The International Writers
It was true. An empty
aquarium does not have the attraction or facility or drainpipes. Three
years old children are pulled toward water implements like plants are
drawn to sunlight. Nevertheless, there were and still are -- some
very interesting objects at the bottom of the tank. I had dug them out
as an archeologist might have done: the cap to a pen, an old shopping
list, a cigarette butt, and some metal objects, which I could not identify.
UP THE AQUARIUM
cleared the cobwebs from the aquarium, which sat dormant for five
years. Great names like Xiphophorous maculate and Helvstoma temmincki
swam through my head. I ran my fingers rake-like through the gravel
at the bottom of the tank. To be clear it was a fish bowl and
just called tank out of habit.
Perhaps Sara has buried some pennies in here.
I doubt it. She has not played in here very often.
Pterophyllum sacalove. Libratesreticulates.
If you liked the aquarium so much, why didnt we set the tank
up sooner? Why did we ever even take it down?
The fish died.
We could have replaced them, she spoke with the voice of a
police officer or a park ranger.
Who wanted to clean the tank?
When Sara awoke from her nap, I took that as an opportunity to explain
that we were going to set up the fish tank again. She appeared to be delighted.
With a monkey grin and an elephant smile, she asked, Me too?
Mistake number one had just occurred. Never, never, agree to let a child
help you to start operating or doing anything with a fish
tank. My wife, so much wiser and forsightful than myself, immediately
informed me that I was no win charge; the tank was now my project, just,
Sara's and mine. She then abandoned the ship; so to speak, we were not
really on a ship. There was, however, water in the basement.
What are we doing? Daddy?
She frequently asks that question. She, like most children, was not so
much nosey than curious. I have never told anyone this but I like curiosity.
At times I am affected with it myself.
Realizing that I had not yet answered her question. I immediately leaded
into my answering face and said, Well, we are going to smooth out
the gravel, now I dont mean smooth is right out of the tank. But
just make it appear flat and bold. And then we will put the gravel at
the bottom here, I pointed, and put in some rocks and shells.
You know, shells only seem to be hopes of mountain. I didnt think
of this by myself, but my children brought this to my attention.
Meanwhile I began to here the repetition of that single word which can
be a noun, an adverb, and a stone on the road to Disney Land. It sang
out in a beautiful songlike sound, rose into a dust blown character finally
lasting in the sound I would expect in an atomic blast.
I responded immediately while holding my head in my hands. Yes
It was the most positive word I could gather in so little time as it takes
to break the sound barrier.
Yes, why are we putting stony and grimy things in the bottom of
Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, I made a long winding series of two letters,To
make the fist tank look pretty.
I had studied philosophy, and was acquainted with the whimsy and silliness
of children. But this question seemed like it wanted to be answered. So
I answered it. If you had been paying attention, you may have noticed
the answer is both contained and held in, on, and with, a few paragraphs
above. But if, or since, you either cannot, or did not notice I will repeat
myself (well for the sake of honesty, I have a good computer, so I will
clip and paste the above just below.
Well, we are going to smooth out the gravel, now I dont mean smooth
is right out of the tank. But just make it appear flat and bold. And then
we will put the gravel at the bottom here, I pointed, and
put in some rocks and shells.
She gave me a very unique look. Now, I have always thought she looked
unique, in a very attractive way. But this unique look was one, which
would be placed (in the dictionary) between friendly amusements and (following
the circus theme) terrifying as a panther attack.
To make the fish tank look pretty
I have studied children now for twenty-three years and I know they really
enjoy asking why questions. In fact, I know that when reading
this she is thinking in her head (and where else do you think) Why/
With children, even up to the age twenty-three and fifty-two the shortest
question in the universes is never answered to a childs content,
or in better terms, his or her contentment.
So, I did my fatherly thing, So the fish have a pleasant
home. Now Sara. I continued, tying to change the subject,
you must remember never to stick your hands in the
Can I plunge my hands, she asked. I decided to just
ignore her, knowing I was violating a rule of Doctor. I continued not
changing the rhythm or sound of my voice, never stick your hand
in tank and never play with electric cords.
That word again! That word I use to use so often and now detest. I thought
to say Because: and leave it like that. But the was both my
child, that is one of my most favorite persons in the whole wide universe
(she would ask my how I knew that about the whole wide universe) and two,
if I was telling the truth. I just ignored the second. I am not a pathological
liar, nor am I a pathetic liar. (Sara, who never lets conversation just
drop, would surely ask what kind of liar I was
The question was asked and I, because I am a father (notice I did not
say a good father.) decided to respond. I did spend once but now it was
I screwed my head on (thats just an expression, not a foolish remark
or a science fiction play) and said, Because I do not want you to
I get hurt?
I was so proud she was asking a question which was both not why?
and was intelligent, that I answered with sincerity and pride, using my
very best fairly good fathers voice.
Yes, I said with the most terrifying voice I could muster.
You can get hurt very badly.
Well you knew that question was coming didnt you?
I explained the basics of electricity, threw in some comments concerning
nuclear fission (Or is it fusion?), a few notes comparing Immanuel Kant
and Franz Rosenzweig. Then I informed my daughter that was now ready to
put water into the tank.
As a quick short witticism she held her nose. It was as if she was afraid
of water but I knew that was not true. She was an early swimmer, and her
favorite drink, after margarita was water.
Mistake number two. Never fill your aquarium with water. It may be difficult
but parents should develop the appreciation for an empty fish tank. Just
think how pleasant a very large bowl of water is. Just think how pleasant
it is that the water is in the bowl and not being drained on your head.
You can even drink water, but must admit I do not like the taste.
