Back to Contents
Back to Index Page
About the Author
Editor's Note: Pat York, a vivacious, intelligent, and funny woman with much talent, sadly and unexpectedly died in May 2005. I had a pleasant repartee with her in getting this story ready for publication. Here is a personal tribute from her friend Cory Doctorow. The following is from our original author bio around 2000ish. According to Mr. Doctorow, Wishes, earned her a Nebula Award nomination. In 2001, she did receive a Nebula Award for her short story You Wandered Off Like a Foolish Child To Break Your Heart and Mine (published by Silver Birch, Blood Moon). [JTC 8/2012]
Pat York lives outside of Buffalo, New York with her husband Jim.
Her fiction has appeared in TOMORROW and REALMS OF FANTASY, ODYSSEY and the
anthologies FULL SPECTRUM 5, NEW ALTARS, THE ROYCROFT REVIEW and SILVER
BIRCH BLOOD MOON, an alternate fairy tale anthology edited by Ellen Datlow
and Terri Windling.
Her poem, "A Faerie's Tale" was nominated for the 1997 Rhysling Award and
she was on the preliminary Nebula ballots in l996 and l998. She is
currently a Nebula finalist in the short story category for "You Wandered
Off Like A Foolish Child To Break Your Heart And Mine".
She attended Clarion '93, funded in part by a Donald Wollheim Scholarship
granted by the New York Science Fiction Society. She has also received
writing and research grants from the National Writer's Project, the National
Endowment on the Arts through the Council on Basic Education and from
Canisius College. She was a Fulbright Memorial Fund teacher-scholar in
She is currently shopping her first novel, set in far future Chautauqua
County, New York.
by Pat York
Harry's Harbor Inn wasn't all that much, as bars go. But it had a vaguely nautical feel, lots of noisy, middle-aged customers, and a bartender who mixed strong Margaritas. Company and a couple of drinks; that was about all Elaine Bishop needed any more to take her mental state from a persistent, resigned misery to something approaching vague good humor.
She ordered her third after-school drink and began to think out loud. "Y'know, Mark, all this place needs is one of those piano bars to make it just about perfect."
Mark, a graduate student who tended bar part-time, winced and answered, "Well, yeah, Mrs. Bishop, I guess that would be nice. What kind of music, do you think?"
Elaine was not fooled. Mark didn't like talking to her; it was just part of his job and so he did it. But she wanted to talk to a grown-up, so she answered, "Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Count Basie...I like the old lounge songs the best. 'Give me one for my baby...,'" she began to sing and Mark actually took a tiny step back and grimaced. She shrugged and went on, "Customers could take a mike, sometimes, maybe, and sing along. The Monday Karaoke is O.K., but a real pianist, that would be great! I should take some lessons. I'll bet I could play pretty well if I tried."
Mark smiled tightly and nodded, his eyes trailing past the colorful silk flower in her hair. Elaine suddenly realized that a guy like this would probably prefer alternative rock played at bone pain decibels. "Or, well, maybe not," she sighed and looked down again at her book, giving Mark permission to go down the bar to where the big-tipping businessmen were talking sports.
She was re-reading Ginsberg, a favorite of her youth. He was such a poet, such a frighteningly good poet. Now it was her turn to wince. Ginsberg was dead, Brautigan was long dead; so were Cole Porter and Basie and Charlie Parker, come to think of it. But not, Elaine thought a little desperately, not me. No, she went on and on, past a childless, loveless marriage, past her parents, past her friends who had moved on to more interesting people and places. She lingered in this bar and this town, year after pointless year, teaching children she did not likechildren who did not like herdoing it badly and no longer even caring. She was unpopular with the school administrators and parents. Her fellow teachers shunned her, frustrated that their union was forced to defend her and her bad work habits.
Well, screw it, screw them all. She took a long, salty gulp of her Margarita and watched the words on the page fuzz over. She hated it when that happened, as it usually did by six p.m. or so.
Six, time to think about dinner. Elaine had heard somewhere that alcoholics didn't eat regular meals, so she always made sure to eat a good dinner.
