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The ceramic fish

It was a miracle nothing broke, and indeed nothing broke, until it broke. I was thinking back to yesterday’s blog, when I mentioned my three Venezuelan cousins and how projectiles flew around their home.
When my parents went back to Cuba, ending our short-lived Venezuela adventure—a whole nother story—I was left behind for a couple months (I’m sure they didn’t mean to abandon me. . .though, come to think of it, I didn’t have their Cuban address), to finish my third year of high school. I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle and my three cousins. I didn’t mind. I didn’t want a repeat of the problems I encountered arriving in Caracas half way through the previous school year. And I loved my cousins.
The three of them were forever battling, throwing things around, showing no regard for all the glass and crystal around. At times it seemed the whole of their living room was made of glass, so I stayed out of those clashes. Most of the time. Another reason was my uncle, usually a calm, easy going person, a nice man really, until he appeared belt in hand. I didn’t want any part of it.
One weekday afternoon the four of us were playing catch in the living room, while the grown-ups were at work. Whatever we were using as a ball hit a ceramic fish sitting perfectly happy, minding its own business on a prominent end table. The fish, my cousins promptly recognized, was my aunt’s favorite.
“Now you are gonna get it,” they warned each other, arguing as to who was to blame, with no consideration given to who was the thrower or who muffed the catch. One thing was clear: we were all in trouble. Major, major trouble.
The fish, about eight inches high and about a foot long and thin, like most tropical reef fish, had broken into half a dozen pieces and a few chips.
“Maybe I can fix it,” I suggested.
All three loved the idea. Why not? At that age we believe anything is possible. In this case we were talking nothing less than magic.
I did the gluing on my youngest cousin’s desk, using what we had on hand, white glue (this happened eons ago, well before crazy glue), the kind of glue kids use on third grade projects. I took my time, applied glue in the right spots, fit the parts carefully and the fish was whole again and apparently solid enough. But the cracks were obvious. The fish looked awful. Every chink, chip and fissure showed a ghostly white.
“Coño, it looked better when it was broken,” my oldest cousin said.
That made no sense except it was true.
“I’ll paint it.” At this point we didn’t believe in magic that much, but I went ahead. I used a kid’s tempera set and did my best to cover the cracks, matching the many hues of the multicolored fish.
When my aunt and uncle came home the fish was back on its place of honor. No one noticed anything was amiss. No one said anything.
Some thirty years later, while visiting in Venezuela, we were talking about old times. The fish was nowhere in sight but something reminded me of the incident and I told my aunt the story.
“So that’s what happened!” My aunt clapped her hands. My aunt Julia was a formidable person, a woman with innate authority. Words came out of her mouth chiseled in stone.
“What? What happened?”
“Last year the fish fell apart. The maid swore she hardly touched it, that the feather duster barely grazed it and the whole fish went ‘poof.’ It disintegrated. She said it was as if a bomb hit it. She was in tears when she told me. I was miffed, I liked that fish very much, but she was a good maid and a careful worker, so I had to take her at her word.”
We had a big laugh. My aunt was quite amused. She liked the story of the fish even better than she’d liked the fish and was amazed that she had never noticed, that the fish had survived one move and all those many years of dusting.
I laughed, of course. And felt proud, but that quickly changed to relief. I can’t imagine how I’d have felt had she fired the maid.

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Categories: Memoir Tags: , ,
  1. Evan
    June 20, 2015 at 9:05 am

    30 years!

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