Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Flash Fiction: A Perfect Day for Jellyfish

“Found one, Daddy!”
He ran up to me, grinning.  So pleased with himself.  I couldn’t help but smile back.  “You’re sure it’s a good one?”
“Uh, yeah.”  Blue eyes slid away.  “It was moving.”
“Okay, kiddo.  Let’s see what you’ve got.”  I debated putting the car keys in my swimsuit pocket.  If I left them, someone might steal them.  But if they got wet, the electronic part would break.  With a mental Heck with it, I got up off the blanket, brushed sand off my butt, and followed him at a jog down the beach.  
  Pointing to a tide pool, he shouted, “Here it is!”  He was almost dancing with excitement.
I waded into the shallows and leaned closer.  “Let’s see….”  Careful to keep the disappointment from my voice, I told him, “Well, it’s sort of a jellyfish, kiddo.  It’s a mesoglea: part of a jellyfish.  If a peanut butter and jelly sandwich represented a whole jellyfish, this would just be the jelly.”
His bare little shoulders sagged.  I probably should’ve put some sunscreen on him, but we’re never out long enough for it to matter.  He just tans anyway.  “Sorry,” he mumbled.
Laughing at his hangdog expression, I said, “It’s all right, Peter!  Don’t worry about it.  If we don’t find one today, it’s not the end of the world.”  I knelt to get to his eye level.  “Here.  We’ll get some bread and peanut butter, and I’ll make you a sandwich with it.”
He turned away and giggled.  “Noooo, that’s gross!  I don’t wanna eat it.”
“You sure?”
“No.”  At almost four, he still didn’t know what that question meant, so he always answered the opposite of how he felt.  
“All right.  Let’s go—“ A dull, blurry wash of red to the left caught my eye.  “The bucket, Peter!” I said.  “Get the bucket!”  
Caught up in my enthusiasm, he was back with the dollar store sand pail in less than half a minute.  “Is it an alive one?”
I didn’t bother correcting his grammar.  “A moon jellyfish, yeah.  Definitely alive.”  In the water, it was a barely visible round shape with a reddish flower pattern in the center.  The trick was to let it swim into the bucket itself; if you tried to get it from an angle, it was more likely to sting you.  
“I see it!  I see it!” he screamed.  “Get it, Daddy!”
“Got it,” I said, scooping the jellyfish into the bucket.  It barely fit.  
“Can I see it?”
“Sure thing, kiddo.”  I stepped back onto the sand and lowered the bucket.  “Don’t touch it, though.”
He drew back his hand.  “Why?”
“Well, it might sting you.  You don’t want a big boo-boo, do you?”  I swallowed past a lump in my throat.
“No.  Let’s take it back to Mommy.”
On the short drive back he fussed a little about not being able to hold the bucket in his car seat, but my promise to let him help me put the jellyfish into our aquarium kept it from turning into a mini-tantrum.  He’s usually good-natured, but there’s nothing more a toddler hates than the word no, and nothing more he loves than saying it.
As we went into the house, he insisted, “I want to tell Mommy.”
“Well, she might still be asleep.”  
“Yeah.”  He kicked off his sneakers and ran toward the bedroom, shouting, “Mommy, Mommy!  We got a jello-fish!  A big one!”
I set the bucket on the kitchen counter, pushing it far enough away from the edge so he couldn’t reach.  Most of the time I don’t think about doing these things: I just do them. The horror stories of kids pulling hot pans of sizzling bacon grease or whatever off the stove and spilling it all over themselves are pretty frightening.
In the bedroom, his mother was still asleep, curled up facing away from the door.  Orange bottles of Alprazolam and Eszopiclone sat on the nightstand next to the box of tissues.  She couldn’t sleep any more without the Lunestra, and couldn’t function during the day without the Xanax.  Last night had been pretty bad.  I can take the shouting, the irritability, the moodiness.  But in the middle of the night she’d just started crying these long, deep sobs that shook her whole body and scared the hell out of me.  I had held her, but she had been doing it in her sleep.
Peter tried to shake her awake.  “Why’s she still sleeping?”
“It’s the medicine, kiddo,” I said.  “It makes—well, helps her sleep.”
“Why she need medicine?”
I couldn’t look at him.  “Well.  She misses you, kiddo.”
Clearing my throat, I said, “We, ah, we talked about this, remember?  There was the thing at home a few weeks ago.”
He stopped shaking her shoulder, hopped off the bed, and walked over.  “I ‘member.  Like a party, but everyone was crine.”
I nodded.  “Especially Mommy.  And me.”
“Yeah.”  He looked past me down the hall.  “Let’s put the jello-fish in the fish tank.”
“Sounds good, Peter.  Then we’ll have breakfast.”

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