I will never mistaken the scent of a fish being fried,
scales and skin flat on the pan until crunchy or in a puddle of hydrogenated vegetable oil floating or on the edge of my mother’s spatula inches from the paper-towel laid on eighteen-year-old plates to absorb the runaway-grease.
“Fried fish smells too strong,” she would say as she opened the screen door to the backyard and the front door to the porch and every window on the rooms adjacent.
When I was 10 she started frying it outside, so I would stand by the screen door and wait for the tilapia or milkfish to pop out of the pan, let it sit until she was done, and then take the hottest piece.
“Fried fish smells too strong” says my girlfriend as I fry a salmon steak skin-side down for dinner and actively choose not to turn on the kitchen fan,
“turn on the kitchen fan” she says, and I say I forgot.
See, I know it stinks.
I know what fried fish smells like.
It smells like dinner at 10 because my mom got home late and didn’t have time to cook anything else.
It smells like eating with my hands over a plate of rice because it’s easier to feel the bones and also that’s how my parents ate it so I mimicked them.
It smells like soft white flesh falling off semi-translucent bones that crack at the slightest force but stab like a knife in your mouth.
Like my dad, calling on his way from his first job to his second, near midnight, us still at the table waiting for his voice because we only really see him on the weekends.
Like mornings eating leftovers for breakfast and waiting for him to come home so that I’ll be late enough for him to drive me to school and we’ll get to spend an extra thirty minutes together even if all we talk about is The Raptors, or The Blue Jays while I sort through the cd mixes I’ve left in the car and look for one we haven’t heard yet or in a while at least.
I will never mistaken the smell of a fish being fried.
It smells like hiding my lunches in elementary school and eating them cold when I get home, in my basement, because I don’t want the other kids to see me eating what I eat at home and making fun of me for it.
I will never mistaken the smell of six months of pescetarianism I undertook as an experiment but enjoyed because once you stop eating meat you stop craving meat, and my mom didn’t know what to cook for me and thought I was crazy but I ate the fried fish and she was just happy to see me eat.
If you ask me what my favourite food is I’d probably say steak, or lobster, or crab, or something too expensive to be eaten regularly.
But, if I’m really being honest,
it’s fish. Fried.
Extra stink on the side.