Happy Is He

by Christina Harrington

Mister Fish took little Gracie Ash from her bed and ate her up like a communion wafer. Placed thin strips of her flesh upon his old, grey tongue and melted her away, until she was cozy inside of his belly, with his ribs for a pillow.

Momma says if I track in mud from the yard one more time, Mister Fish will come for me. But my older brother Charlie tells me Mister Fish will get me no matter what I do. Charlie pinches my arms and the skin along my side and calls me Billy Babyfat.

“How your fat will pop and sizzle,” Charlie says. “It’ll smoke up his hut!”

I do not look at Mister Fish when we pass him on the street. I keep my eyes upon the stones, the mud caught between them. I have only seen his boots. Charlie tells me he is grey, even his skin, that he has a long, greasy mustache, silver as the rest of him. He says Mister Fish has grey eyes, too, small and bulging, like spider eggs. He smiles at everyone.

Mister Fish smiled when they hung him the first time. Everyone knows that. He smiled at the end of that rope, and his corpse smiled all while they buried him in potter’s field, beside the orchard. He smiled, still, when the owner of the cider mill found him the next morning among the twisted apple trees and the fog, noose still tight around his neck, teeth flecked with red apple flesh.

“He smiled when they shot him, when they drowned him, when they quartered him with horses,” Thomas tells me, as we huddle in the schoolyard before the first bell. When it rings, I stay close to him, careful to step only upon stone and clumps of grass. “Each time they buried him, he rose from his grave. They never could kill him.”

Thomas is my best friend. He keeps salt along his windowsill to stop Mister Fish from plucking him from his bed at midnight.

There are other children in Mister Fish’s belly. I see them in my dreams. They huddle close around Gracie Ash. Like too much fat in a sausage casing, their bare arms up against his skin, threatening to burst their captor. But they won’t split that skin. Nothing can.

Charlie tells me Mister Fish is slight. That he leans forward on narrow legs. That his cheeks are sunken and hollow. He must be lying. Mister Fish is a bloated tick in my dreams, stomach distended and hanging with his caught children.

We saw him yesterday. Thomas and I. On the way back from school. It was raining, the sky pressing down on us. I was trying to watch my step, to keep from the lower places filled with muck. Thomas kept pulling at my arm, impatient to get out of the wet.

I felt Thomas’ grip on my arm tighten to stone, first, and then I saw those boots of his, muddy and worn. Thomas ran. I heard his footsteps clatter on the uneven paving stones until they were gone and there was nothing but the soft purr of rain. Slowly, I lifted my gaze.

Charlie was right. Mister Fish is a thin man. His lean frame holds no evidence of the children he has gobbled up. He has tight skin, like over-boiled pork. His spine is twisted and it bent him towards me, his milky eyes close and at the level of my own. A white mustache streaked through with grease hung over his top lip. He smelled of tallow and cinnamon.

He started to speak, and I could see the teeth that had chewed up Gracie.

“Happy is he that taketh thy little ones,” Mister Fish said in a low, dry voice, “and dasheth their heads against the stones.”

I ran, then, my feet splashing against the wet street. I could not see the ground, or the houses, or the people I passed. All I could see was Mister Fish’s ribs, like prison bars, with Gracie Ash’s face pressed against them, her wide eyes nearly eclipsed by the reaching hands of the other children trapped in that bleak, damp place.

Momma made me wash the floor. When I could not tell her why I was crying, she passed me a rag and a bucket and told me to clear the floor of my muddy tracks. My arms ache now. My own belly is empty, rumbling, and yet I could not find the strength to eat my supper. Even when Charlie threatened to eat my plate himself, I could not bear to lift any food to my lips.

Grey Mister Fish will come for me tonight. I have lined salt on the windowsill, but it will do little to keep him out, to stop him from hooking his thin fingers under the sash. His body will angle into my bedroom from his broken waist, and he will pluck me from my slumber. I know he will, I have dreamed it too many times to be anything but premonition.

In his hut at the edge of town, where spiders crawl between loose stones and floss webbing between the dusty beams, he will sit me next to the fire. I will not cry. I will not run, though he will not bind me. I will stay sitting close enough to the hearth for fire to lick sweat down the hollow of my spine. My eyes will meet Mister Fish’s eyes, until those white orbs become my own, until I see what they see.

I will take the meat offered by those dirty fingers and eat of it. I will take communion. I will become communion. I will join Gracie, and we will live forever.

Christina Harrington lives in Astoria with her boyfriend, their dog, Rocket, and too many comic books. You can find more of her work in The Boiler Journal, Roanoke Review, Glassworks Magazine and others.
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