A story for my children when they were little and I was far away.

Once upon a time, in a place far from here, there was a sailorman who was away from his home and family.  One day he wandered through the open air markets of Panama City looking at parrots and chickens and the wood carvings of animals that the Cuna indians had for sale.  Even though there were people all around, the man thought about how lonely he was going to be when he went far out to sea on his ship.

Under the shade of a giant banyan tree he saw a pretty green lizard and went to take a better look.  When he came close the lizard cocked its scaly head and said "buy the fish" as clear as a bell.  Well the man wasn't used to talking to lizards and he was too surprised to speak.  The lizard, who was quite used to talking to men, put on his most scornful look and said, " trust me, buy the fish."  Then he scuttled up the banyan tree out of sight.

The man looked around him to see if anyone else had heard the talking lizard, but the only one close to him was a tiny Cuna indian woman who was surrounded by pretty molas that she and her children had made.  The man walked over to ask her if she had heard the lizard talk, but when she looked up at him he forgot his question.  The indian woman had the deepest darkest black eyes he had ever seen.  Looking into her eyes, he felt that he could see the whole history of her people and the beautiful islands they lived on.  She smiled at him in a curious way, then shyly held out a fish carved from Cocobolo wood for him.

He took the fish in his hand and smiled at how cleverly it was carved.  The fish looked like it was laughing and it made him feel less lonely to hold it in his hand.  He gave the woman some money and brought the fish back to his room on the ship to keep him company.  He sat the fish on the  tiny desk in his cabin and talked to it every morning as he shaved his scratchy beard.

One morning he heard a little voice behind him say the word "water" as clear as a bell, but when he looked around there was just the carved fish.  Normally he wouldn't have expected to hear a wooden fish talk, but he remembered the green lizard and the indian woman with the deep dark black eyes and he wondered if it were the fish talking.  He bent his ear down to the fish's mouth and heard the whispered word again, "water."

The man ran out and got a bucket of water from the galley and started to put the fish in it, when he heard it speak again.  "Salt water," the fish said as clear as a bell.  The man realized then that his fish was an ocean fish and he took the bucket to the side of the ship and filled it with fresh ocean water from the dancing waves.  When he put the wooden fish into the bucket it became real and began to swim happily around the bucket.

The man made a fishbowl from an old brass diving helmet and put it in the porthole of his cabin for the fish to live in.  The fish was better company than ever in the morning when he was shaving his scratchy beard.  He talked to the fish but the fish didn't usually have anything much to say.  He'd just look at the man and smile a fishy smile.  Even though the fish didn't talk much, the man was glad the fish was there because the man missed his family and the fish was his friend.

One morning when the man woke up he saw the fish looking at him with sad fish eyes. "What's the matter little fish," the man asked as he got out of his bunk.  He put his ear close to the fishbowl and watched as the fish blew a giant iridescent bubble.  The bubble floated up over the man's head then floated down until it was resting on the tip of his nose.  Suddenly the bubble popped with a wet blurp and the words, "I'm hungry," hung in the air.

The Man brought some food to the fish and the fish started to smile again.  Every day after that, the man brought the fish extra food and soon he noticed that the fish was getting bigger and bigger.  Pretty soon the man began to worry that the fish was getting too big for his little fishbowl home in the diver's helmet. When the fish had gotten so big that he could barely turn around the man asked him what they should do and the fish whispered in the man's ear, "set me free." 

This made the man sad because he knew he would miss the fish, but he also knew that it was the right thing to do.  So he took the fish to the side of the ship and, after stroking his shiny scaly skin one last time, the man slipped the fish into the salty sea and waved goodbye.  The fish just smiled up from the deep blue water and said, "I'll be seeing you."  Then, with a flip of his silver tail, he ducked beneath the water and was gone.

The man was very lonely after the fish left and he missed his family very badly.  One day, when it was almost time to go home to his family, a big wind came and grabbed the man's cap right off his head.  The hat twirled and whirled and swirled high into the air above the ship and the man chased it right to the very edge of the rail because it was his favorite hat.  As he stretched over the rail, straining to catch his hat, he lost his balance and fell head first into the ocean.

He sank beneath the sparkly waves where it was very dark.  The man couldn't tell which way was up and which was down and he began to be afraid when he heard the soft voice of his friend the fish saying, "don't be scared."  The man felt a warm soft mouth close around him and then he wasn't afraid anymore.  He realized that he was inside the fish and he felt safe and happy.  By and by he fell into a deep sleep.

The man woke up after a long time.  Before he could even stretch out his arms, he heard the fish say, "we're almost there."  He sat up and looked around, but it was really dark inside the fish and he couldn't see a thing.  He listened carefully, but there was only the sound of the water swishing by.  He reached out and touched the smooth shiny inside of the fish's body, but the fish started giggling and said, "stop that please, I can't swim when you tickle."  So the man just sat and waited.

After a little while, the fish came up to the top of the ocean and opened his mouth so that the man could look out.  The first thing the man saw was his ship tied up at the dock.  Then he saw his family on the dock where they had come to greet him.  They smiled and waved and they were so surprised to see him in the mouth of the magic fish that the mommy almost fainted and the little boy started dancing and the big sister smiled a smile as big as the moon.

The man gave them all a giant family hug and then turned around to introduce then to his friend the fish, but the big fish was gone and there was only the little wooden carving that the man had bought from the little indian woman after the green lizard in the banyan tree had spoken to him.

The man's family was very happy to be together again and they took the fish home to live with them.  They talked to the fish almost every day, but the fish never spoke again.  He just smiled his big fishy smile.


Footprints says re The Magic Fish: I do believe that you have forgotten to write that the moral of the story is to do what the green lizard tells you!

/msg Footprints, Tacitly concluded and succinctly stated. -gom 


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