Like Every Day

April 6, 2017

 

fang-blenny-1024x700

Like every day, the pinging started early.

Ping.

I looked over at my phone on the nightstand, then closed my eyes.

Ping.

Ping.

I could ignore it. I could just turn off the volume and roll over and ignore the stupid thing.

Ping.

Ping. Ping. Ping.

“Shit.” I grabbed the phone and read the texts.

AWAKE!

AWAKE NOW!!

AWAKE!!!

AWAKE! GET UP!!!!

PAIN!!! PAIN!!!

Ping.

PAIN!!!

“Jesus Christ.”

Like every day, I pulled my ass out of bed, tossed on some shorts and a t-shirt, and trudged downstairs to face a day I never wanted with a man I couldn’t stand. Before heading to The Room, I stopped to pee, brush my teeth and slap on some deodorant. Never know who you might meet, right?

The Room used to be where my mom and I watched tv and talked and read. Now it was filled with junk purchased from Amazon and Zappos and the walls were lined in 20-gallon fish tanks. All sitting on waist-high stands. All gurgling relaxed bubbles into the pristine water. Pristine because of me. My work. My time. My money. At least, it should be my money.

Bastard.

Like every day, he lay there. In the middle of the room on the Sleep Number mattress that should’ve been mine.

My stepfather.

Bastard.

Like a beached whale waiting for some well-meaning citizens to push him back into the water, he was motionless. staring at his screens. Under the sheets, the outline of his legs ended far sooner than they should for a man of his height. The impact of the crash crumpled the front end of the car and crushed my mother along with his two legs. None of three survived.

For most of my life it was just my mom and me. After my first bastard dad died, the years were pretty sweet. He had a good life insurance policy, but a better bank account and portfolio. Life was easy. And with just the two of us, there wasn’t much drama.

Until my mom met him.

She told me it had been so long. She told me she didn’t want to be alone anymore. She told me he would be the perfect husband and the perfect father.

He wasn’t.

Not by any stretch.

But she wouldn’t listen to that. Wouldn’t listen to anything I said about him. Wouldn’t listen to me at all.

And now she was gone.

Along with his voice. The doctor’s weren’t sure what caused it. Maybe the trauma. Maybe a brain injury. It didn’t matter. All I cared was he couldn’t talk. Which seemed like a pretty decent karmic kick in the ass given all the times he lectured us on liberal idiots and violent blacks and Mexicans taking jobs… jobs he would never take anyway… because they were below him. Lectures on all the conspiracy theories. On every headline from every wingnut site he regularly visited. Lectures every time we were in the same room or the same car or the same… anywhere.

But I didn’t listen. I just shut up and shut down and pretended he didn’t exist. Like for all those weeks he was in the hospital. He was invisible and life was almost perfect. Until a lawyer told me about the revised will. The will he had my mom draw up two months before the accident.

The will that tied me to him… for the duration.

Bastard.

Ping.

LATE!!! LATE!!! GET YOUR ASS IN GEAR!!!

Like every day, he watched the tanks intermittently as he sniffed the web for the latest outrage as he waited to be taken care of. Like every day, I got him dressed. Silently. Like him, I stopped talking. Not because of brain damage. I just didn’t want to talk to him.

I handed him the pain medication he probably didn’t need but always wanted along with his blood pressure medicine. The first of three doses he would get today. He popped them in his mouth and snapped his fingers angrily until I handed him the glass of water that was well within his reach. As I pulled down the sheets, I didn’t look at him. Lying there. Frantically typing on the laptop. Adding his expert opinions to social sites. Cutting and pasting articles into his IDEA FILE!!!

He always fancied himself a businessman. Something never really proven in execution. All the wild and mostly illegal schemes he was sure would make more money than we could imagine never did. Always they cost more money than they delivered. At first, it didn’t bother my mom. But for the few weeks before her death, she looked suspicious… and angry. There weren’t as many supportive words. Not as many smiles.

And then she was gone.

And so was my life.

The medical bills had eaten up more money than my stepfather liked, so he pulled the plug on my college fund and made me his in-home nurse.

SAVES MONEY!!! YOU OWE ME!!

Like every day, I thought about leaving as I stared at floor. Getting a minimum wage job and taking night classes at community college. But I never did. He took my mother, took my home, took my future and now he just wallowed in his Sleep Number bed, searching Google headlines for the NEXT NEW BUSINESS VENTURE!!!

