Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wish Fish

Eudora Welty

Edi says we mustn’t eat the wish fish.  They’re for comp’ny.  Three little blue tins with gold letters  an’ a key t’ open ‘em up with when Edi is good an’ ready.   What comp’ny?  That’s what I’d like t’ know.  We haven’t had no comp’ny in ages an’ I don’t suppose any is comin’ in the near future now that the bridge is out an’ the only way t’ reach us is by swimmin’ the Muddy Viper.  Daddy says he’ll fix the bridge when we get a break in the weather, providin’ he can find his saw.  He’s always leavin’ his things all over tarnation,  an’ when he can’t find ‘em,  he accuses me or somebody else of snitchin’ ‘em; as if I would snitch a saw.  I scoured the woods yesterday, lookin’ high an’ low, an’ I couldn’t find that saw nowheres.  It aint in the shed, neither.   

Daddy says it’s very mysterious how his saw just up an’ disappeared an’ he’s not about t’ waste his precious time lookin’ for it when in all likelihood a no-good thief snuck onto our property an’ made off with it.  Edi rolled her eyes at that and said, “Really Franklin, why would anybody in their right mind swim that muddy crick an’ risk gettin’ bit by a Moccasin jus’ so they could swipe your rusty ol’ saw, ‘specially when there’s so much good stuff layin’ around?”

Daddy leaned back as far as he could in his rocker, an’ usin’ his hand t’ shield his eyes from the blazin’ sun, he scanned the property lookin’ for the good stuff Edie was talkin’ about.  “Like what?” he said.  “What good stuff?”

She looked aroun’ for somethin’ good t’ single out, but it was just her eyes that moved, unlike Daddy who moved his whole head real slow an’ looked over each one of his shoulders.   Edi stood straight as a poker with her arms folded across her chest.  She was standin’ on one leg an’ leanin’ up against the porch wall with her right knee bent an’ her right foot pressed flat against the wall t’ keep her balance.  Edi is always standin’ on one leg.  She seems t’ favor the left one over the right one most of the time.  Finally she spied her Schwinn bike layin’ on its side under the cedar trees.  Poke weed was growin’ up b’tween the spokes of the front wheel an’ the seat was chewed up by the goat.   “Like my Schwinn bicycle, that’s what,” she said.  “People steal bicycles all the time, yet mine ain’t been stolen even though it lays over their in broad daylight just beggin’ for it.”

We were all out on the front porch tryin’ t’ get a little bit of air cause it was so hot an’ stuffy inside.  We’ve been havin’ a real bad hot spell an’ all of us were cranky.  Daddy had his bare feet up on the old potbelly that we used before we got the new one.  We have plenty of rockin’ chairs, six of ‘em on the porch and more indoors, but Daddy won’t sit on none but his own cause his is rickety, and accordin’ to Daddy, a rickety old rocker is full of su’prises. Yuh never know when it’s goin’ ‘t give out.  “I like the element of su’prise.” he says, “ It keeps a man like me on his toes, waitin’ and wonderin’.  The best ride a rockin’ chair can ever give yuh is its last ride.  Jus’ before yer ass hits the floor, man,  …. yuh get such a rush, …. there ain’t nothin’ like it, not even at the carnival.” 

Daddy always has somethin’ in his mouth.  If it ain’t a cigarette, it’s a match , or a piece o’ straw, or a blade o’ grass.  Anything he can grip with his teeth, shift about with his tongue, roll back an’ forth b’tween his lips.  “Now, tell me somethin’ , Edi,” he said, twirlin’ a long splinter o’ porch wood b’tween his teeth.  “If you was a thief, an’ you was fixin’ t’ steal yerself  somethin’ o’ value, would it be that bicycle over there, with one wheel missin’ mind yuh, or would it be my saw, which by the way, happens t’ be one of a kind, an’ which, by the way, they jus’ don’t make no more, an’ which, by the way, would bring a real nice price if it fell into the hands o’ one o’ them  antique dealers like the one I saw snoopin’ aroun’ not too long ago over there on the other side o’ the crick?”

