Reflections of Red in an Aquarium
I’m wondering what’s on the other side of a privacy fence
when the man in the red tie comes up and says: shave.
Before I can leave he clamps his big hand on the back
of my neck like a vise grip, leans in close, gin on his breath,
shave, he says again. You could get murdered around here
for lack of a blade to cut something with.
We were eating cream of broccoli at dinner once, and someone
said there’s bugs in my soup, and someone said mine, too.
And the mother said eat it anyway, they’re good for you.
And the father left the table and gagged in the bathroom.
The mother told us some people don’t even have bugs to eat,
and when I swallowed the little things, I pretended they were
pepper flakes, and forgot what it was the father couldn’t
Sometimes I wish I were small, I wish I could get small,
and then I would crawl in the briefcase of the man in the red
and see where he goes, and see how he throws rocks at the
and spills cracker crumbs in his shirt pocket when he eats.
the things no one knows about—that he masturbates in the
at work to a picture of the assistant V.P., that everyday at
o’clock he has a snort of rye and puts on cologne, that he
reads up about people starving in Bosnia or some such place
and moves to the sports page, that he finds a small piece of
in his shirt pocket late in the day, eats it, and feels a
My old man taught me lots of things in the bathroom. He taught
how to swallow air and belch, how to put my dukes up, how to
at someone and show you mean business, how to wipe the toilet
how to clean behind the lid, how to floss, how to rinse, how to
my shoes, how to tie a tie, that in general tying things could
to a rabbit going around a briar patch and at some point jumping
The man in the red tie keeps an aquarium, and every night he
to the fish, and places his cheek against the cold glass and
at the empty kitchen. When they fight, he scolds, and when they
he reaches his fat hand in and picks up the plastic cave and
to the corner. He feeds them and they come out again, and for
he thinks they love him, and for this he calls them mine.
Once at Wal-Mart at three in the morning a friend and I ran
into a guy with a cart full of canned cat food in the parking
He was barefoot and wore a dirty mechanic’s jumpsuit and smelled
of fried chicken livers and mustard. He told us two things: one,
that he was hired by the Republican Party to campaign for their
next state senator. Two, that the end of the world was coming
and we’d better by cat food while there’s some left—something
with tuna preferred. He said a man could live on that stuff for
Then he said his man would implement the tax to end all taxes.
I asked what his man looked like, and he said red tie. I asked
how his man shook hands, and he said like a fucking machine.
The man in the red tie likes to talk about his golf game, mainly
because he is better then the people he talks to. He likes to
new socks and undershirts once a month, and he puts magazine
samples of perfume in with his underwear. Two things I can tell
about this man: one, that he always smells like a fresh spritz
of cologne. Two, that when he cleans underneath his fingernails
the whole house smells like shit.
Clay Matthews has work published recently or forthcoming
in Good Foot, Melic Review, Diagram,
2River View, Mudlark, storySouth, and
elsewhere. He currently serves as associate editor for the
Cimarron Review while pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing
at Oklahoma State.