(A Minnesota Short Story, 1958)
It is forenoon, the summer of the 1958. My mother just went downstairs, she says, "I won't be long; I got to wash a few clothes."
I'm at the sink, cleaning out my fishbowl. Grandpa is outside, trimming the lilac bushes; my brother is someplace with his new go-cart. As I was about to say, I'm cleaning the glass of the fish bowel in the kitchen, that is, taking the rocks out: replacing the water, cleaning the rocks, and I'm looking at my goldfish (I'm eleven years old); I remain standing at the sink in the kitchen, kind of in a tight body position, sizing up the situation, I think I'm thinking how am I going to get this fish from the water it is in, to a glass in the sink, a transfer process, that has to be done fast, lest I drop the fish into the sink and heaven knows what then, I think I am doing too much thinking, when this should really be a simple process.
Now I got everything ready: the new water, the rocks are back into the bowel, and I'm about to put my goldfish back into the bowl, and I'm thinking—again thinking I have to do this fast lest I drop the fish in the sink, then what (?) I am again sizing up everything, and again doing too much calculating on this simple matter, and I learned from this episode in life, not to think too hard, lest you get paralyzed in the process, so again I tell myself, 'do it!' drop the goldfish from here to there in one strive, one swish of my hands will do it, but carefully, so I pick it up, my glass with the fish in it—the goldfish, my intentions are to drop the fish into the rounded top the hole in the glass bowel now—and I know I got to be quick, especially coordinated; I will have one chance, only one chance, but I'm ready, or so I tell myself.
I notice the fish are feisty very lively today (perhaps I overfed them yesterday, I tell myself; incidentally, there are two goldfish): two quick witted fish, I think they are quicker than me anyhow, and I get the notion they do not like this small glass environment; it is perhaps likened to a closet, compared to where they had come from.
Now I raise the glass up and as I start to pour the water into the glass, with the fish in it, into the glass bowel: the fish, the glass, the bowel all looking at me, the glass I took my eyes off for a second, just a second, a clap of an eyelid, and my eyes seemed to have went into a process of adjusting, as a result, the glass hits the rim of the bowel, and the fish fall headfirst (both) into the sink, and I panic, I am near hyperventilating, and I rush, rush, rush to save my goldfish, fingers all over the place, and they are squirming, sliding out of my hands: they are going to die! I tell myself, death is lingering over them, and dread over me, and I'm responsible: I'm in a terror, fright, alarm...god, what can I do...?
I scream: "Mom...mom...my fi...as...fa...s...help!!"
My mother comes running up the stairs, thinking there is a tornado, or earthquake about to take place, or perhaps I fell into the fish bowl. Her face is not calm, and sullen, her eyes are brooding and alert like owls—alarmed (her adrenaline has kicked into high gear) within them I can see trouble for me: her expression is sudden, intent and concerned. My eyes are like marbles, the fish is in the sink wiggling all about (perhaps having a good old time), but to me, I sense they might go down into the drain (I tell myself this anyhow): I trip over my tongue, my words stutter out slowly: everything is upside down in my head, words coming out but saying only "fish...fas...fa...sh... Help!"
I look at her, my mother, and then the fish: her and the fish: her and the fish "Calm down," she says, then she looks in the sink, hesitates, says:
"Fish...all this over fish...? What's the matter with you, I thought you were dying!"
She looks in the sink again, at me, at the fish in the sink, at me, grabs the fish, puts them both into the fish bowel, one grab, two fish, so easy, too easy I say to myself, adding: now why couldn't I do that?
"Explain to me," she says, puffing from the ordeal of running up the basement stairs, and examining the situation, "what is the emergency for all this screaming… (she hesitates) the fish?" she asks staring into my marble eyes—frozen in time, with her sudden, intent and lack of concern for my fish (knowing there is really no emergency).
She of course knows it's the fish, and I overreacted, but I was never one for under-reacting, at least in those early days, I think she knew this, and simply asked for an explanation, not sure why, because she knew at this point what had taken place, perhaps to calm me down.
"I couldn't get the fish...it was, they were...go, gooo...ing to go down the drain, I thought I was going to kill them, I mean, they were going to die in the drain...I got...I couldn't get it, it, it...thought it would stop breathing...!" "Do you want me to have a heart attack?" she says to me now, with a civil, but serious voice: no more concern, no more anger, just a sigh of relief, and a time for cooling down.
"Do not every call me up those stairs again to save another fish, next time...just make sure there is no next time, okay?” (I nodded my head in an agreeable yes fashion) “now pickup the bowl, and put it where it belongs!"
"Yes," I said, my tongue still a little tied, from the panic; now looking at my goldfish swimming around safely in my fish bowel, and my mother walking down the steps to the basement to finish her washing.
Now if you good folks, who are reading this, are asking, “Was it worth it?” I’d have to say: yes, I think so—but I'd never tell my mother that, and I'm sorry I caused her to think the worse had taken placed. She was protective in her own way, and perhaps came to fight a whale, and found out it was a goldfish—she was that kind of person: if anything, she was spunky, but that is part of being a parent and I was a kid, learning, and she was teaching, that's how it works on this planet, called earth.
Written 9-2005 Reedited, 3-2009; and again 2-2011