Around 1:30 Sunday afternoon, Simon Dimple came out of the little shop a block down the street from his apartment with a whole, fresh trout wrapped up in a brown paper package. The package was cold and heavy and wet, and so was the day, a couple hours after a pleasant autumn rain. The leaves were colorfully wet dead stains on the cozy gray sidewalks, and clouds passed and looked like warm smoke from cozier chimneys and comfortable homes in good old Strawberry, Simon Dimple’s favorite town, no questions, no doubts.
It was a fine day all around for Simon Dimple, a fine day looking forward to a fine evening spent enjoying one of the finest operas of all time, La Boheme, a masterpiece that appealed to cabdrivers and classicists alike, and Simon walked home singing sad romantic arias in his head and thinking about his darling Clementime.
Clementine was a fine young lady who lived in New York, but grew up in Strawberry. As children, he and Clementine had lived on the same block and gone to the same schools, though for the longest time Clementine paid him no mind. He, on the other hand, felt like he’d remembered Clementine for as long as he could remember, and when he was in Junior High School he would walk out to the docks in Southport, look across the water and recite Annabel Lee while skipping stones. One afternoon in his first year of High School he got bold, because she was in his English class. They were reciting famous poems, and when it came his turn to recite, he went to the front of the class, said loud and brave: “This poem is for Clementine!” and recited Annabel Lee, right there in front of Clementine, their classmates and everybody; he was nervous and excited, and he could barely even finish the poem, what with everyone laughing and such – (everyone, that is, except for Clementine, who fled the room, and the teacher, who was looking very pale and concerned, and couldn’t stop staring at him like he was crazy) – but laugh, stare or flee, after that things changed.
It had rained earlier, sure, but now the sun was starting to peek out just a little bit – orange on the orange trees, and the hearty smell of the trout mixed with the scent from the cider vendors on the corners, and they mixed with all the pumpkin vendors, and Simon Dimple decided there could be nothing finer than a pleasant stroll through Strawberry on a fine autumn afternoon. When he got to his apartment, he turned around to look one last time. It inspired him so much that he sat straight down on the damp sidewalk and admired his little town and all the people that populated it. Clementine, she loved New York, and sure, he could understand that, but there was nothing in the world like Strawberry.
After a while, he turned around and headed upstairs to his apartment. He put the trout away in the refrigerator, took a hot shower, changed clothes and helped himself to a snifter of brandy. His back patio looked out on a little park, so he stepped out there and breathed in the air with the flavor of the brandy; he watched the women and children and said, she was a child, and I was a child in this Kingdom by the Sea. Then he went back inside and helped himself to another small snifter of brandy.
Simon Dimple went from the kitchen back to the living room, a tidy square room with blue curtains and blue carpets, and large bay windows looking out onto the street. His patio was connected to the living room too, and even though it was a little bit chilly with the patio doors open, he liked the autumn wind blowing into his living room, and sometimes a stray wet leaf would come waltzing colorfully into the room, which delighted him. He turned on his stereo, and put on one of his old vinyl recordings of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. It was a children’s piece, but a piece he considered to be his theme song whenever he was in the sort of happy, playful mood he was in this afternoon. The melody moved him to finish his snifter of brandy, head back to the kitchen and pour himself another.
Once he was in the kitchen, Simon began basic preparations for the fish. He diced up onions, celery and various other vegetables. Then he moved onto various herbs, chopping coriander, mint, basil and tarragon. Once he’d chopped the herbs and the vegetables, he set them aside on the chopping board and put half a stick of butter in a small saucepan. He decided to help himself to another snifter of brandy.
Simon Dimple took a sip of the brandy, set it down and walked back across the kitchen to where the butter was now fairly well melted in the saucepan. He slowly, little by little, began to mix first the chopped vegetables, and then the chopped herbs into the melted butter in the small saucepan, and reduced the heat. He watched the whole mixture simmer, and his head started to feel light. He walked over to where his snifter of brandy sat, sniffed the brandy, and hopped seated atop his kitchen counter. Through the adjacent living room the cool autumn afterrain crept the corner and stirred up the scents of the vegetables and herbs simmering in butter, the warm, rich, sweet aroma of the brandy and the smoky autumn opulence, while the Prokofiev piece whistled Simon and Peter’s theme song with a laughing little flute so that when Simon Dimple finished his next snifter of brandy, he decided he must most certainly have at least one more.
