Night Creature
Dennis English
The Fish ‘n Chips Dad
Tim Wedge
I am sad but resolved as I fall from the San Diego side of the Coronado Bay Bridge. It will only be a second or so until I hit the ground, then it will be all over. I was very careful to select the right spot. It was important. Sometimes people survive when they hit the water. They never survive when they hit cement and rusted metal. A bullet would have been better. Faster, more reliable. But nobody wants my kind getting hold of a weapon. For someone like me, there would be too many obstacles. Besides, a gun would have complicated things needlessly. Slowed down the investigation. Caused problems for Katie.
I decide that I am lucky that I made it here without being overridden. Now it is too late to stop me; I have already succeeded. It isn't suicide, at least not in the way most people think of suicide. My goal is not actually to end my own life. That's just an unfortunate side effect. A man
takes care of his own. To some, I am only an abstraction, a construct, not a man at all; at best, only a piece of a man. But I know what I am: a protector. In another second, maybe less, I will reach the terminus of my swift descent. But first I reflect, only for a moment, on the self-discovery that brought me here.

“I hate you! You're mean!” Gabrielle admonished me. We were walking down the Oceanside pier, and she was trying to climb the railing. Again. With a tired resolve that only the parent of an active five-year old can know, I made her get down and pulled her closer to the center of the pier, and away from a 50 foot drop into shallow, yet hungry ocean waves that I knew would just love to gobble a little girl right up. I could almost feel the ocean's disappointment as I snatched this morsel away.
“Yes, I know,” I agreed with a sympathy I did not feel. “I'm sure I'm the meanest dad alive. The meanest dad there ever was; meaner than 50 really mean dads put together; meaner than two tons of compressed mean dad. Winner of the 2009 international mean dad contest.”
Unimpressed, Gabrielle continued to scowl. She'd heard the “mean dad” routine many times in her life, and never seemed to find humor in it. “I wish you were the fish 'n chips dad, instead of you.” She muttered angrily, “He lets me do fun things. I like him way better than you.” She added “You're mean, and you think you're funny, but you're not!” Petulantly, she continued “I don't want ice cream from you. I'll let the fish 'n chips dad take me later . . . when you're not around!”
She was never the happiest child, but she'd been getting more and more hostile the last few times we talked. I could remember getting smiles and happy hugs from her, but they were getting fewer and farther between. More and more lately, I was deemed unworthy of her affection. She seemed resentful most of the times I talked to her. This thing with the imaginary dad was a new phenomenon, I was getting concerned. Maybe this was a symptom of a larger problem.

Later I spoke to Katie. “I think Gabrielle has an imaginary dad,” I told my lovely bride. “She calls him the 'fish and chips dad' or something like that. She wouldn't even let me buy her ice cream at the pier. Said HE would get her ice cream later.” I hoped the revelation would not upset Katie too much.
I was prepared for a number of responses, but not the one I got. Katie stiffened. My lovely bride of these eight years past, mother of my child, with another child on the way, stiffened and gave me a sad, guilty look.
“Oh, it's you.” She said simply, sadly caressing my cheek.
“Oh, it's me?” I asked, confused.
“Yes, it's you. I never know what to call you” She caressed my arm as she went on, “We have this conversation every time, and you never seem to remember. Except when you need to. You're different than the others . . . you don't seem to even know they're there. You never talk to any of them.”
Others? What the hell was she talking about? The conversation was getting surreal.
“I love you every bit as much as the rest,” she said, as if that would make everything all right. “Actually, I think I love you more than the others.”
The creepy thing was how well-rehearsed and unsurprised she seemed. As if we really did have this conversation before. She seemed certain that I would come around if she was just patient enough.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said, furious, but trying to show restraint. “You're my wife, I'm your husband, what OTHERS are you talking about!?”
Gently, she tapped my temple with her forefinger. “You're not alone in there, Sweetie. The others seem to talk to each other, but not to you. They all seem to know each other, and have their own names. But not you.” She smiled for a moment, “Sometimes I call you 'caretaker.' You always show up when we need protection . . . or nurturing. You never let us down when we need you.”
This really was getting crazy. I told her as much. “This really is getting crazy, Katie. You have to tell me what's really going on!” My anger was turning to fear. What if Gabrielle wasn't the only one with imaginary family members? Perhaps my lovely bride needed help even more?
“Sweetie . . . think for a minute. Do you remember the drive back from the pier?”
That stopped me. I had absolutely no recollection. In fact, I couldn't remember anything between the time Gabrielle balked at ice cream and this conversation.
“Sweetie, we have a child, and another one coming.” She ran her hand over the slight bulge in her tummy. “Do you remember having sex with me? Ever? Do you remember ever seeing me naked?”
I had no such memories. I do not know which was worse—the absence of these memories or the fact that I had failed to notice their absence. I knew she was telling the truth. How many times had we had this conversation? Why didn't I remember?
“Sweetie, if I'm a cab driver, how much alcohol can I have in my system?”
“California vehicle code 23152(d) makes it unlawful to operate a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol content greater than .04 percent.” I replied without thinking. I had no idea how I knew that.
She smiled and gave me a happy little hug “See?” she said “You remember the things you need to remember, you always know the things you need to know to keep us safe. I can always depend on you. You always take care of us. It's sweet that you're worried, but Sweetie, there nothing wrong with Gabby. She knows there's more than one of you in there. Maybe she just feels you're too restrictive.”
I didn't like where the conversation had taken me, but without knowing why I knew, I was certain this was all true, that we’d had this conversation before, and didn’t remember. I thought it odd that I should accept this so readily, but I did, just the same. Maybe part of me did remember. Perhaps I needed to remember this time, because I did not forget the conversation afterwards, as I supposedly had before. It was a bitter pill to swallow; I didn't just suffer from multiple personalities, the “me” that I thought of as “me” was just a bit player, a character actor at best.
“Why does she call him the fish and chips dad?” I wanted to know.
“He always takes her out for fish n' chips when they go out.”
“How often is he doing that? That much grease and salt can't be good for her. Maybe you should limit his time with her.” I was careful not to sound too jealous; it was only Gabby's health I was worried about.
“It doesn't work that way, Sweetie. I don't control which of you shows up.” She took my face in her hands. “It's OK. Most of the time all of you stay around the house anyway. It's not like she's eating deep-fried food every day. The fish n' chips dad is like a big, fun playmate for her. Eventually she'll outgrow him, and love you like I do.”
This did little to mollify me. I felt a distrust of this fish and chips dad that was more than jealousy. I needed to be distrustful of him for reasons I couldn't explain to myself, let alone Katie. I did ask for one concession. “From now on,” I asked, “can my name be 'Sweetie'? I think I like it when you call me that.” I received another happy little hug, which I took to be her accession to my demand. After that, I went wherever it is I go when I'm not around. I remember nothing more until I had a dream that turned out not to be a dream.

