The children who are helping call me Fish Man. I say helping because they mean well but are mostly in the way. I say children but they’re boys, a whole gang of them. They call me Fish Man because the only thing they know about me is that I am knee-deep in this pond which is quickly draining and I am trying to save the fish. The pond is in the woods behind the school is how they found me. I say the woods, but you can see it from the road. You can see straight through to the other side where there is a bar in a shopping center which is where I was until a few hours ago.
Yes, I was drinking but that was before I was Fish Man and how it happened was the bartender asked me in no uncertain terms to leave the bar. I say the bar but it’s a bar and grill and by that okay, I mean it’s a restaurant. Walk it off, buddy was the advice and I did just that. Walked across the road to piss in the woods and holy shit there’s a hundred fish in those little ponds.
Except it’s not little ponds. It’s a half drained lake. Some parts are so shallow that the fish are flopping around in the mud. I go down and nudge one with my foot back into a deeper section. There you go little guy, I say to the fish. I take off my shoes and socks and roll up my jeans. I make a pouch with the front of my shirt and start rescuing the flopping fish. That’s gotta feel good, I say after I dump a shirt’s full back into the water.
The group of boys from school arrive and ask me what I’m doing. I don’t look up because the fish are slick with mud and scum and it takes all my focus to pinch them by their little fins.
I’m saving the fish, I say. I say it like someone hired me to do it, like I went to school for it.
They goof around watching for a little but eventually take off their shoes and socks too. What’s it your recess or something, I ask and they tell me it’s the last day of school.
They’re doing their best, but they don’t have a knack for it. Not like me. I have never been more skilled at any activity than I am at saving these fish. And it’s a good thing too because in the time that we’ve been at it, the water level has fallen. Go faster, I instruct them. Yes, Fish Man, they say.
Fish Man, what happened here, the boys ask me.
It used to be a lake but now it’s all fucked up, I tell them.
Why Fish Man?
I have no fucking idea so I look out across the mud and say, Our only job is to save the fish. The boys nod.
All our work comes down to the final pool of water. The lake’s last stand. It’s teeming with the fish. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’ll do for a band aid. My life is serious now that I am Fish Man.
Here’s what’s going to happen, I tell the boys. I have a truck. I’m going to get giant tanks. Huge ones and we’re going to put the fish in the tanks. The boys high five. Meet here tomorrow. I’m gonna need help.
Thank you, Fish Man. Yes, Fish Man. They give each other noogies and get on their bikes and ride away.
I stand there waving. Troops dismissed. A day’s work done.
Tomorrow we’ll return to discover all the fish dead having jumped out of the water at some point during the night to die flopping in the mud. We’ll squish around in silence, checking for signs of life and not find any. I’ll tell the boys they must’ve squeezed them too hard. They’ll say, What does that have to do with it. They’ll accuse me of being a pervert, a fish pervert. I’ll call them little assholes. I’ll lock my keys in my truck. I’ll get in a fight with my girlfriend. I won’t get the job, any job, ever.
But tonight I am standing on the road next to the woods, waving goodbye to my boy brigade. I am filthy, but I am useful. I am Fish Man.
Kyle Seibel is 36 years old and lives in Santa Barbara, CA. He works as a copywriter and his stories have appeared in The Masters Review, Drunk Monkeys, and Barren Magazine.