Woolworth and I (And Adele)

IT is very quiet now at home. I am having an annual respite from tempestuousness. That is why I have grown to love Woolworth — he is so captivatingly quiet. True, in moments of excessive vivacity he does snap himself, but such exuberance is rare, and it is not annoying — after you find out what it is.

Adele left me with her customary trepidation. She always starts on her vacation convinced that some calamity, directly due to my inherent genius for stupidity, helplessness, and disorder, will quickly overhaul me. Yet I always survive summers.

By now you know that Adele is my wife. Verily she leads me into long, devious discussions which tear me from my work, tie my thoughts and emotions together in hard knots, rouse me to bigotry and secular expletives — and then placidly goes to sleep at the most critical moment, just when I am thoroughly aware and ready to argue really well.

But at last Adele left me with Woolworth, convinced that we should burn the house down between us, pull up the lawn by the roots, demoralize the kitchen, and finally commit some spectacular, but perfectly witless and superfluous sort of hara-kiri together — Woolworth and I.

By now you probably do not know that Woolworth is a goldfish. In fact, he is a ten-cent-store goldfish and he circulates in a little ten-cent bowl in the bottom of which ten cents’ worth of pebbles occur. Woolworth is a typical American. He chews all the time — gum, I suppose. But he chews incessantly, and that is mastication without digestion or assimilation, and that is typically American.

Furthermore, like a rocking-chair, which is typically American too, Woolworth symbolizes movement without progress. For he swims round and round and round, but gets nowhere to speak of, unless you count in the movement of the earth or of our universe, and begin to consider Einstein’s plane-of-reference business, which is all very nice, but entirely too technical for a goldfish.

Then, tired of circulating, Woolworth stops suddenly, half reclines upon the pebbles on his what takes the place of an elbow, and chews and meditates there at the bottom of his bowl. He meditates very profoundly. I flick my finger against the outside of the bowl near his face and he ignores it. He is in some sort of East Indian trance, I am sure. He looks positively esoteric. Undoubtedly he could hold his arm up above his head until his finger nails penetrated his palm if he had a palm, and finger nails, and an arm.

I reach a finger into the bowl and playfully poke him in the back. At once he leaps, affrighted, then recovers his dignity. This retrieved, he regards me with a mixture of solemn anger and disdain. He plainly asks why his profound cogitations should not be respected, which is much more sensible than asking, as flappers do, ‘ Whadye mean, the goldfish kicked you?’

Woolworth presents an anomaly in nutrition. This is a sore puzzle to me. For my daily work leads me into the abstruse field of protein intake, vitamins, mineral balance, and calories. But Woolworth knows nothing of these things. He disdains them. He has passed that rudimentary stage, for he has so solved the problem of nutrition that he does n’t have to eat at all. At least, so far as I can see, he has not eaten a morsel these ten days and he is still active and his color normal.

Perhaps Adele fed him a biscuit occasionally. I am trying to find out, but the mails are slow. Meantime I change his water daily and hope that he finds lots of microbes in it, while at the same time hoping that I get very few from the very same water. I have a suspicion that he gets out and raids the ice box late at night while I sleep. He has a sly and crafty look. Somehow he appears to be just the sort of goldfish who would do a thing like that.

But most of all I bask in his silence. He is so utterly quiet. He never involves me in irrelevant discussions wherein I make rash, absent-minded, incriminating statements because I am trying doggedly to hold my thoughts elsewhere and control my emotions at the same time — trying to solve a problem or complete an article.

He likes the room, the carpet, the wall paper, the curtains, the house. He expresses no desire for a new refrigerator. The gas stove seems adequate to him and a few stairs do not impress him at all as reason for agitation or fatigue. He is courteously indifferent to the state of my immortal soul.

Hot weather does not annoy Woolworth. If he thinks the grass needs cutting, he is too sedate and tactful to say so. He is quite sure, apparently, that I do not get a clean handkerchief oftener simply because I do not happen to provide myself with a clean handkerchief oftener.

He is also aware that, since I am a nutrition chemist, I shall probably eat atrocious food combinations and he never insists that I eat lettuce and spinach. Instead he instinctively knows that I get my joy out of file and my salary by insisting that other people eat lettuce and spinach.

Woolworth has not yet asked me for money, either. He is so inexpensive as to be positively awe-inspiring.

His noiselessness soothes, quiets, and caresses me with calm. True, when he suddenly turns a corner he snaps himself like a tiny whip and sometimes splashes a drop of water on the floor. But he seldom does that. It is only on very rare occasions that a spasm of undignified skittishness overtakes him and leads to unseemly conduct.

Woolworth is an Oriental mystic, and mystics are wise. Time means nothing to him. He never hurries. He is made with one speed. He has solved the riddle of living without nourishment. He thinks profoundly, but he is wise enough to keep his thoughts strictly to himself.

Oh, that he might inspire me! For when and if Adele sees this she will want to discuss it. If I had the wisdom of Woolworth I’d never have written this out at all.

I must go and give Woolworth more water to chew.