Like the latest.

A minnow-sized fish whose venom was opium.

That’s all he read.

I know that’s all he read because he never reads more than headlines…

And because of the instructions he tapped. Always in CAPS. Always with exclamation marks.  BUY FISH!!! SEE ARTICLES! THIS IS IT!!! SUPPLY AND DEMAND!!!! GOLDMINE!!!

What followed were links to several articles about the opiod epidemic and one article about the small fish that, clearly in my stepfather’s eyes, produced what would surely be a huge quantity of street-grade opium. I didn’t read about the opiod crisis. Everyone knew about that. But I did read the article about the fang blenny.

And that’s when I realized buying these fish was the best idea my stepfather ever had.

So here I was. In a room full of tanks filled with minnow-sized fish possessing opiod-laced venom. It had taken months to get just the right species, more months to breed enough fish to fill the tanks. The blenny didn’t like each other much. As the tank populations grew, they got irritable and aggressive.

My phone pinged again.

PRACTICE!!! LATE!!!

Thanks, Internet.

A month earlier, the Bastard stumbled across a viral video about a father racing marathons with his wheelchair-bound son.

MILLIONS OF VIEWS!!!!

Which was why I spent the next fifteen minutes pulling Body Armor onto a man with no legs.

So he could run a marathon.

Actually, so I could run a marathon while he sat on his lazy, legless ass and spent my mom’s money.

10 MILES!!!

He set up a training schedule which would make MARATHON IN FALL!!! a possibility. I didn’t feel like running. Not while pushing a wheelchair, at least. I let out a long sigh as I yanked the skin tight pants over his stumps.

Ping.

15 MILES!!!

Bastard.

Ping.

BITCH MORE!!! 20 MILES!!! YOU SHOULD THANK ME!!!

Right. Thank him. For killing my mom. For stealing my life. A life that now consisted solely of caretaking. Bastard. Without thinking, I shook my head in frustration as I moved the chair close to the bed so he could flop into it.

Ping.

20 MILES!!!

I ground my teeth as I pushed the wheelchair out the door and onto the sidewalk. I didn’t feel like running, but I did. I feel like taking care of him, but I did. I didn’t feel like running a breeding colony of small heroin fish… but I did.

Like very other day.

And like every day, I ran as he dosed in the chair. Like every day, I gave him his electrolyte-replenishing drink when we got back. He complained about his phantom limbs again so I gave him pain medication along with the some blood pressure medicine. Like every day, he touched the tankful of investments, smiled, then fell asleep like he was the one who spent the last few hours pushing 250 pounds of worthless mass. Like every day, I tended the tanks and made his lunch.

 

******

 

The body of a legless man dressed in Body Armor was propped in the wheelchair. His arm in one of the many 20-gallon aquariums lining the walls. Several irritated minnow-sized fish circled, nipping the dead flesh with lower fangs that should belong to something from a horror movie.

Two police officers and a paramedic stared at the corpse.

“When did you find him?” one of the officers asked.

“Lunch,” I said, swallowing at the unfamiliar feeling of words actually leaving my mouth. “I gave him drink and his medication and went to make his lunch. When I brought him back, I… I found him like this.”

“What kind of fish are those?” the other officer asked as he watched the fish continue to bite.

“Fang blennies,” I said. “He was obsessed with them. I can show you the articles he sent me. And the texts. He wanted as many as he could get.”

“Are they special?”

“I guess,” I said. “Their venom is filled with opiods.”

“Seriously. So you can, like, get a high?” one of the officers asked.

“Oh, god no. It’s a painkiller,” I said. “Lowers your blood pressure, too.”

“And he knew that?”

“It was in the article he sent me.”

The officer nodded. “Did he have a lot of pain?”

“Phantom pain.”

“Do you suppose that’s why he wanted the fish? You know, to help with the pain?”

I shrugged.

“Why don’t you get out of here. You don’t have to watch. I know it’s got to be hard,” the other officer said.

Like every other day, I sighed, shook my head and walked away.

 

Prompts used:

There is a minnow-sized fish with a venomous bite. The venom is filled with opiods – submitted by Sarah Dunn

A legless, elderly mute desperate to run a marathon. – submitted by Josh Cooper


Posted in: Crime