The Fish Day of Summer

          Some things you just can’t explain.  So when the cop standing on my porch asked, “Did your husband threaten to kill the family?” I could have said a lot of things.  I could have said, “You know it’s actually a funny story.” Or “He didn’t mean it like that. Or “It was a mistake.”  In the interminable moments between the question and my reply I thought “this is stupid, Michael is an idiot, Laura is an idiot, where’s William?,  someone shut the dogs up.”  One thought overshadowed all, “DON’T SAY ANYTHING.”  I had done enough Motions to Suppress Statements to know that when a cop is standing on your porch because your 14-year old daughter called 911 you don’t let him in and you DON’T SAY ANYTHING.  Of course I also knew that there are times when saying nothing is worse than saying something.  So I said, “It’s hot.”
            It had been hot for three days; really hot, sticky and humid and there was no escape.  The news story on TV all weekend was about Neil Entwistle who had just been convicted of killing his wife and baby daughter.   My husband, Michael, and I were watching TV when Michael noticed that a catfish in the fish tank had died and was floating at the top.  The thermometer on the tank was way up in the red and the plecostomus was sucking frantically on the glass.  Michael turned off the heater, but the damage was done, within moments the other two catfish were dead and floating.  My daughter, Laura and I immediately began accusing Michael of KILLING THE FISH. The heater had been his idea.  Why didn’t he turn it off when it got so hot outside?
          He would have none of it.  “The tank got hot because it was near a sunny window.”
          No, it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.  If the tank hadn’t been heated to begin with, it wouldn’t have gotten so hot and KILLED THE FISH.”
          Michael did not understand the logic of this.  It was not his fault.  It was at this point that Laura had HER BRILLIANT IDEA.  She started to empty the tank water into a container.
          Michael asked, “What are you doing?”
          “I’m going to take some water and put it in the fridge to cool the water and then put it back in the tank.”  She explained that cold water from the tap had chlorine that was bad for the fish.  I expressed my opinion of the soundness of her idea. She then walked toward the kitchen with the container.
          Michael cut her off right around the bathroom. “You are NOT putting filthy water in the refrigerator.”
          “Yes, I am.”
          A struggle ensued.  There were muffled noises from the bathroom then, “Now, look what you’ve done.” This from Michael.
          “What I’ve done? You KILLED THE FISH and now you spilled the water all over the bathroom.”
          Michael came out of the bathroom to where I was sitting in the living room.  “Why don’t you back me up?”
          “Because you KILLED THE FISH, and I thought putting tank water in the fridge was fine.”
          It was then that under his breath, quite calmly and not even in anger, but with some exasperation about being labeled a fish murderer, unjustly in his mind, and finding himself alone in his protestations he said to me, “Now, I know why people kill their whole families.”   Laura, who had not been watching TV and did not know or care about Neil Entwistle overheard this statement.  She was angry that her father had KILLED THE FISH, thwarted her plan and then accused her of spilling tank water all over the bathroom when it was ALL HIS FAULT.   She went to the kitchen and picked up the phone, brought it to the living room and announced, “I’m calling 911.  You just threatened to kill the family.”  When she actually got the police station she hung up.
          DEAD SILENCE.
          “Laura, you didn’t actually call 911, did you?”  I asked.
          “Yeah, but when I call usually no one answers.”
          “What do you mean when you usually call?”
          “I’ve called before from my cell-phone and I didn’t get a person answering.”
          “Cell phones work different . . .”
          The phone rang in Laura’s hand. 
          “That’s the police calling back.” I said.
          Laura now panicked, “What do I do. Here you answer it.”
          “Hello,” I said in my best “Oh, everything’s fine, nothing’s going on here” voice.
          “We received a 911 call from your address.”
          “My daughter called 911 by mistake.”
          “Can I talk to her?”
          “Yes, yes.  Yes.  Everything’s OK.”  Hang up. Done.
          Until the cruiser pulled up in front of the house.  Michael looked around like he was NEVER going to see us again and said, “I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have said that.  You know I didn’t mean it.”  By then my eleven-year old son, William had joined us and he blamed Laura for being stupid.  Always a reliable go-to accusation.  “Tell the truth,” was the last thing Michael said to us as he walked out to the porch like someone going to his execution. 
          Truth.  The truth is not always your friend.  It will not always set you free, sometimes it will get you into a lot of trouble and even arrested.  A child knows this.  And the truth in this case required a lot of back-story and explaining.  This is how our family resolves things.  We say things.  We’re dramatic.  Especially, Laura, she wants to be an actress, you know. 
          Michael came back in.  But I could tell from his look that it wasn’t over.  “Laura, he wants to talk to you.”
          “What do I say?”
          “Tell the truth.” Michael repeated.
          “But only as much as you need to.  The less you say the better.” I added.  Trust me on this.  Then Laura came back in and it was my turn.  I do not know what Michael or Laura said but “It’s hot” pretty much said it all for me and it was the truth.
          “Well, I’m hot too, but I don’t say I’m going to kill my family.”
          Again, responses flowed through my mind. “You don’t understand my family,”  “you must not have a very exciting family,” “there’s a man with a gun on my porch,” “get the hell off my porch.”  I even thought I might tell him the whole story of how Michael KILLED THE FISH.  I said, “We’ve been married for 25 years.  He would never do anything to hurt any of us.” Which wasn’t a great response, but it was again the truth.


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