Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #1597471
Entry for Writer's Cramp, 9/5/09
|Prompt: "They" say that cats have nine lives. But are cats the only creatures with nine lives? Write a story or poem about some animal other than a cat which has, or had, nine lives.|
Rasputin's Nine Lives
Luke hugged the fishbowl to his chest, indifferent to the water sloshing out and seeping into his sweatshirt. Natalie sighed in exasperation and lunged for the dishtowel dangling from a hook next to the sink.
“Baby, you cannot bring your fish to Auntie Elaine’s house this weekend. He’ll be just fine here, I promise. Now come on, I’m going to miss my flight if we don’t leave right now!”
Luke’s lower lip quivered and his eyes swelled with tears. “Mama, Rasputin wasn’t all right when Mr. Kinder left him alone. He’s scared…that…will happen to him again.”
Mr. Kinder was an older gentleman who’d lived next door in apartment 4C, and he’d let Luke visit his betta fish, Rasputin, on several occasions. He said Rasputin was a charmed fish, having survived an accidental drop into a salt water tank at the pet store, as well as a fire, a fight with another male fish, and a shattered bowl. Luke thought the fish was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen with fins that shimmered in iridescent, peacock-like colors. About a month ago, a commotion in the hallway had drawn Natalie and Luke out to investigate. The police were forcing their way into apartment 4C. A John Doe in New Jersey had been identified as Mr. Kinder. Luke didn’t understand any of it; his eyes were on poor Rasputin who was suspended in a bowlful of murky green water on the corner shelf. A kind policeman had offered the fish to him, and his mother had said yes.
Luke saw the tightness in his mother’s forehead softened as she regarded her him. His dropped his eyes and didn’t look up until she sighed. His big eyes rose to hers when she spoke.
“Luke, nothing’s going to happen to you or me this weekend. We’ll be home together, safe and sound, on Sunday night.” She smiled in defeat. “But, I guess you can take Rasputin with you.”
Luke hugged his mother, splattering more fish bowl water on the both of them, as the intercom buzzed. Natalie pressed it and Auntie Elaine’s voice told them to come down, the cab was there.
Luke twisted around in his seat to wave at him mom through the cab’s back windshield. Auntie Elaine put her arm around his shoulders.
“I’m so glad you’re going to spend the weekend with us,” she said. “Now hold on tight to that fish bowl, Long Island is a twenty minute ride from the city.” She clutched the armrest as the cabbie made a sharp turn.
Five minutes later, traffic eased up and the cab rolled along at a good pace. Suddenly, a car pulled out of a parking space along the curb. The cabbie slammed on the breaks, throwing Auntie Elaine and Luke violently forward. Both put out their hands to stop from slamming into the back of the front seat, and Rasputin’s fish bowl flew, upside down, to the floor.
Panic errupted. Luke lunged but the seat belt prevented his fingertips from reaching the bowl. Rasputin flopped frantically around the floor, his gills stretching wide with each gasp. Auntie Elaine screamed for the cabbie to pull over, but they were on the bridge and traffic was again congested. Luke unbuckled his seatbelt and wedged his small body into the narrow foot space. His chest heaving in sobs, he cupped his hands and gently scooped up Rasputin. He shimmied back onto the seat and Auntie Elaine leaned over him, reaching for the bowl. She retrieved it, but it was empty.
“Oh no,” cried Luke, “he’ll die!”
“Hey, cabbie!” shouted Elaine. “You got any water up there?”
Luke’s loud sobs filled the car as the cabbie rummaged in the seat beside him and then held up a near empty bottle marked ‘Dasani.’ He regarded them in the rearview mirror.
“Five bucks,” he said.
“Are you kidding me?” Elaine asked incredulously. “Unbe-friggin-levable.” She tossed a bill at the back of his head and snatched the bottle from him.
Luke’s sobs subsided as she poured the contents of the bottle into the bowl. Luke dropped the fish as gently as he could into the inch and a half of water which didn’t cover its body. Rasputin lay sideways on the bottom; its facing eye stared at them.
A half hour later, they arrived at Auntie Elaine’s house. She carried the bowl as the two raced into the kitchen. Elaine placed the bowl beneath the faucet and was about to open the water with her elbow when Luke stopped her.
“Wait! If the water’s too cold, it’ll kill him! It needs to sit for awhile.”
Elaine’s shoulders dropped. “Well, for how long?”
“I dunno. An hour?”
“This fish doesn’t have that much time. Look, Luke, if he’s going to make it, we have to give him water now.”
He watched the fish with bated breath but as the minutes passed the fish became more and more active. Later, Luke overheard Auntie Elaine telling the adventure to Uncle Bob, who said he couldn’t believe the fish made it.
On Sunday morning, Auntie Elaine and Luke took the train into the city for Luke’s friend’s birthday party, and planned to meet Natalie at their apartment in the evening. Natalie’s flight got in and she retrieved her car from the long-term parking lot, then she drove to Elaine’s house and picked up Luke’s overnight bag and Rasputin. She put the fishbowl atop a stack of file folders on the front seat and brought the seat belt across it.
Natalie took turns slowly with her attention always split between watching the road and making sure the fishbowl was alright. As she crossed over to Manhattan, the traffic became denser. A traffic light turned red and she slowed to a stop. Suddenly, she was wrenched forward as a car barreled into her from behind, deploying the airbags. She gasped, then turned her head and sighed. Rasputin gazed at her from his bowl under the airbag, and she fancied he looked worried about her.
(WC = 1000 words)