Sunday night, the two ponds at Churchill Park became one. Now, the pond fish were in a predicament: marooned in puddles on the paved bridge, puddles which hourly lost their depth in the desiccating sun and wind. Droughts and floods go together.
The rain had thickened into the visibility that is not snow, but not rain either. It is spring, although it’s not so far accomplished* that snow's out of the realm of possibility. I'd been watching it the afternoon before, thinking, the rain is like lemon lozenges, or, the rain is like frosted glass beads in the bottom of vases. The rain made the sound on the roof that I'd always longed to hear on the roof, the sound of all the lozenges on all the tongues at once.
In the morning, Jackie and Mariah (the two girls who walk ahead of us on the trail, and whom I daily imagine in bright futures of environmental conservation) were stopped along the path between the ponds. They watched the smaller catfish flit skittishly whenever their shadows changed the light over the puddles. I could see why it was so arresting: we were walking on the same path as the fish swam. This seemed wondrous. Except we could walk on through, if our sneakers were getting a little wet. They were in trouble, or would be, soon, because it didn't seem like they could get back out of those puddles. A little overwhelm of water and there they were.
The rain must have slipped between the leaves of the fringe of reed grass at the edges of the pond, lipping out, and the fish must have followed its lapping, past the former shore. They must have felt that the reedy grass was just a patch they could get through if they tried hard enough, like a woods you were midway through, a bit lost from the straightforward path.
And so by Monday morning, the fish were swimming on the same path as we walked. They slipped over the tongue of path that had been the bridge. They swam in shallow hollows, spooked by every switch of wind or whipped lace, but with no hollows now to hide in, the hollows being the pool itself, with a little mud there. It wasn't, perhaps, even very different than the pond bottom--each puddle had its its own detritus and grassy bits, which swayed slower, underwater, mimicking the sway of their aquatic counterparts, rather than their usual brisk bristle in a stiff wind.
We were late; we were cranky; we were dehydrated. By Mondays, see, we've forgotten entirely how to get ourselves up and going in our big house with no light or water in the kitchen.* And we were late with the rain, the sound of it, that had put us to sleep so thoroughly.
And the kicker: we were late with the need to turn around and go back home when we were just halfway to the first turn from the first road we drive on, before we'd really even settled into driving, perhaps, but still quite in the time when I'd resigned myself to the drive, perhaps with gratitude that the hard part of getting going, with shoes and coats and lunches and bathrooms was over. But then of course the hard part of the morning wasn’t over because the child had said again, “I have a headache,” and then it has turned out I hadn't really been grateful at all, really, or it wouldn't have gone away so soon like that, with a rising flood of fury. When he said, "I have a headache," I remembered that I’d meant to get him some medicine, because he really is old enough now to know when he has a headache, and the cold he has is real (I know from the pile of tissues).
The difficulty of the hard bit could be described something like this: you’re late already, later than you want to be in starting out. Then a child says, “ I have a headache,” and you hear it with the exhaling spout of remembrance; you've forgotten the medicine you intended with all parental good intentions to give to him when he mentioned that same fact earlier. And then you remember, just then, utterly certain though you are that the child ate fruit and protein at breakfast, that he has surely not ingested even a drop of water--not even a small slurp of necessary, life-giving, healing water, this whole morning.
And you wouldn't say it like this, of course, but a child can be a cranky sort of fellow--at least when he’s sick and maybe other times, like when he's dehydrated, come to think of it, though you’d perhaps try and not say that--you would try, except for the fury and the hard part getting the better of you.
It was like this, metaphorically, I mean--using a simile: what you really just wish and maybe even say, because it is Monday, and it is rain, and it is late, and you're having to turn around the car, WHILE LATE, is that you wish he’d finally, at this age, this age, when he’s old enough to treat your admonishing words with the passionate, ironic disdain that only years can truly bring, know what the most basic creatures know, that we need water to live, that we need water not to feel as badly about things as we can feel, that we do really just feel a little better when we do drink a little water, when we're around water. This is something that most creatures know, especially when their mothers have told them so so very many times before, though not perhaps this very morning, until this moment. And of course, even though it took you thirty years and two kidney stones to really learn that lesson about the water, which is why you say it so very often now, it was still surely true that you weren’t as cranky without it then, when you were 8, as both you and he seem to be now. We could blame this on having no kitchen sink, of course. But that would be just as damning, because, well, you the have perfectly functioning water spouts of privilege upstairs in the bathroom sink and tub, and are you really THAT lazy that you can't get yourselves a drink when you need one? Shame. (And donate here to clean water.)
Here is an extended simile; this is what it was like. There aren't any solutions other than turning around and going back to get water and medicine. Even though he clearly needs water, you can’t, simply CAN NOT share your water bottle--which you were sort of proud to get filled at all, it being so hard to get these small tiny details taken care of on a Monday, with the rain, and the lateness and the upstairs sink business--because he is ill, truly has a cold, and, though you didn’t measure it (because where is the thermometer anyway since you moved?) he may have a tiny fever, though you definitely can't say definitively, because the back of your hand only felt warm right when he woke up, when you held him there, against you, willing him to wake in peace and get going right away because you were already behind schedule.
You pull into the driveway that says No Trespassing, and you turn around.
