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Sleeping with the Fishes (v1.1)

MaryJanice Davidson


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Chapter Thirty-five

  Chapter Thirty-six

  Chapter One

  The unbelievable horror began, when Fred walked in on her parents making love on the living room coffee table. Like all children (even when grown), her first muddled impression was that her father was hurting her mother. Or perhaps fixing her back. Her second impression was that the coffee table books (Alaska: The Last Frontier; Cape Cod: An Explorer’s Guide; The Black Sea: A History) must sting like hell on her mother’s knees. Her third impression sounded something like this:


  Her mother slipped and National Geographic’s Seals of the Antarctic flew like a tiddly wink from the coffee table and hit the floor with a thud. Her father flinched but, unfortunately, did not fall off (or out of) her mother.

  Fred darted across the room and, before she realized what she was doing, hauled her father off and ossed him over the back of the couch. She then yanked the puke-orange throw from said couch and threw it over her mother.

  “Ow,” her father groaned from out of sight.

  Her mother wriggled under the throw, sat up, and faced her daughter, her normally pale face flushed with wrath. Or something else Fred did not want to think about. “Fredrika Bimm, what do you think you’re doing?”

  “Freaking out. Losing my mind. Thinking about snapping your husband’s spine. Squashing the urge to vomit. Wishing I’d died at childbirth.”

  “Oh, you say that when you don’t get a prize in your Lucky Charms,” her mother snapped. “What’s your problem, miss? You don’t knock anymore?” Her mother, a good-looking blonde with silver streaks and shoulder-length hair (and a disturbingly sweaty face), climbed off the coffee table with remarkable dignity, fastened the blanket to cover her chubby thighs, and went around the couch to help her husband. “You just barge in?”

  “I have a key, I didn’t barge,” Fred pointed out, still revolted but regretting the violence. “And you told me to come over.”

  “Yesterday. I told you to come over yesterday.”

  “I was working.” Fred tried not to whine, or stare. “I couldn’t just ditch all the fish. Although they deserve it, the little bastards. Anyway, I couldn’t come.”

  “Well,” her mother retorted, “neither could I.” Fred again tried not to vomit, and succeeded for the moment. She peered over the couch, where her father was groaning and clutching the small of his back. His bald spot was flushed almost purple. His ponytail had come undone. “Sorry, Dad.”

  “Sorry, hell,” he gasped. “I swear, I’ll never touch her again.”

  “Oh, Sam, just stop it.”

  “Not even if we’re married for another thirty years.”

  Fred flashed a rare smile. “Okay.”

  “Fred, stop it! You too, Sam.” Mrs. Bimm helped her husband to his feet and hustled him out of the living room. Then she turned on her daughter.


  “Mom, put yourself in my fins.”

  “Fredricka Shea Bimm.”

  “Mom, he was fucking my mother. He’s a motherfucker! What would you have done?”

  “Not tossed him halfway across the room,” her mother snapped, then puffed her bangs out of her face. “What in the world is wrong with you? You’re almost thirty, for heaven’s sake.”

  “And you’re almost fifty! Way too old to be—to be—yech.”

  Her mother stuck a stubby finger in Fred’s face. Everything about Moon Bimm was short and stubby, compared to Fred’s long lankiness. Even Fred’s nose was long, and while Mrs. Bimm’s mouth was permanently turned up in a smile, Fred’s everyday expression was a scowl. If Fred hadn’t seen the birth certificate, she would have doubted any birth relation to Moon Bimm. “Violence. Language. Manners. All unacceptable.”

  “I overreacted, okay? I’m sorry, all right?”

  “Not to me. To your father. Who is probably icing his back right this minute.”

  “Hopefully he’s put some pants on first.” Fred looked around the small living room, which was artfully decorated in Cape Cod Tourist. “Why here, Mom? Why next to the pleather chair? The La-Z-Boy? Why not anywhere else?” Why not never? Never ever? “I mean… you’ve got a bed.”

  “We are often strongly affected in the living room,” her mother said primly, then giggled (giggled! O gods of all the seas, kill me now and make it snappy) and marched out, trailing blanket fuzz behind her.

  “Oh, fucking gross,” she muttered, following her mother.

  Chapter Two

  “It’s not as bad as you think, Fred,” the Defiler of Her Mother said, wincing when he moved the bag of frozen peas to better cover his lower back. He had, thankfully, put on pants. Said frozen peas were stuffed in back of said pants. Fred’s mom was still prancing around in the couch blanket, all “nature’s never wrong” and “be empowered, not embarrassed” and “you shouldn’t cover up God’s handiwork.”

  Is there anything sillier than a grown-up hippie?

  “I’m sorry you had to catch us in an intimate moment—”

  “Bird watching Wednesday,” my mother said solemnly, then giggled again.

  Fred groaned and looked around for a fork or a spoon or a gravy boat to gouge out her eyes. And ears. Because Moon Bimm was referring to the cardinal tattooed on her left butt cheek. Other mothers had laugh lines and wrinkles. Not animal tattoos.

