My children saw something gleaming in the ditch and stopped to investigate. “Marbles!” The younger one bent down to look closer. “There are lots of them!” They were many colors but when they started picking them up it turned out they were not marbles but flat-backed fake “gems,” the kind you’d buy at a craft store or an aquarium supply.
And sure enough, among the gems were pebbles of safety glass, silicone caulk, black plastic stripping. Knowing our neighbors it was not hard to imagine the scene that had led to this: a child crossing an adult, an ultimatum that seemed, to the child, too wild to be real. A moment of testing, an eruption of rage, the fish tank’s bubbling filter dropping to the floor and wheezing like it was itself a beached fish as the adult carried the sloshing tank in his bare arms through the living room, through the door he kicked open in one blow, green scummy water splashing his shirt, reeking, fueling his anger, not stopping even to look for traffic, not that there ever was any, then the whole thing dropped to the road with a sodden crash, the man cursing and leaping back as the water splashed over his feet. The door slamming again, just audible over the bellowing of the man whose anger was inflamed and not assuaged by the punishment he’d devised and carried out, the weeping of the children and the pleading of the mother all swirling together to a crest of misery.
My children didn’t see any of the tank parts, they were so focused on the gems. They picked them out of mud and from under clots of leaves like it was Easter morning. “We can make decorations for your party” said the older one. “We can wash them off and glue them to boards. They’ll be so shiny.”