It's like this: you turn back, flooded with fury, and leave the car running while you bolt into the house where there are, in fact, no water other bottles, because, naturally, the child has broken or lost all the waterbottles--expensive, formerly-non-leaking water bottles that have been designed to remove the need for buying bottled water, saving the earth by reducing plastic, which, you are extremely sure at this moment, you have not in fact reduced, nor, in fact, the earth saved, because he has lost and broken so many reusable plastic bottles. At every reorganization effort, you have purchased another, because you can’t live without water, and you know that surely he needs water, for his cold, and he’s so cranky (as are you) when he hasn’t drunk any water (which, now that you think about it, neither have you this morning, just the coffee and maybe half a cup of hot water, which may be why you are so poseidonishly furious, tidal waves pouring from your temples, tsunamis from under your tongue). And your husband acts offended when you ask him where the water bottles are because, he reminds you, he has ASKED you where the water bottles are...as if there WERE water bottles, which you were to have taken care of, but the location of which you have withheld (the occult knowledge of motherhood) along with the water.
That was a simile-type illustration of what it was like.
Here's what I did: I grabbed a pint ball mason jar and an old spaghetti sauce lid, and filled it with a cup and a half of water, which I knew would likely spill or break in the back seat--probably on a library book (which is so embarrassing now that I know our librarian so well: hi, Ita!). I grabbed the medicine for the headache. I got in the car and gave him the medicine and the water. Thirty seconds after taking the medicine and drinking the water, he said it felt better, which itself was slightly maddening, as it made me wonder about the whole thing's actual existence in the first, place, the headache, the dehydration, the crisis, etc.
But even so, I felt like there was nothing else I could have done. I drove on, the miles and the psalms ticking by, past water pooled in the fields, so much flooding when we were so thirsty, the river very very high. I drank my waterbottle down; he drank half a cup; I took the unbroken mason jar and put it safely in my cupholdher. I reached for his hand behind the seat; I said sorry for the whole temperamental-greek-deity-of-the-ocean thing.
And after 50 minutes of driving, we got to the ponds--the two ponds which had become one, shaky, but there. And then the fish, and Mariah and Jackie--gaping at the bright, wet morning after a flood, when you go out to see what wonders and anomalies are there.
At first, it was all delight--what a rescue of a morning! The wonder, fish! Rainbow, rainbow, rainbow, am I right? Fish flitting as shadows from clouds in the very puddles, now here, now there, but visible! We could see the workings. I thrust my hand in my pocket to snap a photo and thought of Marianne Moore, the fish wading through black jade, and us being finally close enough to see the fish closely, as close as she could.
But then it wasn't a delight. Because over there, there were scattered bluegills, on their sides in the dribble of that smaller puddle ahead, gills heaving, or, worse, some of them, scary still. Not flitting as the catfish, not skittish against the shafts of shadowtackle lacing, lancing, and pairing.
There was nothing else to be done. I sprinted back to the car; I grabbed the mason jar, sort of shaky with the panic of it, and a little teary, because--well, because there had been these fish, flitting visible, swimming in puddles, and we could see them, right there, on the path--and because maybe what this had meant, all my delight after derangement, was that if we could see them, they were maybe going to die.
It was all very fast. I grabbed a broken reed from the edge of the pond--one that had stood up through the whole winter's wind, and only now, after the prescribed burn and the new spring, came down--and jetted to the fish.
The bluegill was maybe just as long as a finger of mine, and wide. I scooped at one, trying for a mason jar fishbowl type scenario with water and fish together--to get them to more water, even if cramped, sooner. The fish flopped about and I was jumpy and skittish, not wanting to touch them, scared for no real reason, amped on adrenaline and morning coffee. I scraped the reed along the bottom of the puddle to swash it in. It was clumsy, hasty work, me thinking something like "Don't hurt it! get it in there, fast! It'll be just a second, fish, don't die! Water's coming!"
And then, with the same force, exactly, with which I swish around the water in the grounds of my french press and fling it into the garden to compost daily in the dark of pre-dawn, I flung the fish and the half cup of dirty puddle water from that mason jar toward the pond. It was a frantic fling--not aimed as much as hurtled, and I looked up terrified lest the fish should hit one of the pillars of the bridge and die on rescue's bank. It swooped up in an instant's rainbow of iridescence, a fountain***, a sort of sneeze or blowhole arc from the jar to the pond. And it was gone beneath the dark surface of the pond again--not something that can be seen anymore.
Each one was a new sort of startle--the still ones that didn't flop were even worse than the ones that did. There was one, rolled in mud, just lathered in mud, barely visible against the path. Now that I think back to the flopping as the puddles dried, that fish, trying to save itself, must have flopped itself so long and hard that it ground mud enough to cover itself completely.
There were five that I three back--three floppy and two still. I flung them all back, arc after arc. None hit the pillars, thank God. With the muddy one, I didn't even try. I put the jar back in the cupholder in the car, and headed off to work.
None of those fish were similes. This is an anecdote of the jar. Drink from it, all of you.
*The gown fell gauntly from her shoulders, across her fallen breasts, then tightened upon her paunch and fell again, ballooning a little above the nether garments which she would remove layer by layer as the spring accomplished and warmed the days, in color regal and moribund. (The Sound and the Fury)
**Fun house update: Found out there was no foundation under an addition that included garage, mudroom, laundry room, and half the kitchen. These were torn down. But, the remaking of a kitchen in the kitchen half remnants and the dining room has not yet been accomplished. There's an outlet for the fridge, and one for the stove. But no lights or water--no sink for the time being. And it's all going very, very slowly.
***"For, d'ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. " (Moby Dick, "The Fountain")