Pavlov's man was my friend. We worked together for several years in an office in Seattle, Washington. In fact, we started there on the same day. He got a big corner office, and I got the office next door. His office came equipped with a large saltwater fish tank in which there were four or five fish. I only recall four of them: Pavlov, a spiny box puffer named Yoda, a small, gray, nondescript fish, and a small red-and-black striped fish that kept well out of Pavlov's way to avoid being eaten. Yoda didn't have to worry about that; all he had to do to put Pavlov off was blow himself up into a large, spiky ball, and Pavlov left him alone. But not the small red-and-black fish. In spite of the fact that Pavlov saw him as his next meal, he was faster and more streamlined than Pavlov, and would dart out of his way in time to avoid one of his sneak attacks. His usual procedure was to follow Pavlov around the tank, positioned just behind his tail out of Pavlov's line of vision. The little gray fish only lasted about a week before ending up inside Pavlov.
When my friend inherited this trio, his job was to feed them each morning, which kept them happy and kept Pavlov away from them. So the minute he walked into his office in the morning, he’d take off his coat, put down his briefcase, and go into the kitchen for the packet of dried brine shrimp in the refrigerator. By the time he walked back to his office, the fish were waiting for him, and the minute he opened the feeding slot on top of the tank, they’d swim to the top and attack the shrimp as they poured down into the water, Pavlov and Yoda getting the lion's share. Of course, as the lions were getting their share, the little red-and-black fish would dart about eating what they missed, which was quite a bit.
Before I go much farther, let me explain how Pavlov got his name, and how my friend came to be known as “Pavlov's Man”. It happened this way: One morning the telephone rang as my friend walked into his office; instead of going immediately to the kitchen refrigerator for the brine shrimp, he picked up the receiver and spent the next fifteen minutes or so talking. Shortly after beginning, he heard a small-but-insistent “tick-tick-tick” that kept up throughout his conversation. “Tick-tick-tick-tick!” it went, on and on. Annoyed, he looked around but couldn't locate the source, even checking his computer to see if it was malfunctioning. It wasn't.
Finally, looking around for about the tenth time, he saw what was causing the irritating racket. It was Pavlov. There he was, swimming to the top of the tank and hitting the metal lid with his beak. “Tick-tick-tick-tick!” My friend excused himself to his caller, took his number, hung up, and went to the kitchen for the brine shrimp. This same scene repeated itself every morning: the minute my friend walked into his office, Pavlov would start his tick-tick-ticking, and my friend would drop his briefcase and rush to the kitchen, returning a moment with the brine shrimp.
It didn't take long before everyone in the office knew about Pavlov and my friend. And that is how my friend became known as “Pavlov's Man”. “There goes Pavlov's Man,” people would say as he walked past. One day when the two of us were sitting at lunch with two of our coworkers, he suddenly got up and began walking toward the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” I asked, stopping him in his tracks.
He sat back down as suddenly as he had got up.
“You must've “heard that woman over there ticking her knife on the table,” I said.
He looked appalled. “Jim, I think I've been trained by that fish to respond whenever I hear a ticking sound. I've become like one of Pavlov's dogs; I'm Pavlov's man.”
And he was. Even five years later, he gets to his feet whenever he hears a tick-tick-tick sound. And Pavlov died five years ago.
In : short story
Tags: fish story flash fiction humor