20110531

Jim Meirose


The Bullhead


               We got our poles and went down to Kinelski’s. He lived alone in a half burned down house and nobody ever saw him. He had acres of land covered with junk cars and junk machinery, car parts engines frames and rust-rotted bodies scattered all around; ancient chain driven flat bed trucks and steam shovels, old motorcycles and motorcycle frames, and little shacks here and there with little filthy beds inside. Earl and me pushed one of the shacks off a low dirt cliff one time, and old man Kinelski never came out but sicced his son in law on us and the son in law came at us with a double-barreled shotgun and chased us off the land. We got chased off the land several times each summer when we went out there nosing around. That’s the kind of place Kinelski’s was and behind his house there lay a small pond with lily pads growing at one end and the rest of the pond was clear water, and you could see the white bottom and we sat on a dropped telephone pole by the pond and baited our lines with slips of paper. Apparently Kinelski didn’t mind us fishing his pond, because he never came out to shoo us away, and his son in law never chased us away either, while we sat there fishing. We cast out by the lily pads and we had split shot on the lines that made the hooks sink to the bottom and immediately I got a strike—and I pulled it in; a hefty bullhead, all healthy and squirmy. I got it off the hook and threw it back in and saw it slowly swim back to the shelter of the lily pads. And now it was Earl’s turn. He baited his hook with paper and split shot and cast it out under the lily pads, and he got a strike—and he pulled it in; the same hefty bullhead, all squirmy and full of fight. And he threw it back in, and then it was my turn—and again, and again, and again, all afternoon, catching and throwing in the same big old bullhead.
               This was the only fish that lived in the pond.
               The pond was about thirty feet wide.
               To the bullhead, apparently, this was a game.

