God's Disposable Creatures by Gilles Talarek

I tensed up each time I had to drive one of Jack’s pickup trucks. No matter how much I’d scrubbed and bleached, you could still smell the years of decaying carcasses piled up in the back. 

‘It was a bargain’, he insisted, whenever one of my nostrils flared up in disgust. I couldn’t help it; I would never think it was a good idea to buy used trucks, no matter how cheap, from the widowed wife of an abattoir owner. And the little forest of Magic Tree Air Fresheners that dangled all around me didn’t help. 

Sometimes, I thought I could see the heaps of flesh piled up high behind me, obstructing my vision in the rear-view mirror. I blinked hard and snapped back to reality. What I couldn’t see were my daughters, playing hide and seek under a tarp, a canoe, or whatever other junk Jack carried around at all times, ‘just in case’. 

I screamed through the rolled-down window: 

‘Girls! Where I can see you!’ 

Cyndi’s scruffy head popped right up. 

‘Where’s your sister?’ 

‘Still hiding I guess.’ 

On the passenger’s seat was yet another plastic bag filled with water, a temporary home for the girls’ umpteenth goldfish. One of Jack’s many rewards, for his daughters just being ‘good girls’. Daddy’s girls. 

At the pet store, Cyndi had taken ages to choose her fish. 

‘Are you sure you actually want one?’ 

‘Yes, daddy promised.’ Cyndi whined in reply. 

‘Okay, well just pick one. They’re all the same anyway.’ 

‘Are they?’ 

‘Well, not really, but…kind of. And look after it this time. We’re not coming back here in two weeks when this one’s dead.’ 

Cyndi looked up at me, her brow furrowed. 

‘Is it wrong to get fish, mama?’ 

‘Wrong? No hon, why would it be wrong?’ 

‘Because we always kill them…and that’s a sin.’ 

‘It’s not a sin, honey. It’s just a fish. They don’t live very long.’ 

‘But they are God’s creatures as well, aren’t they? Like every living thing.’ ‘Why, yes, yes they are, but some of God’s creatures are more…disposable.’ Cyndi looked confused, and for a moment, I thought she’d given up on the idea, but the next second, her face cleared right up as her hand dove right in the tank and fished out a half-strangled goldfish. She kissed it and plopped it in the plastic bag the shop assistant was holding out for her. 

Through the glass partition of the pickup truck, there was still no sign of Lily. ‘Lily! Don’t make me stop the truck.’ 

Pig-headed and defiant, Lily made me stop the truck. But as I pushed the door open, a loud thump made me close it again. Leaning forward, I saw a fish on the road; grey, bloodied, as big as a child’s arm. An eery whistling sound made me look up; the kind you hear in cartoons when an anvil is about to hit an unsuspecting fool’s head. The sky was dark grey and closing in on us. 

Another fish hit the hood of the truck and dented it. In what felt like seconds, dozens of them torpedoed down from the sky. It took me a while to understand what was happening; I felt hypnotized by what sounded like big clumps of raw dough hitting the tarmac. In a jolt of panic, I screamed: 

‘Girls, under the canoe, now!’ 

But as I turned around to make sure they were complying, I heard the sound of breaking glass and a high-pitched scream as something cold flew through the glass partition of the truck and hit my arm. 

The scream must have been mine. Cyndi was staring at the bloodied fish flapping against my arm. A trout, I thought, my mind suddenly trying to detach itself from the scene. ‘Canoe! Now!’ 

Reacting to my roar, Cyndi looked up at me. Seeing my eyebrows locked in a deep frown, she sensed the urgency and slithered under the canoe. 

Invisible under the boat, Lily was whimpering. 

‘Ma…ma. Where…are…you?’ 

‘I’m coming girls, don’t move.’ 

I broke the rest of the glass partition with the rusty hook I’d been asking Jack to dispose of for weeks, bless his messy soul. I hoisted myself through to the back of the truck and, my belly scraped raw, joined the girls under the canoe. 

We huddled up under the wooden structure, flinching every time a fish hit it like a drum. No one tells you how comforting your children’s touch can be…the suppressed jolt of Lily’s little ribcage with every dropping fish, Cyndi’s accelerated breathing, as her brain was trying to analyse what was happening. Both of them clinging to a mother they so often squirm away from. 

