The End of a Tail

Here is my contribution to #WeekendWriter…

When you have a child in your house that is autistic, everything revolves around them. Forget the other children, they can manage on their own. I was 16 and I had been bitter about it, but what can you do?

Apparently what you can do is almost cause a meltdown of seismic proportions.

Today, this afternoon, I killed my sister Amy’s fish. It was an accident, but it doesn’t matter. Feeding her fish is part of her routine, the thing she does when she comes home from the specialist on Saturday afternoon. What would happen is Amy, who by the way is 10 but acts a lot younger, would open her eyes wide and have a tantrum. Apparently she doesn’t care what devastation it causes. Still, someone has to hold her and sing her that stupid rubber tree song, High Hopes or whatever it’s called. Wish no one had ever sung her that song. But its words will be burnt into my brain forever. But the damage will be done. She’ll be practically catatonic for a month.

So I was having a dialogue with my mother, as it was my dad taking Amy to the doctor this week. It was my best friend Jo’s birthday party and there were going to be boys there. And for once in my frigging life, Mum took an interest. And by interest I mean stand. And by stand I mean delivered an ultimatum. I couldn’t go if there were boys. End of story. Because her parents were going to be in the house. I mean seriously. I wasn’t 14. We’d all been pashing boys for years. As for anything else, that was way too huge a step to take with all your friends listening.

I argued of course. And Mum refused to budge, then went to hang out the washing. I threw the flashlight I had been twirling in my hands at the bench, where it bounced… Right into the fish tank. CRAP!

There was a short fizzing sound and then there was the fish, belly-up. DOUBLE CRAP! I quickly removed the evidence. I yelled out to my Mum that I was cleaning the tank, to which she told me sucking up was not going to help. I barely contained my eyeroll. Tyrant.

Rushing up to my room, I picked up the learner plates we’d just bought so I could go driving. I contemplated “borrowing” the car, but knew if I got caught, I would be grounded from now through to all of eternity. I looked at my watch. I had to get to the petshop, find an identical fish, then get back in 45 minutes? Do-able, right?

I was down and out the door, savings in pocket, before Mum could notice. I practically squealed the tires on my bike in my haste. All I can say is, given some very near misses and some loud swear words, I barely made it to the petshop.

And the guy behind the counter was Max, my crush from school. Seriously. FML. I was going to be a laughing stock. Some sacrifices need to be made but.

I flopped the fish on the counter, saying, “I need a fish identical to this one.”

Max raised an eyebrow at me and took a look at the fish. “The same? Why not another one?”

“Because my sister is a freak and will lose it if this fish is not back in his bowl by the time I get home?”

Max was silent. He moved over to the siamese fighting fish display tanks. Together we looked hard, looked at them all. He turned over the lifeless fish in his hand.

“I don’t know if we have one the same.”

I just about cried. I was going to be the bad guy, all over a stupid thing I did. I hung my head, tears blurring my eyes when I saw him. A little black and blue guy in the back.

I jumped on the spot. “That one, that one!”

Matt got him into a little container for me and told me the price. 20 bucks. That was pretty much all I had. For the next 2 weeks. Ah well, small price to pay for a little peace. He even helped me tie him to the back of my bike. I hugged him, and then regretted it, because he looked stunned. I rode off, my face burning with shame.

I was back in the door with 5 minutes to spare. At least, I thought I was. I could hear the abacus Amy always played with clacking upstairs. I ran out to the laundry, where I’d left the tank. Quickly, I poured the new little guy in, topped up his water and returned him to hollow in our wall when Amy and Mum came down the stairs.

“What did I tell you?” Mum said, leaning down to Amy. “Your big sister was looking after him for you.”

Amy smiled widely and clapped her hands. I wasn’t expecting a hug, though it would have been nice. It wasn’t like that. She got the food and fed him at her appointed time.

My Mum was in the kitchen. I grabbed a glass of water and flopped on the bench. I heard my Mum’s voice in my ear.

“I know what you did Sare-bear. I know you spent all your pocket money to make sure your sister was happy. I’m proud of you- for solving a problem on your own, and caring enough to fix it. You’re growing up so fast and I’m just missing it.”

She hugged me tight, like she often forgot to do nowdays. But what she whispered in my ear was the best.

“My big girl can go to Jo’s party.”

1 thought on “The End of a Tail

  1. gerryhuntman

    Top story – enjoyed it immensely. You had the voice of a young teenage girl (as far as I can ascertain it, as I never was one myself), and you also captured some of the tension and sacrifice of having an autistic child in the home (which I can say I am an expert at).

    This story is about growing up, and you portrayed the theme subtly until the end, when spelling it out was fine.

    I liked the sense of humour as well – the zapping of the fish, as ‘tragic’ as it was, was also hilarious, as well as the narrator’s still-developing social skills around boys.

    Well done and keep up the great work!

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