Having an aquarium meant going somewhere to get our fish. It must have been the only place nearby. Otherwise, it makes no sense why we went there.
The pet shop was a one-floor brick structure all alone on a corner surrounded by thick forest. Lest you think my own backyard was slack in this regards, besides the numerous oak, maple, and cottonwood trees, there was a wonderful willow that always struck a pose somewhere between mourning and supplication, a birch whose bark was second to none, and huge pine trees that at Christmas time were hung with lights that took forever to be untangled. There were lots of squirrels and chipmunks, all sorts of birds and not just sparrows, blackbirds, robins, and bossy blue jays. Once we even spotted what we were convinced was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker but probably was just a Pileated Woodpecker. Which is which, by the way?
Raccoons occasionally peered from above, and at nights, sometimes, overturned garbage cans.
Salamanders hid in leaves, and deer every so often would grace us with their presence.
But on that windy back road to the pet shop, it was as if you’d taken a detour and were smack dab in the middle of nowhere.
It was always dark despite the eerie light that came from row after row of aquariums that were seldom if ever cleaned. There was also a terrible smell that made my relatives’ cattle ranch resemble the latest Fendi fragrance. Various birds sat perched in rusty cages, the floors of which were covered with a sandpaper-like material that was always splattered.
We tried to make the experience as painless as possible and were fairly successful in this regard, my usual indecisiveness suddenly conquered by my even stronger sense of smell.
After a quick tour of the tiny, claustrophobic establishment we were in possession of several baggies filled to bursting with water.
The owner, a short unshaven man, went about slowly punching the keys of the cash register, having difficulty making out the numbers despite his reading glasses. He reeked of tobacco and this in an era when nearly everyone smoked, which might be, if you are willing to accept the latest quackery coming out of the medical profession, a sign of mental illness.
After taking our cash, he began to talk to us about the Good Shepherd. My father, who despite his Catholic upbringing was not religious but infinitely patient, nodded his head as the man rambled on, and we made our escape. While leaps and bounds was what we would have preferred, slow backward steps are what were taken.
We were relieved to be outside and able to take deep breaths of fresh air.
“Does a good shepherd take care of his sheep?” my dad asked.