It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. To be honest, 2018 was a year of tragedy in my life, but not the kind that sparks the kind of writing I like to do. A friend of mine shared a post the other day on Facebook and something inside clicked. First, her post:
Okay, at Goodyear waiting for them to tell me why my car has taken up smoking in her
old age and a woman walked in wearing pajamas and a coat and she’s carrying a goldfish in a bag. It’s such an awesome writing prompt!
This is what I came up with, Zack and the Goldfish.
You can’t imagine the joy that fills a young boy who seems to think the world doesn’t exist outside of football when he realizes the biggest of all football games, the Super Bowl, is soon to be played in his own home town. It began eight and a half years ago when his parents, Tommy and Amy, took their new baby home from Kennestone Hospital dressed in an Atlanta Falcons onesie with a small plastic football sharing the car-seat ride home. In Tommy’s eye’s, Zack’s first biggest accomplishment was not taking his first step, it was catching that tossed football for the first time. It’s probably no coincidence that both milestones happened within a week of each other.
Weekends had always been Zack’s favorite time of the week. His dad’s a broker at one of the big downtown financial institutions which meant most nights he didn’t get home until after bedtime. Until recently, his Mom seemed to forever be a student as she finished up her requirements to fulfill her dream of becoming a registered nurse. The weekends meant the offices downtown were closed and there were no classes at school, so he had a better chance of football time with Dad and hang-out time with Mom. However, once Amy graduated from nursing school and had started her internship, she was rarely home now on the weekends and Tommy seemed more preoccupied making sure all the household chores were getting done. To this eight-year-old, weekends had already become mundane.
That was until last week when a notice was posted at school about the community hosting a Super Bowl Carnival this coming Saturday promising fun, game, prizes and maybe even a pro football player or two. There was no way Zack could miss this. When he got home from school that day, he begged his after-school babysitter to let him stay up until both parents got home so he could share the big news. Of course, Sarah, his babysitter, recognized an opportunity when it was presented and immediately pounced on it.
“Okay, young man,” Sarah started, “if you want to stay up late, it’s going to cost you. First, I want to see all of your homework done AND tonight has now been declared Bath Night.”
“You’re on!” shouted Zack as he spread his school books and notebook out on the dining table. Zack’s teacher always sent a sheet home on Mondays with an outline of the week’s lesson plan along with the daily homework schedule. She encouraged her students to work a little ahead so they would be better prepared to ask questions as new topics were introduced in class. Zack was never ahead and often struggled to be on time. Tonight was different, not only did he finish Monday night’s homework, but Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s, too.
“Very impressive,” encouraged Sarah as she looked over Zack’s shoulder. “I knew you had it in you.” Zack glanced up for just a moment and returned Sarah’s smile with one of his own then went back to his task, finishing up his work, clearing the table, and packing everything back into his book bag, ready for school tomorrow.
Zack had just dropped his book bag on the chair in the living room by the front door, you know – so he wouldn’t have to search for it in the morning, when Sarah called out from the kitchen.
“I’m on it!” assured Zack as he passed through the kitchen with his shirt already half-way off. Sarah listen as he dashed down the hallway, heard the water being run in the tub, and finally Zack playing his usual pretend football games in the water. Once in the tub, Zack was in no hurry. He had an idea of when his folks would be home and didn’t want to finish up too soon, or Sarah might pull the old double switcheroo on him and send him to bed as soon as he was ready. No sir, that was not going to happen tonight!
When he heard the front door open, then close solidly with a thud, Zack danced down the hallway decked out in his newest Atlanta Falcons pajamas. Seeing his Dad putting his coat and scarf on the coat-rack, Zack ran up and wrapped his arms around his dad’s waist and shouted, “Welcome home!”
“Woah, Sport,” Dad quizzed as he glanced over toward Sarah, standing in the doorway to the kitchen. “What are you doing up past your bedtime?”
“When’s Mom getting home?” was all Zack could say.
“She should be here in a couple of minutes. What’s this all about?” Dad continued his inquiry.
“You’ll see,” Zack teased.
No sooner were those words out of his mouth, a fresh set of headlights lit the front of the house as Mom’s car turned into the drive way. Zack didn’t even let her get to the front door before he swung it open and greeted her with her own hug along with a welcoming bow to enter the front door.
“What’s going on here?” Mom asked of no one in particular, shifting her glance from Zack to Dad to Sarah then back to Zack.
