Catfish

by earthquakeinthepoorhouse

Down to the dam to test the mud. There’s hardly any left. Instead, I find 12 bronzed catfish beached and gasping in the sun.

‘Don’t you have lungs?’ I ask them.

One of them coughs up a lung, and dies. I’m reminded of something my dad once told me:

‘Sometimes,’ he said, ‘when you ask something whether or not it has any lungs, it will cough one up just to show you.’

‘So I shouldn’t ask things about their lungs?’ I asked.

‘I didn’t say that,’ he said.

The last time I saw my dad, we had a fight. It was about my rabbit. My dad would often throw it into the washing machine along with the laundry.

‘Don’t you have a heart?’ I yelled at him, and he staggered off into the paddock and exploded.

One of the dying fish spits up a fob watch and chain. Fob sounds to me like a racist slur you just can’t say anymore, especially on a football field. Better to sling shit you know is offensive on the pitch, or they’ll say your sledging game is poor and you’re a frothy turd to boot.

‘Here’s your racist watch back,’ says the fish, and dies.

I consider the watch carefully. It tells me my granddad has been dead for almost a year. It was his watch. He fell in here when last the dam was full and drowned. My mother was killed by a rutting brolga during a protest at Pine Gap.

Where do catfish even come from, I wonder? They’re not meant to be here, are they? Catfish are from the Mississippi, I reckon, and that’s not in Boggabri.

‘I wish I could see my home just one last time before I suffocate,’ says one of the fish from amidst the sheltering bars of shade cast by an old, arthritic ribcage.

‘Where’s home?’ I ask.

‘Boggabri,’ it says, and dies.

How many’s that?

Before my dad exploded he was a big fan of The Thin Red Line. I think the films of Terrence Malick are about as interesting as a gyprock sandwich and half as palatable besides. One of the catfish has a strong and persuasive argument to the contrary, but I never get to hear the end of it because a currawong swoops down and bites its face off. Not its head, its face. That one dies, too. So does the currawong. No one gets out of this alive. It’s Reservoir Dogs.

I think that’s four.

My rabbit has been getting increasingly dirty since we lost my dad.

‘Why don’t you soak it in a saucepan of hot water?’ suggests a fish, and dies.

‘Be sure to put it in the freezer first,’ counsels another fish.

‘Why?’ I ask.

‘It’s more humane,’ it says, and dies.

Turns out one of the surviving fish knew my granddad. The old man used to sell it marine insurance.

‘Life sure is at a premium around here,’ it says, and dies.

Did I introduce this as a story about catfish? I think I meant to say lungfish. What are the ones with whiskers? It’s not them.

I watch awestruck as one of the fish swallows another fish whole. Guess what it says? Nothing – its mouth is full of fish. Needless to say, both of those fish die.

Three remain.

I had wanted to give Dr. Seuss an outing, but my blue fish has predeceased my one fish, two fish, and my red fish. My red fish just died, too.

One of the remaining fish now dies in its turn. I won’t say how. Let at least one of the poor bastards go out with some dignity. I will say this, though: it shits itself on the way out.

The last fish left gasping for air on the cockeyed mosaic of dry clay at bottom of my dam now starts humming the prelude to Tristan und Isolde. It’s just like a Wagnerian to outlive all the rest.

‘You haven’t got the guts,’ it tells me, and dies.

At that, my peritoneum dissolves and my entrails liquefy, and I die. Distraught, my rabbit hops into the washing machine, lapses into a coma, and dies.

Here comes the rain.

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