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The Fish!


Hawks aren't uncommon up in Westchester County. It seems like there are more ever year, in fact. They trace out lazy circular courses above the Hutchinson River Parkway, gliding on the updrafts from car exhaust. Sometimes they flick their wings into the wind and vector menacingly at squirrels on the fairways of the public golf courses -- Saxon Woods, Maplemoor, Dunwoodie. The golfers lean on their drivers and cluck. Geese scatter. Watching from cars, suburban kids pouting about having their iPads taken away (unfairly, if you ask them), thrill at the sudden flash of real violence.

"See, that's what happens when you actually pay attention to the world around you!" their parents say, satisfied that they were able to teach them a lesson about attentiveness, about nature, about the thrills of the wild. Their kids will remember this, they think. How good it is that they are raising a family here in the suburbs, where nature can teach lessons, but where the restaurants are still good! And tears fill their eyes, maybe.

Even so, on a still-air Tuesday in August, it was hard for my father not to find it portentous (symbolic, heavy with meaning, like an omen in a Cheever story) when a fish fell out of the sky, tearing a hole through the fiberglass awning over the walkway along Court One, and heaving its final breaths on the shaggy lawn where a club member was snoozing in a chaise lounge.

"A hawk must have stolen breakfast from a neighbor's front-yard pond," my father said on the phone. He just got the latest model, so his voice sounded super clear. He told me he was standing over the fish, poking it with a stick. I had been imagining him searching the sky for the hawk.

"Or backyard," I offered.

"Right, sure. Or backyard. Either way, I guess the thing must have been too heavy for it."

He pulled the phone away from his head and yelled caw! caw!

"Or maybe it was just flailing around a little."

Silence.

"Dad, I don't think that they make that noise --"

"Yeah, I was thinking that too. Anyway what do you think it means? Something about climate change? Or do you think the fish just went crazy? Is that something that can happen?"

I was sitting at my desk, looking out over the quad of the university. Outside, summer-term undergraduates languidly danced in the heat in slow motion. Frisbees hovered. I thought about fish raining down from the sky. A bearded man in a poncho waving a stick at the sky. Punishment for sins: "Behold, the Lord has wrought upon the land: designer koi!"

What else could summon this kind of thing?

"I dunno. Probably just hungry."

"It's a beautiful fish though. It's got a mohawk, like. The kind that would grant you a wish."

"What would you wish for," I asked? I watched an undergrad loop an arm around another undergrad. From this height and distance, everything about the exchange was unclear. Their genders, their intentions, their ages. Who were they and what would they say if a fish fell on them?

"Damn. I'd wish for a new awning I guess."