Sonny and the Prickly Fish
The neighbour’s boy stood on Winifred’s spotless, tiled doorstep with a gappy little grin, squinting in the August sunshine.
“Hiya, Mrs. May, I’m Sonny! Mum says you’re gonna learn me piana’?”
She looked down at him, her expression as severe as her scraped-back, silver bun. He was hardly Mozart material, but lessons in exchange for weeding was preferable to hiring a stranger.
“That’s Miss May, young man, and ‘pian-o’. Follow me. Don’t touch anything!”
Sonny’s eyes widened at a vast aquarium in the mahogany-panelled hallway.
“WOAH! That big, prickly fish is awesome! Why’s he on his own? What’s his name?”
Winifred huffed. “It’s a Pterois - a lionfish. My late brother was a marine zoologist. And it’s best off alone - its spines frighten off other fish.”
Sonny clambered up onto the creaky piano stool, nearly upsetting the teacup and saucer on a doilied side-table. Winifred tutted as pudgy fingers poked at the piano keys with the same dubious curiosity normally reserved for earthworms or broccoli.
“What was your brother late for?”
Winifred sat and rescued her teacup.
“No, dear, it means he died.”
“Oh… that’s sad. So, you’re like the fish too, now?”
Cup met saucer rather heavily and a sparse, pencilled eyebrow was arched in his direction.
“Enough chit-chat - let’s begin.”
Sonny arrived for his second lesson looking pale and tired, but still smiling. As he paused to stare into the fishtank, he peered up at a black and white photo on top - four women with bobs, laughing and playing cards.
“Is that you, Miss May?”
Winifred stared at the scene for a moment.
“It was... with my Bridge friends. Years ago. They’re all gone now.”
Sonny slipped his little hand into hers and pulled her toward the music room.
“D’you like my new haircut?”
‘Crew cuts are for thugs’ was on the tip of Winifred’s tongue, but got no further, and before he left, she gave him a small yellow bundle.
“This was my brother’s sunhat. Too big, no doubt, but adequate against sunburn.”
The next week, Sonny brought a fistful of decapitated rose heads.
“It’s a thank you, ‘coz I can’t write yet,” he explained. “AND, Mum helped me print this.” He waved a crumpled picture. “It says a big yellow Tang fish will be a good friend for your lion fish. Tangs aren’t mean or scared!”
Winifred felt her throat tighten a little as Sonny chattered on.
“AND, Church has a club where you can play BRIDGES! Like in your photo? So, you can make friends too!”
Long after his sixth lesson would have started, an envelope landed on Winifred’s doormat. It simply read:
‘Thank you so much for your kind help with Sonny’s bucket-list.’
Winifred May wiped her eyes and tucked her freshly-cut bob behind her ear. Placing the card on the fishtank, she watched its new yellow occupant glide in wide circles around the lion fish.
“I think, Apollo, I’m very glad that Bridge club is being held here today.”