Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Goosie and Bonkers

December 13, 2013

First posted 12/16/11

 

 

 

 

When CJ was five, I took him with me to pick up our dry cleaning. He asked if we could check out the pet store next door. He enjoyed being licked by puppies and kittens when he poked his little fingers into their cages, but the goldfish captured his attention most. There was a big tank with ten goldfish for a buck. CJ begged for two fish. Since they were cheap, and flushable, I said yes. By the time we left the store, I’d spent nearly thirty dollars for a bowl and gravel, fish food and the coolest little castle CJ had ever seen. CJ held the plastic bag containing the two fish and tried his best to keep the water from jiggling as we drove home.

    

He named them Goosie and Bonkers, for reasons known only to him. They lived for a while on the coffee table in our family room. One day Mrs. Chatterbox and I were going over bills in the kitchen, a situation not made easier by my unnecessary purchase of two little freeloaders in a goldfish bowl, when CJ came up to me and said, “Daddy, could you not talk so loud ‘cause Goosie and Bonkers are sleeping.”

    

Uh-oh! I went to check and found Goosie and Bonkers were belly up in the water. They were asleep alright, eternal sleep! I didn’t have the emotional energy to explain “death” to CJ, so when Mrs. C. was reading to him I flushed the two dead fish and went back to the pet store to purchase another Goosie and Bonkers.

    

A few days later CJ again asked me to keep my voice down because his goldfish were taking another nap. I checked; once again Goosie and Bonkers had flat-lined. I performed another flushing ceremony and headed for the pet store where I chose a heartier and more expensive set of replacements. As I drove home, I noticed that the new guys didn’t look much like the old Goosie and Bonkers. I hoped CJ wouldn’t notice.

    

He didn’t, but a few days later these fish joined the others. I should have explained to CJ that things are dead when they take certain kinds of naps, but I chickened out and headed back to the pet store. The sales clerk couldn’t explain why these fish were dying but he did say, “When it comes to fish, you get what you pay for.”

     

This time I took no chances and bought the most expensive goldfish available, fish so hearty they were declared environmental pests in certain parts of Asia. They bore no resemblance to the original Goosie and Bonkers.

    

These poor creatures suffered the same fate as the others. I could no longer postpone the inevitable; it was time to tell CJ the truth, or get a bank loan to buy more fish. CJ came into the family room and spotted the empty bowl. “Daddy, where are Goosie and Bonkers?”

    

Mrs. C. busied herself in the kitchen, but she was listening to every word. I proceeded carefully, not wanting to shatter our little boy’s bubble of innocence. “Come here, CJ; Daddy wants to talk to you.”

    

He approached and I scooped him up and put him on my knee. “I need to tell you something.”

    

“Yes, Daddy?”

    

My throat suddenly went dry.

    

I could see the tears in Mrs. C’s eyes---she was such a softy. We’d been married long enough for me to be able to read her mind; she was cautioning me to tread carefully.

    

“I need to tell you something about Goosie and Bonkers.”

    

“Yes, Daddy?” He looked like a blue-eyed Hummel.

    

“You noticed that they’re not in their bowl?”

    

“Uh-huh. Where are they?”

    

The moment of truth had come. It was time to be honest with him. “Here’s the thing, CJ, there’s a good reason Goosie and Bonkers aren’t in their bowl.”

    

“Yes, Daddy?”

    

I cleared my throat. “Well, here’s the thing…they’re not in their bowl because they…”

    

“They what, Daddy?” He blinked his soft lashes at me. “What did Goosie and Bonkers do?”

    

Damn, I couldn’t do it. I blurted out, “They ran away!”

    

I felt guilty lying to him, but I breathed a sigh of relief when he said, “I guess they wanted to go home.”

 

    

 

Did you ever lie to a child? Confession, they say, is good for the soul.

