Sunday dinner al fresco – grilled potato and blueberries and steak cut into pieces my toddler boy can pinch between his fingers, but mostly avoid in favor of the bowl of cherries in the center of the table.
He stands on the wobbly chair and takes one at a time, offers the shiny fruit to me. First, I bite the cherry in half. I carefully remove the pit and place the splayed cherry on his plate. He devours one after another before he tries to remove the stone himself – working his tongue around the pit, celebrating as he spits it out and swallows the rest. His face and shirt are smeared with the burgundy juice, his chiclet teeth showing pink tinted as he smiles.
Earlier this afternoon, beyond the brick patio, under the hostas, we’d buried his goldfish. The fish had been a second birthday present and my boy would turn three the next week. The fish had fooled us, making a long drama of his death – playing possum for weeks until ‘tap’ ‘tap’ he’d squiggle back to swimming shape. “Just kiddin’, mom!”
But today, our sweet fish had swum his last. As we dug the small hole for the garden grave, I remembered the date. Thirteen years exactly since my father died. My father, a lover of goldfish. I’d patted the earth and tried to imagine our pet departing as a messenger — full of stories of a boy whose hazel, long-lashed eyes reflected into his tank days that dance between imagination and discovery and skinned knees and hot wheel cars and dirt piles and pancake breakfasts and rhymes and books and baby sisters and bike rides. Days my dad will never see.
I’d gifted this fish to bring joy, of course, but part of me also hoping that he would be the first whisper of death, before my son could know a loss so deep. We buried that fish, and I cried, and my son — who everyday grows before my eyes but astonishes me still — consoled me with the earnestness of someone who believes his pet will someday swim again.
Reach for another cherry and let the juice run down your chin.