Tolstoy begins Anna Karenina with the line, ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’
Well, Leo, I have proven the exception to the rule.
Floors 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8 are now completely vacated of neighbors (Monarchs and milkweed going up in no. 24 tonight). And no one in this city would move into any unit here if you paid them. The whole first floor—nos. 1, 2, and 3—are knee-high in soil and lichens. I picked up beetle snails and a pair of star nosed moles to put in there when I dropped off Antonia’s lunch this morning. They seem to love it.
She offered to bring back stacks of plastic modular tank extenders (for cost and space, they’re the most efficient solution, she says). In exchange for three lobsters, Beethoven has agreed to not complain until I can install the MTEs by sometime tonight.
As well as last night went with Antonia, we’re celebrating with a little sherry. Now that I’m 17, Chimpy today is calling me Jailbait.
Jailbait, pass me the lighter.
Jailbait, you want ice?
Haven’t you already seen this Antiques Roadshow episode, Jailbait?
He’s in a much better mood than he was last night. Having the chance to cook really does soothe him, and his amuse-bouche of ceviche de pulpo is undoubtedly fine by any standard. After the stunt Beethoven pulled—Antonia was a terrific sport about it, though—and the second she left, Chimpy was ready to kill it on the spot. At one point I thought I had him talked down, but when I turned, Chimpy made a sneaky dash for the aquatank and I had no choice but to physically restrain him.
The compromise was to spare Beethoven’s life. But it did cost the price of sixteen suckers worth of a single tentacle. Just one. And not even most of it. Chimpy made a very persuasive argument that Beethoven would never learn otherwise and in the end I had little choice but to agree. After all, Chimpy is an animal, and Beethoven is an animal, but I am not. So I deferred to his judgment.
I love the ghee finish on that tangerine brine, I say.
Chimpy leers at Beethoven as he signs, Can you tell how the ginger and garlic are just rubbed on? I just rubbed them on the tentacle? Without mashing them up into the marinade?
Mmmm, I say. So that’s it. It’s really tender. And subtle.
There’s nothing in the marinade but the juice.
Amazing, I say and stab the last piece. No salt?
Just in the ghee.
Chimpy is surely being cruel, but I cannot deny the results. Beethoven has been limited to mealtime conversations, and by permission only. And again, the lobsters bought me a day of peace and quiet about the space, which I’m already taking care of.
Things are happening outside the flat in the hallway.
Everything goes red. Just as suddenly, the red ends.
In Mrs. Boerenpummel’s apartment, it sounds like a firework explodes.
Raat! Cleanup on aisle two.
Chimpy displays agitation.
What the hell was that?!
A small spout of water squirts up into the air from the geoduck shelter.
There’s a hatehiss coming from the other side of the apartment wall. A slam, a snap of breaking wood, followed by a number of stomping boots. I rush to the front door.
I look through the fisheye lens of the peephole. I hear what is left of Mrs. Boerenpummel’s door collapse, then speaking in the hallway, then the jingle of chains. Eight Gurkhas, in two-by-two formation, march by. Then Mrs. Boerenpummel shuffles past, shackled neck to feet. Then a Borinqueneer wearing the bars and pineapple of a Master Gunnery Sergeant. Last, ten Legionnaires with bayonets pointing up on their backs. They all tramp away.
I turn my head around. Sorry, Chimpy.
He signs, It’s cool, really. It ain’t a thing.
The Frenchman told me there might be an orangutan in the works before long. A female.
That’s what I’m talking about, Jailbait. I love Malaysian chicks.
Well I can’t promise you anything because, remember, if she does not reciprocate your affections then the point is moot, right, Mr. McPickles?
Something brushes against the door. I look through the peephole again and see the three armed men in berets I had seen on the street before. One of them bows.
A sealed envelope falls through the mail slot, landing on my foot.
I pick it up, look at both sides. I hand it to Chimpy. He skips over to the hallway closet, cracks it open, hurriedly stuffs the envelope inside (without letting the rest of the mail avalanche out onto the floor), and pushes, presses, works the door back shut.
Chimpy sprinkles some flakes into the fish tank.
I say, The Frenchman assured me that these three are also females. I wonder if Haffenreffer will go on to be male.
What do you mean?
She’s the mature one. When a group of clownfish are all females, the mature one usually will turn into a male.
Are you serious?
Indeed I am. It’s called protogyny. A lot of fish species do it.
Chimpy lights a cigarette and passes it to me, then lights his own. And then they mate?
That’s the point, yes.
Hundreds of fish species are protogynous. Including wrasses.
Chimpy blows a smoke ring through another smoke ring. The wrasses are asses.
Ah, yes, well, ha, that’s good.
You think what I did to Beethoven was too harsh.
No, I don’t know.
In a couple weeks it’ll be all grown back.
Yes, I know.
And it tasted great.
It was so, so good.
Thank you. Trust me when it comes to animals. I know how to deal with them.
What is it?
I ask, Were you born in the wild?
He ashes his smoke. No I was not. Born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx.