Posted on: December 19th, 2010 Today’s Fish Is a Very Fine Fish

by Nancy Stebbins

Rob Barron delivers a lecture on fish. Yesterday he knew almost nothing about marine life, but facts now multiply in his mind and he experiences a passion strong enough to muscle its way upriver with spawning salmon. He envisions a series of lectures, each covering a different species.

“Today’s fish is a catfish.” Rob, who isn’t wearing pants, paces as he speaks, spanning the raised platform in five strides. Its newly-waxed floor squeaks under his bare feet. Fifteen years as a Spanish professor and he has finally discovered his true calling.

The students are accustomed to half-naked professors. They would think it gratuitous and impolite to point out the obvious. Besides, it never does any good. A joke occurs to Rob about a leprechaun and a flounder. As he delivers the punch line, he realizes it isn’t funny. A female student in the front row doubles over with snorting laughter.

Rob says, “Found in all sorts of freshwater environments, catfish are named for their–”

A man in the back raises his hand and shakes it so violently, Rob fears it will come loose and fly across the room. Rob calls on him, but the woman in the front row is still laughing and he can’t hear the man’s question. “What?”

The man shouts, “The weather, sir?”

Rob says, “Same as yesterday,” and picks up his lecture. “Catfish are named for their prominent barbels, which look like–”

A student in the front row, not bothering to raise his hand, says, “Barometric pressure, sir?”

Rob says, “Catfish have no scales. Catfish are bottom feeders.” He becomes aware that he is holding a live but cooperative catfish, so he lifts it high for the class to see. Other students begin bombarding him:

“Humidity, sir?”

“Visibility?”

The catfish yawns. Only now does Rob notice the flashing neon sign in the lecture hall that says “Meteorology.” He sidles off the stage, covering himself with the fish as best he can. “I’m truly sorry. Forgive me.” Being in the wrong classroom is far worse than forgetting one’s pants, which happens to professors every day.

***

The new semester will start soon. Despite all his years of teaching Spanish, Rob is having the dream again. It’s so real that after he wakes up, Rob can still feel the smooth skin of the fish. He can smell it on his hands. He consults sleep specialists, internists, acupuncturists, even chiropractors. They say nothing can be done.

His fiancée, Haley, teaches math. She tells Rob that she used to have anxiety dreams, too, until she learned to trust herself as an educator. “Everyone has them at some time or other. I’ll bet even your chairman has had them.”

Rob can’t imagine his sleepy buffoon of a chairman, who delegates everything except naps, suffering from any sort of anxiety.

“It’s all about self confidence,” Haley says.

***

The foreign language faculty gathers in the language lab to learn about the department’s new interactive audio program. On a table in the front of the room is a cardboard box full of headsets. The chairman instructs one of the new lecturers to distribute them.

Rob sits between Ada Martin and Gwen Jones. The two women lean forward to talk across him as they extract their headsets from the plastic wrapping. The noise sounds like static.

Ada says, “I hear the new program corrects a student’s pronunciation.”

“Thank heaven,” Greta says, “They won’t have to flounder anymore.”

“What did you say?” Rob asks her, but now Greta is talking into her microphone.

“Pez.”

“Pescado.”

“Tiburon.”

An unfamiliar language issues through Rob’s headset. He raises his hand for the chairman’s attention, and that’s when he notices: the chairman is naked and holding a trout.

***

Haley cocks one eyebrow. “You had the dream for your chairman? That’s pitiful, Rob.”

He smiles. They’ve just woken up from a Sunday afternoon nap, and are lying on their sides, facing each other. Classes will start tomorrow and the dream will disappear until the spring semester. He says, “You really used to have anxiety dreams?”

“Oh, it was awful.” She shakes her head. “I would hear the same joke over and over. It was never funny, but I couldn’t stop laughing.”

He says, “Did you hear the one about the minnow and the priest?”

She raises her hand. “Rainfall, sir?” she says. Her laughter is familiar.

Filed under: bad-ass, stories

3 Responses to “Today’s Fish Is a Very Fine Fish”

  1. Gay Degani Says:
    December 20th, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Nancy, this is one hell of a bad-ass story. Congrats!!!

  2. Gay Degani Says:
    December 20th, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Nancy, this is one hell of a bad-ass story. Congrats!!!

  3. Zelda Says:
    December 21st, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    I’ve had lots of dreams about being naked in public, but never one involving a fish. This entertaining story has opened up new possibilities.

  4. Zelda Says:
    December 21st, 2010 at 8:16 pm

    I’ve had lots of dreams about being naked in public, but never one involving a fish. This entertaining story has opened up new possibilities.

  5. Lorna D. Keach Says:
    December 25th, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Beautifully obtuse! I really enjoyed this.

  6. Lorna D. Keach Says:
    December 25th, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Beautifully obtuse! I really enjoyed this.