Vian’s murderous bestseller
His short story “The Dead Fish” is a surrealistic piece about forgery and murder:
The carriage door stuck as usual; at the other end of the train, the big hat chief leaned hard on the red button, and the compressed air squirted into the tubes. The assistant strained to force the two panels apart. He was hot. Drops of gray sweat zigzagging across his face, like flies, and the dirty collar of his insulated zephyr shirt was exposed.
The train was about to start when the chief released the button. The air belched joyously under the train, and the assistant almost lost his balance as the door suddenly gave way. He stumbled down, not without ripping open his collecting bag on the latch.
The train started, and the resulting atmospheric displacement pushed the assistant against the malodorous latrines, where two Arabs were discussing politics with great knife-blows.
The assistant shook himself, patted his hair, which was crushed against his soft skull like rotten weeds. A faint mist rose from his half-naked torso, from which stood out a jutting clavicle, and the beginnings of one or two pairs of uncouth, badly planted ribs.
With a heavy step, he went down the platform tiled with hexagons of red and green, soiled here and there with long black trails: it had rained octopuses during the afternoon, but the time that the station employees were supposed to dedicate to mopping the platform, according to their monumental chart, had been passed in the satisfaction of unmentionable needs.
The assistant rummaged in his pockets, and his fingers encountered the coarse corrugated pasteboard that he had to surrender at the exit. His knees hurt, and the dampness of the pools he had explored during the day made his badly fastened joints grind together. It must be said, he had gathered a more than honorable booty in his bag.
He handed his ticket to the dim man standing behind the grille. The man took it, looked at it and smiled ferociously.
“You haven’t got another one?” he said.
“No,” said the assistant.
“This one is forged.”
“But it was my boss that gave it to me,” said the assistant nicely, with a charming smile and a little nod.
The clerk giggled. “I’m not surprised it’s forged, then. He bought ten from us, this morning.”
“Ten what?” said the assistant.
“Ten forged tickets.”
“But why?” said the assistant. His smile grew weaker and drooped to the left.
“To give them to you,” said the clerk. “Primo, so as to get you sworn at, to begin with, which I am about to do; and secundo, so that you’d have to pay the fine.”
“Why?” said the assistant. “I’ve got hardly any money.”
“Because it’s slimy to travel with a forged ticket,” said the clerk.
“But you’re the ones that forge them!”
“We have to. Because there are characters slimy enough to travel with forged tickets. You think it’s fun, hey, to forget tickets all the while?”
“You’d certainly do better to clean up a tile,” said the assistant.
“No word games,” said the clerk. “Pay the fine. It’s thirty francs.”
“That’s not true,” said the assistant. “It’s twelve francs when you haven’t got a ticket.”
“It’s much more serious to have a forged one,” said the clerk. “Pay, or I’ll call my dog!”
“He won’t come,” said the assistant
“No,” said the clerk, “but it’ll make your ears hurt, anyhow.”
The assistant looked at the gloomy and emaciated face of the clerk, who gave him a venomous stare in return.
“I haven’t got much money,” he muttered.
“Me either,” said the clerk. “Pay up.”
“He gives me fifty francs a day,” said the assistant, “and I have to eat.”
The clerk tugged at the visor of his cap, and a blue screen dropped over his face. “Pay up,” he said with his hand, rubbing the thumb and forefinger together.
The assistant reached for his shiny, patched-up wallet. He took out two creased ten-franc notes and a little five-franc note that was still bleeding.
“Twenty-five,” he proposed uncertainly.
“Thirty,” said the three outstretched fingers of the clerk.
The assistant sighed, and his boss’s face appeared between his toes. He spat on it, right in the eye. His heart beat faster. The face dissolved and blackened. He put the money in the outstretched hand and left. He heard the click of the visor returning to its usual place.
Download the rest of the story here.
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