Finding Fishley: A Parenting Tale of Love and Smelly BreakfastSerge Bielanko
Violet climbs up the side of her tall chair at the kitchen island and settles into perch.
“Look, Fishley is happy!” she exclaims, her face pressed up against the one gallon fishbowl as I thump around the coffee-maker, a little tornado of filters and faucet water and urgency.
“Of course Fishley’s happy!” I tell her between hard scooper dips down into the can. “He’s been waiting all night to see your face though his glass.”
The fish, a betta fish the color of a yogurt-covered raisin, has been a family member now for about 5 days, in which time he has shown little to no joy to be here. Mostly he sits underneath a plastic leaf and looks disenchanted with us.
“Fishley? Do you want some food now?” she asks him.
But before he can leap from the tank and holler, “YES PLEASE! SOME OF THOSE STINKY-ASS KRILL PELLETS, IF YOU WILL! ” in his perfectly deep baritone, I step all over his game.
“No no no, Fishley had his food yesterday, Violet. Remember what I told you? He only eats every other day or so, okay?”
“Okay,” she says. “Fishley, you’re not hungry, huh?”
She named him Fishley instantly, without kicking ideas around or wasting time wondering. In fact, he was still on the rack there, when she bequeathed him his title; just a dude sitting there in his Won-Ton soup container, just a quiet fellow hanging out in the aisle of the Pet Smart where they have a whole city of these things, each sitting there in his own clear apartment, one on top of the other, like a skyscraper co-op of lonesome curmudgeons rising high into the air.
“What do you think you might name him, Violet?” my wife had asked her gently, as I eyed the ceramic SpongeBob Squarepants pineapple fish house accessory and wondered if it was worth the 16 bucks. (Full disclosure: It wasn’t.)
I heard her say it then.
“FISHLEY!” she blurted out. Henry, sitting in his spot on top of the shopping cart seconded the motion with his own excited, “FISWEE!”
And so that was that.
By the time we checked out 10 minutes later, we had already said the word “Fishley” more times than anyone in the history of the world.
I poured the first quarter inch of strong tar from the still brewing pot of coffee into my cup and said, “Hey Violet, do you think Fishley likes it in his new home?”
She still had her nose right up against that glass and I was imagining that scene in King Kong when his face appears in the high office windows, terrorizing the secretaries and salesmen.
“Yeah,” she answered. “Fishley likes living in the kitchen. He likes watching me have oatmeal.”
There was a pause. Wait for it…wait for it, Serge…wait for it….aaaaaannnnnnd…..POW!
“Dad, can I have some oatmeal?!?!” There it was.
I smiled to myself, the sweet rush of the caffeine smashing into my heart like a wonderful flaming arrow. She hadn’t been expecting a fish. She had never even knew that you could actually have one in you own damn kitchen, probably.
But here he was.
Fishley. Our guy. Our guy, Fishley.
Born in a tank, or a big plastic sink, or wherever, scooped out by some zitty teenager with so many other things on his mind, dumped into his take-out container of treated water with a graceless flump, destined to live his life out on a kitchen island, God-knows-how-many miles from where his mama lived her life, destined to swim around a bowl/hang out under some fake seaweed/squint out at the midnight mice prancing around in the dim oven range light, destined to make a couple of kids happy as clams, as they squeal out his name, over and over and over again, day after day after day.
Two kids determined to love him just for being the best fish either one of ’em has ever known.
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