Most nights, if the wizard didn’t attack, Arthur walked past the trees that separated the graveyard from the beach. There he could see the pirate ships sailing down the horizon. You can do this as well. Stay up late, walk out to the edge of the cliffs, and look out at the horizon. If you look closely, you’ll see the pirate ships as they sail North from Acapulco to Los Angeles, and South from Los Angeles to Acapulco. The pirates had to sail on the horizon because if they sailed any further out they would fall over the edge.

Arthur almost always stayed up late, because he had no parents to tell him to go to bed early. He didn’t even have a bed. The carts, of course, slept all day, and didn’t wake up until dusk. Arthur stayed up late so that he could have fun with them. Sometimes he even stayed up later. More often than not, recently. He was becoming quite the young party animal, what with no parents to hold him back.

The caged monkey returned to its home beneath the bridge in the night. Every morning it would rattle and scream at the invisible bars of its cage. Come afternoon it would be tired of screaming and take a short nap. On awakening it would leave the cage behind and go somewhere Arthur never discovered. On nightfall it would return to its cage and repeat the entire thing the next day.

It was one night like this, when he stayed up later rather than late, and he had already passed the sleeping caged monkey, that he saw the beach sand jumping up and down.

Well, he could hardly leave that unexplored. Could you? So he walked up to the sand. It was only the sand near the water that was jumping. A wave came in, a wave left, and when it left, the sand moved. So he walked closer to the edge of the shore and the water.

They were fish. It wasn’t the sand jumping, the waves were leaving fish behind. There were little fish, the size of your hand—

“Like this?”

Mm... okay, the size of my hand—there were fish the size of my hand, flopping around on the beach. They weren’t even flying fish. The flying fish would come up the channel in the wee hours of the morning, as they went into the city to work. They came back in the late afternoon, so only Arthur saw them. The carts weren’t sure they really came back. Why would they go into the city every morning only to come back? Doing it once is understandable, maybe they would want to go into the city twice to make sure there wasn’t anything worthwhile there, but why every day?

What the carts—nor Arthur, for that matter—didn’t realize was that it was a religious ceremony, and, being a ritual, was to be done regularly. That’s what ritual means.

If the carts were making too much noise when the fish flew past, the fish would turn away from the channel and fly low over the clearing, strafing the meadow with salt water. This happened most often on Friday nights when the carts had their parties. Salt water can rust metal shopping carts, but if the party had already lasted until early morning, the carts were having too much fun to care. As often as not, they invited the flying fish to join the festivities. The fish never joined. They just kept on flying, their fins fluttering disdainfully at the shopping carts.

So Arthur had seen fish come in from the sea before, but they were always flying fish. He’d never seen fish flop out of the sea. Some of the fish were already flopping back into the sea. It was a laborious process. If you’ve ever tried to walk by flopping, you know how hard it is. It made Arthur tired just looking at it. So he lay down on the sand with his head in his arms and continued watching. Some of the fish were burrowing into the sand with their tails. Other fish were waiting until the burrowers left and then crawling into the holes. And then everyone flopped back into the ocean.

Why were they flopping around on the beach burrowing holes and then flopping back into the ocean?

Arthur would have asked them that if he thought they would answer. But they were, after all, just fish, and not even flying fish, who rarely talked, but could on occasion.

So it turned out to be one of the fish that talked to Arthur rather than the other way ‘round.

“We’d like a little privacy, kid.”

“You’re a fish!”

Arthur was not at his best, conversation-wise. Give him a break, it was the middle of the night.

“And you’re a peeping Tom. Do you have a problem with that?”

“I’m not Tom, I’m Arthur. I didn’t know you could talk.”

“Of course we talk. This ain’t no wham-bam-thankyougrunioness. This is wholesome, loving, family-oriented sex.”

“What?!”

“Sex, you know, the old in-n-out urge. The tube snake boogie. The beast with two backs, or in our case, two tails. Surely you’ve seen or heard your parents doing it.”

“No.”

Which was true, the Senator got enough of that at the office. When he wasn’t doing it to his secretary, he was doing it to the interns, and when he wasn’t doing it to the interns, he was doing it to the voters. Still, Arthur knew what the fish was talking about, he just didn’t know that fish did it too.

