(For Taylor and Ronda)
“Anne, I ordered for you. You’re getting the blue fish, but if you don’t like it, we’ll switch and I’ll eat it.”
“Oh yuck, we’ll have to switch,” replied Anne shivering. “I haven’t eaten fish since I was a little girl. I learned my lesson!”
Marie raised an eyebrow with curiosity. “You learned not to eat fish?”
Half laughing and half repelled, Anne recounted, “My brothers and sisters all wanted to go to camp one summer and I didn’t. We lived in the city and I was really shy. Camp would be just like school but with teenagers in charge, so I rejected the idea. My parents didn’t want me to feel left out, so I stayed with my grandparents for the summer on their farm. I will never forget them and how perfect everything was, except, for this one incident.”
Anne and her grandmother walked down the grassy path connecting the house to the vegetable garden. The golden rod and wild flowers reached Ann’s waist, and the peonies smelled so good, but she was more interested in the daisies. Uprooting a handful, Anne walked with her grandmother until they reached the house. Gramma had her arms wrapped around a basket of greens and small potatoes that she supported on her hip. Shifting the basket to her side, she ran her free hand through Anne’s hair.
“This little farm might not be the most exciting place for a girl your age, but it certainly is the healthiest. You’ve only been here two weeks and already your color has improved so much.”
Gramma was right. Anne’s hair shined like red gold and her little nose freckled with her tanning skin. Anne spent so much time chasing after the animals in the yard, her grandparent had no trouble putting her to bed later that night. Gramma and Grampa’s little farm was only eight acres of hilly fields and ten acres of forest, but to a six year old, this means never ending freedom. In two weeks, Anne had already renamed the chicken and ducks after her favorite cartoon characters and tried to ride the two mini ponies, who she renamed honey and bunny.
Plucking the white petals from the daisies and tossing them above her head, Anne looked up at her grandmother while the petals fell in her face. “Maybe it’s all the sun I’m getting.”
Gramma laughed and brushed Anne’s hair out of her face. “I don’t think it’s just the sun. I imagine all those dandelions you were sniffing and tying to your sundress stained your skin. Maybe all that mud on your legs has something to do with it too?”
Looking down at herself, Anne realized that she had never been that dirty in her entire life. “I am going to have to wash with a lot of soap, but I don’t feel dirty, I just look it.”
“I understand completely,” Gramma smiled knowingly. Having left the city world for the natural beauty of the country, Gramma knew exactly what it felt like to be covered with dirt, but to find that she felt cleansed and complete when she gardened on these beautiful days. “But we don’t have time for that. I’ll drop these of to your grandfather and he can start cleaning and getting supper ready. We have to drive into town.”
“Oh I don’t want to go into town being dirty,” Anne said with big eyes.
“Then why don’t you hurry over to that little well over there and start hosing yourself off and I’ll wait for you in the truck.”
“Okay Gramma. I’ll be so fast I’ll wait for you in the truck!” and with a few skips between her strides, Anne ran over to the well.
The drive to town was not long at all. After 15 minutes they reached the center and pulled into the general store. Gramma and Anne got out of the truck, Anne having to use all her might to close the heavy truck door. After picking up a few supplies, Gramma went over to the counter to speak with Joe, the man behind the counter.
“Why are you inside on a beautiful day like today! Close down and go sit outside with some lemonade or have a picnic,” Gramma suggested. “Besides, this place runs its self, you don’t need to be here,” she teased.
“Well someone has to be here to serve my most difficult customers. What if I did close whenever I felt like it? No one would be here to give you your fish!” retorted Joe with a big grin.
Anne was unaccustomed to the way her grandmother bantered with people. She knew the woman was made of sunshine and earth, but she had never seen people enjoy getting scolded so much. Granny would say things that any other woman would say with a nose in the air and disapproval. But then, Granny was not like most ladies. She had energy that would recharge anyone around her and a quirky kindness that left her unable to do anything but laugh and love.