I kissed both their temples and held them close. 

‘How long will we be here for mama?’ Lily enquired. 

‘Not too long sweetie, I texted papa and he’s on his way.’ 

I had. 

Stuck on Ashbrook between Willow bridge and the Ashby farm. Need your help NOW. Trying to bring a little normalcy to the situation, I added. 

‘What do you reckon that fish was, Cyndi?’ 

‘I…I don’t know.’ 

‘Come one, you’re good with fish. Papa always takes you fishing.’ 

Although it was too dark under there to really make out my girls’ features, I could feel her concentrate. 

‘I…I…think it was a salmon.’ 

‘I think you might be right, you know. Lily, what do you think?’ 

‘Well, I didn’t see it, did I? You won’t let me look out.’ 

‘Fair enough. What does it sound like then?’ 

I could imagine her eyes rolling, a habit she’d recently developed, whenever something made no sense to her. 

‘It sounds like someone’s trying to hurt us.’ 

‘Now come on Lily, no one’s trying to hurt us.’ 

‘Oh really, then who’s throwing fish at us?’ 

‘No one! It’s just a freak accident of nature, just one of those th…’ 

‘God is.’ Cyndi’s voice boomed in. It echoed under our canoe like an evangelist’s condemnation. ‘God is throwing us fish.’ 

A loud thud on the hull punctuated Cyndi’s point. 

Her solemn tone transfixed me; her voice was deeper than I’d heard it before, more assured. I turned to look at her but all I could see were two shiny surfaces staring straight ahead. Girls freaking out, fish everywhere. Come quick! 

‘What are you talking about?’ 

‘I’m talking about God’s wrath.’ 

‘Cut it out Cyndi, you’re gonna scare your sister.’ 

‘No, she’s not.’ Lily butted in. 

‘Shush! Now I don’t know who put these ideas in to your head, but no one here provoked God’s wrath!’ 

‘We did mama. We kill fish, you said so yourself.’ 

‘I never…’ 

‘Yes, you did! You said we always kill them but it’s okay, cause some of God’s creatures are more disposable than others. But I don’t think it’s okay.’ 

‘You did say that mama.’ Lily’s righteous little voice chimed in. 

As I exhaled loudly, I noticed for the first time that the sound of falling fish had stopped. A few faint flaps could still be heard in the distance, like a storm rolling out. 

Where are you? 

‘So, you think God is punishing us for killing fish by killing more fish? That makes no sense!’ ‘God works in mysterious ways’ Lily added, mimicking her sister’s solemn voice. ‘Shush Lily!’ 

‘It’s not funny Lil, we could die.’ Cyndi added. 

‘But we didn’t honey. And it’s stopped now.’ 

‘You girls stay here while I take a look outside.’ 

‘Be careful mama’, they sang in unison. 

The sky was clear again, clearer. On the floor, hundreds of grey fish were strewn around, some piled on top of each other. Despite the odd reflex flap, few were moving. 

‘How is it out there?’ Cyndi’s muffled voice asked. 

‘A bit gruesome, but quiet. Whatever that was has stopped.’ 

‘Is Moses okay?’ 

‘Who the hell is Moses?’ 

'Our new goldfish’. 

Although I couldn’t see the waters parting for this guy, I applauded Cyndi’s biblical choice of name. 

‘I’ll go and check on him. Stay put, both of you!’ 

Stepping over corpses, I walked to the passenger’s seat where Moses lay, untouched in his plastic bag. 

I made my way to the back of the pickup truck, with God’s chosen fish. 

‘Here we go girls, Moses is fine. It’s safe to come out now. 

They both heaved the canoe away, oblivious of the carnage around them and pounced on Moses. Amidst the excitement, the plastic back caught on the tailgate of the truck and Moses plummeted to the ground in a splash of water. 

But as the girls shrieked, I squatted down and caught him…bright orange and flapping against a sea of dead grey fish…the world’s easiest Where’s Wally. 

‘Got him’ I shouted, ‘see if papa’s got some water back there.’ 

Cradling a flapping Moses in my cupped hands, I heard the rev of an engine and shrieking car breaks coming at me. I turned just in time to feel the heat of a grille against my face and read the license plate. 


Published in Issue #18

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