Patches

Ms Posey arrived at my high school the fall semester of my sophomore year from Oregon, with long pointy shoes like those of a medieval jester and autumn red curly hair.

She taught drawing, which in two days went from the most loathed subject to everyone’s favorite. We walked around with pencils and charcoal in our pockets and letter-size pads in our arms, sketching in playgrounds and auditoriums, eager to produce the piece that would win Ms Posey’s praise. She liked dramatic postures - as if the character was in fast motion - and shadows, elongated and dark.

One in-class assignment was to sketch a household scene. The class filled their pages with elaborate antique vases and kitchens flooded with long beams of morning sun from skylights. I drew a spotted goldfish in a bowl, giving the fish a round body and large lips. I crayoned him an aching, bright yellow. Then holding my blunt 4B pencil like a dagger, I peppered the fish with spots.

“Oh look, you drew a goldfish,” said Ms Posey.

I gave a shy smile, spending all my energy on trying not to stare at the freckles on her cheeks.

“I have a spotted goldfish, but with large brown patches,” said Ms Posey. “You should come see it sometime.” She walked away leaving behind a delicate scent of jasmine. Nolan sat next to me gritting his teeth. “I can’t believe she fell for that,” he said. We had overheard Ms Posey talk about her favorite spotted fish to the English teacher the day before. Pulling his work from the drawing pad, Nolan tore the wide paper into two, right down the middle. His picture of a New England mantle and fireplace with smoldering coal should have been the winner.

Ms Posey walked me around her house to the white-painted back porch. Without the traditional hanging swing and ancestral junk, it looked enormous. The aquarium, set on a table on the porch, was a pristine glass rectangle, about a foot by two feet, speckled with tentacle-like sea plants. A ribbon-tailed tetra fish and three small goldfishes in full orange loitered by the surface.

“Where is Patches?” said Ms Posey squeezing her lower lip between her thumb and forefinger. As she bent to the level of the aquarium, I bent too, on the other side. Shards of the evening sun curved in the water forming shapes of light, and through this stained glass, for the first time, I allowed my eyes to linger on Ms Posey. I followed the trails of her freckles from nose-tip to ears as she tapped in front of the plant clusters, and then traced the freckles from her forearms to the soft tops of her breasts under the beige dress.

“That’s your hideout, huh, Patches,” said Ms Posey. She gave a tap at the large coral dome in the middle of the aquarium, and out popped the master of the tank, wiggling his two inch body straight to the top.

“Isn’t he gorgeous?” she said.

When I left ten minutes later, Ms Posey said, “come visit us next Tuesday. We can dig for food.” And she pointed to the overgrown backyard. Turned out, my drawing teacher didn’t believe in packaged fish food, choosing instead to gather worms and flies off the ground.

I spent the week dreaming of burrowing my fingers into the grime and dirt of Ms Posey’s backyard. Come Sunday, I borrowed 80 cents from Nolan, trading a lifetime of loyalty for it, and rode my bike to every pet shop in town, searching for a goldfish marred in someway, with spots or patches. At the fourth store, I found one with a black circle around his eye.

Holding my present - wrapped in a clear plastic bag - in one hand, I balanced the handle bars with the other and peddled to Ms Posey’s, eager to see her greeting smile. I could compliment her earrings, I thought. She wore dangling metallic spheres. And, maybe, I would graze her hair, ever so gently.

Ms Posey didn’t see me. She was sitting on the back porch on a low cane stool staring at a distance. Her hair was made up into a long elaborate bun, and for a moment I stood lost in her slender neck. Then I noticed her dress, cherry with frills. The last thing you would wear while digging dirt.

“Hey,” she said, standing up on hearing the thumps as I hopped up the three steps leading to her porch. Then her lips dropped. “I forgot you were coming.” She had made plans. “Oh look, you brought a lovely fish.”

Don’t call him Pirate, I said to myself as I handed her the bag. As her eyes focused on the fish, I noticed a dash of red on her eyelids and a smear of pink on her lips. Ms Posey slipped my fish into the tank and laughed when he rammed straight into the glass. I hoped she wouldn’t go.

A horn, long and screechy, emerged from the street. I couldn’t see the car but imagined its metallic paint shimmering under the afternoon sun. “Sorry I have to go,” said Ms Posey. “But you can stay as long as you want, the guys will be happy.” She nodded at the aquarium, and then she tugged up the hem of her dress and ran down the porch. As she disappeared around the house, she yelled back, “Thanks for Buck!”

I stood staring at the spot where she vanished. The car door slammed, engine revved and tires scraped away. When I turned to the aquarium, I saw a beautiful bird - blue plume with a dash of white and orange - sitting on the opposite corner of the tank. He was a foot tall with a long flat beak. A flick of his head and my fish Buck was gone. I was rooted with shock and enchantment. After a quick glance at me, when his eyelids rolled down and up his wet, black eyes, he proceeded to pick off the four other small fishes - the tetra and goldfishes.

Then he turned to me and we looked at each other. He stayed put as I took small, measured steps toward him. When I reached the tank, I wanted to bow to the bird. Instead, I leaned forward and tapped at the middle of the aquarium, right in front of the coral dome. Like the other day, Patches streaked up the tank, and as he neared the surface, the kingfisher snapped him into his beak. Then the bird rose up and glided into the maple trees, leaving me with an aquarium empty of everything including the evening light.

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