Shame, or the American

To speak is to show too much consideration for others. It’s when they open their mouths that fish, and Oscar Wilde, are fatally hooked.
— Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

There are river fish that, when he sees them, remind him of Maly. Certain fishermen will wait for hours in the waist-high waters of the Mississippi until these river fish return from their bottom-feeding to the safety among the rocks. These fishermen, with practiced eyes, see a whiskered fish among the foliage, and will slowly reach under the rocks with only their hands, until they can but tickle the fish and hold it up against an overhang. And when the fish has calmed and settled in their rough hands (that, the roughness of their hands, is one dissimilarity between the fishermen and Gil), with no intentions of swimming away, the fish is removed. It is not until they’re suddenly snatched from the water that the river fish – no longer of the river, of course – remind him of Maly. They seize for a long moment and then stop, having forgotten any taste of the muddy water except for an occasional dirty sputter.

When he sees these fish at home in National Geographic or on his New York apartment's television, Gil remembers how Maly writhed before she came. Although her breathing did not stop as did the fish’s, it settled and was disrupted by arhythmic hiccoughs, which lifted her dark neck from the pillow. He doesn’t give much thought to the rest of his time in Asia before their own together, but when he lies in his bed alone, half-dreaming, he hears her hiccoughing in the dark...


* * *


... The worst of it came after a fishing trip like all the others. The mistake this time, the one he’d committed that morning, was worse than usual. It wasn’t that he’d packed the kibble and fed worms to the dog, as he’d done once before. He’d not made a simple mistake such as that, or such as leaving the back door of the garage unbolted. When the garage door swung out, the automatic light flickered on and illuminated a small pool in the center of the floor, right beneath where his father should park the car. That was all he noticed. It was as if he knew immediately what the blue liquid was and how it got there, and what had happened: how Gil had spilt it that morning as he poured it under his father’s hood; how it had puddled a few feet from where the dog ate his food, the sweet smell preferred over liver; how his father’s beloved dog had sniffed around for only a moment before taking a taste and, finding it quite sweet, continued to drink until he couldn’t anymore. Perhaps Gil did know. Perhaps he only stared at the puddle, because knowing all that, he had no reason to look about, no desire to see with his own eyes the disaster he already knew existed. Richard swore and Gil’s uncles ran from the car to the dog, who lay in the corner, smelling of bile and struggling to rise at the arrival of his master....