  She rested her forehead on her hands, her blue hair brushing the table. She stared at the kelp-colored strands and thought, That’s it. I’m running away for sure. Again. Twenty-nine-year-olds run away all the time. It’s perfectly normal. It’s—

  “Why,” she muttered, “did you call me over in the first place?” And why didn’t I come yesterday, when she actually called?

  “Oh, that. Well…” Her mother fluttered about the kitchen, strands of the couch blanket making her look like a freaked out caterpillar. “We believe—your father and I believe—that is, Sam and I believe in full disclosure.”

  “So I see,” Fred sniffed, eyeing the blanket.

  “Lies and deception, they’re a bad trip, honey. A baaaa—”

  “You want to talk bad trips? Cast your mind back, Mom. Your acid-fried mind. Remember ten minutes ago?”

  Moon Bimm ignored her daughter’s sarcasm; she’d had almost three decades of practice. “Lies and deception, baby. They can make you physically ill. There’s science to back this up, hon, People get ulcers and high blood pressure, just from keeping secrets! And—”

  “Mom. Will you cut to it, please? I have to go home and Clorox my eyeballs.”

  “We’re going to

  Fred kept staring at her hands.

  “Hon? Did you hear me?”

  “If you’re adopting, why are you fucking?”

  “Language,” her father said, squirming on the chair and groping for the bag of peas.

  Moon “children should be allowed to express themselves however they wish” Bimm focused on the sentiment, not the verbiage. “So lovemaking is only for procreation?”

  “When it’s your mother and your father, yes, love-making is only for procreation!” Fred screamed. She longed to toss the kitchen table through the dining room hutch. “I have seen some dark and wicked things, Mom and Dad, take it from me—you would not believe what lurks in the oceans’ deep. I have seen a shark barf out another shark and then eat it again. But nothing I’ve seen was as bad as my mother and father—”

  “Except I’m not your father,” her father said.

  “—as my mother and father—uh—doing dark and wicked things in the ocean. What?”

  “Full disclosure,” her mother said, dramatically swooping about the kitchen, blanket flapping. “All this paperwork we have to fill out for the adoption, it got me thinking. And it’s time you knew the truth. Sam Bimm isn’t your biological father.”

  “Yeah, Mom. I know.”

  Her mom sat down across from her and took Fred’s cold (they were always cold) hands in her warm ones.

  Even now, Fred took comfort from her mother’s touch: how many times had those hands tucked her in, held her, rubbed her back? Her mom was like a walking, talking, jasmine-scented electric blanket.

  “I know it’ll take some getting used to,” she said with touching earnestness. “And I’m sorry you had to live with the lie.”

  “Mom. I know Sam isn’t my father.”

  “And I’m so sorry I kept it from you!” Moon’s hands plunged into her blonde hair and made fists; for a minute she looked like a seventies version of Mad Ophelia. “But there was a stigma, especially back then, and I couldn’t go home and even though it was perfectly natural, even though it’s what my body is for and it was beautiful and amazing, I was ashamed.”

  “A shamed hippie?” Fred wondered aloud.

  “And then there was Sam—”

  “So, even worse problems?” Fred guessed.

  Her mother frowned and continued. “And I was so happy to see him again and he—”

  “—had a thing for knocked up blondes who puked in the morning?”

  “Fred, I don’t think you’re—”

  “Mom. I appreciate you getting this off your chest and all—” Fred tried not to stare at her mother’s boobs. Fred wished the woman would get something on her chest, like a turtleneck. “But I had that one figured out by the time I was five. Not, by the way, that it makes it any easier to pretend his tongue wasn’t where it was ten minutes ago. But yeah, I knew.”

  “You did?” Sam asked, shifting uneasily as pea water started to trickle down his butt crack.

  “Dad. Sam. Whatever. Look at you. Look at me. I’m a mermaid and you couldn’t get a membership at the Y.”

  Her mother threw up her hands. The blanket gaped. Fred stared at the ceiling. “And how such a wondrous creature can have such silly hang-ups is beyond—”

  “Mom, ask anybody on the planet: would it weird you out to walk in the front door and see your mom on all fours? I guarantee—mermaid, human, blue whale, marmoset, pixie, leprechaun, zombie—they’ll all say yes.” She turned to her squirming father.

  “Remember that time you panicked in the tide pool and I had to get you out? I was seven, Dad, and the water was only up to my knees.”

  “There were things in there,” Sam said, shuddering at the memory.

  “Yeah, Sam. Minnows. It was the fourth or fifth time I’d had to save you, and I’d never had a swimming lesson in my life. Also, you have brown eyes and mine are the color of brussels sprouts. Also, you have—had—brown hair and mine’s the color of the ocean. Also, you never grow a tail and you’re right handed; while I’m—’did you get this?’—a mermaid and a lefty!”

  “No need to scream,” Mom sniffed.

  “I hate it when you treat me like I’m freaking stupid.”

  “Nobody thinks you’re freaking stupid,” her mom soothed in her “I think my kid’s freaking stupid” voice. “Everyone in this room is a living creature deserving of our love and respect.”

  “If you try to hold my hand and make a nurture circle,” Fred warned, “I will kill you.”