“What’s a grunioness?” he asked.

“You are a greenhorn, ain’t ya? A grunioness is a female grunion. And I must say there’s a fine selection on the beach tonight, if you know what I mean,” said the fish, then added dubiously, “I guess you probably don’t.”

“Are grunions like onions?” (Arthur pronounced them so they rhymed.)

“No, they’re like bunions and funyuns. What kinda maroon are ya, kid? We’re grunions. Grunions is fish.”

Arthur suddenly realized he was taking a lot of guff from a fish only slightly bigger than his hand. He decided it was time to gain the upper hand, so to speak.

“We have fish for breakfast sometimes.”

The grunion jumped back.

“Eeew, one of those humans.”

Arthur immediately felt sorry for having said it. He realized what he’d said was even worse than when an adult pinched his cheek and said, “I could just eat you up”. That wasn’t real. When they pinched his cheek, they weren’t checking for tenderness. He didn’t think, anyway.

“I mean,” he added, “we have fish in a tank, and we sometimes feed them at breakfast.” It was a lie, of course. They didn’t have fish in a tank because no one at the Senator’s house could remember to feed them, except Arthur, but he was never asked.

“Yeah, feed ‘em to whom,” said the fish under its breath, but it was obviously mollified.

“Why are you digging all these holes on the beach? The waves just fill them up again.”

“You ain’t been listening to what I been saying, have ya? Didn’t your momma never tell you about the birds ‘n the bees?”

“I don’t got a momma!” Arthur cried.

“Oh, sorry, kid. I didn’t know.”

Arthur sensed he now had an advantage. He was also very intrigued by the intimation that not only do fish do it, birds and bees do it as well, and perhaps even with each other. That sounded very much like interracial sex, which the Senator didn’t like. The Senator talked a lot about things he didn’t like and not much about things he did.

“Can you tell me about the birds and the bees?”

“Eh, I dunno kid.”

“Please? Tell me what my mother never told me.”

“Er, it’s pretty simple really. The women come up on shore and dig a hole, then they drop an egg into the hole. Each of us men look for the holes they dug and ejaculate into it. Then the waves cover the hole and wash us back to sea. If we done well, poof, six weeks later you got baby fish crawling out of the sand. I think it might be different for you, but that’s how we do it.”

“What’s ejaculate?”

“Look, kid, don’t you got nuthin’ better to do?”

“No.”

“It’s like pissing, only it’s globby stuff. When your globby stuff combines with a female’s globby stuff, you get kids. Whether you want ‘em or not.”

“I never seen no globby stuff.”

“Of course not, yer a kid. Give it time, boy, you’ll be globbin’ all over the place in a few years. Drive yer momma crazy—sorry, you haven’t got one, well it’ll drive whoever does your laundry crazy.”

“How do you glob?”

“Jeez, kid!”

“Please, fish? My momma never told me.”

“And she ain’t gonna neither. Look, you ever feel down here,” the fish said, pointing its fin at its tail, “and feel kinda good about yourself.”

Arthur didn’t say anything, but he looked guilty anyway.

“Yeah, I can see you have. Well, one o’ these days yer gonna be feelin’ good down there, then yer gonna be feelin’ even better, then yer gonna feel so good you make a mess all over yer hands. Then yer gonna feel even more guilty than you do now and probably become Protestant. But you’ll still end up feelin’ good as often as you can.”

Arthur looked down to where his tail would be if he had a fish tail.

“Look, I gotta go, kid. Got some business in the sea-bed, if ya know what I mean.”

If there had been background music to this book, it would certainly be a seventies disco tune at this point. The grunion boogied its way back into the grunting and flopping and twirling mass of sexually active fish. And he did gyre and gymble in the wave, and no doubt many little fish sprang from the sand seven weeks hence.

Arthur went back to the graveyard and partied all the longer with the shopping carts.


Folks can’t seem to realize that it isn’t a smooth talker we need in there but a steady man, a man with judgement. Any medicine-show man can spout words, if they are written for him. It takes no genius to sound well. To act right and at the right time is something else again.—Louis L’Amour (Comstock Lode)