Gasping with excitement, Anne and Gramma saw Joe point to a little double tank with two fish. One was a adult, red beta and the other was a little blue beta not even half the other’s size.
“Oh I’m so glad they came in! If I ever need anything to be shipped, I usually go to see Dell at the post office, but she doesn’t have your knowledge for foreign fish. Thanks for letting me use your account. My husband and I don’t pay attention to fish and that sort of stuff, other than when we go fishing! Even then, we prefer bass and horn pout. Ha! But with the shipping and the price of these fish, I’ve spent more on these fish than I have on a week of groceries! I guess I’m getting too old to appreciate exotic, fancy things.”
“Well,” scoffed Joe, “I find it hard to believe that you are too old for anything. You and your family are more appreciated and better than anything from abroad because you are good, solid people. We need more of that.” Looking down at Anne in her sundress with dandelion stains still under her nose and daisy petal still in her hair, Joe added with a chuckle, “And your got here the most entertaining child.”
Anne blushed at the compliment, while Joe rang them up and handed her the tank of fish.
“You know Joe,” said Gramma with a mock contemplative look on her face, “for a farm man who has only been around for the past two years, you’re really getting to know the ropes around here.”
Laughing out loud, Joe replied, “Thank you, Edna. You’re not so bad yourself, for a farm lady.”
Uninterested in being inside when she could be playing with the fish outside, Anne ignored the two and pretended she was a mermaid mother looking after the baby fish.
On the way home, Anne tapped on the thin container and moved the lid so she could stick her fingers in the water.
“Do you like the fish? The baby one is yours. Maybe now you’ll visit more often?”
“Gramma, I wish we could all move here with you, even if we didn’t have the fish. But Ruby and Little Baby are the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen. They look like they have veils like dancers.”
“Maybe they are water dancers. Maybe when we aren’t looking at them, they swirl around in the water and perform ballets.”
This set Anne mind to work on all the wonderful things that could happen. When her grandmother went inside the house to put everything away, Anne, holding the fish up, looked at them in the sunlight and past the tank at the other animals, wondering if they too led secret lives. “I just know you do,” she muttered.
From inside the house, Grampa yelled out, “Let me see those fish of yours. What did you name them?”
Anne ran inside and smelled onions, meat, and the potatoes from the kitchen. The greens were being snapped, shelled, tossed, and anything else that had to be done.
“Here they are and the baby one is called ‘Little Baby’ and he’s mine,” blurted out Anne with her childish enthusiasm. “I’ve never had a pet before and these ones are so pretty. Gramma said they dance when we are not looking and I bet the other animals will watch them. Do you think that the cats will learn to dance too Grampa?”
Hiding his smile at the fast speed with which she spoke, Grampa furrowed his brows and said, “Oh of course! Didn’t they teach you about animals in school? When I was your age, we knew all about animals. We had to walk miles to and from school, so we spent a lot of time with nature. Now that’s a real education.”
Gramma smiled at her husband and asked slyly, “Did you have to walk up hill both ways to get to your one room school on a mountain peak always in the dead of winter?”
Grampa chuckled and smacked her on the rump. “That’s enough. I suffered.”
“Yes, from delusion,” she said, giving him a playful kiss. “Anne and I should go out to the shed to find something to spruce up this tank. Maybe we have some paint to put on the side of the aquarium and little plastic toys that we can set inside?”
“Mmm, I think there might be a little mermaid with a weighted tail that we used to put in the bath tub for the kids.”
Anne’s eyes lit up. “Grampa, that’s the best idea ever! I want the mermaid! C’mon Gramma let’s go look!”
“After you ladies do that, try a bite of this and tell me if it tastes like poison,” said Grampa while he pointed to the pan of potatoes. “If it does I’ll add more butter and we can eat it. Now I’m gonna go find a pot for Anne to sit on so she can reach the table better.”
