I was sitting and enjoying some quiet reading time when my peripheral vision detected the outline of what appeared to be a translucent version of the bouncing ball from the old ‘Mitch Miller Show’.
“Look what I won, Daddy!”
As I looked up from my book I came face to face with a small plastic bag, filled with water. The face on the far side of the bag belonged to my young daughter. The face inside of the bag looked like a very small version of the one that Jonah must have seen just before being ingested. From my perspective the view was almost as unnerving.
The bag and its occupant began bouncing as my daughter hopped from foot to foot. “It’s a goldfish, Daddy, and I won him at the Fourth of July pool party!”
Recovering some of my composure I made a mental note to not renew my membership at the community pool.
At this point my daughter stopped her bouncing which, I’m sure, made the fish happy. Unfortunately, however, the bouncing stopped because my daughter was now looking unhappy.
“I know I can’t keep him, can I?”
In similar situations, some people come all unglued. After all, they think, how can you snatch away joy from the heart of your precious offspring? I, on the other hand, have very little problem saying no. I first weigh the facts at hand and then make a rational decision. In this particular case, as every adult knows, the odds are about even that the fish will die soon after you have invested 50 or 60 dollars in the necessary accessories for it. If the fish doesn’t die of natural causes in a short time, then it usually dies of neglect at the hands of the very kid who swore that they would carefully feed it and clean its bowl. A third likely prospect, in our house, is that one of our cats will eventually crack the combination to the fish vault and sample the delights of domestic sushi. In any case, the odds were that the fish would soon be riding the old toilet bowl express to fishy heaven. Even so, I hated to break her heart so I decided to try the logical approach.
“But sweetheart, I don’t think we even have anything to put him in. Besides, we don’t have any fish food, or a net, or any of that other stuff we need.” I sat back like F. Lee Bailey after a closing argument and waited for her to come to the right decision.
She screwed up her face for a moment as she pondered the self-evident truth of my words, then broke out with a smile. “Mommy has a big bowl in the garage that we can use, and we can get fish stuff at K-mart, and…”
I took a deep breath.
“…Kelly can teach me how to take care of him, and I can take him to school for show and tell, and….”
I started feeling a brain cramp coming on.
“…and, and, well, I just really want to keep him.”
Realizing that adult logic was useless, I decided to change to my ‘Father Knows Best’ mode. As I tried to set my face into a classic Robert Young pose, I could see a small puddle forming on the lower lids of my daughter’s eyes.
“…I, ah, well, I guess we could try it.” Jeez, I thought, who said that?
“Oh thank you Daddy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Then off to the garage she ran, cats and furniture scattering in all directions.
Together we carefully cleaned up the old terrarium bowl, and then poured the contents of the plastic fish bag into it. Next we added enough water to provide a semi-spacious home for the fish, and then set the bowl on top of a dresser in her room. She looked at it for about thirty seconds, then headed out the door to find more entertaining activity. I shuffled back to my recliner a defeated man.
About an hour later I took a snack break and decided to check on ‘Goldie’. As I opened the door to my daughter’s bedroom, I could sense an unsettling stillness. Sure enough, as I slowly approached the bowl, I found ‘Goldie’ in a still life pose of the classic Australian crawl position. As I toted the bowl and its deceased occupant to the bathroom, I tried to distance myself by pretending that I was the person in charge of cleaning up road kill. I also wondered, just for a moment, what size toilet it would take to handle a flattened raccoon.
Once again, I cleaned out the bowl and set it back on the shelf in the garage. I hadn’t had much time to ponder the words I would use to break the news to my daughter when she came flying back into the house. Fortunately, I thought, at least she hadn’t brought home some of her little friends to show off her new pet.
She whirled to a halt when she saw my worried parent look.
“Honey,” I began, “I’m afraid that I have some bad news.”
She looked up at me for a moment, then said “my fish died, didn’t he?”
I tried, in vain, to think of some comforting words. “Yes, I’m afraid he did. And I guess I don’t know why.”
She placed a reassuring hand on my arm. “That’s o.k., Daddy. Other kids’ fish have died too. Maybe the fish store gave us a bunch of sick fish.
She tossed her pigtails back and shrugged her shoulders. “Or maybe the fish just didn’t like being in such a small bowl after getting to swim in the big pool.”
I was in a bit of a fog, and thankful that she was taking it all so well. Just then, the last of her words filtered through, and an incredulous look forced its way onto my face. “The fish were swimming in the big pool?”
“Yeah,” she said. “The lifeguards put them in the pool, and we all swam around catching them.”
As I slumped back into my recliner I felt just a small amount of relief that the mystery of Goldie’s demise was solved and that the facts showed my daughter and I to be blameless. I also realized that none of the lifeguards was a biology major.