She couldn't afford to eat at Harry's Harbor Inn very often, not unless it was a special occasion. The drink prices were high too, but she kept coming anyway. The places with cheap, happy hour two-for-one drinks were too sleazy to consider. They had names like Dew Drop In and catered to painting contractors and retired steel workers who hit on anything in skirts, even a skinny, middle aged, fifth grade teacher.
Dinner, she reminded her fuzzy brain. Let's focus on dinner. Burger King or microwaved pasta?
Her glance fell on the big lobster tank at the end of the bar. Elaine loved the lobsters. She watched them, their rubber banded claws flopping impotently as they swooshed from one side of the bubbling tank to the other, occasionally floating languidly up like buoys, bobbing for a few seconds at the surface and, then plunging again to the bottom to join their fellows piled like dull gray rocks on the glass bottom of the tank.
The one with the golden carapace was staring at her again, twitching its antennae significantly back and forth in a rhythmic, dance-like movement, the way lobsters must move in the ocean bottom. Elaine glanced at the Margarita glass, empty now, except for the broken salt crust along one side. She glanced back at the lobster and wondered for a moment if it was a boy or a girl. She taught crustacean anatomy to her kids at some point or another during the year, but she was damned if she could remember the anatomical differences between lobster sexes. She usually reviewed such facts five minutes before she had to teach, while the brats at their desks made noise and harassed each other.
Whatever the lobster was, male or female, it was definitely waving at her now.
"Yes Mrs. Bishop?" Mark left his conversation and hustled over to her, surprised, she supposed, at her asking for a fourth drink so early.
"Look at that lobster, the one with the gold-ish tinged carapace." She pushed a sticky finger onto the clean glass right over the lobster. "Does he seem unusual to you? Is there anything about him..."
Mark laughed, maybe nervously, Elaine didn't really care. "Well, it's colored a little differently from the others, maybe. But lobster coloration does seem to vary a bit. They come in here in several shades, some are more gray, some more green, and some more red."
"Yes, yes, but doesn't this one look..." She found herself afraid to finish. "Sell it to me, Mark. I want to buy it. Sell it to me."
"Sure, Mrs. Bishop, sure. Just let me call a waitress to take your order."
"No!" she snapped back so loudly that the businessmen down the bar from her glanced over.
"No, Mark, I want it live. I'd just like to take it home in a bag. I...I want it for a class lesson." She was lying, she didn't know why but it seemed really important to lie about this.
"Pretty expensive lesson, Mrs. Bishop."
She smiled, "Not really. I spend two or three hundred dollars every year on stuff for my classroom." This was also not true, not for Elaine. But her colleagues were always shelling out for decorations or pizza or something, so it sounded believable.
Sure enough, Mark nodded agreement. "Yeah, I remember my grade school teachers were always bringing in weird, wonderful things. We loved it. I suspect that's how I originally got interested in math. My fourth grade teacher..."
"Mark," she cut him off with a smile, "do you think you could find a plastic bag? If I could just be sure it wouldn't die it would be so great."
"Pack it in a little ice and it will be just fine," said a voice from down the bar. It was one of the businessmen. "The wife and me, we brought back a dozen lobsters from Maine last summer. They just packed them in a foam chest with seaweed and ice. They were alive and kicking when we got home. Had a feast with the neighbors."
"Great, thanks." Elaine nodded, trying to look pleasantly at the guy, but feeling too blurry to do the job properly.
Mark fished the creature out of the tank with a well-muscled, bare arm, and plopped it into a plastic bag before Elaine had dug her MasterCard out of the bottom of her purse. The card was near its limit, but, for a miracle, took on the one last burden of the golden lobster.
Once in her Sentra, Elaine was numb with the surprise of what she had done. What was she supposed to do with a live lobster? The bag was already dripping a rather large water mark onto the fabric seat cover. The May warmth was probably killing the thing. Best, she decided, to take it home and cook it up for dinner.
Elaine did not like leaving the Inn parking lot so soon after downing three drinks. She lived in fear of the D.W.I. that could only be a mistake or two away. But she had to get this damned thing home.