“There’s a Super Bowl Carnival THIS weekend and I want both of you to take me!” Zack couldn’t wait to get the words out of his mouth.
Dad’s shoulders immediately slumped.
“I’m sorry, sport,” Dad explained, “but I’ve got to fly up to D.C. this weekend for a very important financial conference. I’ll be leaving Thursday and won’t get home until Sunday afternoon.”
Zack’s head fell and he stared at the ground, facing his biggest disappointment of his young life. A tear started forming in the corner of his right eye.
“Hey, Kiddo,” Mom practically sang, “I knew your Dad was going to be out of town so I scheduled off this entire weekend just for you!”
“So, we can go?” Zack shouted as he started jumping round.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” Mom assured him, “provided you get to bed right this minute. You’re up way past your bedtime. Zack gave his Mom another big hug then sprinted down the hallway, shouting “Touchdown!” as he turned into his bedroom.
Saturday couldn’t get here soon enough but come it did.
It was usually a struggle to get Zack out of bed on the weekend, especially on a Saturday morning, but not this one. Zack was the first one up and had already combed his hair, brushed his teeth, and was dressed in his favorite Falcons jersey before Mom was even out of bed.
“Hurry up,” Zack pleaded when he first saw Mom walking down the hall. “The carnival is TODAY!”
“I know, Kiddo,” Mom replied. “When does the carnival start?”
“Nine o’clock!” Zack quickly answered
“What time is it now?” Mom asked with a slight grin on her face.
“Oh, it’s only 7:30.” Zack confirmed after looking at the clock on the wall.
“I think we’ve got plenty of time,” Mom assured him. “What do you want for breakfast?”
Zack ate his regular, a bowl of Wheaties, but this morning drank TWO glasses of milk. Mom looked at him as he finished off the second one and just shook her head. “You really are going to be a football player someday aren’t you?”
“Yep!” Zack quickly replied as he gathered his empty cereal bowl and milk glass from the table and put them on the kitchen counter. “Let’s go!”
They were in line at the community center by 8:45, along with what seemed every other family from miles around. There were rumors that Matt Ryan and Julio Jones would be there to sign autographs and pose for pictures. Everyone was excited, but none more so than Zack.
Along with their ticket when they got to the front door, Mom was also given a time slip for them to be in line for the autographs.
“9:30? Really? I’m SO glad we got here early!” Zack’s eyes were as wide as saucers when he saw the time slip. He also noticed the lines were already forming for the autographs, so he tugged at his mom’s arm to follow.
“Come on, Mom,” he pleaded, “let’s get in line now!”
“No,” Mom explained, “they’ve got a system in place and it will work better if we follow it. Look, there’s plenty of other things to do. Why don’t you try out one of the games?”
Unfortunately, with the huge crowd of people inside the community center, there were already long lines at all of the football related games. There was, however, a short line at the fishing game.
“Look over there,” Mom pointing out the short line to Zack.
“Aw, Mom,” Zack retaliated, “that’s a little kid’s game.”
“Well, you’re sure to win. Right, Sport!” Mom verbally jabbed using Dad’s nickname for him. “Besides, the line is the shortest and we’ll be done in time to get in line for the autographs.”
“Okay,” Zack conceded.
It was a simple game, a makeshift ‘river’ of water, only a couple of feet wide and flowing around a circle only about ten feet across. There were hundreds of Styrofoam ducks following the flow, a number written on the bottom of each one, out of sight of the ‘fisherman’. This was definitely not a game of skill, rather a game of luck. You pick a duck, the worker turns it over and reads the number which corresponds to a matching prize. Zack made it to the front of the line and was handed his fishing pole, which was nothing more than a small net attached to the end of a long pole. All he had to do was scoop up the closest duck as it floated by. He waited for the red one with a black head because it reminded him of his beloved Falcons.
“Number 1!” the worker shouted out. A lady at the end of the booth reached down and pulled out a bag, filled with water, with a single goldfish swimming around in it.
“Here you go, young man,” the second worker said, “the first goldfish of the day.”
“That’s awesome,” assured Zack as he did a fist bump before handing Mom the bag. “I’m going to name him Matty, like Matty Ice.”
When they left the fishing game, Mom and Zack strolled around, getting a feel for the other games and noting which ones Zack wanted to try after the autograph sessions. Just before their assigned time, Mom’s phone rang in her purse.
“Yes, this is Nurse Amy.”
“Right now? But I’m with my son at a carnival.”
“Yes, I understand. I’ll be there within thirty minutes.”
“No!” Zack protested, understanding what his mom was about to tell him. Not only another weekend dream shattered, but the biggest dream of his life, getting to meet Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.
“I’m sorry,” Mom tried to explain, “but I still have the least seniority and must be available on call 24 hours a day. With so many people already in town, there are more visits to the emergency room and so many of the other nurses have asked for time off just like me. I’ve GOT to go in, Kiddo.”
Amy touched a speed-dial number on her phone.
“Hey, Mom,” she spoke, “I’m in a bit of a jam and I need you help. I’m at the Community Center with Zack and I just got called into the hospital. I really need you to come get Zack as soon as possible because I’ve got to leave now.”
“No, Sarah can’t, she’s got a service day today at her church. Really, you’re my only choice.”
“Well, just throw on a coat and come on over as soon as you can. Zack will be waiting for you on the curb at the end of the sidewalk, you won’t even have to get out of the car. I’ll be over to your house to pick him up as soon as I get dismissed.”
“Thank you, Mom. Love you.”
Reaching down to take Zack’s hand, Mom said, “Come on, Kiddo, we’ve got to get out of here. You know where to meet Grandma, no talking to strangers, I’ve go to go, I’ll see you at Grandma’s later, love you, bye.” With that, Mom turned and started jogging toward her own car, her scrubs and the rest of her gear waiting for her in her locker at the hospital.
It was just a couple of minutes later when Grandma pulled up in her Prius and hit the button to unlock the door. Zack hopped in and was buckling up.
“What’s THAT?” Grandma shrieked.
“Oh, it’s just Matty the goldfish,” Zack explained. “I won him at the carnival.”
“What on Earth are you going to do with that? Do you have an aquarium to put him in?” Grandma quizzed.
“No.” Zack replied.
“Do you have any fish food?”
“Do you know how to take care of a goldfish?”
“No, but I can learn all those things.”
“I still think it’s a bad idea.” And with that, Grandma had closed this discussion.
About half way home, Zack got an all too familiar sensation down below the beltline.
“Grandma?” he asked.
“I’ve got to go.”
“Can it wait until we get home.”
“NO! I’ve got to go BAD! Too much milk this morning!”
She looked around and didn’t see anything open quite that early on a Saturday morning. At the next intersection, she noticed several cars parked at the Goodyear Store and several people walking around inside. She pulled in and stopped the car but before she could say anything, Zack laid Matty the Goldfish on her lap, jumped out and was running inside to find the Men’s Room.
She wasn’t comfortable letting Zack go in to a strange place alone, so she turned off the car, took Matty the Goldfish and went in to wait for him inside. Sitting a couple of chairs away from her was a young woman and her daughter, who looked to be about Zack’s age.
“Oh look, Mommy,” the girl said, loud enough for Grandma to hear. “She has a goldfish that looks just like Goldie.” And with that, she started crying, laying her face against her Mom’s shoulder. “I already miss her so much.”
Grandma got up to sit by the Mother and asked, “Why is she so upset?”
“She was given a goldfish on her third birthday by her uncle, my brother, and she has loved that fish every day since. Yesterday morning when we came into the living room to feed her and go to school, we found Goldie floating on top of the water. She was so devastated I let her stay home yesterday. I wanted to get her out of the house today but my car suddenly started smoking, so I stopped here to find out what’s wrong.”
At that moment, Zack walked out of the Men’s Room, wiping his still wet hands on his red sweatpants.
“Did you wash?” Grandma asked.
Zack rolled his eyes, “Yes, Grandma. See? Okay, we can go now.” As he reached out to take her hand, he saw the bag of water on her lap.
“Matty! You brought Matty in!” Zack exclaimed as he reached for the bag.
“Matty? I like that name,” the girl said, fighting back another round of tears, although not altogether successfully.
“What’s wrong?” Zack asked the girl.
“Goldie, my goldfish died yesterday. I’ve had her since I was three,” she explained.
Zack looked at the girl and then her Mom, and then his Grandma. He then looked down at his own goldfish swimming around in the plastic bag. Zack looked again at the girl seated in front of him.
“Do you have an aquarium?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Do you have any fish food?”
“Do you know how to take care of a goldfish?”
