by Colleen Craig
Eddie Currents was a dreamer. The men at the bank where he worked called him crazy Eddie, and told him to straighten his hat. Serious guys wear their hats directly across their heads, they said. But Eddie only laughed, putting on his hat in that odd little angle every afternoon when he left for lunch, and every evening at closing time.
Women saw him differently. Eddie’s a dreamer, they said. They could tell by the way Eddie’s eyes grew soft when he talked about the lake near the town where he grew up. He remembered the early mornings when he swam out beyond the buoys, and floated under great banks of clouds. And then there were the stories about his little red sailboat, carrying him along the shore for miles -- just Eddie and his dog Midgie, who used to bark at the waves.
“I had adventures there,” Eddie would say softly.
“What kind of adventures, Eddie?”
“Oh, you know, the swell kind. I had a tiny cannon that shot a real ball into the air, and I would take it on my sailboat. You never knew what kind of people you’d meet when you were out on the lake.”
“You mean, you’d pretend to be a pirate or something?”
“No,” said Eddie, as if the question surprised him. “I was never a pirate. But sometimes, I met pirates, and I had to do what I could to defend Midgie and me. You know how it goes.”
Then Eddie would smile his sweet smile, and the woman listening had no choice but to say ‘sure Eddie, I know how it goes.’
Sometimes Eddie would compliment a co-worker on her eyes, her silk scarf, or even a jeweled pin. He liked blue, and he liked green. ‘Your scarf looks like the color of a lake at twilight,’ Eddie told Miss Mabel Regan, the receptionist. And to Elinor, the phone operator, he said that her brooch sparkled like sunbeams falling on water. Then he would quietly return to his numbers, slowly adding one column after the other, and writing the amounts in small, perfectly formed numbers. Eddie didn’t make mistakes, which was why the managers kept him at his accounting work, in spite of his strange ways. Eddie also didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, and if he told a tall tale now and then, what difference would it make to their customers? He showed up every morning at exactly ten minutes to eight, he was never sick, and after ten years of such punctuality, they doubted things would change. Eddie was the kind of employee banks made money on.
“You ever been in love, Eddie?” He and Elinor were sitting in the lunchroom on a rainy day. Eddie hadn’t brought anything to eat, because he usually went out, so Elinor shared her tuna fish sandwich and an apple with him.
“Why do you want to know?”
Elinor shrugged her shoulders. “You’re a cute fella, but you never talk about anyone special. And you sure as heck never ask any of us out.” Elinor turned red as soon as the words left her lips.
“I would most definitely like to ask you out, Elinor, because you are kind, and a man could go swimming in the depths of your heart. That’s what I believe,” said Eddie.
Elinor blushed even deeper. She brushed a few crumbs off the table, then bit into her half of apple.
“However,” Eddie continued, “as I am engaged, I am not in a position to ask anyone out.”
“You’re engaged, Eddie?” Elinor was incredulous.
“I have been engaged since I was sixteen years old.”
“To who? Who’s your sweetheart? Where is she?”
“If I told you that,” said Eddie, “I would never hear the end of it.“
“That’s not true,” Elinor protested. “C’mon, Eddie, you can tell me. Have I met her? Has she been in the bank before?”
Eddie shook his head. “She doesn’t need banks. Not banks, not clothes, not houses to live in.”
Outside, the rain grew louder, and thunder rumbled across the city streets. The weather was shaping into one magnificent storm.
“What kind of woman is that?” asked Elinor.
“Well, said Eddie slowly. “She’s not a woman at all.” He leaned in close to Elinor, and whispered: “She’s a mermaid.”
Elinor stared at Eddie, who easily held her gaze. She felt something sweep through her, something that felt like the softest breeze, and a smell of wet earth and water. Then Eddie smiled, and Elinor started to laugh. “Jesus, Eddie, you kinda had me there for a minute.”
At that moment, one of the bank tellers burst into the room. “We’re on flood watch!” she said breathlessly. “I just heard it on the radio. The lakes are starting to rise.”
“It’s time for me to go,” said Eddie suddenly.
