Fish Tale

    There is only one way to cook a fish.  Grandpa assembles a savory soy sauce marinade, dicing fresh ginger, green onion, and garlic with the deftness of a veteran chef. My mouth waters in anticipation of the heady aroma of sea and spice that will fill the kitchen.  Grandpa boasts of how skillfully he could scale and clean an entire fish in less than five minutes by the time he was just ten years old.  But now, he says, he must take me to the market with the freshest catch in town.

    Being a passenger in Grandpa’s car is a lot like participating in an extreme sport.  Half deaf, he cannot hear me yelling to stop when cars come barreling towards us. Instead of pressing on the brakes, he often hits the accelerator.  As for turning his head to check for oncoming traffic, Grandpa has apparently been driving without this ability for the past decade.  Lacking the gift of sound, sight, or speed, I am convinced that Grandpa’s car runs solely on the vapors of luck. 

    At the market, the gallery of tanks brim with live fish clamoring together, pushing their noses hard against the glass as if trying to break free.  The fish monger grabs a net, and in moments, he is holding out an enormous, wriggling catfish for inspection.  With an approving nod from Grandpa, the fish smacks the long wooden counter, sending a salt spray of water and scales into the air.  The monger clubs the fish in the head, but it continues to tremble as its fins are cut off, one by one, followed by its tail and then its lips.  Once the gut is sliced open and innards removed, I pray that we are near the end of this murderous affair.  I do not blink.  I do not breathe.  I do not move, though the fish continues to quiver.  It is not until its head is chopped off with a nauseating WHACK that it finally stops trembling.  I swallow a mouthful of saliva.    

    I trail behind Grandpa with a lopsided gait, bowing under the weight of the three pound pink plastic bag.  I stare mournfully out the car window, picturing the fish inside being marinated and steamed and placed proudly in the center of the table as Grandpa has always done, and how I will dutifully eat it with loud, appreciative slurps as I have always done.  Pressing a sticky palm against the glass and exhaling meekly, I cringe as he backs into honking traffic.  I think desperately how, for the next few minutes, there is little difference between me and the fish in those tanks—Grandpa holds both of our lives in his skillful hands.


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