lady just smiled and laughed, slapping her rump. “You don’t know what you’re missing out on honey! A balding pug like you can’t afford to be too picky neither!” she read him the price. “Are you paying for that in cash or with a card?”

He ran his card, completed the transaction, and got out of dodge as fast as he could before something even more embarrassing happened. After he got home, he unloaded the truck and put his packages away. The sausage went in the freezer. The fish went in the fridge. The Tylenol went in the medicine cabinet. The mint jam went in the pantry. The wine went on the shelf, and the rubbers went in the bedroom end table.

About an hour of television watching went by before Steve decided to make dinner. He got out some breading and some eggs, and set a pan with some oil in it on a low temperature. Then he took out the fish and rolled the fillets in scrambled egg and breading before placing each piece carefully in the pan. It sizzled and smelled fantastic. When it was ready, he sat down at the table, sprinkled it with salt, and ate it with tartar sauce. The guy at the seafood counter was right, it was the best fish he’d ever eaten. It wasn’t slimy or fishy at all. In fact, the flavor was somewhat difficult to describe.

After dinner, he sat down to watch television some more because he liked to let his food digest before he cleaned up. It hadn’t always been this way. Back before his wife had died, she’d always cleaned up when he cooked dinner, and she’d always insisted on doing it right away. She hated waiting to clean up the dishes. But, she’d been run over by a semi truck, and now he could do whatever the hell he wanted, so fuck the dishes, they could just sit there.

“Fuck ‘em,” Steve grunted, looking over at the sink.

“Don’t you swear like that!” said his wife.

She was sitting on the couch right next to him. Her neck was canted at a weird angle, and she had grill marks from the semi on her face. Her skin was pale and blotchy, and she stunk like dirt and rotting flesh. In short, she was obviously dead and this was her corpse. She’d come back to life, crawled out of her grave, and somehow come back to their home.

Steve started to hyperventilate. Zombies were not real. This could not be his wife. Someone was playing a very sick prank on him. “You’re… you’re dead,” he managed to rasp out.

“That’s right Steve, I’m dead,” replied Cindy, flicking a speck of dirt off her shoulder. “And whose fault is that, I might ask? If you hadn’t parked on the side of the road, then I wouldn’t have been run over by that big truck when I got out of the car. I told you not to stop, but Oh No! You just had to pull over.”

“The tire was flat,” said Steve. “I had to pull over to change it.”

“And whose fault was it that the tire was flat?” asked Cindy. “If you had bought new tires for the car when I told you to, then we wouldn’t have had a flat in the first place.”

“But, but…” protested Steve, “I could afford to buy the tires. We didn’t have the money.”

“That’s because you spent all that money on World of Warcraft,” stated Cindy. “That’s why I’m dead. World of Warcraft killed me. That and your addiction to it. If it weren’t for you and World of Warcraft, I’d be alive today.”

Steve shook his head. “I’m sorry, Cindy, I’m so sorry. I only played World of Warcraft because I couldn’t stand being around you. You bitch SO much! Since you’ve been gone, I haven’t played that stupid game once. But, why are you back? How is this possible?”

Cindy looked pissed about the bitching comment. She looked like she was going to fly off the handle and take a bite out of his brains. That’s what zombies ate, right? Brains. So Steve figured this was it. He was going to be food for his zombie wife. But then her expression changed and she sighed loudly, the way she always did when she was resigning herself to dealing with something about him that she didn’t like but couldn’t change. “I don’t know how I got here. The last thing I remember was being hit by the truck, and then dying in the hospital, and then nothing. I feel okay.”

“Really?” asked Steve. “Because, um… you’re neck is broken and you’ve got grill marks on your face.”

She shrugged. “I’m sure I can hide that under some makeup, and if I wear a turtle neck, no one will notice my neck is broken. We can make this work. No one has to know.”

“Yeah, but, we had a funeral. Your parents were there, and your brother and sister. They saw you buried, and so did a lot of other people.”

Cindy pondered that. “Was it a closed-casket funeral?” she asked.

Steve nodded.

“Well then, that’s easy. We’ll just tell everyone that the whole thing was a big mix up. They buried the wrong person. I was confused with someone else at the hospital, and that person died, and everyone thought it was me. Now that I’ve woke up from my coma, I’m back and I can live my life again just like it was before.”

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