Today, I went to Pet World to buy goldfish. I asked my 13-year-old son if he wanted to come with, but he didn't.
It wasn't that long ago that going to Pet World without him would have been unthinkable.
Used to be, the only reason to go to Pet World was my son. Pet World was a good field trip: Cockatiels, Cockatoos, Parakeets, and Finches; French and English Lops and Netherland Dwarf rabbits; hamsters, gerbils, mice, and rats; iguanas, geckos, and (our favorite) Bearded Dragon; Box Turtles and Red-Eared Sliders; Boa Constrictors and King Snakes; Firebellied Toads; yellow tangs, angelfish, lion fish, clownfish, etc., etc., etc.
Today, there was a young woman working there who had a boa constrictor wrapped loosely around her shoulders like a...boa. It was long and strong enough to strangle the clerk's neck with one mortal coil, but this was a sweet-tempered snake, and the thought never entered its mind. Suspended in the air like a question, its tapered head undulated with unperturbed interest.
When my son was younger, we would have lingered over the snake, and enthused more. (I was always saying, "Look at this!" and he would do the same from around the corner.)
When my son was younger, we spent quite a lot of time looking at the fishes at Pet World. Come to think, we spent quite a lot of time with the birds, rabbits, and rodents, too.
Without a child, people think you're weird if you ask too many questions. All that over-the-top enthusiasm just seems out of place.
The other sales clerk (in the fish department) had a bird on her shoulder. Its wings had been clipped.
The thought crossed my mind to clip my son's wings. He still lives under my roof, doesn't he? I could demand that he accompany me to Pet World, and the zoo, and the supermarket... I could threaten to take away X-Box, video games, food, shelter....
But it probably would not be the same. He would figure out some way to make it miserable for me.
Oh, my God! Going to Pet World without Josh was so depressing!
The clerk with the bird put my dozen or so goldfish into a small plastic bag. They seemed awfully bunched up together.
"You don't think they need a bigger bag?" I asked, when it was obvious that she didn't. She forced oxygen into the bag through a tube.
"No, they'll be fine."
"How long before they run out of air?"
"How long a drive home do you have?"
Now here, I thought, if you have to ask me that, obviously, they need a bigger bag.
The clerk with the snake (sweet-tempered boa constrictor--really, an ingenue of a boa constrictor) pointed out where the larger bags were kept.
Bird clerk poured the fish into a larger bag and gave them more oxygen, while I watched to see if the snake had any interest in the bird. (Hard to say. Enigmatic expression, noncommittal gestures.)
When I returned home, after a brief period of adjustment, I released the goldfish into the horses' trough, a perfect habitat for goldfish. They eat the algae that otherwise accumulates on the sides of the trough and turns the water green. I won't have to feed them (the fish) anything more.
I read about this on-line.
Expect half of your goldfish to die. That's what I read.
Buy twice as many goldfish as you need, expect half of them to die of disease or old age right away.
Because, who can tell by looking at a goldfish how old it is or how it's feeling?
One of them died instantly. My husband flushed it out with his hand.
An hour or so later, the rest of them were still swimming around the huge metal tub, having a ball.
Delightful thing, having goldfish in a trough.
I reported the fish/trough situation to my son, who made some utterance to indicate his almost complete lack of interest.
Later in the afternoon, an eight-year-old second-grader took an interest in my dogs at the park up the street. His parents were in two separate cars. His father, sitting in a pick-up truck, stared into his phone as his son asked if he could go with me for a walk.
His father responded with an affirmative shrug. Off we went.
"Hank, sit! Sit, Hank!"
Hank, my sub-standard Poodle, would not.
"Does he know how to sit?"
"Yes, he does."
"Then why isn't he doing it?"
Betsy proved more responsive. She sat, and even lay down one time on demand, before quickly got bored with the endless commands and chose to ignore them, like Hank.
But we had a jolly walk. I was grateful for the boy's company.
At the half-way point, the boy sat down on a bench for a short while. For him, it must have seemed like a hike.
I remembered how my son would stop to sit on every bench along the way, how I would have to motivate him along.
"We should come back to this bench with a picnic, tomorrow," my son would often suggest. Once, we packed some snacks up in a lunch box and brought it along on our bikes. We stopped at a bench on the bike path and ate them. I hoped it measured up to my son's idea of a picnic.
There always seemed to be so much time. But today, finding myself alone at Pet World, I realized that it was gone.