|In this piece by Laura Bristow, we view a fishing trip as an allegory for an experience with sexual violence. With deft language, clever metaphor, and easy lyricism, she cuts into a relationship and reveals years of abuse the same way one would cut open a fish. It isn’t pleasant, it’s complicated and messy, but the difference is that, when Bristow leaves her bottom feeder, she leaves the water clean.|
The Wife of a Bottom Feeder
by Laura Bristow
The hell began on the day you took me fishing. Do you remember this? It was when we felt as young as the water, and as full of endless possibilities. I watched with wide eyes as your fingers deftly flipped the split shots around the hook. Your demonstration of how a strong flick of the wrist propelled the line excited me. And when I happened to mention my keenness for a man with facial hair you pulled a worm from that orange box of tackle and laid it gingerly above your pouted, wrinkled lips. “Pucker up,” you said to me. You made me squeal in disgust, and in joy, and in complete and utter love as we shared another wonton kiss by the pristine, lonely lakeside, complete with a wriggling worm squashed between our noses.
Do you remember the fish I caught that day, whilst underneath that blotched white summer sky? It was my only one, but I was still so proud. A bottom feeder, you said it was, and a considerably large one at that. I lurched it out of the water and watched in near horror as it flipped and flopped in terror on the sogging grass beneath it. Its poor mouth gasped in stupidity, forcing useless air into its dying lungs as its black scales swelled and crunched together. I remember how I knelt beside it, not really caring for lunch anymore and instead struggled to grab at the fish with my bare hands and return it to its proper home of life-giving water. But it was too slick. Too animated. I remember the guilt I felt, and I even remember the childish shame of feeling such guilt, when the creature perished in the closest emotion a fish could experience as anguish. But what I remember most is the slippery, tar black feel greasing my hands and the once fresh grass poking at my feet.
To this day I can’t quite wash my hands free of it. I can’t quite get a hold of that gasping blackness, if only to banish it back to the leaden water from where it belonged.
I thought I left that fish dead at the side of the lake that bitter sunset evening. I thought my time with bottom feeders had come to a repugnant though much-needed end. If only I had recognized my aptitude in attracting bottom feeders soon enough, so as to stop you from leading me by the hand to your car, then to the belt of your jeans, and then to a life I could only describe as wetter, darker, and more smothering than the deepest pit a lake could ever fill.
Do you remember the look I gave you, when you said how much I made it suffer? Your fingers made a scissoring motion as they thrust violently through the air. “Coulda made it quick,” you demonstrated. “Poor thing probably died confused. The worst way to go, don’t you think?”
To be truthful I remember very little since that day, but I do remember how quickly the love ran dry. Like a fish needing water you needed your drink. I remember the stench of hard alcohol, the sly smiles, the bruises, the shame, and the queues upon queues of late night visits. I remember how you struggled to love as that tarry black fish struggled to breathe in my hands, and I remember the helplessness I felt in trying to save you both. Every grasp at your foul scales just ended in more turmoil, whether it was you slapping me across the face with your charcoal black fins, or flopping on top of me, smearing me with your grease, gasping for something that just couldn’t satisfy your thirst. Why you fought back my attempts so ardently I couldn’t understand, but then, it is impossible to know what idles through the mind of a bottom feeder.
Now I realize it has been fourteen years, since that day by the lake, and so it feels the best place to finally forget. The pain of wasted years still rots my feet away, as if I’ve been trudging in the muck alongside you all this time. But now, I’m finally free. I’ve swam out from the lake’s underbelly into clearer waters. There is nothing here to remind me of your grease, nor is there anything to remind me of my joy. There is only the vision of the pristine lake’s surface sitting on a ground of muck, welcoming all bottom feeders to finally return to their proper place. You teased me for failing to ‘make it quick’ all those years ago.
I hope I didn’t disappoint you this time.
The final ripples of your existence lap at my toes. The grass has recovered by the lake now, refreshed, and the corpse of that shiny black bottom feeder has properly decomposed. I believe yours will do the same.
Laura Bristow is an emerging storyteller fueled by imagination and a fascination with the darker side of human nature, and currently resides in Seattle. She has experienced domestic abuse indirectly through her closest friends, and though by no means sympathetic to the abuser, she aims to explore the struggles both parties may face in her short story “The Wife of a Bottom Feeder”.