Marlboro Fish

by Carmen Price

The Border Collie would’ve preferred not to be named Nietzsche, but he’d long ago accepted the things he couldn’t change.

Keys fumbled against lock—small hands struggled with brass and polished oak—and Nietzsche whimpered. The door opened and the Granddaughter twirled past Nietzsche’s bobbing head, halting in front of the Grandmother. “How are ya?” the Granddaughter asked in earnest.

“I’m somewhere between devastation and acceptance,” the Grandmother replied matter-of-factly, a copy of Smithsonian magazine draped over her face. Nietzsche rolled his eyes. The Grandmother’s self-pity and emotional excesses weren’t the Granddaughter’s business. But what did he expect? The Grandmother had named him after a horse-and-buggy nihilist; her judgment was suspect. He whimpered. Maybe he was being too hard on her. Her ship had sailed, but it hadn’t been her fault.

The Granddaughter, unbothered, bounded over to the persimmon table by the living room window. The Grandmother lived on the 11th floor and her view was Lake Michigan, its beach festooned with rotten fish. Nietzsche loved swimming in Lake Michigan, whether or not beach hazard statements were in effect throughout Cook County. He loved to dig his claws into the sand. He tried not to think so much about the rotten fish and their glassy little eyeballs. He wondered if they’d been able to think while alive and swimming through the slime, and if they had, had they been bothered by the slime or its reason for being?

The Granddaughter climbed on the table and slowly picked up a pack of Marlboro Reds. Nietzsche eyed the Grandmother and whimpered. She was still stretched out on the couch like silly putty on the brink.

The Granddaughter casually dropped the Marlboro Reds out of the half-open window.

Nietzsche jumped up beside the Granddaughter and watched the Marlboro Reds float down to the beach and land on a clump of rotten fish.

A warm tear splashed Nietzsche’s nose and it felt like a thousand years of pain unspoken. He whimpered. “Don’t tell on me,” the Granddaughter whispered, “I didn’t do it.”

You only did it if you say so, Nietzsche thought.

Perhaps he’d been given the right name after all.

Carmen Price is a teacher and writer based in Stockholm, Sweden. Like many a good millennial, she collects houseplants, including a feisty little ficus and a fig tree. So far she’s doing a pretty good job of keeping them alive.
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