Hit By A Fish

It’s pretty decadent to pad out your weblog by recycling posts from your other weblog. But it’s a cute story, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with history, and I haven’t been posting much here lately, and I’m interested in narrowing the gap in tone between this site, which can be a little stuffy, and my LiveJournal, which can be a little infantile. So, in honor of the date, my April Fish story (originally posted April 1, 2004) revisited:

In French, as you may know, April Fool’s Day is called Poisson d’Avril, which literally means “April Fish.”

My parents sometimes tell the story about when I was a little kid and I discovered a deck of Tarot cards. Immediately enchanted, I set about telling the fortunes of all my friends. Of course, I didn’t know what any of the cards or layouts meant, so my readings were both linear and extremely literal. I’d just slap the cards down one after another like I was playing War: “You will be stabbed with ten swords! Then you will be given seven coins! Then you will become a juggler! Then you will die!”

What I lacked in symbology, I made up in oracular conviction, by bellowing all of my prophesies in a booming voice (as booming as an eight-year-old can muster). It must have worked too, because, as my Dad tells it, my little chums would finish their Tarot readings quaking in fright. All the fortunes I told ended badly. I think I thought you just kept going all the way through the deck until you got to Death or one of the other clearly fatal cards. How else would you know when to stop?

(Some parents might have stepped in after the third or fourth ashen-faced eight-year-old staggered home, each convinced of their own strangely specific yet utterly unavoidable doom. But Dad obviously thought this was all a good laugh. I love my parents and the irreligious upbringing they gave me. Ours would later be the go-to house for scary Ouija board action.)

Anyway, Dad was particularly taken by the fate I prophesied for my friend Aaron: “You will ride on a horse! You will drink from three cups! And then… you will be hit by a fish!!” I don’t even know which Tarot card has a fish on it, but that is the line from this story that has stuck as family catchphrase #17,368: “You will be hit… by a fish!” (You’re supposed to say it booming and loud, with just a little pregnant pause before revealing the precise instrument of your subject’s frappage.)

Aaron and his family moved to Alberta, so I don’t know if he ever did get hit by that fish. But the saying has stayed with me, and I’ve come to think of it as my own fortune rather than his. It’s not a terrifying doom, but a warning against hubris, and a reminder of the general perversity of the cosmos. Don’t get too full of yourself. Don’t count your chickens. Just when you start thinking you’re all that—an Emperor, or a Juggler, or some fancy dude on a horse with seven coins and a cup—Fwap! You too will be hit by a fish.

Happy Poisson d’Avril, everybody.

1 Comment

Comments are closed.