A fish called murder

One Memorial Day, my father and his brother committed mass murder. Read about a beautiful gesture gone horribly wrong and why neither man should visit Sea World without looking over his shoulder.

Ah, the Summer holidays.

I don’t know what other families do to celebrate Memorial, Independence, and Labor Days. I hear tell of vacations or beaches or the rolling green grass of parks. Those sound really, really nice.

My family, however, happens to own a plot of scrub brush, occupied by cattle.

“The Ranch” as it’s been so creatively nicknamed, has been in the family for years. It’s where my ancestors first homesteaded in California. I like to think of it as our Little House on the Prairie, sans Michael Landon. But the ranch fell out of the family’s hands for years, likely due to poverty (a companion to which my people are no stranger). It wasn’t until some time in the 90s, when my father got to the age where one searches for his roots (if you’ve not reached that age, just wait…it’s coming), that he found out the ranch happened to be for sale and talked his brother into going in halvsies on the property.

Well, that was late in the spring, and the brothers couldn’t wait to drag the whole family out to the property, which, contrary, to its stately nickname, included no Southfork-looking grand manor, but, instead, a mobile home with attached chicken coop and a cemetery.1 It was decided that a family reunion would be held over Memorial Day weekend, and Wrights from far and wide would be guilted into attending invited.

My father and his brother spared no expense preparing for the onslaught of their relatives. Brush was cleared in anticipation of the line of RVs that would descend on the property;2 cattle were herded to a far field where their poos and moos wouldn’t annoy guests; a giant smoker was rented to feed whole sides of animals to the masses; the mobile home and chicken coop were cleaned, because, company.

The brothers also cooked up a surprise for my grandmother, who was elated to have the property back in the family. They looked into a statue (not kidding) but found that having someone carve your mother out of a rock is actually quite pricey and went with Plan B.

The weekend of the family reunion came, and we all headed out to the country to eat, drink, and talk shit about the people who didn’t show. As we arrived, we were informed that the following day there would be a ceremony to dedicate the ranch and to reveal the “surprise,” which was located just in front of the mobile home and was a giant, well, something. Whatever it was was covered by a large tarp, but you could see it was big. We all tried to guess what it could be–before going back to shittalking.

The next day, we gathered at the specified time, prompted by some young cousins, running through the camping area, yelling “GET OVER THERE, YOU GUYS! DOUG AND JIM SAY YOU HAVE TO COME!”

My father and his brother stood near the giant tarp-covered whatever, grinning in anticipation of the reveal. Once everyone was present, accounted for, and properly sunburned, the men spoke. They told the story of their ancestors coming to this country, settling that property, and the journey to re-aquire the land that was rightfully ours (no mention of whose it was prior to that or how it was not, somehow, rightfully theirs). They then praised my grandmother’s courage and strength in raising seven children as a single mother in a time when such things were not trendy but cause for shame. With a great flourish, they announced that this site would now, forever, pay tribute to those who came before and pulled the tarp.

Underneath sat a beautiful marble fountain. It was the kind you see in a piazza in Italy or a casino courtyard in Las Vegas. They turned on the pump, and water flowed up and out of the top of the fountain, tumbling down the expertly carved stone to the pool below. Everyone ooooh’d and ahhhh’d, appropriately. Two seconds later the appreciative ooooh’ing and ahhhh’ing fell silent as it was clear that something was not quite right.

The fountain pool was filled with large, colorful Koi fish. And they were all dead.

The fish corpses swirled and danced as the water came splashing down on them. A child gasped, and I stifled laughter, horrified by the sight before me.

Because my father and his brother didn’t want the surprise ruined, the fountain had been covered with that tarp for several days–several 100-degree days. The tarp had trapped the heat, turning the fountain into a crockpot and its residents into a kind of fish stew. The confused, boyish looks on the brothers’ faces was heartbreaking and hilarious. Their beautiful tribute had turned into a mass murder.

For as long as I live, I’ll never forget the sight of fifty excited people standing around a pool full of whirling, dead fish. This Memorial Day, I pay tribute to the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces–including several loved ones–and to those fish. All gave some, some gave all.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. Yes, my family has its own cemetery, but that’s a story for another day. 
  2. My people are campers, but they don’t particularly care for things like insects or sleeping on the ground. 


Photo by: Satoru Kikuchi

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

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