“Franklin, you mus’ think I’m some kind o’ a dumb cluck,”  said Edi.  “You went an’ hid that saw of yours on purpose, an’ I know it.  Yuh don’t want t’ fix that bridge ‘cause number one, yer lazy, an’ number two, yuh don’t want me t’ have no comp’ny.  Well, guess what, Franklin,” she said, before she stomped away, “I jus’ now forgot where I put my fryin’ pan, so I guess you won’t be havin’ no sautéed squirrel an’ poke weed, will yuh now?”

Daddy got a big kick out o’ that one an’ laughed so hard he choked on his cigarette smoke.  I took advantage of the situation, or tried to, by suggestin’ that since Edi wasn’t goin’ t’ fix dinner, it might be a good time t’ open up the wish fish.  Daddy said, “Go get ‘em, baby,” but Edi was too quick an’ beat me to it.  They weren’t on the kitchen shelf no more.  She must’ve hid ‘em, or took ‘em with her t’ wherever she went t’ steam an’ sulk. 

I boiled us some eggs, soft, an’ we ate ‘em out on the porch right out o’ their shells with a spoon.  Three a piece, an’ a plate o’ saltines along with ‘em.  Daddy burped good an’ loud when he was done, winked at me an’ said “Who needs Edi?”   I didn’t laugh ‘cause I knew he didn’t mean it, an’ he didn’t laugh neither.  I wished he did.  

I could never love Edi so there’s no sense in pretendin’.  I put up with her, that’s all.  She’s only ten years older ‘an me and sleepin’ with my father, an  even though her and Daddy both say it isn’t true, I know it’s Edi’s fault my mother went away.  I was only five years old, but I remember how good it was before she started hangin’ ‘round our place actin’ like she was my mother’s friend, askin’ my mother t’ teach her embroid’ry, crochetin’, all that fancy handwork my mother did so good.  As young as I was, I knew somethin’ wasn’t right.  Long before my mother knew, I knew. 

My mother’s name is Maria.  She’s been gone for three years.  I remember the day she left jus’ like it was yesterday.  It was the first of October, my seventh birthday, and it was a beautiful, sweet smellin’ Saturday.  She made me a chocolate cake with vanilla icing sprinkled all over with lots and lots of coconut.  I helped ‘er shred the coconut  an’ I skinned my finger up pretty good with the grater.  I cried ‘cause it stung so bad and it was bleedin’.  She washed it up under some cold water, an’ then she kissed it an’ put a band aid on it.  I was worried ‘cause some blood dripped int’ the bowl o’ coconut.  “Don’t worry, Baby Cakes,” she said, “a little bit o’ blood ain’t goin’ t’ kill nobody.”   I loved it when she called me Baby Cakes.  My real name is Lindabel.  Lindabel Ritter.  Anyway, after she fixed up my finger, we put seven pink candles on my cake an’ we sat on the porch steps drinkin’ root beer an’ waitin’ for Daddy t’ get home from town with my birthday present an’ strawberry ice cream. 

It was after dark when Daddy’s truck pulled up in the driveway next to the shed. He could hardly walk he was so drunk, an’ the ice cream was all melted. It was runnin’ down the seat an’ drippin’ on t’ the floor. I looked but I didn’t see no birthday present. My mother was mad as the dickens. They had a big fight with a whole lot o’ yellin’ and cussin’ an' throwin’ things all over the place. Finally, my mother said, “I’ve had it, Franklin," an' went to her room slammin’ the door behind her so hard that the Blessed Virgin Mary flew off the wall an’ smashed ont’ the floor. I swept up the glass int’ the dust pan an’dumped it int’ the trash can. A little piece o’ glass got int’ my big toe an’ I had t’ dig it out with a sewin’ needle. I lit a match an' burned the end of the needle first. That's what my mother always did.

Daddy fell asleep on the couch with a cigarette still burnin’ b’tween his fingers. I put it out in the ashtray an’ sat in the kitchen doin’ crosswords an’ waitin’ for him to wake up an’ her t’ come out o’ her room so we could light up my candles an’ cut my cake. After a while I tried t’ wake him up by shakin’ him and yellin’ in his ear, “Wake up! It’s my birthday!” He jus’ rolled over an’ put his head under the pillow. I went t’ my mother’ room. She was in bed but she wasn’t sleepin’. I asked her when we were goin' t' light my candles. She didn’t answer. She jus’ stared straight ahead like I wasn’t there. When I put my arms aroun’ her she pushed me away an’ said, “Let me be.” I got myself a pillow an’ a blanket an’ fell t' sleep on the floor next t’ her bed.