The next task at hand was to clean and bone the trout. Simon opened the refrigerator, pulled out the cold, damp package, placed it in the sink and unwrapped it with a certain amount of reverence. Once the package was unwrapped he lifted the fish and turned it over several times. The fish was sleek and wet and a little slick to the touch. He ran his fingers over it. The eyes looked like they were looking up at him, like a dog or a cat when you pet it, and except for the stupid terror in the eyes, Simon Dimple decided there was something decidedly noble about those eyes. The body was slender and blue-green, and a radiant pink-red line ran down the trout’s midline. Turning the fish over, the body changed from blue-green to silver, and then faded into a dirty snow white. He turned the fish over again. It was a beautiful trout. The most beautiful thing he’d seen in his life. He laid the fish carefully back in the sink and went to change the record. He put on some Chopin, because nothing else seemed delicate enough to match the beauty of the fish. When he re-entered the kitchen, he decided he and the fish should have one last glass of brandy before he chopped it up.
He had been very deliberate about playing Chopin’s Trauermarsch to accompany the occasion, so when he poured out the two snifters of brandy, he did so solemnly. “A toast to your beauty,” he told the trout, brandishing a snifter. He lifted the fish from the sink, opened its mouth, and emptied the contents inside. Then he lifted his own glass, clinked it against the empty glass, and quaffed his own snifter empty in one gulp. “And now,” he said, “the time has come. For all beauty is the beginning of a terror we are just able to endure, and which awes us only because it so serenely disdains to destroy us.”
With that much said, Simon Dimple opened his cupboard, picked up his kitchen knife, placed it just where the head began, and lovingly positioned his hands across the knife, looking for the cleanest, most humane cut he could possibly inflict. It was just at that moment that the telephone rang.
Simon had been expecting a call that afternoon. Clementine was supposed to call him once she got settled into her hotel so that they could make definite plans for the evening. He put the trout back into the sink, placed the knife next to it, and walked into the living room where the closest telephone was located. He turned the Chopin down. “Hello?”
“Simon. How are you?”
“Clementine! Are you in town?”
“Yes, I’m at some dreadful hotel off Strawberry Circle. King Strawberry Inn or something like that. Oh, Simon, this town just has to get over itself.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be so harsh on it. You did grow up here, you know.”
“That’s exactly why I can be so harsh, Simon darling. Really. When will you ever move out of this dump?”
“Now, Clementine. That’s not fair. You know how I feel about this town.”
“Yes. Yes, I do. You’re stubbornly sentimental. That’s how you feel. Well, I’ll tell you this, Simon Dimple: Strawberry is no New York City, and I should know. What could you possibly know about anything spending all your time here?”
Simon didn’t say anything.
“Anyway,” Clementine went on, “at least Strawberry can put on a decent Opera. Aren’t you just thrilled to see Puccini tonight?”
“As a matter of fact, I am,” Simon said, perking up a bit.
“I’m glad to see this town hasn’t completely destroyed your sense of culture.”
“Well, on the contrary,” said Simon. “I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading. I go to the theatre a couple times a month, when I can afford to, and you know how I love my music. I’ve even learned to cook a bit. I was thinking, if you were up to it, I picked up the most succulent looking rainbow trout this afternoon at the market, and I’ve been preparing it all afternoon. I was thinking, if you were up to it, that maybe after the opera I could whip up a dish of herb baked trout. Splendid stuff. I had it at a restaurant the other night, and I managed to find a recipe for it online that sounds absolutely delicious.”
“Oh, Simon, you do need to move out of this horrendous dockside town.”
“You don’t like rainbow trout?”
“Ugh! Fish! Disgusting, Simon, utterly revolting! They’re slimy, and – and fish, and they stink to high heaven. Really, Simon. To eat such stupid, revolting creatures as a grown man. As a cultured grown man. Besides, darling, I thought you knew that I’m a vegetarian.”
“Well, don’t start sounding all long faced about it, love. We’ll just go out to eat somewhere. That way we can both get something we like. Though if you get some horrible gaping fish, I may just have to walk out on you.” She laughed.
Simon didn’t say anything.
“Anyway, how have you been, dear?”
“I don’t know. Okay, I guess,” Simon said. “I suppose we haven’t talked in a rather long time. I haven’t done a whole lot of anything. Like I said, I enjoy the theatre; and my music of course. Sometimes I like to go on walks. I don’t know all that many people these days, you know. Most everyone we grew up with left Strawberry.”
