“Where is the kid who sells the hotdogs?” Jim asked. “I’m starving.” Every day he came to the home improvement center to buy himself a hotdog from the sweet-looking kid out front.
“One hotdog,” he would say.
“Relish and ketchup?” the kid would say.
“Yup, yup to ketchup.”
The kid would laugh, deliver over the hotdog, and say, “One dollar and seventy-five cents.”
“Here’s two dollars; keep the change,” Jim would say, and the ritual would be complete.
The fellow behind the food cart grinned at him. He was missing a molar. “I don’t have hotdogs,” he said. “I have salmon eggs.”
“Salmon eggs? Who eats salmon eggs?”
“Where I come from, salmon eggs are a delicacy,” the man replied. Jim noticed that the man had no legs.
“Where are you from?”
“Well, I’m starving. How do you eat them?”
“Any way you like,” said the man. “I like them raw, like oysters.”
“That doesn’t sound good at all, but I’m in a terrible hurry to get rid of this rental car and pick up my new car.”
“Must be nice,” said the man. “Getting a new car.”
“Usually, yes,” said Jim. “But this time, no. My old car just got smashed in a head-on collision. Luckily, I only have a pretty bad concussion.”
“Lucky, yes,” said the man, handing him a clear plastic bag full of little pink balls flecked with fish-shaped black so that they looked like miniature monster eyes. They were lukewarm. “That’ll be one dollar and ninety-five cents.”
“Here’s two dollars; keep the change.”
“Oh yeah,” said Jim. “Here’s another dollar. See you later.” The exchange was complete.
The brand new car was everything a brand new car should be, complete with the requisite smell. Those monster eyes sat on the passenger seat, staring at him, jiggling, while his stomach growled.
“Man,” said Jim out loud. “I can’t eat these things raw. But I’m so hungry.” At a stoplight, he loosened the knot on the bag, reached into the roe, pinched a few eggs between his thumb and forefingers, and ate. Fishy, but not terrible, so he took a few more hits of monster eyes. He parked behind the house, stood up from sitting in the car, felt a wave of nausea, and threw up on the ground beneath the bedroom window.
“Well,” he said. “That was horrible.” And he went inside. A pleasant evening with his wife passed, and they retired to bed together for the night.
“You’re soaking wet with sweat,” said Steph, his wife.
He looked at her. “What time is it?” he asked.
“Three-thirty in the morning. Are you all right?”
“I feel horrible,” he said. “Food poisoning. I’ll be all right in the morning.”
The next morning, he called to Steph from outside. “Look, Steph, a spring! In our backyard!”
“There’s no spring,” said Steph, looking at the spot where Jim threw up.
“Yes,” said Jim. “It’s not all the way formed, yet, but those are sure signs of a spring.”
That night, Steph woke him again, saying, “You’re clammy and wet, Jim. Are you all right?”
“I feel horrible. Must be the after-effects of those salmon eggs.”
A spring indeed formed in their backyard. Jim whooped and hollered, running around with his arms over his head. “A spring!” he cried out. “A spring! A real spring!”
“Jim, turn off the hose,” said Steph. “You’re frightening me, and the neighbors aren’t happy with their flooded basements.”
The next day, the spring had grown larger still, and Jim had grown happier with its increase. The building code inspector arrived.
“Look, Mr. Brycoddle,” he said to Jim. “This is class one residential. You can’t have a spring or a pond in your backyard.”
“This is my home!” shouted Jim. “You can’t tell me what to do with my home!”
“You can ask for a variance, I suppose,” said the building code inspector. “But in the meantime, I have to write you a citation. Don’t worry; it’s just to get the ball rolling.”
At that, Jim pinned his arms to his side, fell flat upon the ground, and sprang into his spring, where he lay letting the water flow over him. He spluttered for breath.
Steph quickly turned off the hose, and she said, “Jim! Jim! You’re frightening us! Can’t you come out of your spring? I’ll turn the hose back on if you promise to see a doctor tomorrow.”
Water dripped from Jim while Steph and the building code inspector looked on. He said, “Okay.” The two of them helped Jim inside the house.
That night, Jim flopped around in bed without ceasing. “I feel like I’m going to suffocate. I can’t breathe. I’m going to suffocate.” For the third night, he was drenched in cold sweat, which made his skin slick to the touch.
“We’ll go to the doctor first thing,” said Steph. “First thing. Can you make it?”
“Okay,” said Jim.
First thing in the morning, Jim was in the new car, driving away. He shouted to Steph, who was running into the driveway, “I’m going for a pleasant swim in the lake!”
“It’s April,” she said. “What lake can you mean? You’ll freeze!”
After getting out of the car, Jim dove off the pier into Lake Ontario. The cold was numbing, invigorating. He swam as he’d never swam before. The greater the effort he put into swimming, the less he needed to come up for air. His legs melted away, and he remembered the man who sold him the salmon eggs. “My savior,” he thought. “My redeemer. He’s set me free.”
He dove further down after each time he surfaced, reaching new speeds and new depths. A thought strayed into his mind: perhaps he didn’t need to breathe air at all; perhaps he could breathe water.
Just as the Coast Guard cutter came near to him, he dove for the last time, his lungs filling with water. He heard Steph on the pier, weeping. He was happy, for now he could swim to wherever his daughter was, who had been sitting next to him just before the collision.