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Gar's Marine Palace
By Jessica Westhead

On Glenda's first visit to Gar's Marine Palace, Gar had fashioned a crude wedding scene with his mackerel.

"That's a good one," said Glenda's father.

"Thanks," said Gar. "You see what the ring bearer's got?"

They leaned in for a closer look.

"Calamari," said Glenda's father. "Nice touch."

Gar was a grey-cheeked and bloodless fishmonger who liked to get creative with his seafood displays.

Glenda's father turned back to Gar, but Glenda kept staring at the refrigerated tableau. Gar's bride and groom faced each other, eyes wide open and staring, poised for a scaly nuptial kiss.

"Can fish really get married?" said Glenda.

Gar regarded her with watery, half-lidded eyes. "Why don't you take a gander at my lobster tank over there, sweetheart?"


The tank loomed behind them. Glenda pressed her forehead against the cool glass and tapped her finger at the lobsters. She watched the reflection of the two men at the counter.

"Wrap me up four pounds of pike there, Gar."

"You got it. Caught a few of these bastards myself last weekend up at the cottage."

"That so."

Gar's pale fingers slid around one of the long, angry-looking fish.

"This one here, Christ-hell almighty, did he put up a fight! Took me near a whole half hour to reel in this son of a whore. And then I finally land him, and he goes flopping all over the boat, you know, and damned if he didn't take a chunk out of my thumb before I brained the bastard. I felt like that Captain Nemo, you know, when he harpoons that whale's dick?" Gar slapped his conquest onto the scales. "There you go. Four pounds of mean and ugly, my friend."

"Why aren't your lobsters red?" said Glenda. "Lobsters in pictures are always red."

"What? Oh. Well, that's because they're not dead yet, sweetheart. They only turn red when they're boiled."

Glenda frowned, and noticed something else.

"Why do they have rubber bands around their claws?"

"That's so they don't pinch your nose off when you stick them in the pot!"

The brown lobsters--there were seven of them--marched clumsily around a slimy-looking treasure chest, with a mermaid sitting on top.

Glenda turned to look at Gar.

"You mean you boil them alive?"

"That's right. And if you get real close when they're cooking you can hear them scream."

The men laughed together.

Gar leaned forward. "You like my lobsters there?"

"They're nice," said Glenda.

"You like fish?"

"Not to eat," she said.

"What about penguins?" said her father. "Penguins eat fish."

"Not this penguin."

Her father nodded at Gar. "Glenda's going to be a penguin in her school play tonight."

"Is that right?" said Gar. "Well you better start liking fish quick, then."

"I'm a vegetarian," she said.

The fish-seller snorted. "Who ever heard of a vegetarian penguin?"

Glenda ignored him. One of the lobsters was trying to get her attention.

"Penguins have to eat fish or they die. You don't want to die, do you?"

The second-biggest lobster was waving at her with its claws, in those tight elastic bands.

"Let's go, Glenda," said her father.

"Can we get a lobster?" she said.

"Why do you want a lobster? You just said you don't like fish."

"Lobsters are different. I said the lobsters were nice."

"No lobster. Let's go."

"I think she wants it for a pet," said Gar.

"Oh yeah?" Her father grinned. "You want it for a pet?"

"Maybe," said Glenda.

"Told you," said Gar.

Glenda listened to the two men laugh at the idea of a pet lobster.

"Well, I'll see you," her father said to Gar.

"See you."

"Come on, Glenda. Say good-bye." Her father reached for her hand but she pulled it away.

"Good-bye," she said to the lobsters.

* * *

The play was called "Floe Woes". Glenda's Drama teacher had made up the title; the rest was supposed to be improvised.

The penguin head was hot and stuffy, and Glenda couldn't see anything out of the eyeholes. She could dimly sense the action happening around her, but all she could do was stand there and sweat.

"Oh boo hoo!" she heard Jeremy the Killer Whale say. "There are no penguins and I am so hungry!"

Sasha the Sea Lion said her line next.

"I am hungry too, and I also like to eat penguins!"

Glenda stayed where she was. She listened to her own amplified breathing, and then she heard her father in the audience.

"Why doesn't she move?" he said.

"Be quiet!" said her mother.

"She's just standing there!"

Her arms were pinned down--"Strap the wings to the sides," her Home Ec teacher had said when Glenda was making her costume in class.

"Penguins don't flap."

Someone gave Glenda a shove. She shuffled forward, and bumped into something.

"Yum! Penguin!" said Jeremy and Sasha together, and the two of them fell upon her.

Glenda wasn't allowed to remove the head to take a bow at the end.

"You're the penguin," the Drama teacher said, but only so she could hear. "The penguin deserves the applause--you didn't do anything special."

Glenda felt bruises starting.

"Bet you're hungry for some fish now!" she heard her father yell.

* * *

The next time she saw Gar he didn't have any pickerel.

"No pickerel," he told her father. "Don't get me started on that. I told my pickerel supplier, 'If you'll do it right then fine. If you won't, then curl up and die in a hole and make room for someone who will.' That's what I told him."

Glenda's father nodded. "You need what you need when you need it."

"That's right. So I should have pickerel by next week. I thought you liked the pike, though."

"I do. The wife likes the pickerel."

Gar nodded. "It's a woman's fish."

Glenda was looking at Gar's display case.

"You like that?" he said. "That's my take on the Nativity."

"Is that right?" said Glenda's father. He bent down and peered in.

"I figured it'll be Christmas in a few months, might as well be seasonal."

Glenda blinked at the assembly of fish parts that Gar had decorated with tinsel.

"That's baby squids for the Three Wise Men, and I used a tuna head for Mary."

Glenda's father nodded. "She's all dressed up. I like that."

"All I put was some netting and a couple hooks for her gown. Easy. And I got a tiger shrimp there for the Baby Jesus."

"Hey, tiger shrimp." Her father straightened up. "Can I get a pound of those?"

"Sure thing."

"And I'll take some pike, too."

"You got it."

Glenda walked over to the lobster tank. "Hello lobsters," she said.

"You get the pike at the cottage again?" said her father.

"Nah, not these ones. Me and Sheila went up to the Kawarthas and stayed in this Christian Fundamentalist Bed and Breakfast," said Gar. "If you know what I mean."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Not much of the you-know-what going on. The lady who ran it made good pancakes, though. I think she was one of those Ay-mish."

Her father nodded. "They're supposed to be good cooks."

"Well the pancakes were pretty alright, I can tell you."

"I know what it's like," Glenda whispered to the lobsters.

"What's she saying over there?" said Gar.

"She's talking to your lobsters."

"Hey, you talking to my lobsters over there?"

Glenda didn't answer him.

"Hey, how'd your play go?" he said. "How was it being a penguin?"

"Fine," she said.

"She didn't move," said her father.

"She didn't?"

"She just stood there."

"She get stage fright?"

"I don't know."

"You get stage fright?" Gar said to Glenda.


The lobsters looked sadder than ever. They weren't even waving this time.

Glenda tapped the glass. "There were more," she said to Gar.

"What's that?"

"You had more lobsters last time, I counted."

"You're pretty smart," he said.

"You sell some?" said Glenda's father.

"Sold a couple last week," said Gar. "I got to restock."

"How's your lobster guy?"

"Better than my pickerel guy, I'll say that much."

Glenda put her palm against the tank. The lobsters didn't move. "I'm sorry," she said.

"What'd she say?"

"I missed it," said her father. "Can you make that two pounds of the shrimp?"

"Coming right up," said Gar.

Jessica Westhead has been waiting a while.




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