Excerpt from Where we are going to next

My daughter is careening around the backyard, running in circles with her body tilted toward the ground, seeing how far she can angle before she falls. I stand at the window with the cordless, listening to the hospital social worker explain my mother’s recent episode. As is inevitable, my daughter falls over and laughs and reaches her arms out, embracing empty air.

“Argemina!” she yells. “You nut.” It’s what I tell her when she’s being wackypants.

The social worker is saying my name. She’s saying they’re adding dissociative disorder to my mother’s diagnosis. Fine, I say, sounds good. There’s a pause; she knows I’ve not been paying attention. Her sigh tells me she is a mother too, that she understands there is only so much attention you can give two people at once. They will call me with updates, she says, and my mother will likely be released in another week or two, once the medications have taken over, evened out. As soon as she stops talking to people no one else can see.

& & &

At the fish store, my daughter gazes, mouth agape, in front of the wall of tanks. Mollies. Tetras. Guppies. Black-finned sharks, cruising lazily. Bun-bun dangles from one hand, the other extended, hand hanging limp, as though it’s wrapped around the shoulders of a child beside her.

“Over here,” I call and she drops her arm, ambles over, calling Argemina to follow when she has apparently remained by the cichlids.

“We want two angelfish,” I tell the clerk, a high school boy. “A breeding pair.”

He nods thoughtfully and bends, hands on knees to examine the tank. “No way to tell which are breeding. No way to tell if they’re even boys or girls.” He winks at my daughter. He gets a net and a baggie and lifts the lid. “They either mate or one [kills] the other.” He mouths it but my daughter is astute.

“Kills?”

“Whoops,” he says, “Sorry.”

I flap a hand; a problematic word being spoken in front of my daughter ranks pretty far down the current list of concerns.

It is a laborious process, but there are two he’s noticed keeping close together most of the time, swimming in tandem. “Best friends,” he says.

“Like me and Argemina!” my daughter chimes in, her arm back to hanging mid-air, her hand giving a quick loyal pump as though there’s a real shoulder she can feel under her palm.

So slowly I want to gouge my eyes, fish-boy dips the net and trails behind the two he has in mind. The fish within spring to frenzied life, the whole tank taking on the look of an animated Escher sketch. How he keeps track of these two is beyond my abilities; they all look the same to me. But then there they are, in the bag. He explains which type of tank we want, which type of filter, which type of substrate.

“Not rocks,” he corrects when my daughter and I both gravitate toward ones that glow under a blacklight. “Sand,” he says with authority. “The eggs will fall between rocks, the fry will get lost and can’t get back up. With sand, the angel mommy can scoop the eggs, the fry, and keep them safe.”

What about the invisible fry-friends, I want to ask, how will she know where they are?

He sends us out the door with a good luck and two lollipops clasped in my daughter’s hand, neither for me.

….

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