“Well, you can’t blame them.”
“What about you? How is New York?”
“Oh, darling, if you only knew. The theatre there is just tremendous. And then there’s Broadway, and the museums and art galleries; Soho is like a giant art-gallery in and of itself. It would amaze you.”
“I’d like to see New York someday.”
“Well you’ll die never having lived if you don’t. There are all the cute punk rock kids in the east village, and there’s Central Park – darling, you always loved the fall. You would adore Central Park in the fall. It’s like nothing in the world.”
“I’d like to see it.”
“And then the men, oh the men just knock you out, Simon. They’re so cultured and intelligent. Not like the men you meet in Strawberry. Not you I mean, Simon, you’re different of course; but I mean in general. And then they’re so handsome. I met my ex-husband at an art-gallery opening. He was the most charming man on the planet. A bastard, as it turns out, but he was so cute and smart and funny.”
“I never knew you got married,” Simon said, heading towards the kitchen, where he decided both he and his insulted friend were in need of another glass of brandy.
“Wow, Simon, it really has been a long time, hasn’t it? We were married for a year. We got divorced in June.”
“I’m – I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well, don’t be. The last thing I need is someone’s pity. Just like a man, he was seeing some little trick he met at some club downtown. What a man like that was even doing at a club downtown, I can hardly fathom, but boys will be boys.”
“It doesn’t sound like he was right for you,” Simon said, filling up the two snifters, and clinking them together.
“Well, it seems like no one ever is.”
“Remember the time you read that poem dedicated to me, all the way back in High School?” Clementine laughed.
Simon laughed too, while the trout gulped down its second glass of brandy. “Of course.”
“God, that was humiliating.”
“Yes. I guess I was a little silly back then. “
“Oh, Simon, you’ve always been silly.”
“I should’ve just married you, I think. You should move to New York, Simon Dimple, and we’ll get married straightaway.”
“You mean it?”
“Of course, darling. Why wouldn’t we? We’re both single, responsible adults!” She laughed. “We could sit by the fire at night and read each other Annabel Lee.
Chopin’s final heavy movement came slumping through the kitchen doorway. Simon took a sip of his brandy and headed back to the living room.
“Well maybe I’ll do that.”
“Oh, you should darling, you absolutely should. Anyway, listen. Why don’t you meet me at the theatre just after quarter past six? That way we can get good seats and maybe even have time for a cocktail at the bar before the show starts. How does that sound?”
“That sounds great, Clementine.”
“Well, then, it’s a date.”
“It’s a date. You know, Clementine, it’s great to hear your voice again.”
“Oh, darling, I just adore you,” Clementine said. “See you then.”
Simon Dimple hung up the phone. He looked at his watch. It was just going on four o’ clock. If he took a cab around six he could be at the theatre in fifteen minutes, though on a day like this, and with this much brandy in him, he preferred to walk. He walked into the kitchen and looked at the trout lying in the sink. A thin line of brandy was dribbling from its mouth. Simon gathered up the fish, careful to keep it settled on the unwrapped package beneath it, and brought it into the living room. He set it down on the couch and went back into the kitchen. In his kitchen cupboard he found a large bowl and along with it, he grabbed the bottle of brandy.
Once he was back in the living room Simon put the fish in the bowl and filled his snifter. Chopin’s Trauermarsch had finished, so he went and changed the music to something a little lighter. A little Bach, for culture. The Goldberg Variations. Exquisite. Glen Gould recording of course. Civilized music for civilized discussion. He sat down on the couch next to the fish.
“So,” he said. “We are all insulted tonight. You, me and the whole wretched town of Strawberry.”
The trout didn’t say anything.
“Yes,” Simon agreed, “it’s hard to know what to say. A little speechless myself, and I’m not the type of fellow usually at a loss for words. It has been a long time, though. How is she supposed to understand how we feel about things? She’s out there in New York, and here we are in Strawberry. You’ve seen other places, other cities. Perhaps you’ve even been to New York yourself; but I’ve spent my whole life in Strawberry, and how am I supposed to know where she’s coming from after all these years? Three years, and I’m expecting… To be honest, I don’t know what I was expecting. What say you, brother fish?”
