“The Catfish Enchantment”
Cosmo’s father deserted the family and died unforgiven, his mother is sinking into depression, he’s started cutting himself to relieve the pain, and his boss suggests … a tattoo?
I walked up the gangplank, past the hostess station and into where the tables were lined up. Nobody was in sight. Then I turned around, and there was Bud, standing right behind me.
He was only a little taller than I was, and I didn’t have my full growth. Black hair, shiny black eyes, high cheekbones, golden skin. Even though he wore a plain green T-shirt and blue jeans, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear him speaking Chinese, but his accent was…. Well, he didn’t have one.
“On time,” he said. “That’s promising.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, wanting to make points.
He sneered. “Kenny says you want a job. You want a job or you want to work?”
I thought about that for a couple of seconds.
“I want a job.”
Bud laughed. “Okay, how about you do both? See those brass rails? Polish those. Polish and rags are in this cupboard.”
“How do I do it?”
“Can’t you read? Read the damn bottle. You want me to take the top off of it for you, too?”
That was Bud.
About a week later, a couple of days after school was out, I came home from Bud’s to find that Dad had moved out. That was when I learned what kind of lawyer he was: a divorce attorney.
“At least I have you,” Mom kept saying to me. “You’re all I care about.”
No pressure, right?
Every so often, I have to admit, I took advantage of working alone on The Golden Lotus to let down and cry. Bud never caught me, which was kind of weird, since he was well-known for popping up at awkward moments.
Then, a couple of weeks after Dad left, the phone rang in the middle of the night. I hopped out of bed and cracked my door so I could hear Mom’s end of the conversation, sure it was Dad saying he was wrong to leave and begging us to take him back.
Turns out, I didn’t need to strain my ears. Mom went, “No! No!” Then she screamed and slid down to the floor. Dad was dead in a car wreck.
That was when I started cutting. After got Mom to sleep about 3 in the morning, I shuffled into the kitchen and got out a paring knife to cut up an apple. My hand was shaking so bad, the knife slipped and jabbed into the skin at the base of my thumb. It hurt, and the blood welled up, fat and bright, and I felt so good. I felt like all the pain and misery and confusion all came out of the hole I had made in myself.
I washed the knife, bandaged the cut, ate the apple and went to bed.