Fish Waif


Michael O'Donoghue

Photos by Eric Bach

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 53 in 1968 and featured in Issue 101 in 1998.

I opened the door to find her rolling about on the floor, nude save for a yellow aqualung, murmuring to a squirming mackerel pressed between her flushed thighs: "Sock it to me, baby! Sock it to me!"

To digress for a moment, it all began when I chanced to visit a midtown pet shop to purchase a box of Dog Yummies for my Bedlington terrier. I was about to leave when she walked in , a sultry brunette who asked the clerk for an aquarium thermometer, some colored rocks, and a plastic sand castle.

"Will that be all , miss?"

"Oh, yes … and 2500 pound of Hartz Mountain Fish Food!"

I sensed an opening.

"2500 pounds of Hartz Mountain Fish Food!?! What are you keeping in that aquarium of yours … Moby Dick?"


She smiled and rejoined, "Buzz off, clown!"

I countered with a few time-tested gambits:

"Do you come here often?"

"Let's fall by my pad and blow some pot!"

"You're only young once or, as Omar Khayyám put it - 'The rose that once bloomed forever dies!'"

"What did you think of Bonnie and Clyde?"

"Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ma petite chou-chou?"

"My, what sensitive hands … you must be a Gemini … Libra? … Cancer? …"

Finally she melted.


"Are you gonna beat it or do I hafta call the cops?"

I was beating it when she had a change of heart.

"Wait! You seem like a nice enough guy. I didn't mean to be so hard on you, fellah, but you don't understand. You see, I'm not interested in men!"

"You don't have to spell things out for me, sister! I get the picture!" I replied flashing a knowing look.

"No, you don't!" She scribbled her address on a card. "Here. Drop by the place tonight and I'll show you where it's at!"

Before I could reply, she was gone.

That night, I arrived at the address, a modest apartment building in the east 70's. After combing my hair in the lobby, I took the elevator to the 9th floor, found the door and knocked.

"It's open!"


I opened the door to find … the most brain-blasting, nerve-nihilating, soul-sundering sight it has ever been my misfortune to witness: a girl and a fish in flagrante delicto! A GIRL SHAMELESSLY CAVORTING WITH A FISH!!!

"Why are you doing that? Are you out of your head?"

It was only then that I noticed that the next room was flooded! The sunken living room was flooded!! FILLED WITH WATER!!! A dolphin surfaced, balanced on its tail for an instant before swimming away. Near the wall, I could make out the dorsal fin of a marlin. A jellyfish hovered by the mirror.

"Wow! So this is where it's all at!"

Later, she told me of how this came to be.

"I had a lonely rotten childhood. My father traveled a lot and used to bring me home pet turtles. I remember they had things like 'Greetings from Atlantic City' and 'I'm slow but sure!' painted on their shells."


"One thing led to another - my aunt gave me three goldfish for my birthday, a neighbor brought me a snail - and before you know it, I had a real aquarium with guppies, angel fish, black mollies, swordtails, neon tetras, white cloud minnows, half-banded coolies, dwarf cichlids, thick-lipped gouramies, whatever. As the years slipped by, I spent more and more time with my fish. They became friends. My only friends. To the consternation of my parents, I had begun raising bigger fish in the basement. One morning, while washing some laundry, my mom was attacked by a manta ray. She threw me out of the house so I came here and flooded the living room. It's that simple!"

"The fish are your friends?"

"They're much more. The fish are my …"

She faltered significantly.

"… my lovers!" Her eyes misty as she continued, softly caressing the mackerel. "I'll never forget that day when I was 14 years old and had just gotten a new catfish. When I picked him up, he squirmed gently in my hands. "


"He was … long and … thin … and writhing and alive. I felf my heart quicken, my loins throb … I was swept by desire! At that moment, I realized normal social values had no meaning for me and that I'd spend the rest of my life-"

Her voice sank to a whisper.

"Balling fish!"

The "aquarium" is filled with authentic marine vegetation and fossil formations arranged so artfully as to be almost in distinguishable from an actual ocean floor. The giveaway, however, is that the living room furniture was never removed, and, although covered with seaweed, is easily recognizable. For example, in the photograph to the left, the discerning reader may note the corner of a sectional sofa.

"Isn't it difficult training fish to make love to you?"

"It's like anything else, actually. Fish training requires lots of patience and understanding. The first thing I do is win their confidence. Play with them, stroke their gills, whatever. Then I start feeding them from my hand."


"Gradually, over a period of weeks, I move the hand closer and closer to me until the food is against my skin. Then I begin to hide the food in various parts of my body. The fish soon learns that he must go in and out while eating. In and out. In and out. The last and hardest step is to eliminate the food as an incentive and substitute hand signals. I'll show you!"

She slipped into a bathing suit and entered the water.

"Watch this!" She gestured toward a sand shark who immediately swam over and removed her bra. "And that's only the beginning!" she hinted broadly.

She turned to me, running her fingers down her shimmering body, lightly caressing the glistening tips of her taut, thrusting breasts.

"Listen, fella. You wanna sock it to me, right?"

"And how!!"

"OK, then. What the hell! I'll try anything once!" She tossed me and aqualung. "Put this on."


I hesitated.

"Is this necessary?"

"Well of course it's necessary! You'll drown!!"

"I mean … that is to say … couldn't … couldn't we use the couch or the bed?"

"THE COUCH? THE BED? BEAT IT, CREEP, BEFORE I CALL THE COPS!!!" she exclaimed, diving into the living room.

Perhaps it was just as well that I left. It was no use kidding myself. We were of two different worlds. A meaningful relationship would be difficult if not impossible. Moreover, it was a quarter after eleven. I hadn't walked the Bedlington terrier.

But before beating it, I couldn't resist one last lingering look.

She was framed in the crystal blue water, locked in an embrace with a giant squid, drifting across the room, past anemones, coral, cockles, starfish, bookcases, hydroids, sponges, coffee table, moon crabs, kelp, limpets, sea horses, lugworms … The squid had its tentacles curled about her loins and appeared to be …

… but before I could fully determine the position or technique, she gave a subtle hand signal and the squid released a loack fluid that masked their actions in darkness.

One could still observe, however, the bubbles rising rhythmically to the surface, rising with ever increasing frequency, popping like champagne, more and more bubbles rising faster … faster … faster...