The smell of the sizzling butter made Simon jump up and head back to the kitchen. The butter had burned, along with the vegetables, into the pan. Simon turned off the heat and let the pan sit. “Just as well,” he said, “dinner’s off anyway. Besides, the fish and I have become friends.” He headed back into the living room for another glass of brandy.
“Well, brother fish,” he said, sitting back on the couch. “Another for you too, then?”
This time, pouring the brandy into the fish’s mouth, he got a little sloppy and some of the brandy spilled onto the couch. Instead of cleaning it immediately up, as would have been his normal course of action, he let it sit and drank his own glass. The wind coming through the open patio door was getting wild and colder, but the brandy was making him feel warm. He looked over at the rainbow trout with red and orange leaves blowing across the blue rugs, Bach on the radio and said, “Brother fish, I believe, we both of us have had quite enough.”
When Simon Dimple woke up it was about a quarter to six. His head was pounding, and he felt disoriented, but when he looked down at his watch, he lurched himself forward off the couch and stumbled towards his bedroom. No time to take a shower, he would have to go to the opera stinking of brandy, but that was okay. He washed his face in the sink to refresh himself, before sloppily changing into his eveningwear. Outside the day had gotten a lot colder, and the little bit of sunlight that had been there in the afternoon was gone. The sky was gray, and the wind whipped the little leaves around the sidewalks, and Simon Dimple stood by the side of the road shivering and perplexed, waiting for the cab he’d called.
He arrived at the theatre just a little after a quarter after. Clementine was waiting for him in the lobby. “Simon, darling!” she cried. “Late as always. How many years has it been? And you look… well, why, Simon, you look as if life has giving you a rather sound beating over the years.”
“Well,” Simon said, “you look lovely as ever Clementine.”
Clementine had been a skinny tall girl, with braided black hair and glasses, and a lot of boys made fun of her when she was young, and a lot of girls too; but a lot of boys also fell in love with her. As an adult she was still a tall, skinny young woman, but her hair was pulled up in a bun, and she wore black-rimmed glasses that were an oval kind of shape and had gold-rimmed interiors and were made by Dolce & Gabana or somesuch. As an adult lots of women made lots of fun of her when she wasn’t around, but men were always falling in love with her. Simon always figured she made other women jealous. Clementine loved to have men in love with her, and Simon loved to be in love with her, and so they loved each other very much.
Clementine was wearing a dark red coat, and a black evening dress. Simon thought she looked stunning, but he still couldn’t help stifle a yawn. And the yawns kept coming all night. All throughout his favorite opera of all time Simon Dimple couldn’t help but yawn. Nothing seemed to be comfortable enough: for one, the seats were too far away, and the opera glasses just made his eyes tired; secondly, once his eyes were sufficiently tired, he had trouble keeping up with the score, so that he constantly lost pace with the music and/or the story and found himself straining more just to figure out what was going on than enjoying the evening, and finally, what with everything tiring poor Simon Dimple out so much, and what with Clementine’s deep sensual perfume, Simon found his tired eyes occasionally gave up altogether and closed for whole scenes at a time.
Dinner was worse. Clementine dragged him to her favorite restaurant in Strawberry – a place known, idiotically enough – as Strawberry, where Clementine dined on eggplant parmesan and topped dinner off with a desert of chocolate covered strawberries. Simon was too confused and sleepy and stupefied to know what to order, so he just followed suit with the eggplant parmesan, and drank a great deal of brandy, which, ultimately, did nothing to help his perplexed state of mind.
“Simon really, how this town has jaded you!” Clementine said as they left the restaurant.
“Oh, Clementine, would you really marry me if I moved to New York?”
“Darling, how could you possible believe any different?”
Simon Dimple returned to his apartment a little after midnight on Monday morning. When he walked in the first thing he smelled was rotting fish. The apartment felt like a freezer, what with the balcony door wide open and leaves fluttering all over the blue rugs. When he turned on the light, he saw the mess in all its glory: with the fish on the couch, and the bowl collapsed in a heap of water and brandy on the floor, the rugs blown around the room, the invading fall leaves, the brandy spilled all over the couch, and the flies buzzing from the living room over the dead fish and the rancid butter. The stench and the mess and the brandy and his head and the eggplant parmesan and Clementine made him sick – sick to his stomach, and he threw up right there on his beautiful blue rugs. And then Simon Dimple dropped onto his couch, right next to the rotten fish, and couldn’t help but cry.
(Whit Frazier, From Strawberry Press Magazine, November 2003)