Anne and her grandmother went to the little shed and opened the door. There were all sorts of odds and ends hanging or in boxes. There was a chicken on the windowsill and two of the cats ran in after Anne. “Look at the hole,” she said as one cat intertwined himself around her legs in a figure eight, arching his back and hitting her with his tail.
Following Anne’s pointed finger, Gramma saw a rabbit hold dug out of one of the corners. “Oh that’s nothing new. This is a nice little shed, but it’s pretty old. One of the boards got loose, so the horses started to chew on the wood and the rabbits used it as part of their tunneling. We’ll trace the tunnel later with a ground light. You’ll see that it’s longer than you are!”
Paying attention to her grandmother’s story and not her footing, Anne went to bend low to look through the hold in the shed to the rabbit tunnel in the ground and take a step at the same time. Anne stumbled on an uneven floorboard. She tried to catch herself by taking a big step, but the cats had jumped after her feet when she moved. Poor Anne shot out her left hand to hatch herself and kept the little fish tank in her right, but she fell fast and the momentum of the tank was too strong for her little muscles. Her grandmother rushed over, picking Anne up with her left arm and asking her if she was okay and grasping at the fish tank with the other.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” whimpered Anne, standing up blowing on her palm. “My hand and elbow stings but I’m okay.” Then, she remembered the fish tank. “Did I kill the fish?”
Her grandmother, having quickly inspected and knowing how resilient children are, was already kneeling over the cracked tank holding the lid of the tank in place. The bottom corner of the tank cracked, so when Gramma straightened the tank, she had to cup her hand over the bottom and hold in the fish. Having to hold the tank practically upside down, the water was leaking so fast that half had already disappeared and one of the cats was swatting at the fish tank.
Gramma looked around the shed for containers that were not full or covered with rust. There were plenty of things in the shed, but Gramma hated clutter and nothing useless was kept around. Nothing she could see would safely hold the fish until she could get them inside.
“Gramma all the waters leaking!” screamed Anne. It was leaking and it was leaking too fast. “What do we do?”
Anne’s grandmother fumbled with the rare fish. No one in the county had ever seen them until Joe’s brother had sent him the high definition images that made everyone, “Ooo,” and, “Ahh!” Gramma and Grampa wanted Anne to love the farm as much as they did. When would Anne ever be able to see these creatures again and with such a large family?
“We are not about to waste good money on dead fish! Child, open your mouth! Hurry, do it!” Anne’s grandmother actually took her hands off the top of the aquarium, brought her face close and scooped into her mouth as much water as possible, along with the bigger fish. Making a face, she closed her lips and frantically hummed at the girl to do the same. Anne’s face looked so afraid; until her grandmother grabbed the baby fish and thrust it into Anne’s mouth.
Trying not to choke on the water or gag the wriggling fish, Anne’s face quickly mixed with disgust, as well. Frowning and squealing, she started to open her mouth, but Gramma put her hand around the girl’s mouth and hoisted Anne out of the shed, across the little trail that seemed to stretch a mile and up the porch stairs. Partially dragged by her grandmother, Anne ran her fastest.
Hearing footsteps and mumbled squeals, the grandfather looked from the pantry out into the kitchen to see his wife running towards the dished and Anne standing near the doorway of the kitchen squealing in pain and flapping her hands through the air in a panic.
He rushed over asking, “What wrong with you Twitchette? Did ‘ja eat some of those hot potatoes?” Good ol’ Grampa always has a solution. “Well don’t let it burn you! Spit it out,” he said.
Having grabbed at a bowl, spat out the larger fish while water rushed from the faucet and into the bowl. Still fighting a wave of disgust, Gramma stretched the bowl to Anne, whom she thought had followed her. Gramma turned around just in time to see good ol’ Grampa clap Anne on the back, attempting to extract the food burning her mouth.
Never had the couple ever seen such a look of shock on the little girl’s face as when they heard the thump on her lower back and the loud, “Gulp” that followed.