Holiday ’18: “Carp Per Diem” by Bear Kosik

We celebrate the Lunar New Year. We don’t have any Asian heritage, although being one-quarter Lebanese kind of technically qualifies me as Asian if you want to get geographical about it. Anyway, the Asian Lunar New Year falls in February. The Chinese call it the Spring Festival. It breaks up the winter the way Christmas would if it were held a month later. The red decorations blend in for Valentine’s Day, too. Très festive!

I don’t know all the details about the holiday. We just focus on the food. Certain dishes are served for special reasons. For example, long noodles symbolize long life, greens mean making money, et cetera. Serving a whole fish is one of them. Something to do with living out the whole year, I think. If it even hints at providing good luck, I’m all for it.

My Spousal Unit insists on going to the Asian market to pick out a live fish. This year, I went with him. I remember the supermarket I went to as a kid had a tank with live lobsters. Other than that, I’ve never seen any protein sold on the hoof (claw? fin?). Supposedly, my grandmother used to cut the heads off chickens. They ran around the yard before dying. That might just be a false memory to explain how my family usually behaved before Sunday dinner at Granny K’s.

So, Hubby and I go to the Asian market to pick out a fish. He hates when I call him Hubby. I do that to remind him that hate is really too strong of a word to use in that context. Anyway, we get to the fish tank and find five good-sized carp steadily swimming around. The tank isn’t really crowded. It is close quarters though, if something can be close quarters without being crowded.

I know things to look for when choosing dead fish: no fishy smell, clear eyes. I haven’t a clue how to pick a live one and Hubby can’t remember. Choosing baby bok choy wasn’t this difficult, although I do have an issue with anyone calling a food ‘baby’ anything. Well, unless it is food for a baby. I still can’t eat breakfast with my younger brother because he calls eggs chicken miscarriages. It’s a good thing I know how to pretend to be an only child.

The Spousal Unit engages the Vietnamese owner of the market. The owner pauses as a ‘what are you, stupid’ expression emerges on his wrinkle-carved face. Then he tells Hubby the fish are all fresh because they are all alive. I hadn’t thought of that.

The market owner gets a net to pull one of the creatures out of the tank. Now, trust me on this. A carp stopped swimming right in front of me. Its eye on the side I could see moves, as though it’s studying me. You know, like when the eye doctor tells you to look up left, down left, et cetera. It slowly moved its body to where it could face me. And it just continued to look at me.

Naturally, since the staring carp stopped swimming it is the easiest to scoop up. I’m standing right next to the scale where the guy dumps the fish to weigh it. I swear it didn’t take its eye off me. And it just lay there. I thought fish flopped around.

No, this one wanted to die in peace. Maybe it sacrificed itself so the others could live or it was tired of being held captive. I can anthropomorphize this incident as much as I want, but I’m just making matters worse.

I said a prayer like the aliens do in Avatar when they kill something for food. Thankfully, that turns out to be sufficient amends for me to enjoy the meal later on. What worries me is the impact that fish has had on my life. Seriously. I don’t think I can look my food in the eye ever again. In the future, we may have to serve steamed lobster for Lunar New Year. I never could tell what were eyes or antennae in the lobster tank.

Bear Kosik’s book Remaking Democracy in America was just published (Stairway Press). He also writes novels (two as Hugh Dudley), plays (six produced in Manhattan since 2016), and screenplays (sixteen laurels from competitions since 2016). Bear’s short fiction, poetry, essays, and photos have appeared in reviews and anthologies since 2015.


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