A Tap on the Glass

by Joe Ponepinto

How the hell did he keep them alive, except maybe by the same snake oil he uses on every woman under forty he meets? What he calls a gentleman’s charm. I can picture him on the Amtrak special, sitting in the club car with the bowl on the pullout table, trying to keep it from sloshing over every time the train takes a curve, and the whole time he is hitting on every female who ambles by, asking her to check out his goldfish—ain’t they pretty; do you think they’re handling the trip okay—and other inane come-ons in his loopy barroom leer. Uncle Orrin’s been like that ever since he lost his BeckyAnn. Damn if I don’t envy him a little.

And now they’re on my mantle, glub-glubbing at me, a fishy happy birthday present, and Orrin is on the couch in his Johnny Cash black, saying he wants a beer. They’ll go belly up in a week or so, no matter how much I care for them. The fish, that is.

What am I supposed to say about them if I get lucky and bring home a date and she sees them sitting there? Not that I’m dating again yet, but I can just see it: Oh, goldfish… how interesting. Yeah, they were a gift. You should get them some seaweed or a bigger tank. I would but they’ll die before I can do it.

I should flush them later, when he’s asleep.

But it’s the thought that counts. I try to remember that.

Orrin’s trip was five hundred miles, but that doesn’t explain the three suitcases. How long does he think he’s going to stay? One bedroom can get awfully tight awfully fast. He’s probably getting Alzheimer’s is what it is—even called me son when I picked him up at the station.

He could have bought the fish in the local Petco and eliminated the trouble. Even better, he could have done what he usually does, just slip twenty bucks into a birthday card and write a note that I should get myself something nice. Then he could have stayed in Savannah. But I suppose it’s my fault he’s here, since I stopped calling him on weekends. I just got tired of hearing about the weather down there.

Orrin says I shouldn’t be alone and that two single guys can have a lot of fun together. He wants to go out to a bar tonight and asks me what the secret signal is in case one of us is going to score. I had forgotten guys even do things like that.

He asks me for another bottle of beer. Time to start our engines, he says. I get one for me too. I give him his and he glub-glubs it down. I sit next to him and look out the apartment window, down to the street, and watch autos and people go by for a minute. I suppose I’ll have to humor him and go out.

When he gets up he taps the rim of his empty against the bowl, but the fish just hover in the water, looking out at the world with their bug eyes. Nothing seems to get to them.

C’mon, Orrin, I say. Let’s get the hell out of here and have us a time.

*

Joe Ponepinto is the Book Review Editor for the Los Angeles Review. He is the winner of the 2011 Springfed Arts Writers Contest (Michigan) in fiction. His work has been published in a variety of journals, most recently Apalachee Review, Midwest Literary Magazine, and 100 Stories for Queensland.

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