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Clay Matthews

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 stomach.




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 tie

and see where he goes, and see how he throws rocks at the pigeons

and spills cracker crumbs in his shirt pocket when he eats. These are

the things no one knows about—that he masturbates in the bathroom

at work to a picture of the assistant V.P., that everyday at three

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 cracker

in his shirt pocket late in the day, eats it, and feels a terrible guilt.




My old man taught me lots of things in the bathroom. He taught me

how to swallow air and belch, how to put my dukes up, how to stare

at someone and show you mean business, how to wipe the toilet seat,

how to clean behind the lid, how to floss, how to rinse, how to tie

my shoes, how to tie a tie, that in general tying things could be equated

to a rabbit going around a briar patch and at some point jumping through.




The man in the red tie keeps an aquarium, and every night he talks

to the fish, and places his cheek against the cold glass and stares

at the empty kitchen. When they fight, he scolds, and when they hide

he reaches his fat hand in and picks up the plastic cave and slings it

to the corner. He feeds them and they come out again, and for this

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 lot.

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 years.

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 buy

new socks and undershirts once a month, and he puts magazine

samples of perfume in with his underwear. Two things I can tell you

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.

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