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The Tale End

Story by Susan Kim Campbell (Read author interview) May 2, 2016

Art by Scott E. Anderson

My boyfriend doesn’t like fish.  He is Asian, Chinese-American to be exact, so I find this funny.  I am Asian, Korean-American, to be exact, so I feel free to tell him so.

Well, you don’t like ginger, he says.

True, but being Asian and not liking fish is like, well, not liking rice!

He grins.  What can I say?  It just, it just smells fishy to me.  It tastes fishy.

That’s the point, silly!

My boyfriend is seventeen years older than I am, which makes him forty-three years old.  When we met, I didn’t think age would be a problem, but that was nine months ago.

Frankly, this fish business is driving me crazy.  For one, it’s not just that he doesn’t eat fish, it’s that he prefers that I not eat fish either.  He says that he can’t even bear the smell.  For two, even if I eat fish without him, he says that he can smell it on me later.

Salmon, he will sniff upon greeting me.  You’ve been eating salmon.  Or, sea bass.  Come on, I can tell you have.

I’ve taken to devouring sushi on the sly, hiding my habit like a drug addict or a criminal.

My boyfriend is odd in other ways.  He cries a lot.  People sometimes mistake me for his daughter, and this makes him cry.

Things I love about my boyfriend:

He doesn’t mind my bad handwriting and the way I talk at the movies.

He thinks I’m cute.

We take a bath together every night, with loads of bubbles.

People think we’re a matched set, both being Asian.  Sometimes we understand each other without even speaking, which has to do with culture and being mistaken for Japanese tourists when we’re out walking around, even though our families have lived in America for generations.

I can’t imagine not liking fish, says my friend Kiko.  I’m out to dinner with friends, without my boyfriend, and the table is sharing oysters.  Each one goes down cold and smooth with a lemon chaser.  If we were alone I could confide in Kiko that I’ve begun falling asleep on my boyfriend whenever he wants to have sex.  He’ll take me in his arms and before long I’m dozing off, slipping into a coma as deep and peaceful as the ocean.  I’d tell Kiko that I’m beginning to suspect that this is a Bad Sign.

But we’re not alone.  She’s brought a couple of co-workers with her, including this man she calls Martin from Marketing.  I can’t help noticing a couple of things about him:  he’s got red curly hair, he’s eating seared ahi tuna, and he’s my age.

Things I’m not loving about my boyfriend:

He keeps saying how cute I am, as if that’s all there is.

He’s forty-three and dating a twenty-six-year-old.

He doesn’t seem to notice that I’m changing and growing.  For instance, he doesn’t pay attention when I talk about going to graduate school, or moving out of state.

Sometimes he describes me, as in “You hate to go dancing, just like me!” and I don’t recognize that person as myself.

When I complain about these things, he says, You know what?  Cranky doesn’t become you, sweetie.

This is what I shout back at him:  Life can’t be all bubble baths, all of the time.

Secretly I feel guilty, because not that long ago I didn’t have any complaints.

The next week I run into Martin from Marketing, eater of tuna.  We stand and chat for longer than I intend to.  He turns out to be funny and smart and he listens to me.  I decide that his red hair is kind of endearing.

He makes a joke that when he was little, people mistook him for a girl because of his curls.

I make a joke that when I was little, kids used to ask me why I didn’t know karate, because Chinese people are supposed to know karate.  I’m not even Chinese!  He frowns and says, That’s not really funny, and he’s so right, and I think, I am happy you said that.

Finally we say goodbye and he says, Hey, we should go out again sometime to that oyster place.  Sure, I say, and I am thinking Uh-oh as I drive away, because I meant it.

On the way home I stop at the grocery, and they have shrimp on sale.  Normally I wouldn’t even consider it, but I pause.

I love shrimp.  I eat the tails too.  Not because I like the taste, but because it makes sense to me to finish what I start.

I buy a pound.

Shrimp in their natural state make me sad, with their beady eyes and miniscule legs.  Once not long ago these guys were swimming in the sea, thinking life was good.

As the counterman weighs my purchase, I think that if I could, I would go back nine months to the girlfriend who was perfectly happy.  My boyfriend and I fit together, I always felt, and if the world thought so too, so much the better.  That I might miss this the most makes me sad.

I tuck my shrimp under my arm, all wrapped in paper, and set off for home.

When I walk in the door, my boyfriend is waiting.  He says accusingly, Something smells fishy to me.

Before I open my mouth, I think, You poor soul, how right you are.

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Notes from Guest Reader Terrie Farley Moran

Anyone who can tie fish into romance has quite a knack for storytelling.

About the Author

Susan Kim Campbell is a writer of fiction and nonfiction.  Her work is published or forthcoming in the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories anthology, and the Mississippi Review.  She has been awarded artist residencies to the Millay Colony for the Arts, Hedgebrook, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, the Anderson Center at Tower View, and several others.  Susan has won fellowships to the Norman Mailer Center, the Tomales Bay Writers Conference, and the Writers @ Work Conference.  She holds a B.A. from Brown University.

About the Artist

Scott E. Anderson is a California based photographer, filmmaker and visual effects artist. Other works can be seen at his blog onebysea.com.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Two
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