  Chapter Three

  Unfortunately for Fred and her sanity, the nightmare wasn’t over yet. Her mother, gripped with the mania of truth telling, coughed up the whole sordid story.

  It seemed Moon Bimm (nee Moon Westerberg) had been putzing around on Chapin Beach, Cape Cod, with a bunch of her idiot hippie friends, high on pot and le Gallo Jug, lonesome and wondering what it all meant, got separated from her pot-smoking, Gallo-swigging pals (which Fred would have thought a relief, but Moon didn’t agree), and ran into a suave, green-eyed fellow and was so fucking drunk she didn’t notice he was half fish.

  “But if he was a merman, how did you—whoa. Whoa. Forget it. I can’t believe, in light of recent hideous events, that I even asked you that. Do not answer. Do not answer. We are at DEFCON 3 and rising. We—”

  “Oh, just stop it, you big baby.” Her mother stretched her neck to squint at Fred’s exasperated features. “Why you can’t understand how beautiful and natural sex can be and why you have so many Puritan hang-ups about it—how a child of mine can be so—”

  “Mom, now’s not the time for the ‘Peace and Lurrrv’ lecture.”

  “He had legs like you do, of course,” she said, completely ignoring Fred’s emphatic backpedaling five seconds earlier. “I imagine he can grow a tail or not, as he likes. As you like.” Moon frowned. “I guess any mer-person can. I thought you could do it or not because you were half human. But unless he was also half human—”

  “That’d be super duper for him. So he jumps your drunken bones, you have sand-pillow talk, then he leaps into the sea and disappears? So you’re telling me… what? My real father’s an asshole? And you’re a slut? Because he owes you for years of child support payments, that’s one. And two—”

  “Must you always label people?”

  “Must you shovel truth down my throat?”

  “As I was saying,” Moon went on with admirable dignity, considering recent events and what she was hardly wearing, “ten months later and there you were.”

  “Ten months?” How had she never done the math before? Easy. Her mom had never talked about her father—her real father—before. Just “oh and we met and got married because society will insist on that silly piece of paper and we’ve been a family ever since.”

  And Fred, knowing her mother would answer anything—anything—was the only kid on the block who never went through the “where did I come from?” phase. Moon not only would have answered the question in disgusting and embarrassing detail, she would have surfed pornography websites with her daughter to investigate different methods.

  “It takes longer for mer-people to gestate.” Sam was looking at Fred thoughtfully. He taught Natural Science at 4C (Cape Cod Community College). “Or hybrids. Or—”

  “So why’d you marry her, Sam? It was all “Free Love” and all the maryjane you could smoke and don’t trust anyone over eighty back then.”

  “Thirty,” her mother gurgled. “And marijuana? Wasn’t on it. Poisons the body. Wine is bad enough.” She winked at her daughter. “Look at the trouble three glasses of bad Chardonnay got me in!” Moon wouldn’t take a Tylenol for a broken leg. Sadly, Fred knew this for a fact.


  “No, no, that’s enough,” Fred broke in hastily. “I get it now. The gaping void inside me is complete, and filled with truth. No need to—”

  “—your mother and I knew each other in high school, and went our separate ways after graduation. When I ran into her, she was just as radiant and glowing as I
remembered her.”

  “Probably all the puking,” Fred suggested.

  “And we fell in love and Sam loved you long before you were born. We both did. We loved… the idea of you.” Her morn closed her eyes and took on a dreamy expression Fred knew well. “And the first time I gave you a bath and your legs grew together and your scales came down and you splashed me and broke the baby tub I was so amazed—and so thrilled—”

  “Girl turns into fish, news at eight?” Fred suggested. “Come on, Mom. You weren’t a little freaked out?”

  “I thought you were a miracle,” she replied, and the simple dignity in her voice wiped the smirk off Fred’s face. “I still do.” She turned to Sam. “Thank goodness I had a natural childbirth right here in this house! Think of the mess if all kinds of Western medicine had descended on poor Fred!” She turned back to her daughter. “I was scared to even bring you in for your vaccinations. And I quit once we realized you couldn’t ever get sick.”

  “Well.” Fred coughed. “That’s—ah. That’s nice, Mom. A miracle. That’s—miraculous. So that’s why you called me over? To tell me stuff I already knew?”

  “We didn’t know you knew,” Sam pointed out. “And as your mother said, filling out all the paperwork, and all the meetings, got us thinking.”

  “Why are you adopting?”

  Her parents gave her puzzled ‘why not?’ looks.

  Fred tried to explain. “Most people your age would be thrilled to have the place to themselves.”

  “Well, I don’t know if thrilled is exactly the—”

  “Sam, you don’t even have to work—you still get checks from your dad’s invention, right?”

  “Right.” Sam’s father had thought up edible underwear. The family got a piece of every fruit panty or chocolate G-string ever sold. “But we have all this space—” He gestured vaguely to the kitchen. “And it’s such a nice location.”

  Real nice. Right on the ocean—Fred knew that the four bedroom, three bathroom “shack” on the bay would sell for a cool two-point-two if her parents ever wanted to move. But her “earth mother” mother took to Sam’s money like a—well, like a fish to water. And they would never sell.