“Here,” Zack said as he handed the bag with the goldfish over to the girl. “I want you to have Matty. I don’t know anything about taking care of fish and I love him so much, he would probably be better off at your house. Before he could change his mind and before anyone saw this tough football player cry, he ran out the door toward Grandma’s car. Grandma clicked the key fob to unlock the car so he could get in.
The girl’s mother mouthed a thank you to Grandma as Grandma got up to follow Zack out the door. On her way out, a gentleman at the counter stopped her and told her he had watched what happened and asked how the young man had acquired the goldfish. They talked a bit and exchanged information before she joined Zack in the car.
Nothing was said the rest of the way home. Once to Grandma’s house, Zack went strait to the living room and turned on the TV and just sat there, eyes glued to the screen. Nothing Grandma could do would pull him away, not even the offer of fresh-baked cookies.
It was almost dark when Amy arrived at her mom’s to pick up Zack. “I’m so sorry about today, Kiddo. Why don’t you get Matty and we can get on home.”
“I don’t have Matty,” Zack mumbled as he ran out the door and jumped in the backseat of his mom’s car.
Grandma explained the encounters at the Goodyear Store, both the young lady and the gentle man at the counter. She also gave her the card the gentle man had given her.
The next day, Zack didn’t want to get out of bed. Mom tried everything.
“I’ll make your favorite breakfast.”
“I’ll put your favorite movie on the TV.”
“I’ll go outside and toss the football with you.”
Zack laughed. “Aw, Mom, you can’t throw a football!” It made him sad to think about everything that had happened the day before. He got to spend a Saturday with his mom but couldn’t. He got to go see Matt Ryan and Julio Jones but couldn’t. He got a new pet to bring home but couldn’t. He was getting hungry, though. “Is your offer for breakfast still good?” he called from the bedroom.
“It’s after noon,” Mom shouted back.
“How about breakfast for lunch, then?” asked Zack.
“You got it,” agreed Mom. “Now get up, brush your teeth, comb your hair, and get some clothes on. Your Dad should be home within a couple of hours.
Mom took her time in the kitchen preparing their breakfast for lunch. Biscuits were in the oven and Zack was making the scrambled eggs as Mom was frying up the bacon. There would be chocolate milk this meal and butter and jelly for the biscuits.
After eating a scrumptious breakfast for lunch, Zack and his mom cleared the table and did a touch-up cleaning in the kitchen. Just as the last cloth was put sown, the front door opened and Dad walked in, less than an hour and a half after landing at the airport.
They all sat in the living room as Zack told him everything that had happened the day before, the timeslip for autographs, winning Matty the Goldfish, Mom having to go in to the hospital to work, going home with Grandma, and giving Matty to a girl at the Goodyear store.
“Well,” Dad responded, “it sounds like you had quite the eventful day, even if things didn’t turn out quite like you hoped.”
“Yeah, I guess,” sighed Zack.
At that very moment the doorbell rang.
“Why don’t you get that?” Mom said, looking at Zack.
Zack hopped up and opened the front door, then let out a shout, “WHAT?” Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were standing on his front porch!
“Can we come in?” Matt asked the stunned youngster in front of him.
“Oh, sorry. Of course!” Zack stood aside as they walked past him and shook hands with his Mom and Dad.
Julio looked at Zack and explained, “Our agent was at Goodyear yesterday getting some new tires put on his car. He saw what you did for that girl there with your goldfish and then come to find out you got it at the carnival where we were yesterday. Why didn’t you stop by and see us?”
“Oh, I wanted to,” Zack protested then repeated the entire day’s details all over again. “But this is way cooler! Instead of me going to visit you two, you both came to visit me! How awesome is that?”
“So, you want to go out front and play some catch?” Matt asked.
Julio reached down to a bag that Zack hadn’t noticed before now. “And we can use this,” as he pulled out a new, official NFL football.
They all ran outside and took turns throwing the ball around, but after fifteen minutes or so, they admitted they had other appointments they had to make and just had to leave.
“That’s okay,” Zack assured them. “This has been the best day of my life!”
“Well, maybe next week will get a little better,” Matt smiled as he reached into his shirt pocket. “Here are three tickets to the Super Bowl next week. I want you and your parents to come and enjoy the game from the team suite. You’ll get to meet all the players, and who knows who else might be there!”
With that, Matt handed the tickets to Zack’s Dad, Matt and Julio high-fived Zack and they were off in their limo, headed to their next big function. But there was no bigger function in Zack’s mind than the visit to the Falcon’s youngest fan right in his own front yard.