From the story Angelfish
The tragedy that left its mark on our youth was delivered by Carl, our stepfather. Mother met him at a church social on a Saturday before an Easter Sunday.
Leslie and Marjorie and I remember the church social two weeks later because we remember the change in her, a new ivory blouse and lavender skirt, a voice less beaten by her long afternoons and her struggles with diabetes.
As for Carl, it was no trouble getting used to him. He had worked for Union Pacific most of his life and he told stem-winding stories about the railroad that rivaled many of Beth’s stories about her early days as a prospector, panning for gold in the Wallowas. He taught me how to shoot a rifle. He took me fishing for steelhead and sturgeon.
A quarter mile down the road from Beth’s house is the bare spot upon which a second home used to stand. It was a two story home built from yellow pine and brick, all of which was scavenged for a new barn when the house was demolished twenty years ago. In the basement of that home there was a large utility room where Leslie kept her dolls, where I kept my trains, and where Marjorie carefully maintained a growing collection of tropical fish: swordtails, guppies in Chinese robes, angelfish and all manner of other Cichlids.
What happened down there happened not long after Carl hurt his back trying to free a co-workers leg from beneath a pallet in a rail yard. This put him in bed for several days and in considerable pain for a while longer. He did not thrive in this condition, and neither did we. Mother took a job behind the counter at a farm supply store in Arlington, an hour away. She left in the dark in the morning, and arrived home after dark in the gray afternoons of November.
A couple weeks into this stressful arrangement, Leslie and I came down the stairs calling Marjorie’s name to the tune of a song we knew she didn’t like. We didn’t see her at first because she was sitting on the edge of a cot at the far end of the room. I remember we stopped singing when Leslie and I saw the water and the fish on the floor, the angelfish floating like saucers in a rose colored pool.
Next story segment, Crisp.