I’m a blur of paint fumes held together by masking tape. I’ve been painting prayers on walls. Spreading layer after layer as I glance out the windows at the hills surrounding us, at the new landscape. Pausing to guide my daughter’s hand as she forms letters, explaining that words have power, and these words:
will be hiding beneath the new paint, protecting our family.
SC has not been interested in prayers on the wall. He has been a prayer of: clean the pond, save the fish.
The day we viewed the house, the real estate agent waved to the pond, “Obviously that will need some cleaning.”
And as I explained that I’d had a thing for ponds since I was a child, digging holes in the back yard, filling fish bowls with friends from the reservoir, SC spotted a flash of gold fin in the congested waters.
“How? How is anything alive?” I questioned everyone and no one.
The agent smiled, solid teeth and pale gums.
He knew it was a done deal.
I have a way of doing the hard part of some people’s jobs for them.
For the last hours of moving boxes, furniture, potted plants, SC has crouched by the pond, watching, waiting for signs of the fish.
SC didn’t care about his new room or all the spaces to explore. He wanted to save the fish. I didn’t want him near the things I imagined in the pond – broken bottles, rusting edges. So I told him again and again – soon, I promise.
And so he paced while I painted.
He paced and paused to ask again and again: when? now?
And then was done with his waiting. Done with his asking. He stood at the ranch slider. Hands on hips. Eyes stern and sad. His faith in me was fading. He was beginning to suspect that it was never, ever going to be time for him, for saving the fish. It was time for him to do what needed to be done.
Okay, I said. It is time. It is when. It is now.
I put away paint and brushes. ZC wandered away singing out to JC, to her dad, distracted from both by the novelty of a home with carpeted stairs.
I gathered the fumes of me.
SC waited with two buckets, a fish net and yogurt container.
We began as the day faded. SC scooped with container into bucket. Plunged and pulled net. Carried full buckets of sludge and stone from pond to Nikau palm, from pond to Ponga fern. I crouched, trolling fingers through the numbing waters, searching for a slick body, a shiver of fin.
I scraped against cement, bruised against river stone. I collected cigarette butts, bottle caps, leaves, twigs, chip packets, a beer bottle, a sock, a bottle opener, a fork. The shadows grew, the light shrunk. The winds rattled the gutters. The clouds twisted and tumbled past the moon.
The pond waters shrunk to puddles. More handfuls of dead leaves, gravel, twigs, stones.
No flash of gold.
I begin to consider it’d been a trick of trash and light, this fish of ours. Or, I wearily suggested, we’d accidentally thrown the fish out with the water.
SC checked beneath the Nikau, the Ponga. Paced through shadows. Circled back to the pond, sat at the edge and sighed. Faith was fading again.
And then it revealed itself – a flash of gold, a flop of fin beneath the bridge crossing the pond. SC lunged, slipped, lunged again. Yelped triumphantly. Stood with the gold fish bigger than his hands, too big to have hid so long.
And then it was my turn. A lifting of shadow from shadow in the periphery. An impulse, a raising of heartrate and I was slipping and lunging, scooping and laughing. A black and silver body arching against my hands, against the moonlight, slipping into the bucket of clear water. The fish circled and flipped and stilled, staring at one another. Mouths opening and closing, gills lifting and flattening.
We continued until the pond was a smooth basin, until there was no where for life to hide.
We found three fish in the impossible waters.
One of gold. One of black and silver. One a muddy-in-between.
A pond, a boy, and a mama, redeemed.