Holly thought if she put all her captured night crawlers in a blender with ice they would be easier to stomach.
That was not the case.
Holly’s mother found vomit – a pale-pink puddle that seeped into the hardwood, bits of worm still squirming – and became immediately, matronly worried.
Out in the backyard under the sickly illumination of the moon, flashlight nestled between her cheek and shoulder, up to her ankles in wood chips, Holly filled plastic sandwich baggy after plastic sandwich baggy with night crawlers the width of her pinkie. Often she threw back the skinnier ones; other times she sucked on them like grass whistles. Inside, her mother took up the mop and absentmindedly cleaned while she watched her daughter dig and dig.
Before the blender, Holly tried to slurp worms down one-by-one like shucked oysters. They wriggled on her tongue, tasted like dirt and burnt wood. She couldn’t keep them down. Biting wasn’t an option; the sound and consistency of squished worm triggered her gag reflex. Spittle dribbled down her chin like she was a rabid animal. She hated herself. She hated Chuck.
Before all of this, Holly had a boyfriend. Chuck. He wore sweater vests over collared shirts and called Holly’s mother by her Christian name. He was a gentleman but also a creature of urges and older by two grades. After dating for two months, he confessed that he’d fingered lots of girls. Tons even. This did not faze Holly who, armed with a library card, had learned the ins and outs of what teenage boys did to teenage girls and vice versa. She understood.
Chuck offered himself to Holly as a virgin sacrifice in exchange for her own unplowed furrow. Holly obliged. She was ready and not ready; unprepared and also absolutely certain she knew what to do; didn’t really feel pressured one way or another. For Holly, sex was as inevitable and unappealing as death. Other girls in her class were doing things with mouths and penises and vaginas that Holly poured over in the corner of the library, legs crossed.
When they finally had sex, Chuck said things that were out of character with the clean cut of his jib. When they lost their collective virginity, Chuck informed Holly, after five minutes, that he was almost there, that he was going to burst, that he was going to plant a seed in her. He grunted, froze, let a warm wisp in Holly’s ear.
“Awesome,” he gurgled.
The next time Chuck’s “seed” became a “tadpole,” tiny and white that would wade leisurely into Holly’s ovaries and one day, in her warmth, grow into a frog. Afterwards, Chuck assured Holly that no such species of amphibian could live inside her.
“It’s dirty talk,” he said, patting down the back of her hair, snagging his uncut fingernails on loose ends. “I say it because I know it gets you hot,” he explained.
In the six times they had had sex, Holly hadn’t felt much more than what amounted to a genital rug-burn and an urge to pee. She concentrated so much on not voiding her bladder that Chuck went largely unnoticed.
Holly promised Chuck, “Next time will be different,”
And it was. Holly did her research, watched some videos on the Internet, learned how women with too much makeup and fake breasts pretended to get hot for the pleasure of men. She learned to act. She moaned and shuttered, writhed and repeated, “Oh Chuck, Oh Chuck, you wild stud you, you sexual dynamo,” when, with his lips brushing her ear, he whispered:
“I’m gonna put a fish in you.”
Holly stopped. She said out loud: “Stop.” Chuck kept thrusting and sweating.
Holly yelled, “Stop.” His lower half kept pumping as she pushed him off.
“What the hell?” Chuck grunted, angry at the interruption.
Holly’s eyes sunk in. “Did you say you were gonna put a fish in me?”
“In your lake,” Chuck said matter-of-factly. His eyes darted to the bed sheet partially covering Holly’s nudity, glaring through to the shores of her lake gut teeming with frog and fish.
Channeled with a rage both punishing and beautiful, Holly kicked Chuck off the bed and into the wall. He didn’t see it coming. His naked body made a wet, clapping sound against the drywall; his head bounced against the plush carpeting.
“Get out,” Holly said, all honey.
Chuck, rising slowly, rubbing his ass, stuttered, “But baby…”
“Get out!” Holly spit vinegar.
As Chuck got dressed, Holly grabbed her laptop and opened a browser window. Chuck mumbled something and left, saying goodbye to Holly’s mother on his way out, calling her “Mrs. Martin.”
Holly’s mother peeked her head into her daughter’s room, asked her what that was all about.
“Chuck tried to put a fish in me,” Holly said, her eyes reflecting the glow of the computer screen.
A look of stony concern crossed her mother’s face. “Did you let him?”
“No,” Holly stated, “I don’t think so. Maybe. I think he came but I don’t know if he had time to send in the fish. I’ve gotta research, mom.” She didn’t look up.
Holly’s mother said goodnight, went to her room, kneeled at her bedside, and said a prayer that, along with the typical Christian overtones of good health and happiness and peace for all, hit on themes like childhood innocence, sexuality, and seafood. She hoped it was the last time she’d have to invoke that particular prayer.
[TO BE CONTINUED]
I had a title and I thought of my grandfather who paints watercolors of trout fishing and then there’s this pile of wood chips in his backyard that he and I used to dig through for nightcrawlers when I was a kid and we used to fish all the time. Side note: Trout fight hard. They play games with you. They buck and run and slow down, back off, bring their bellies up like a dog playing dead and you think you are better than them but you aren’t. They snap lines and spit out hooks just when you think you’ve got them in your net. Trout don’t give up unless you make them. So I started writing a girl on her knees in that pile of wood chips. That’s a real pile. It exists; you can go see it whenever you want. And that trout – the trout – is on a dozen canvases in my grandfather’s workshop and in countless nets, still thrashing on land as my grandfather took the fly out with pliers and blood ran down the rainbow flesh like tears. The high school track is real but the frog pond isn’t. The sex is real but cobbled together from several experiences and I switched the perspective. I don’t think I’m bad at fucking but I worry about it. What if you’re terrible and that stays with someone, grows in them, keeps them up at night? What if having sex with you is the worst part of someone else’s life? This story isn’t about pregnancy; it’s not about abortion. It’s about actions and what those actions grow into, what they become when you think you’ve forgotten all about them. That and trout.
Tim O’Donnell lives in New Jersey. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from William Paterson University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in 3:AM Magazine, Pif Magazine, Paper Darts, and others. Eating several plates of mac n’ cheese bites is Tim’s drunk superpower. He also abuses Twitter @ribcagefight.
To find out what happens to Holly’s fish, order Four Chambers 01