When I woke up the next morning my mother was gone. I haven’t seen ‘er since. My cake stayed on the kitchen table fer two weeks. I kept thinkin’ an’ hopin’ everyday that she would come home an’ we would light my candles an’ they would sing Happy Birthday t’ me an’ everything would be fine the way it used t’ be, but that never happened.  Finally one day I said, “I give up,” jus the way my mother said it, an' then I got a pack o’ matches an’ carried my cake down t’ the crick. I lit up my seven candles an’ threw that darned cake off the bridge an' int’ the muddy water. I don't remember makin' a wish. But if I did, I have a feelin' it was somethin’ awful. Whenever I think about that time all I remember is the sound o’ the cake hittin’ the water. But the strange thing is, in my mind it feels like I am the one hittin' the water an’ I am the one sinkin' t’ the very bottom.

As far as I’m concerned, the bridge can stay out forever.  There’s no place I want t’ go an’ no one I really want to see except my mother.  I guess Daddy feels the same way.  Ever since his truck broke down, right before the bridge did, we have been goin’ without a lot o’ things that most folks would call necessities.  Like real milk, for one thing, an’ butter.  Lucky for us though,we have a whole pantry full of canned goods ‘cause Daddy always did believe in storin’ up fer bad times.  Plus, he’s good with a shotgun so we always have some kind o’ game on the table.  As mean as I feel about Edi, I have t’ admit she has a way with squirrel.  She makes the best squirrel I ever tasted, an’ rabbit too.  I miss bacon an’ I miss ribs, an’ I sure wouldn’t mind dunking some oreo cookies in a big cold glass o’ milk.  But, all in all, I can’t say I’m bein’ deprived o’ nothin’ important, as far as food goes that is. 

When Edi gets her period she rants an’ raves an’ acts like it’s the end o’ the world cause she has t’ use rags instead of them kotex things.  She swears she’s goin’ t’ leave ev’ry month when it comes her time, but she never does no matter how hard I hope an’ pray.  Daddy thinks it’s funny when she carries on like that an’ offers to saddle up the pony for her.  We don’t have a pony.  She calls him all sorts o’ names an’ throws things at ‘im ‘til he can’t stand it no more an’ goes off t’ the woods with his shotgun.  I usually trail along behind him ‘cause there ain’t no way I’m goin’ t’ stay at home with Edi when she’s actin’ like a crazy person.  I don’t have t’ worry ‘bout that kotex stuff yet, an’ I’m glad of it.  An’ I’ll tell  y’ another thing, when it does come my time, no one’s goin’ t’ know ‘bout it but me, myself, an’ I.  I can’t see broadcastin’ that kind o’ stuff.  I suppose I might whisper it t’ my mother if I had one, if she ever decided t’ come back , which Daddy says ain’t likely t’ happen anytime soon. 

I will be eleven in two months.  Daddy says there’s a chance the truck will be fixed by then an’ we can take the back road int’ town, jus’ me an’ him, an’ go t’ a movie.  That sure would be nice.  He says soon as the heat lets up he will get some motivation.  Part o’ me believes him an’ part o’ me don’t.  Sometimes, when night  is jus’ startin’ t’ fall, like it is right now, an’ the two o’ us are  sittin’ on the porch doin’ nothin’, I look at him in his rickety old rocker an’ it seems t’ me that he will fall apart before it does.  That he’ll be the one t’ give out first, an’ the rocker ’ill keep on rockin’ without him.  Daddy won’t feel a thing an’ the rockin’ chair  ‘ill get that kick he sits there waitin’ for all the time.  Now that’s downright crazy, ain’t it?  I don’t know what makes me think such nutty stuff, but I do, an’ there’s no two ways about it.  It’s a darn good thing people can’t read my mind.