Generally, this realization (semantic word meaning, realis a tion,
leaving it up to philosophers to say what a tion is.)
Sara would not agree that an inch of water was sufficient under the ten-gallon
tank. We agreed to fill the tank to the brim under the condition that
she not help pour the water, and she just not be thinking about helping.
Okay, I fill the pitcher.
Mistake number three: never relent
Water nearly covered the kitchen floor. But she would faithfully hand
me half empty container. Needless to say, this made the process take twice
When the tank was full, Sara asked me what all the connections drooped
over the side were and what their function consisted of.
This is an aquarium. Fish live in it.
Sara, a beautify and intelligent girl asked, What is the difference
between this and a fish tank?
When we had but a single very small fish we did have a bowl and, since
it was emptied of fruits and vegetables. A tiny fish lived in there quite
happy and sound. But with a dozen or so fishes we required something larger.
In any event, this was long ago
Daddy, there was a cry which not only suggested terror, but
threw it out in tons of sorrow. You put water in the quar
Yes I already have.
She moaned in agony, We cannot put fish in there! They will get
I slapped my hands to my head. One landed on each side. This
proved two things. First, heads are useful for smacking and, second, it
hurt to hit your own head. But anyway, I had enough sense to reply, Fish
live in water.
No, but you are not a fish, you are a little shrimp.
Daddy, we buy fish, dont we?
Yes, we will buy some fish.
Here her eyes glistened with mystic enchantment. Her voices both in incitements,
and fell with a suitable loud bang. Today? she glimmered inside
a large gleam.
No, I explained as I suddenly went to the bottom of her Like
the least little bit list.
Seeing her eyes puff in what I can only describe as disaster, I explained.
Explanations are the gleam in the eye of the sun. Hurriedly I jumped into
and out of an explanation: First we have to let the fish tank filter
for twenty-four (say that ten times real fast), and then we will get some
Two fish, I want two fist, two fish, two fish. Two, two, I want
Two brown fish, I teased knowing her favorite color was orange
with red stripes.
Yeah, We put one in now and save the other to put in later.
I smiled a both fatherly and amused smile. Put one-way?
Yea, for later.
But where? In the refrigerator?
She shrugged her shoulders, placed an amused smile, which overtook her
lips, and said between the smiles, Yeah, in the refrigerator.
I wanted to get clear about what she wanted. A slow shock rambled across
my face. I took a sip of my coffee, I thought about going to bed, then
I thought about what I would do tomorrow, and finally I rubbed my eyes
and looked lovingly at the little girl in front of me.
Words slowly rose to and through me lips. No. No, NO, Sara! Any
fish we buy will have to go directly into the tank.
Why? she questioned.
Because, I answered.
WHY she asked with a voice demanding seriousness.
Because, that is where fish live.
In a tank?
Are you sure?
Im as sure as rain, I said and immediately began, as
I had never up to that point, began to wonder what that meant. Was rain
always right? What would happen if rain was ever worm? Would that just
case the saying to be changed or ignored or would it cause the fall of
the Roman Empire. (I sure hope Roman Catholics do not get mad at me for
and it that true? I heard her end a question.
Yes! I said, as if in a positive mood.
Because, I suddenly achieved a good thought, Gasteropelecus
This answer seemed to satisfy her. But it was time again to remind her
not to climb on the tank, or put her hair in the water. As I spoke, the
plastic Echinodorus panuculatus floated to the top of the tank. Naturally,
Sara would not leave the room in order that I might submerge the plant
and bury the delicate base under some gravel. My wet, dripping
hand was barely extracted and in search of a towel than Sara was climbing
the consul and reaching for a loosened wedge of water milfoil.
I warned her never to reach inside the tank, and threatened to empty the
water if anything was going on, and put away the filters, hearer, air
pump, scuba divers, sea shells, thermostat and plastic plant life, if
she ever did so, or attempted to do so again. She swathed away, apparently
remunerating the rule.
Mistake number four: never turn your back on your children.
That evening Sara claimed she was too tired to be concerned about and
certainly with, her dolls. Her last question before going up the stairs
summed up all the innocence, tenderness, and esurience of childhood.
Tomorrow we buy fist?
Her face looked so innocent and polite I knew I would not refuse, and
before I could form words to make a reply, my mouth put out words that
sounded like, Yes, Sara, tomorrow we will go to the store to buy
To the fish store?
My mouth formed the words which spelled out, No the bakery,
but when my lips pushed out words the words sounded very much like, Yes.
Before I could put an end to the conversation, she pointed words at me
and I heard, We buy two fish?
Yes, we will buy two fish.
Two brown fish?
Yes, Sara, if you want brown fish we will but two brown fish.
Yes, Sara, I already said tomorrow, and have I ever lied to you?
I saw her lips thinking and I was afraid she would call me a liar. But
Her head went somnolently into my wifes shoulder. She was asleep.
As she carried her up the steps, because her bed was at the top of the
steps, her ears were spread apart a little bit. As I watched some visitors
came floating from her ears. There was hyphessobryco flammeas, and Mollinenesialatipinna
paddling through her dreams.
I went o check to see the water temperature was within the safe zone for
fish life. There I found florid yet buoyant Lucyoh I should tell
you that Lucy was Saras favorite doll before you think it was a
neither child nor quite reading. So there I have saved you to continue
on to the end. As I was saying, Lucy, fulfilling the flotsam drifts of
my daughters imagination.
She, the doll, took a week to dry.
order David's book here
Schwartz is the author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue. Currently a
volunteer at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Schwartz continues to write.
His new book, Midrash
and Working Out Of The Book is now in stores or can be ordered.
© David Schwartz Feb 2007
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