Once again, at exactly 10:43, the trout wriggle their way from the black holes of the polka dot wallpaper, and I’m still not in love.
The fish whiz from one side of the room to the other, slapping me with their wet tails, knocking over not a few of my antique lamps onto the pillow mounds I set up on the carpet.
One fish slaps me especially hard in the face, and I catch him. I’m not surprised to find that it’s Shard, my least favorite trout of all time.
“What’s wrong with her?” I say, squeezing him.
“There’s nothing wrong,” Shard says. “This isn’t about wrong. Didn’t we already talk about this? A million times?”
“She has a doctorate, Shard. Don’t you, Maggie.”
A very pale Maggie nods in silence.
“Does that mean nothing to you?” I say to the fish.
“Not really,” Shard says. “I mean, that’s quite an accomplishment, but it doesn’t make any difference to us.”
“I should just paint over your holes and be done with this nonsense.”
“You can’t get rid of us that easily.”
“I’ll use lead-based paint.”
“I know I said I believed you,” Maggie says, very quiet. “But I didn’t. I thought you were crazy.”
“And you still wanted to be with me?” I say.
I don’t tell her how stupid that sounds.
“Why do you think they always come at 10:43?” Maggie says.
“Ask him,” I say, holding out the trout.
“Well?” Maggie says.
“It’s sort of a big secret,” Shard says. “It’s connected with the meaning of the Universe. If I told you, there would be dire consequences. Do you still want to know?”
Shard wiggles free of my grip, and whispers the secret in her ear. Then her flesh erupts from her soul, blinding me with blood, and I wipe my eyes clean in time to see her light funnel into one of the black polka dots.
“Why would she do that?” I say.
“You’re never going to love anybody until you start trying to understand them,” Shard says.
I grumble, and don’t tell him how stupid that sounds.
Maybe next time I’ll try a lawyer.
© 2008 Jeremy C. Shipp
Jeremy C. Shipp is an author whose written creations inhabit various magazines, anthologies, and drawers. These include over 40 publications, the likes of Southern California in a moderately haunted Victorian farmhouse with his wife, Lisa, and their legion of yard gnomes. Heʼs currently working on many stories and novels and is losing his hair, though not because of the ghosts. Sheep and Wolves is his first published collection, and his debut novel is called Vacation. He also wrote a short film called Egg. Feel free to visit his online home at www.jeremycshipp.com, ChiZine, and The Bizarro Starter Kit (blue). While preparing for the forthcoming collapse of civilization, Jeremy enjoys living in