reality show

“I’ve never been in Reba’s house,” I say, pushing a branch out of the way.

“The inside is a lot like the outside,” says Kim, stepping over a toppled flamingo.

Reba greets us at the door. Oddly enough, the the house itself is outwardly plain, and its interior is open, sparely finished with a second-story loft. Reba built it herself.

“Look at all the fish!” I say, rhetorically. There are a lot of fish.

“Oh come have the tour!” says Reba.

We start at the nearest tank. (There are three.) Reba points out Ellen, Barbara, Kathleen, all now several years old. She points out Kim, who is tiny.

“The old me is in the freezer,” says Kim. “We’re waiting til the ground thaws.”

Reba also points out Reba, five inches long, with glorious wisps of white and orange fins.

If you haven’t figured it out, Reba’s fish are named for herself and her friends. I have figured it out now, but it took a while. For instance, a few weeks ago we were having dinner at Kim’s house when Reba said:

“Oh, Kim! Guess who got to swim in the BIG tank today!”

“Me me meeeeeee!” said Kim, raising her arms in triumph.

“YES!” said Reba.

To the uninformed, such exchanges are puzzling.

The only male in the tank is Wilbur, whom I wouldn’t mention except he’s the only fish I’ve seen who waddles. I would say he has chubby apple-cheeks, except they’re yellow and blue, not rosy. When he swims, his tail swings one way, and his head—cheeks and all—bends in the other direction. The ferryboat captain gave him to Reba because he wanted to swim in the tank with the ladies.

Fish aren’t the only decoration though. Cardinal-shaped Christmas lights festoon a tree in the corner. The numbers on the kitchen clock have lost their grip and lie heaped at the bottom of the dial. But the flamingos are winning.

They’re not obvious at first. You notice them in the yard, but they’re mixed in with driftwood, lobster buoys, and convoys of plastic dump trucks. Inside, they’re not immediately obvious either.

We were sitting at Reba’s kitchen table, by the window. Ever since CBS started airing “Survivor”, Reba and Kim have had dinner every Thursday night and watched it. Since I moved next-door to Kim, I’ve been invited too. Both are in their mid-fifties; both commute to the city for work. Normally, Kim (a cooking fanatic) makes dinner, but since she’s about to leave for a family reunion, it’s Reba’s turn.

“Did you see this?” Kim asks me, lifting a finger-sized flamingo-candle off the windowsill.

“Oh…there are kind of a lot of them,” Reba admits.

“There’s a BIG one down there!” Kim splutters, pointing. Behind the sofa stands a four-foot high flamingo, made of neon tubing.

“That used to light up,” explains Reba. “Something happened.”

As the evening progresses, I see more. A beanbag-flamingo hangs lugubriously from the upstairs banister. A functional neon flamingo comes on behind me, glowing hot pink. I see flamingos on the upholstery, the refrigerator, the plates, the lamps…

After dinner we move to the TV. The prefatory sounds of “Survivor” drown out the hum of fish-tank bubblers. Swimming in their tanks, the fish seem unperturbed. Wilbur waddles through another orbit of the plant. Reba remains stationary, fluttering her wispy fins, her mouth open, watching the humans as they debate which of the remaining characters deserves to be voted off this time.

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1 Response to “reality show”


  1. 1 jenlinnan December 13, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    We have a Wilbur at [retail establishment] too! Well, except he’s not named Wilbur and is not a fish. He does amble around the stock room singing old show tunes and calling everybody “baby,” though.


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