We are on the porch smoking my cigarettes at a going away party for Cass, who is dying. The man next to me is turning over and evaluating the cigarette he asked me for.
“Kind of ironic,” says the man.
“She isn’t dying of lung cancer.”
“Yeah, but I sort of always think of death as cigarettes,” he says.
His name is Doug. Doug recently caught a smiling catfish while on vacation in the Everglades. He released the fish afterwards in compliance with the policy of the Everglades reserve. Doug has assured people (especially his vegetarian daughter) that the fish is alive and well, ‘out there, swimming.’
I just met Doug, yet I know all this about him because Doug is talking at me. I don’t know why Doug is at Cass’s party.
“Thanks for the smoke,” Doug says.
A cool breeze coming off the lake blows our smoke into the house where people are standing around, sipping from champagne flutes, awkwardly trying to make conversation with Cass, who ‘looks really good’ if one were to believe them. Some are people I know, or knew. I still don’t know who Doug is.
But Doug’s son plays on the football team at the Catholic school. His boy is considered very good by those who follow high school football. He is likely to get a scholarship at the state college if he decides to keep playing. Doug explains that adults who are deeply interested in high school football make him uncomfortable.
“You know, it’s kind of pathetic, right? Grown men getting all riled up about fifteen year olds playing ball after school?”
“I mean, if it’s your boy out there, that’s a lot different. These guys who show up to high school games though, they don’t all have kids on the team. They show up like they would to a Vikings game or something. They follow the boys’ statistics. Maybe they played in high school, but that doesn’t make it any better,” he says.
We stare across the lake. Apparently Cass did pretty well for herself. I don’t have a house, let alone one with a view and a glitzy chandelier. I’m not sure when we got old enough to be buying houses, or talking to sport fishermen about the drunks who come to high school football games. I glance at Doug. He is wearing a polo shirt with an alligator logo. This man really likes his aquatic animals. I wonder why I am now acquainted with him, why we are socially a single degree of separation apart.
“How do you know Cass?” I ask.
I light another cigarette.
“We work together, or we did I guess,” Doug says.
“What do you do?”
“I manage distribution logistics.”
Now I realize I have no idea what Cass does, what she has been doing for the past five years. I realize I still imagine her as a painter, nineteen years old, in the apartment we shared with Josie and Faith, in an oil stained lobster-print chef’s apron, slicing at a canvas with a broad knife. She is trying to apply sunny highlights to the waves of a lake but it doesn’t really look anything like sunlight or water. Then it is years later and we are drinking the dregs of wine bottles that her customers left behind at her phony booze-and-crafts studio in a trendy neighborhood neither of us can afford, and I am raw from breaking up with Josie. Then I am looking at Doug and his stupid fucking alligator shirt and I realize that I’ve got no idea who Cass is anymore. I have no present connection with the tragedy transpiring before us. I don’t really know where we’ve been for a decade.
Doug has his phone out. He shows a video of the catfish. In the seven second video, he is posing with the fish in his arms. When Doug smiles at the camera in this video, the fish lurches forward and appears to smile, matching his toothy grin. The video has 96 views on Youtube.
“Do you fish?” Doug asks.
“No,” I lie, snubbing out my cigarette.
But I love fishing.
Alex Friedman is a graduate of Chatham University’s MFA. If you know anybody buying novellas right now, let him know.
Artwork by: Dylan Scillia
Dylan Scillia is a Junior at Susquehanna University studying Early Childhood Education. While photography has nothing to do with his major, it is one of his passions and he tries to indulge in it as often as possible. It is his dream to one day teach teens about the basics of photography, to hopefully open their eyes to the artistic and practical possibilities.