The Fastest Punch in the Animal Kingdom

by | Apr 5, 2022 | Fiction, Issue Twenty Six

I’m at a work conference, which is just one or two meetings a day and the rest of the time to do fuck all. For me, this means drinking my per diem. I’m two cocktails in when I see a mantis shrimp on the bar, pushing a glass of wine toward me.  He stops about six inches from my left elbow, and then crawls up and into the glass. He’s half-immersed in pinot grigio when he waggles some kind of appendage at me and offers to buy me a drink. I accept so as not to seem narrow-minded.

His name is Pete Something, and he teaches property law. I find this is funny, because I’m a lawyer, too. I think about how laws are make-believe, and say

“Nobody owns anything, you know. Not really. We can’t own things. We only pretend to.”

I’m tipsy enough that I’m not embarrassed to have said this, and I’m not wrong, so I start going on about the collective insanity pretending that a person can own the air and earth and sea by treaty or deed or adverse possession and

Meanwhile, this fucking mantis shrimp seems to be soaking the wine in through his gills, because his glass is almost empty and I’ve never met a mantis shrimp, but I don’t think a sober one would gesticulate quite so wildly or get this worked up about the virtues of Capitalism and Private Property and Ownership as the only path to Real Freedom, etc. Although alcohol aside, Pete is so into it that I also have to figure the part of the Ocean he comes from is deeply Communist.

Anyway we’re going at it, and it’s good fun because we both trust each other to be dead inside, and to never really believe in anything, especially the words coming out of our mouths.

I say “Pete, you don’t understand what we lost when we lost the commons,” very sincerely, but without making make eye contact because by that point he’s not bothering to aim even one of his eyestalks at my face.

I stop talking and tap my wedding ring against my half-empty glass.

“You don’t believe in private property but you believe in marriage,” scoffs Pete.

“I believe in love, the trappings of love, the responsibility of it.”
Pete shakes his little club fist in the air and laughs and says,

“You believe in the path of least resistance.”

I nod and we toast the path of least resistance.

He’s soaking up his third glass of wine by then, and I’m drunk enough to feel genuinely curious about Pete’s hopes and dreams. Why did he ever leave the Sea? What attracted him to property law? Is it true what they say? Does he really have the fastest punch in the animal kingdom?

I turn to him, reach out to pull him a little closer
When he leans over the rim of his glass and says,

“So you wanna get out of here?”

I wonder where his mouth is. Whether I’ll be able to figure it out. I don’t say anything, but as I finish my drink, I realize that no matter what happens next, I’ll go home to my wife tomorrow and she’ll ask about my trip, and I’ll say

“You know how these things are, honey. You just end up talking shop to a bunch of other lawyers.”

[the end]

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