Don't Forget to Feed My Fish
an original short story
Copyright notice: Copyright of the author, 2012. Based on a short play written by the author in 2001. This story may not be copied or re-printed, in whole or in part, without author's express permission, in compliance with international copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or situations in this story are real. While the viewpoints expressed by the characters in this story may, or may not, reflect the actual opinions or beliefs of either the author, they certainly do necessarily not reflect the opinions or beliefs of anyone associated with this web page.
Warning: contains adult language and situations.
The fiery glow of the setting sun slowly ebbed in a cloudless western sky. It turned the hills across the river crimson, gradually bleeding them down to pink, before they faded from sight, succumbing to the infernal darkness. Cautiously, traffic in the suburbs of New York's busy upper Hudson Valley slowed. Finally, it died out altogether, as people headed home for the weekend.
At a neighborhood restaurant in a small city of outside the capital, the dinner crowd had already departed. They'd gone back out into the unseasonably sultry June weather, to deal with the heat as best they could. Inside the restaurant, it was virtually silent. Only the occasional muffled clink of china from the kitchen, and the steady, reassuring hum of the air conditioning unit, showed that the place was still open for business. Most of the wait staff had clocked out already. Leaving only the bartender and a single waiter to handle the front of the house.
At the bar near the front entrance sat a lone man. He was dressed like a cowboy, in a burgundy western shirt and black jeans. A black Stetson with a pheasant feather hat band crowned his head, while his feet were encased in a worn pair of cowboy boots.
Perched on a barstool, the tall, slender, middle aged man quietly sipped a glass of Molson beer. Absently pushing his round wire-rimmed glasses up his nose, he studied the restaurant's decor. Smiling privately to himself, the man decided that it was some Italian's idea of what an English pub should look like. He had a nice smile, which made his eyes crinkle at the corners. Yet, there was also an air of sadness about him, somehow.
The restaurant's décor was typical of the tacky seventies; Dark wooden posts and beams held up the ceiling. Mahogany stained tables and chairs, with red checkered tablecloths, and red glass candle holders. Fake coats of arms with crossed swords, and cheap framed cardboard pictures—mainly showing English and Welsh pastoral scenes, decorated the gold and red velvet papered walls.
Instead of the usual mirror, at the back of the bar, there was hung a huge, hand carved wooden board. In red paint were quoted lines from Robert Burns; "Wi' tippeny, we fear nae evil; Wi' usquebae, we'll face the devil!" Not being Scottish, the man at the bar could only vaguely guess at the sign's meaning. He was willing to bet that the pub's Italian owners hadn't a clue, either.
The bartender, a petite, trim blond in her late twenties, was wearing a red polo shirt with the bar's logo on it. She stopped wiping the bar, and turned on a small portable television, which sat on the back counter. A teaser for the eleven o'clock news came on. Deep in thought, the man at the bar only half-listened to the news anchor's pronouncements. In the background, a man's authoritarian voice prattled on about tonight's coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis, the ongoing problems of the Mt. St. Helen's volcano, and an interview with a local wrestler, who was participating in the 1980 summer Olympic games.
Giving a grunt of boredom, the bartender turned the dial on the set to another channel. Swiveling his stool to face the restaurant's front entrance, the man at the bar checked his watch. He heard the opening theme to Dallas coming from the TV. Just then, the front door opened. When the man at the bar saw who it was, he slid off the stool to meet the newcomer.
Seeing that there was a new customer, the waiter, whom was dressed identically to the bartender, hustled out from the kitchen. He had on a black waiter's apron, and carried two menus tucked under his arm. Unlike the bartender, this man was closer to retirement age. He was somewhat short, and just getting a bit heavy around the middle, with bright, intelligent eyes and a cheerful expression.
"Good evening sir. I have a table ready for you both, right over here."
Without speaking to each other, the two men sat down at a table near the kitchen. Handing them their menus, the waiter asked what they'd like from the bar.
"I'll have a Coke. Extra ice, please." The cowboy ordered politely.
"Whiskey sour." The man across from him said, not bothering to glance at their waiter. He raised an eyebrow at the cowboy. "No booze tonight, Jim?"
"Just had a beer, dad." The cowboy shrugged. "I'm driving. Want to stay sober."
"Huh." The man's father said dismissively. "I've never let that stop me. In fact, I think I drive better, when I've had a few under my belt."
"Whatever you say, dad." Sighing, Jim had to stop himself from rolling his eyes at his father.
The old man was dressed in a double-breasted gray polyester suit, which ironically matched the gray hair of his receding hairline. His navy blue tie and crisply starched light blue shirt were immaculate. His hair was slicked back and reeked of Vitalis hair oil. This odor was compounded by the strong scent of his Old Spice aftershave. The black Italian leather shoes on his feet were so highly polished, he could see his reflection in them. A heavy solid gold ring graced one of the fingers on his right hand.
"Are you ready to order, gentlemen? Or, would you like a little more time to decide?" The patient waiter politely inquired.
"Just bring us our drinks, pal." The father said abruptly, waving the waiter away. "We'll let you know when we want our food."
His son's cheeks grew red with embarrassment. The waiter merely raised his eyebrow a fraction, and walked off to get their drinks. The father narrowly eyed his son's cowboy togs.
"You need a haircut. No wonder you wear that stupid hat." Was the next thing he said.
"It's not stupid, Dad!" Jim protested. Then he winced. His voice was much shriller than he'd intended. He sounded like a kid again, defending his choice of wardrobe to a very conservative father. "Everybody wears them, where I live, now. I'm dressed like everyone else in my town."
His father gave a snort of derision. "Son, in case you hadn't noticed, this isn't Texas."
"I think look perfectly normal, dad." Jim said, feeling more and more like a teenager again.
"Dye your hair blond and carry around a guitar, and you'd look like John Denver." "
"I'm sure none of the staff here are judging me by my appearance." Jim said tensely.
"Not if they want any tips, they won't."
"Oh, for cryin' out loud! Just drop it, will ya'?" Jim had to restrain himself from shouting at his father.
"You really do look like crap in a hat, you know." His father persisted, oblivious to Jim's feelings. He seemed to be almost enjoying putting his son down.
Jim frowned at his father. "Look, dad. I didn't fly all the way back home, just to discuss my wardrobe. If the goddamn hat bothers you that much, I'll take it off..."
"No!" Jim's dad shouted, grabbing his son's arm to stop him. "Don't do that."
"You'll have hat hair." Jim's elderly dad shuddered. "I hate hat hair. Still have nightmares about that helmet I had to wear, during the war."
This time Jim really did roll his eyes at his dad. The waiter reappeared, bringing their drinks. He quietly thanked the man, and asked him to come back in a little while to take their order.
Gulping down his drink in one go, Jim's dad said, "It's been five years since I've seen you. Now you turn up here, looking like John freakin' Wayne. You think you're the seventh calvary or somethin', coming to your mom's rescue. But, there's not a damn thing you can do for her. She won't even notice that you're there. And god knows, there's nothing I want to do for her. So, question is, why are we here tonight?"
Jim paused, startled by his father's blunt frankness. He opened his mouth to speak. Yet suddenly, he couldn't think of anything to say.