Peter Puckerton

Mrs. Rinehart attended a street carnival, tossed a ring on a bottle, and took home a three-cent fish in a ten-cent bowl. Folks said Peter Puckerton was about the luckiest fish ever. Maybe he didn’t live as plush as a clownfish in a fancy restaurant aquarium, but he was as fortunate as a three-cent goldfish could hope to be, more so because of the way she coddled him. Few fish are prayed over morning and evening and get their flakes blessed to boot. Did the praying work? I believe in prayer but I don’t know if it applies to goldfish. Peter didn’t care anyway; he was too busy watching his own television.

Mrs. Rinehart’s son, Peter, had an office in Cleveland, too elevated for him to visit his mother down in Sycamore Shadows. He hadn’t meant for it to be that way but excuses had turned into years, and without realizing it, he had quit fooling even himself.

When Mrs. Rinehart became too feeble to take care of herself, a niece stored her in a nursing home forty miles away. Abigail and I visited her a few days later. She looked insignificant sitting in a vinyl chair in the corner of her room, staring at her lap as she smoothed a bib with her crippled fingers. I think nursing homes soak people and then dry them on high heat to make them look smaller. If Mrs. Rinehart was happy to see us she didn’t show it. “How is Peter?” she asked, and we knew that she meant the fish.

Peter was fine, if hungry. I took him home and placed him in the library, changed his water regularly, and fed him daily. I didn’t pray over him but I greeted him each morning and left the TV on when I was away.

Abigail Padden and I visited Mrs. Rinehart every few weeks and she never failed to ask about Peter when we entered her room. Three years later, we saw her for the last time. “How’s Peter Puckerton?” she asked in a feeble voice from the bed. Tears filled Abigail’s eyes as we drove away.

The next morning I found Peter floating in his bowl. When I heard that Mrs. Rinehart had died in the night, I wrapped Peter in foil and put him in the freezer.

No matter what you wish to think, it was only a coincidence. No connection existed between an elderly lady and a mindless fish. But she loved. She loved what she could, and if it doesn’t say anything about Peter Puckerton, it says something about Mrs. Rinehart. And if Peter Rinehart is reading this, it should say something to him as well. Because he never found the time to visit, his mother confused him with a goldfish.

Mrs. Rinehart’s son missed the burial service. So did most other people. The next day I took Peter Puckerton from the freezer, and Abigail and I laid him to rest beside Mrs. Rinehart. Have you ever cried at a fish funeral?

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