Radio on the Fish Tank ~ fiction by Nancy Freund

You will watch TV with Mrs. Beasley, sitting on her two-seat sofa, and it will not be dangerous. Your mother trusts her. You will play cards and checkers. You’ll draw dinosaurs. You’ll iron leaves in wax paper, and she’ll let you close your eyes and run your palm, warm and waxy over it, to feel the edges of the leaves. She’ll let you cut the hot leaves out with her sharpest scissors she keeps for sewing. She’ll let you wear her rouge and lipstick, pick her apples, stir sugar in the bread dough, eat raw burger meat before the dinner’s done. She’ll let you pet her little dog and hold his leash when you walk around the block. She will let you pee in her master bathroom with the gold-flecked clear acrylic toilet seat. She’ll let you say pee, not urinate. She’ll let you do her crossword puzzle and make up words to fit the squares. She’ll let you spend her pack of pennies and a dollar from her wallet on a pudding pop. She’ll say, “Yes, Sirree, she’s my little girl today.”

She’ll let you cut her hair and yours. She’ll hear Elvis, and she’ll put her radio on the fish tank, so her fish can listen. She’ll pull helmets from her plastic basket, say it’s time to zoom to other planets on her flying furniture. You’ll strap the helmets on, chin-strap-buckled, visors down. First stop, the moon. Her dog will forget who you are and bark at you, his ears up and his chest and shoulders lowered to the rug. You will be afraid of him, like he’s afraid of you.

You almost won’t hear the doorbell when your mother comes. Sometimes she comes late. Sometimes she doesn’t even come. This time she will bring a fellow, and Mrs. Beasley will look him up and down through her steamed-up space travel visor. She’ll raise just one finger, while her other hand will tuck you behind her hip. Your helmet will bump her backside. She’ll say, “Nope.” Your mother will leave, and Mrs. Beasley keeps you.


An American-Brit in Switzerland, Nancy Freund writes novels, essays, poetry, and flash. She has pieces in Jellyfish Review, Hobart, Largehearted Boy, Splonk, Reflex, Ekphrastic Review, and Takahe, among others. She has Creative Writing degrees from UCLA and Cambridge. Twitter @nancyfreund.