"Be bold, be bold, as the fairy tale says, but not too bold." -- Fay Weldon
Beaming smile on her face, Minky produced the plastic bag from behind her back. It was full of water, inside it two slightly seasick goldfish. "Ta-da" she said. "Surprise!" Her chipped purple nails gripped the bag as it swung gently from side to side. Two small fish squinted at me. One had a black stripe along its back; the other was fully golden. "Meet Beard and Papa" she said, her metal braces glinting in the sunlight. "I rescued them from science class." She turns to the fish and speaks to them "Hello my babies. How cute are you?"
Delighted as I am with my own little Gerald Durrell, our menagerie is growing at a rate that would alarm the authorities. We've named the red-tailed hawks who nest in the fir tree in the canyon behind the house, and the turtle doves who bathe in the pool every evening. And don't let me start on the squirrels. The bastards. Two days ago, I had to wrestle her away from a French Bulldog she fell in love with (and so did I, if truth be told). The house belongs to two Dalmatians, of the greater- and lesser-spotted variety. "Hello Bean" shriek the neighbor's children as we drive by. "You know Bean?" I ask. "Oh Bean is the Queen of the Neighborhood" replies the father, smiling, I'm hoping sympathetically. "Everyone knows Bean." Great. So we've got the celebrity dog.
We've been through our share of parakeets and budgerigars, hamsters and guinea pigs and white mice, and chickens, thirteen of them. There have always been dogs -- Teazle and Flora, and Briar who died only last year, who was famous for pilfering hot cups of cafe latte from our neighbors and bringing them home in tact, a louche expression on her face, one eyebrow lifted, everything but a jaunty black beret and a French cigarette.
"Can we get home quickly?" says Minky. "I don't want them to die." Sunset Boulevard is full of rush hour traffic and billboards covered in scantily clad, oiled bodies in black and white. Signs flash. Cars honk. And in front of us, in the mountains, in distant relief behind the Chateau Marmont, there is a scattering of snow. The dogs sit patiently in the back of the car and I wonder what they make of all this. I drive as fast as I can. "Dogs are children too," a kindly sign declares.
"You know the girl who killed herself last week?" says Minky.
"She liked to take risks, do things on the spur of the moment. What's the word for that?"
"Yeah, spontaneous. I was thinking that if she were alive she would've rescued these fish too. And so, I think I want to live my life more spontaneously."
There was a silence for a moment, just the dull drone of the local radio station. My 14-year-old daughter was looking out of the window towards the mountains, gripping her little plastic bag with the two woozy fish inside it. The dogs were sitting quietly too. The snow seemed so far away.