She drove with more attention and care than she had given to anything in a long time. Three lights, four turns, five miles and she was safely in her own driveway.
Elaine walked up the weed clogged flagstones of her front walk and into her untidy kitchen, carrying the dripping bag in her outstretched fist. The long absent husband had liked things tidy but now Elaine kept house to suit herself and it suited her to have a messy house.
She set the bag gently on the tan plastic counter and stared once more at the small animal. It was no more than a pound or two, she realized, small, even by dinner plate standards. Through the plastic, the lobster flopped a claw up and down and twitched its antennae again. Its little black eyes moved on their eye stalks, trying, she thought, to focus on Elaine as she stared down.
She made a sudden decision.
She picked up the phone and dialed. An electronic voice buzzed a few instructions and she replied, "this is Elaine Bishop, fifth grade, room 252, the Woodchuck Road School. I'll be taking a few personal days. Two. I'll need a sub. I'll check in again on Monday."
She wasn't actually sure that she had any personal days left. There were no lesson plans and her desk was a mess. There might not even be a class list laying around anywhere. Her students were undisciplined and disorganized. The poor sub would have a hell of a few days. Elaine knew she'd be in for a frowning, concerned lecture from the Principal when she got back, and another 'unsatisfactory' on her work performance review. She didn't give a damn.
She rooted through the pockets of her jackets for forgotten change, pulled out the $100 bill hidden behind the toilet tank for emergencies and dug through her jewelry box until she found her old engagement ring. Her paycheck was due tomorrow but she knew she couldn't wait that long. She finally took stock. $140, a gas card, and a MasterCard near enough its limit to make the purchase of a lobster worrisome. It would have to be enough.
She dug through the garage until she found a foam cooler. She poured all the ice in the house into it and then packed newspaper on top of the ice. She gently placed the lobster in his bag of water on top. At the last minute she opened the bag, taping it to the side of the cooler so that it didn't spill. The lobster's eye stalks moved to her, its antennae waving lethargically.
It took her two days to get from Buffalo to the coast of Maine. She tried to drive it all in one, long marathon, but she fell asleep behind the wheel near Burlington and almost drove off the road, so she'd pulled over and slept in the car.
She could smell the ocean before she saw it. The sun was baking the back of the car, but in front of her the sky looked robin's egg blue, blending in almost seamlessly with the water at the horizon line.
There was no one at the beach. She couldn't imagine why this should be so, but she was deeply grateful.
She opened the cooler, the first time she had dared to do so since she had left the house the night before. A puff of cool air moved past her face. The golden-gray lobster sat in its plastic water bag, eyestalks moving, big, curling tail jerking spasmodically.
I am insane, Elaine thought to herself. I don't know why I'm doing this so I must be insane. Driving a car with 104,000 miles on it across country, ditching my classes, no notice to anybody. I must be freaking crazy. But she looked into the bag once more and forgot it all.
The lobster, somehow, seemed to sense that it was near home. It moved a bit more, jerking more energetically in its tiny plastic home. "We're almost there. We're almost there," Elaine crooned to it. She pulled the bag away from its tape and out of the melted ice. "Shit," she said and dropped the bag back down. There was a Swiss Army knife in the glove compartment. She pulled it out, opened the scissors and snipped off the tight bands around the lobster's claws. "You'll have to eat, buddy," she said, self-conscious that she was talking to a lobster, but compelled to anyway.
The beach was a mixture of sand, rock, and dead seaweed. Elaine was still wearing the clothes she'd had on the night before; cotton skirt, flat, leather shoes, blouse and cotton jacket. She took off the jacket and shoes with one hand and made a little bundle of them with her car keys. She tried to think of a way to tie them onto her shoulders so she could take them into the water, but she gave up the third time one of the shoes slithered out and plopped into the sand. She left them on the water's edge. If anybody finds this stuff, she thought, they'll have my money and my car and I'll be stranded, barefoot, in frigging Maine.
