This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on Dec. 3,1999.
The fish was the ugliest I had ever seen. I actually recoiled as my son proudly pointed him out in the aquarium. He loves fish. Most boys want a dog or a cat. Fish, it seems, capture my son’s imagination.
“Fish,” he told me, “don’t bark or jump on guests.”
“You can’t pet them or teach them tricks,” I replied.
They look at me sometimes, he claimed, and that was enough.
He brought the ugly fish home on a cold, dark December day. Jet-black, just like the winter night, the fish’s eyes were perched on the ends of hideous balls protruding from his unfortunate body. The rest of him looked like a regular black goldfish, but the awful eyes made me cringe. He was quite out of place in the aquarium.
After a few visits to the tank, I began to admire the fish’s moxie. We bonded and I started to call him Bugsy. He glided past the more elegant fish, ones with tiger stripes and brilliant dots of color, with his big baseball eyes held high. He found his way and found his place in the underwater world.
A few days before Hanukkah began, my son came to me, expressing concern for Bugsy. It appeared that the black scales around the horribly shaped eyes were coming off. We looked at Bugsy and felt a terrible sadness. We turned away.
My son felt the fish was looking to him for help. He didn’t know what to do. Although I appreciated his concern, I knew that his beloved pet was a $2 fish and could be easily disposed of. He rejected that idea immediately and said he would call the fish supply store for advice.
He got busy with school and work and didn’t consult the store. When the other fish began to nip at Bugsy, he removed the fish from the tank and put in him in a big jar of water.
Bugsy was on death watch. We could not know for certain if he suffered, but nonetheless, we felt his pain. Darkness descended.
The next day, after his geography final, my son planned to release Bugsy into a fountain in a park to let him die with dignity, but first he promised he would stop at the fish store to see if anything could be done. I said goodbye to Bugsy as my son walked out to his truck, gently cradling the big glass jar in his arms with the fish swimming blissfully in tiny circles.
Less than 30 minutes later, my son returned, holding the big glass jar aloft. Bugsy, it seems, had contracted a virus. All he had to do was put some pills in the fish tank for a period of time and Bugsy would recover quite nicely.
He showed me the pills, eight in all, in a tiny plastic packet. Eight pills, eight days.
Hanukkah! Bugsy was our Hanukkah miracle . . . his recovery lit the night. A tiny fish that could have been tossed out when in distress was given a second
chance by a compassionate young man. Bugsy is holding his own and we are quite optimistic.
We hope he will survive the odds and light our winter nights, as the lamp lit the dark nights of the Jewish people centuries ago.
We light the Hanukkah candles to keep away the winter darkness and find our miracles where we may.
Kathleen Vallee Stein