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The alligator gar was a magnificent fish.  Even in the dark room, it glittered: long, a ribbon of dimes floating in the tank.  Empty tank, clear water.  Seen from the bed, the gar seemed more like a static picture behind gray glass as if it would never move.  And, in truth, Hoki had not seen it travel more than an inch forward or back in the enormous tank.  The fish never showed more than the slightest muscular ripple, its tailfin drifting gently to the side.  The tank filled the top half of the wall beside the bed.  Hoki watched the fish.  The fish watched Hoki.

“Stop it,” said Rina.

He heard the flick of her lighter, the hiss of her cigarette.  Hoki lay on his side, his back to her, his head resting on his arm.  He often woke in that position, staring at the gar, listening to Rina’s quiet breathing or to her already moving around her house.  The mouth of the enormous fish was slightly open, flensing the water back through its gills.  It’s row of white teeth like a saw.  It’s black button-eye in a silver iris.

“How can it know I’m watching?” he said.

“It knows.”  Smoke in the dark.  The fat hiss of her long black cigarette with a golden band where the filter began.  “It can feel you.  Trust me.”

Rina felt things like that.  She always knew when to call, knew when he was asleep.  Hoki often wondered how she managed it.  Rina never did what he expected.  He’d turn in mid-sentence and Rina would be dreaming, her breathing deep and slow.  But when he was least expecting it, in the middle of the night, in the dark hours of the morning: the flick of her lighter, the hiss, the gar looking at him through tinted glass.

Hoki rolled onto his back.  Bars of moonlight through the blinds striped rumpled sheets, Rina’s thigh.

“So tell me its name.”

“Stop asking.”

“You can’t just keep it there in an empty tank.  It’s inhumane.”

She laughed.  The cigarette hissed.  “I’ll be the judge of what’s humane for my fish.”

Hoki didn’t look at her.  He slid off the bottom of the bed, walked barefoot down the long oak hallway in the dark—warm wood, even in winter, even without turning on the heater.  Wood that made the soles of one’s feet feel good, that cost a lot of money.  Not his wood.  Not his money.

Not his bathroom, either.  Hoki waved his hand over the switch.  The lights came on dim, got brighter until he waved his hand again.  He didn’t want it too bright that early in the morning, after a night with Rina.  Hoki rubbed his eyes.  His spiky black hair seemed to have gotten grayer at the temples.  At 33, he felt twice that.  These nights with Rina were sending him to an early grave.

“What are you doing?” she called.  “Get back in here.”

Everything in the bathroom  was dusty blue marble and steel.  He took a cotton ball from a chrome jar and soaked it in rubbing alcohol from a bottle below the sink.  Hoki knew where everything was—the bottle of codeine; the dark towels Rina’s husband, David, never used; David’s bottle of Viagra that had given Hoki the most painful and long-lasting erection of his life; the sterile needle and thread taped underneath the middle drawer just in case.  His shoulder might have needed re-stitching this time if Rina had kept on.  The places where her bites had punctured his skin burned when he swabbed them.  He washed his face and dabbed it dry with a burgundy towel that he re-folded and placed beneath a neat stack of identical towels in the side cabinet.

“Baby get in here.”  Rina was not a patient woman.  But there was one last thing.  Hoki found the tube of Preparation-H where he’d left it beside the rubbing alcohol.  He carefully smeared a bit under each eye, where the skin had begun to sag, and counted up to fifty.  Baggy, tired eyes were not acceptable, even in the dark.

When he went back to the bedroom, he felt more put-together.  He stood beside the bed.  Rina ran her fingers over his stomach muscles while she finished the last of her cigarette.  She smiled.  The sheet had bunched in her lap, bars of moonlight across her breasts, the black ringlets of her hair.

“You’ll tell me its name someday,” he said.

“Don’t waste time.”  She blew a line of smoke and threw the sheet aside.

He climbed onto the bed and went down on her, realizing too late that he had forgotten to wipe off a bit of the Preparation-H below his left eye.  There was no fixing it now.

Hoki dressed while she was showering.  His T-shirt and jeans smelled like sex.  She’d bought him a new pair of Bottega Ventanas on a whim and Hoki made sure to wear them when he came over.  They still smelled like new shoes.  But eventually everything he wore would smell like her Sobraines, her Clive Christian at $800 an ounce.  The black marble box with white veins sat on a narrow table right below the tank.  Just large enough for six crisp $100 bills.  Hoki folded the money, put it in his back pocket.  The gar stared.  And Hoki paused as if the gar were about to speak, to explain everything.

“I’ll get your name,” he whispered.  “You’ll see.”

The gar’s tailfin flicked gently.  It’s gills expanded, contracted.

Hoki always waited until Rina left the room before he went to the box.  It was good that way and it wasn’t vulgar.  Then he went down the hallway in the dark.  She wanted him gone by the time she got out of the shower.  That was part of it, the night over and a new day beginning.  He keyed the house alarm and closed the front door behind him.  By the time David got home from the airport, the sheets would be changed, windows open, another black Sobraine between her lips.

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I write fiction and nonfiction for magazines, work as a freelance writer / editor / journalist, and teach composition and fiction writing.

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“To educate is to seek meaning in everything. It is to teach others to seek the meaning of things. This means mixing the dreams of children and young people with the experience of adults and the elderly. This exchange must always take place, or else there can be no humanity because there would be no roots, no history, no promise, no growth, and no prophecy.”

— Pope Francis, 5 June 20

“I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend time in prison for it myself.”

— Vladimir Bukovsky

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“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery—isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

“La lecture est un acte d’identification, les sentiments exprimés sont déjà en nous. Autrement, le livre nous tombe des mains.”

— Madeleine Chapsal

“Time is said to be irreversible. And this is true enough in the sense that ‘you can’t bring back the past’. But what exactly is this ‘past’? Is it what has passed? And what does ‘passed’ mean for a person when for each of us the past is the bearer of all that is constant in the reality of the present, of each current moment? In a certain sense the past is far more real, or at any rate more stable, more resilient than the present. The present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight only in its recollection. King Solomon’s ring bore the inscription, ‘All will pass’; by contrast, I want to draw attention to how time in its moral implication is in fact turned back. Time can vanish without trace in our material world for it is a subjective, spiritual category. The time we have lived settles in our soul as an experience placed within time.”

— Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time