We peer into the fish tank, Lisa and I. Although the day is gray, a momentary shaft of sunlight shines into the water and the fish take on the brilliance of polished gemstones.
They are Lisa’s fish—seven goldfish, a tadpole, a snail and a crab.
“I’ve got to feed them,” she says grabbing the fish food and shaking it over the water. Lisa never does anything halfway.
“Not too much,” I say. We watch the specks of food drift to the bottom of the aquarium where the crab mistakenly grabs bits of green gravel and then spits them out again.
“He’s not too smart is he?” I say. We laugh at the stand up comedian of the fish tank. For such a modest assortment of pets, the aquarium is elaborate. There are heaters and bubblers and little treasure chest that opens and closes with the bubbling of the water. The artificial gravels are psychedelic colors—green, pink, blue. The tadpole is mottled like an expensive wool tweed.
“Your tadpole will soon grow front legs, then back legs while the tail grows very short.” I say.
"When will that be?"
“I don’t know, but when you see the mouth grow wide and it is rising to the top, then you must take it out of the tank so it can breathe air.”
I remember very well watching the transformation as a child. I had a tank full of bullfrog tadpoles and believed fervently that at least one of them would turn into a handsome prince. I don’t mention this to Lisa.
She wants to spell words.
“Spell five,” I say.
“One more letter.”
“I am caring for Lisa because she is sick—she is too sick to even walk, but her spirit is unquenchable.
“Let’s play checkers. I think Mom keeps it in the front closet because it’s such a grown up game.”
“I don’t see it.”
“Oh, then it’s in my bedroom closet.”
The last time we played, I chided her about being a sore loser. Now she plays with concentration—the game is a tie. I feel her feverish head under dark bangs. Her hair is a wild tangle.
“Shall I fix your hair?”
“No, no, no, no.”
“How about some Tylenol? It’ll help your headache.”
“No, no, no, no.”
I give her the pink medicine that smells like bubble gum followed by 7 Up.
“I hate that medicine.”
The digital thermometer reads 101.7. It had been 103 the day before.
Lisa and I snooze on the couch together. The doctor doesn’t
know what it is, but Lisa tells me something has been going around
at Climbing Tree School.
“Dave was taking the kids’ temperatures at school,” she told me.
I think of Lisa at school going hand over hand on the bars,
swinging high, climbing to the top and balancing like a magical
We retrieve the prize from the bottom of the cereal box—a
joke machine. I ask her the riddles and she tries to figure out the
“How does Santa take care of his yard?”
“With a ho ho ho.”
“What can’t you use until it’s broken?”