We got the wish fish from the Hungarians down in Sugar Hollow b’tween our mountain which is called Ritter, an’ the mountain Gramma lives on which is called Fry.  Daddy is a Ritter, of course, an’ Edi is a Fry.  Gramma used t’ be a Ritter, but now she’s a Fry.  That’s ‘cause she married Edi’s Uncle Butch Fry after Grampa died from a snake bite.  Daddy says the folks on Ritter got a lot more sense than the folks on Fry, who accordin’ to Daddy, are dumb as stumps ‘cause they got too much monkey business goin’ on over there.  What kind o’ monkey business I don’t know.  Daddy says I don’t need t’ know, all I need t’ do is thank my lucky stars God made me a Ritter instead o’ a Fry.  He don’t talk to Gramma no more ‘cause she married Butch. What I can’t figure out is this, if Daddy hates them Frys so much, why’d he go an’ get himself mixed up with Edi Fry?  I’m thinkin’ it must have somethin’ t’ do with monkey business.

My mother is a Romanelli who came from Philadelphia on a Grey Hound bus that broke down somewhere near here, I forget jus’ where at the moment.  If that bus didn’t break down I’d o’ never been born.   The bus was goin’ to California an’ my mother was goin’ to live there with her sister Rita in San Francisco, but she never got there ‘cause she met Daddy first an’ that was the end o’ that.  Daddy was workin’ as a handyman at the Clinton Arms hotel where  all the people on the  bus were put up ‘til the bus got fixed. My mother said it was love at first sight b’tween her and Daddy an’ that later on that night they took off on his motorcycle clear up to the tippity top of Ritter Mountain where they made me.  She was sixteen an’ Daddy was goin’ on twen’ny eight.  I am a love child.  That’s what my mother always said.

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Hungarian: Lánchíd) is a suspension bridge that spans the River DanubeBuda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest, the capital of Hungary. It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Budapest, and was opened in 1849 between

At the time of its construction, it was regarded as one of the modern world's engineering wonders. It has asserted an enormous significance in the country's economic, social and cultural life, much as the Brooklyn Bridge has in New York and America. Its decorations made of cast iron, and its construction, radiating calm dignity and balance, have elevated the Chain Bridge to a high stature in Europe. It became a symbol of advancement, national awakening, and the linkage between East and West.

I started tellin’ y’ ‘bout the Hungarians, Viktor n’ Rozsa.  They’re from Philadelphia too, but they were both born in Budapest.  Rozsa is from Buda an’ Viktor is from Pest.  They met on a bridge while he was walkin’ t’ Buda an’ she was walkin’ to Pest.   I like Rozsa a lot.  She’s got a statue o’ the Blessed Virgin Mary on her dresser an’ a crucifix on her bedroom wall.  The crucifix opens up an’ inside’s a little bottles o’ holy water an’ special oil an’ candles to light when somebody’s goin’ t’ die.  My mother is a Catholic an’ she wanted me t’ be one too.  Jus’ b’fore my seventh birthday she signed me up for classes so’ I could learn how t’ be a Catholic an’ make my First Holy Communion.  Then she left an’ that was the end of that.  My mother had a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary too, with a big snake under her feet an’ a golden crown on her head.  I guess she took it with her, back to Philadelphia, or wherever she went when she left Ritter Mountain.

Rozsa gave me a picture of Mary an’ some rosary beads.  Viktor gave me the wish fish which he brought back from Hungary the last time he went there for a visit. He said the wish fish came from the Duna River an’ he showed me where Hungary is on a map.  He also showed me a picture of the bridge where he met Rozsa.  It’s called the Freedom Bridge.  He doesn’t speak good English an’ I can hardly understand him, but I’m pretty sure he meant for each of us; me, Daddy an’ Edi, t’ have a tin o’ wish fish.  Rozsa said they’re a special kind o’ fish  that’re very rare an’ hard t’ find.  She said in Hungary, only rich people can afford ‘em.  I asked her if they were the same as sardines.  She said “Oh, no. Not like sardines, not at all.”  An’ then she said somethin’ to Viktor  in Hungarian talk an’ both o’ them laughed.  Viktor shook his head an’ said, “Wish Fish.  Wish Fish.  No sardines.  No.”  I really like the blue cans with the gold letters:  Boldog Születésnapot .  I can’t say it, but I guess it’s Hungarian for Wish Fish.

(by Leo)

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