She waded out into the cold water until she was chest deep. It smelled like salt and compost and felt like a baptism. The pull of the waves was something between a rocking comfort and a pushing threat on her legs. In its bag the lobster seemed to feel the first touch of ocean, scrambling now more than ever. Elaine seemed to remember that too quick a change of water temperatures could kill a fish. Was it the same for lobsters? She didn't really know. She suspended the plastic bag in the water and waited. Did the lobster think this was some strange new form of torture human beings visited on their kind? What, she wondered, had it thought of the creel in which it had been caught? Delicious dead haddock heads disguising an escape-proof trap? Had it suffered in its truck ride to Buffalo? Had it enjoyed life in the tank at the bar?
Elaine shook her head. What a fool she was being, like one of the oversensitive little kids in her classroom who cried at the sad stories in their readers. Elaine had more sense than that. Of course she did.
When the temperatures of the two waters seemed about equal, Elaine mixed sea water in with the stuff in the lobster's plastic bag. She was about to dump it into the ocean, but a sudden, panicked notion overwhelmed her. She would never know if the thing had recoveredif it would livenot if she dumped it into deep water. She'd never be able to see how it did.
She waded back toward the beach, waiting until the water was at her knees and the ocean bottom was relatively sandy.
She gently tipped the bag over into the surf. The lobster slithered out and disappeared in a wave. Elaine thought that she might have seen one mighty pull of its tail, slinging the golden lobster into deeper water, but she couldn't be sure.
She looked hard for a long time, trying to be careful where she stepped, but she could not find the lobster. She walked sadly back to shore.
He was a king among lobsters, she thought. A king among lobsters, magical maybe. She laughed at that. A magical king of the lobsters and you freed him.
Make a wish, Elaine. Make a wish and it will be granted in payment of your great kindness.
Elaine flopped down on the sand near her jacket and shoes and laughed again. I've saved the king of the lobsters and now I get a wish.
She imagined herself back at Harry's Harbor Inn, twenty years younger with warm curves where flat flesh now lay against her bones. She was flirting with Mark, her Margarita glass twirling in perfect fingers. The image faded. Mark was just a kid, and not particularly interesting when he wasn't bringing her a drink. She saw the husband she had taken in her youth leaving the young bimbo he'd married, in love with her again. But even when he had been hers she hadn't wanted him much. That image, too, faded.
She saw before her, all in a flash, a bright, clean classroom full of happy children chatting with her, asking her advice, working hard because she made learning interesting and because they loved to please her. She saw them as bigger, older children, still coming back to her to say hello, still in love with her. In a flash of realization she understood that she didn't even like children. She was a teacher because it paid well; because she just didn't know what else to do.
The wind blew across her wet clothes, chilling her. I have no wishes, she thought, there is nothing I really want, nothing I hope for except the end of another day and the clean, inverted cone of a Margarita glass filled with sticky yellow syrup and plenty of tequila.
The tide was coming in. It had crept up the beech toward her so that now it lapped her feet and threatened to re-wet her clothes. She stared down at it. It looked so vivid, so quiet, so empty and yet so full. She saw with terrible clarity the swish of a gray-gold tail and the monstrous power of great claws; the dim, softness of a sandy ocean bottom, the deliciousness of dead flesh in the mouth, the nervous system so simple that the signals of pleasure or pain were muted past recognition.
There was a momentary stab of warninga creel on the bottom, too tempting to resist, the heat, the horrible, penetrating brightness of the surface, claws immobilized, eyes dazzled on their delicate stalks. But even this horror was mute and graceful compared with her own graceless life.
That's what I'd wish, she thought with her whole heart and mind. I would wish for that, and to be with that lovely golden-carapaced god floating now down, down into the cool green depths before her, to a place where the twilight filtered through plant smells that floated on waves like layers of color.
Elaine smiled. Yes, she said silently, yes, oh, yes. The water was all around her now, warm and inviting. And accepting.
Beside the indentation in the sand where she had sat, Elaine's shoes and jacket were taken up by the waves and pulled in. The sand filtered over the car keys and when the wave had subsided, the sand was again smooth, bare, perfect.
Site designed and implemented 1998-2002 by
Deep Outside SFFH copyright 1998 by Clocktower Fiction (Books). All Rights Reserved.