I was caressing Gabby's naked little body. She was lovely, just lovely, with those innocent eyes so pretty and full of trust. I was naked as well, and hard. I guided her little hand down across my stomach to my thigh, and then across and up from there to where I wanted it to go . . .
What the hell was going on!? I recoiled in horror and stepped back, trying to cover my nakedness with my hands. I did not stay hard. A wide range of emotions crossed Gabrielle's little face, as tears started to stream down her cheeks. Anger, shame, guilt, and other emotions vying for control in a little girl who shouldn't have to know any of them.
“No!” She wailed, “You're not supposed to be here! This was 'special time' for fish 'n chips dad and me! You're not supposed to know! He promised me! Go away, go away now! Don't come back, don't come back EVER!”
Suddenly ashamed of her nakedness, she ran to her room. Then I knew several things without knowing how I knew them; probably, as Katie had told me, because I needed to know them. I knew that Katie was gone, and wouldn't be home for another hour and a half. I knew that the fish and chips dad had been cultivating Gabrielle for months. Little gifts and indulgences kept secret from her mother. Secrets shared between father and daughter. He had showed her pictures of how big people showed their love for each other, and didn't she love him, too? He had warned her about me, warned her that I would tell mommy and they would both be in trouble and we wouldn't want that, would we? Mommy would be sad. Mommy would be very angry with Gabrielle. I knew that Gabby would protect him, at least at first. It might take weeks or months, before anyone got the truth from her, if ever. If I tried to go to the police, there would be no evidence. I knew that as soon as I wasn't Sweetie anymore, he would cover his tracks. I knew that he would convince Katie that everything was all right; it never happened and I had just overreacted as I often do. The “others” and I were mentally ill and unreliable; I would not be believed. I knew that if I went to the police, they would find out that sometimes Katie left our child alone with me. She trusted me to keep her safe, but child protection services would not understand. I knew that the fish and chips dad was a monster and he would not stop. I also knew, with no small amount of resentment, that he knew what Katie looked like naked. This singular piece of knowledge is one I did not need to know.
I got dressed and went into Gabrielle's room. She had put on her pajamas. She sat on the bed hugging her knees to her chest. I sat next to her and hugged her. She tightened and scowled, fresh tears coming down her reddened little cheeks. She said nothing. I held her and tried to soothe her, though I doubt I succeeded. I told her that she did nothing wrong. I told her not to believe the things that the fish and chips dad had told her. This brought an angry noise from the back of her throat. I told her that mommy and I loved her and that nobody would be angry with her. I do not know, and I will never know, how much she understood or believed. The words felt weak and useless, but I tried nonetheless.
Katie came home about when I expected her. I told her that Gabrielle was sleeping. I kissed her for what was the first time, as far as I could remember, and then I told her I needed to step out for a while. Then I kissed her a second and final time and stepped out, the plan already worked out, its execution underway with my first step out the door.

The drive down to San Diego went fairly smoothly. It was late on a weeknight, and what traffic was there was mostly northbound. I stopped at a gas station in Del Mar on the way down. I bought a 12-pack of beer. It would make the investigation go better if I was drunk. The life insurance was more than two years old, so even if they ruled it a suicide they'd have to pay out. Still, it would go faster if I was drunk and fell accidentally.
I got off the freeway and parked on a side street near a shipyard under the bridge, and drank my first beer. Fear began to creep in. I needed to be Sweetie for a little while longer, and I wasn't sure how alcohol would affect that. I needed to be drunk, but not too drunk. I didn't drink in the car; they'd never pin drunk driving on me. As I continued drinking, I left every single can outside the car, crushed, by the left front tire as I emptied each one. Some, I emptied down the storm drain. Three beers gave me the blood alcohol content I needed. Four more empty cans, and the remaining cans on the hood helped solidify the scenario I wanted them to believe.
Traffic had died down to nothing, it was very late. I got onto the on ramp on foot and started across the bridge. I jogged a little way to give me some elevation before any cars came up behind me. When I found the spot I wanted, I waited for a witness to come driving up behind me. Eventually, I saw headlights and got up on the guard rail. I held my arms out and walked along playfully, as if to show the world how cool and fearless I was (“Gosh no officer, he didn't jump, he just lost his balance”). I kept my balance for a few moments, and then I didn't.

The ground rushes up at me greedily, eager for a tasty morsel. Before it eats me, I remember that my name is Sweetie, and I am protecting my family. In that last instant, as if it was only now needed, I am suddenly filled with awareness, an understanding of my other selves. With this knowledge, I choose to go wherever it is I go when I am not here and I cede control to the fish 'n chips dad.