When CJ was five, I took him with me to pick up some dry cleaning. He asked if we could check out the pet store next door. He enjoyed having his little fingers licked by puppies and kittens when he stuck his fingers into their cages, but the goldfish captured his attention most. There was a big tank with ten goldfish for a buck. CJ begged for two fish. Since they were cheap, and flushable, I said yes. By the time we left the store, I’d spent nearly thirty dollars for a bowl and gravel, fish food and the coolest little castle CJ had ever seen. CJ held the plastic bag containing the two fish and tried his best to keep the water from jiggling as we drove home.
He named them Goosie and Bonkers, for reasons known only to him. They lived for a while on top of our TV. One day Mrs. Chatterbox and I were going over bills in the kitchen, a situation not made any easier by my unnecessary purchase of two little freeloaders in a goldfish bowl, when CJ came up to me and said, “Daddy, could you not talk so loud ‘cause Goosie and Bonkers are sleeping.”
Uh-oh! I went to check and Goosie and Bonkers were belly up in the water. They were asleep alright, eternal sleep! I didn’t have the emotional energy to explain “death” to CJ, so when Mrs. C. was reading to him I flushed the two dead fish and went back to the pet store to purchase another Goosie and Bonkers.
A few days later CJ again asked me to keep my voice down because his goldfish were taking another nap. I checked; once again Goosie and Bonkers had flat-lined. I performed another flushing ceremony and headed for the pet store where I chose a heartier and more expensive set of replacements. As I drove home, I noticed that the new guys didn’t look much like the old Goosie and Bonkers. I hoped CJ wouldn’t notice.
He didn’t, but a few days later these fish joined the others. I should have explained to CJ that things are dead when they take certain kinds of naps, but I chickened out and headed back to the pet store. This time I took no chances and bought the most expensive goldfish available, fish so hearty that they were declared environmental pests in certain parts of Asia. They bore no resemblance to the original Goosie and Bonkers.
These poor creatures suffered the same fate as the others. I could no longer postpone the inevitable; it was time to tell CJ the truth, or get a bank loan to buy more fish. CJ came into the family room and spotted the empty bowl. “Daddy, where are Goosie and Bonkers?”
Mrs. C. busied herself in the kitchen, but she was listening to every word. I proceeded carefully, not wanting to shatter our little boy’s bubble of innocence. “Come here, CJ; Daddy wants to talk to you.”
He approached and I scooped him up and put him on my knee. “I need to tell you something.”
My throat suddenly went dry.
I could see the tears in Sue’s eyes---she was such a softy! We’d been married long enough for me to be able to read her mind; she was cautioning me to tread carefully.
“I need to tell you something about Goosie and Bonkers.”
“Yes, Daddy?” He looked just like a blue-eyed Hummel.
“You noticed that they’re not in their bowl?”
“Uh-huh. Where are they?”
The moment of truth had come. It was time to be honest with him. “Here’s the thing,
CJ, there’s a good reason Goosie and Bonkers aren’t in their bowl…”
I cleared my throat. “Well, here’s the thing…they’re not in their bowl because they…”
“They what, Daddy?” He blinked his soft lashes at me. “What did Goosie and
Damn, I couldn’t do it! I blurted out, “They ran away!”
I felt guilty lying to him, but I breathed a sigh of relief when he said, “I guess they wanted to go home.”
Did you ever lie to a child? Confession, they say, is good for the soul.