“Go where?” said Elinor. “You just ate.”
Eddie took a deep breath. “Why, back to my desk. Lunch is over.”
The next few hours seemed slow and heavy as the afternoon grew darker, and rain lashed the bank windows. Finally, at 5 pm, Eddie rose from his desk, grabbed his coat, and headed for the door.
“You forgot your hat, Eddie,” yelled his manager. Eddie paused, then returned to the coat rack and retrieved his hat. He put it squarely on his head, and waved.
“Say, Eddie, you gonna be serious for once?”
“You bet,” said Eddie. “But just this once.”
The next morning, Eddie didn’t show up at the bank, and didn’t call, alarming his co-workers.
Later, one of the accountants took Eddie’s stack of paperwork from his desk, and discovered a note in Eddie’s neat printing underneath the pile.
Gone fishing, it said.
Two days later, an article appeared in the newspaper about a red sailboat that had been found floating in the lake several towns over. There was nothing in the boat but a brown felt hat._______________________________________________
My overall impression of the stories this week is that they are a very cohesive group of tales that read almost as if they should be published as a chapbook of short stories based on mermaid tales. I think that instead of feeling like each story was in competition I felt like each one explored similar themes and there was a distinct pleasure for me in reading them as a group. But, of course, in the words of the great film “Highlander” “there can be only one.”
Pushed to a decision I chose Colleen Craig’s story as the winner. I felt it was perfect. It had a perfect beginning, perfect setting, perfect description of the character and his behavior, perfect ending. Very satisfying!
In the same way and just as satisfying were three other stories. Matt O’ Malley, Patrick Nelson and Gigi DeVault all were very close on the heels of Craig’s story. All the stories were fantasies sharing in some surreal and dreamlike aspects. I guess the theme was a kind of fairy tale meets a fish tale this week.
“Focus” by Matt O'Malley was a bit of “Walter Mitty” meets Twilight Zone. I like the aspect of fantasy and dream he incorporates into the story and the moment of doubt we as readers have to contend with at the end.
Two stories that were closely linked were, “The Shtory” by Patrick Nelson and Dee Turbon “Eddie’s Mermaid.” One part “Mr. Limpet” the other part “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid,” Nelson and Turbon were very in spirit and feeling to Colleen Craig’s. I had a feeling like I was listening to dialog out of Guys and Dolls” but this time with a mermaid from Brooklyn. I liked Nelson’s sense of place and time. It was seamless but created a totally New York City flavor that I liked right down to the knishes. His story had a kind of magical feel to it that was a bit like Pete Hamill’s books “East River” and “Snow in August.” I think that a strength in Turbon’s story was actually the lack of place but completely suggestive plot and ending. I was able to imagine things for myself. Turbon’s story had a kind of “Chucky’s in Love” feeling to it and I really loved it too!
Other great fish stories were “Lead in His Pencil” by Helen Chapman and “Eddie Currents – “A Little Sole Food” by Gigi DeVault. In both cases puns proliferated. The authors’ panache for puns were adorable, the main character in Devault’s story is a “ben-ee-fish-ary.” I love the scene De Vault describes by the lake and the details of how the check is cashed. Chapman’s story gets the main characters into some deep water, the title sort of gives you a hint, but I like the “coming of age” feeling it had. Both stories were cute without being too cutesy and each and had a great ending.
Lana Nieves story had some great imagery and a melancholy to it that was a bit haunting. (I like stories with a sense of longing.) Nieves also envisioned a world in which fantasy happens but these fantasies don’t come true for everyone as they did in the stories by some of the other authors. Hers was a little bit more like “English Patient.”
In keeping with the themes of punning, dreams, and “coming of age,” but this time a little bit more hopeful, was Royce Ratterman’s “Life Cycle Like a Fly.” Ratterman’s story deals with great expectations in the way the Nieves does, but, at the end of the story Eddie seems less daunted. I liked the contrast to Nieves and I really liked reading the stories as a group.
More competitions on my website:
You gotta read all these stories, they are really great!