                                             ***

               You lay on the couch reading the paper, under the lily pads. A tidbit’s thrown in; a job’s in the paper; janitor. Take the bait. The hook is set. Get the job. Get pulled from the water. There’s toilets to clean. That’s the job. You can’t breathe in the air. The hook is pulled out. There’s savage horseplay on the job. There are vicious vicious people. There’s a woman janitor there who wants you dirty; she gets you alone in the ladies room where you’re cleaning the toilets. You want nothing to do with her; wriggling free, you’re thrown back in the water. Swim to the couch. Under the lily pads. Another treat’s thrown at you; a job on a slitter in a computer card factory. You take the bait, are pulled from the water. You can’t breathe on this job either. The work’s too heavy. It’s too much. The machine itself is thirty feet high. The paper rolls that feed it weigh sixteen hundred pounds. Things go wrong when the paper rolls are running flat out at a hundred miles an hour. The torn paper blasts up to the ceiling. Choking, you’re thrown back in the water. Make it back to the couch under the lily pads. Catch your breath. Rest. Something colorful flashes through the water. You dart out. It’s a job listing on a bulletin board someplace. A pressman’s job. It reels you in. You leave the water, can’t breathe again. The job’s too hectic. You can’t keep up. There’s ink and dye and paper and type to manage on the whirling machine all at breakneck speed while you’re straining to make quota, but you never ever do. It’s all too much; the hook falls out. Or did they pull it out? Either way, you’re back in the water. You’re in the shade, on the couch, under the pads, lying there. Your breath returns. A silvery flash lights in the distance. Must see what it is—go after it. Something in your genes makes you choose this one—again, hook set—up on dry land you’re packing drugs into big brown boxes on an assembly line. Gab, gab, gab—too much gab—too much horseplay. They tease you about your big head. You’re stabbed in the leg. Your pictures are stolen. You writhe in the air in the grip of the company. Play the radio loud loud louder—the holy station. Vernon Magee. You fight back with this to annoy them, but no; twist free, plunge back in, swim—back to the safety of the lily pads. But wait—there’s another job posted—a fork truck job. It flashes in the rays of light undulating down into the water. Go out and grab it—maybe this time it’ll be better—no! Choked! Drive the scarred and dented orange fork truck up and down the aisles between the racks get the drugs bring them to the dock thrashing and whipping in the air to the dock to the dock and to the dock again—riding along with the patterns in the concrete floor making faces all laughing and cursing at you. Smoke some opium. Drive through the flames! Drive through the flames! Plunge back away splashing. Jet to the couch. Under the lily pads. Lie down. Turn around—look! There another job fluttering down—go out and grab it. The water’s thick but you make it again. Maybe this time it’ll be the right one—checking trays of boxes of drugs come down the assembly line check that there is five of those tubes and four of those boxes and six of those bottles and one of those vials no this is too much much too much. Break free—break free. They let go and you fall down back into the water tail whipping make it to the couch lie down lie down a while under the lily pads and there’s another—another—you’re the only one in the pond of your breed, so it’s naturally yours. Something completely new and different. Type into the keyboard words and symbols that tell the great machines what to do—little knowing it’s the wave of the future. But there’s no water there’s just air there’s no money—twist in the hands of the company. The boss gives you hell for your slovenly desk and your tattered out of style clothes. They drop you back into the water—underpaid, you make it back to the couch. That’s the one place where it’s quiet and comfortable but there’s no food there no food and no money. You grow hungry, look around; look look there’s a white flash in the slanting light. Go grab it. Out of the water again, pulled by a line—sit and write down what they want done by the machines into great books imagining how the machines will do it making it up as you go along—there’s more food but less air and no oxygen. You work hard but it means nothing. Crash back down in the water make it back to the couch lie back looking up at the bottom of the lily pads and listen—there’s a sound. Go back out after it its food after all its money—spend time bossing others telling them what to type into the machines but do no typing of your own while in the grip of the fisherman. No! This is distasteful. You feel slimy all slimy in your slick suit. They won’t do as they’re told they won’t do as they’re told they just think you’re funny, so get thrown back again, breathe again, go to the couch again and lie there among the stems of the water lilies. It’s good for a while about six minutes but there’s something new again. It flashes all blue all blue white and black and you take a job where they promise you the moon but you sit there at the bottom of the food chain waiting reading waiting reading waiting and reading and there’s got to be more than this to a job the days are long the big thing is a red apple at three so back to the couch again. The couch cushion’s deep and soft and you bury your face in it breathing freely. Why is it that where there’s free breathing there’s no food or money so go—there’s a glinting signal out in the murk. Go get it—this time they think you’re smart. You get lots of things to be responsible for and lots of things to know—places to go, meetings to hold, you’re the expert the big expert and they send you to Cape Cod and to Texas and Arizona and you can almost breathe but no—flipped end over end again into the water disoriented by the spinning go to the couch and lie back and there’s another so go say yes and rocket from the water again hooked hard hooked and there are lots of others in the place where there’s no air. Others who are less than you. Again, you boss them; there’s data they’re pumping data into keyboards data which will tell the machines what to do with other data but there are thirty three of you and a mountain of data and a million ways the data can mix together in a million machines across this great country and only so many hours in the day so say no you won’t do it any more one day—and get pitched back in the pond and go to sleep on the couch. Sound asleep a longer while this time. Under the pads on the shade. Then a man comes through the murk and his mustached face looms out of the black and he says you want this what I got you want it you want it and again there are many others who are less than you who you boss and they’re making sure the machines do with the data what the other data tells the machines to do with the data and this is enough! Enough making sure it’s all done by the book! And the fishermen squeeze and squeeze and you slip out and down and go back to the couch under the pads but swim around and take the bait again and this time spend the days writing what the machines do and what they expect to be done to operate them; and they throw you back in when it’s all barely written and you go back to the couch and the bed all dejected but you’re always watching always looking you find another hook another line dangling—all your life you’ve been hungry for hooks and lines and bait. Pulled in to shore again, this time responsible for everything better than no one nobody has to listen to you but where it will lead you don’t know but you imagine a time when you’re thrown back in and go to the couch and there is rest and plenty of food and money and rest and no more hooks, no lines, and the boys leave the pond for the last time and take their poles with them and the sun is setting and there’s nothing left to do now but wait for more that might never come but you don’t know that because time is nothing to you—you’re after all, just the bullhead in Kinelski’s pond.
               This was the only fish that lived in the pond.
               The pond was about thirty feet wide.
               To the bullhead, apparently, this was a game.


Jim Meirose's short work has appeared in many leading journals including Alaska Quarterly Review, New Orleans Review, South Carolina Review, and Witness. A chapbook of his stories, Crossing the Trestle, was recently published by Burning River.
 
 
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