 

 

 

 

 



Comments

29 Comments
I'm glad I don't have kids I'd have to lie to about that stuff. I hope though my brother doesn't buy my nieces any goldfish because they always seem to die real quick.
By: PT Dilloway on December 13, 2013
Of course I lied to my kids--doesn't EVERYBODY?
By: fishducky on December 13, 2013
It's Christmas time. Santa is lurking. Of course we've lied to our kids. Who doesn't perpetuate Santa? The Tooth Fairy? Etc. :) This kind of reminds me of a moment of truth with my son when he was around 4. We were eating chicken for dinner and he thought he had come up with a brilliant concept. "Hey, I just realized.. there's two kinds of chicken in the world - the one you eat and the animal!" Uh oh. I waited until after dinner to explain. And to inform him about what pork is. And beef. It occurred to me that chicken was the only meat that wasn't called something different than the animal name - hence his thought process.
By: Hilary on December 13, 2013
Oh my, I never would have been able to think so quickly.....that's great. Of course I think everyone omits the truth with kids. We had a dog named Herbie and he used to jump the fence. We lived not far from a McDonalds and he went there for the French fries. One day I found him deceased by the side of the road, poor critter. I told my daughter that I guessed Herbie like someones fries so well that he went home with them. I felt horrible but like you I just couldn't face a 4 year old with the death thing. Oma Linda
By: Oma Linda on December 13, 2013
laughing out loud! chicken!
By: TexWisGirl on December 13, 2013
Hmmm, that reminds me of my own fish story. But I would never lie about it, (he lied).
By: tom sightings on December 13, 2013
At least you didn't embellish and say that they ran away to the farm with the family dog and plenty of space to run and swim freely. I'm sure I've lied to kids many times, so many that I can't think of any stories right now. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on December 13, 2013
To preserve a child's innocence and my sanity... I've told some of the truth.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 13, 2013
I think the most traumatic event was when our pet turtle got eaten by my visiting brother's dog. We were out of town and he called me to give me the bad news...I immediately burst into tears and my son Paul asked me what the problem was....I lied and told him the turtle had expired from natural causes. He was upset of course, but once we got home we got a new turtle and he was ok with that. Needless to say we kept the turtle away from Buster the dog. We also had a goldfish that lived for about 8 years or so before taking a nap. Love your stories Stephen!
By: Kathe W. on December 13, 2013
A great post, Stephen. I'm sure I must have lied to protect the feelings of a child at one time or another. Yes. ;)
By: Michael Manning on December 13, 2013
Well, i couldn't lie to them about death -- none of our pets were flushable.
By: mimi on December 13, 2013
Explaining the concept of death to a child can be very difficult. It needs right words so that the child develops right attitude towards that thing. I bought 2 goldfish 2 weeks back. My very first pets! I named them Tunnu and Molly. Tunnu unfortunately breathed his last after just 5 days. He wasn't a healthy one. Molly is doing good. I feel like I could relate a little to this post...coz it involves goldfish who died :)
By: Manju on December 13, 2013
So many fish died. What the hell was in your water? You know you needed to feed them, right?
By: LL COOL JOE on December 13, 2013
My mom lied to me. My brother captured a wild frog and brought it home. I wanted the frog in my room overnight and Mom agreed to my surprise. Next morning, froggie was gone. She explained that frogs can get out of anything and that it had probably gone back to the pond and we should leave it there. Years later I realized she put it in my room because I'm a heavy sleeper and she could sneak in and let the frog go. Clever, eh?
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on December 13, 2013
Yes, I have told a few little lies, not big ones like you did!
By: red on December 13, 2013
But having fish die every week isn't normal. I had goldfish that lived for years. Maybe someone was feeding them something they shouldn't have? There was definitely something fishy going on there...
By: Lexa Cain on December 13, 2013
Lies? I call it "storytelling."
By: Pixel Peeper on December 13, 2013
Yes and still do! I also replaced a goldfish or two, but I did have better luck, several lived for two years or more. Had to change and clean the tank periodically, and need an aerator...pain in the butt, still as far as pets go, pretty cheap and easy.
By: Cranky on December 13, 2013
I leave the lying to my husband. One son still thinks the soft black-and-white bunny that tunneled out of his "natural habitat" my husband built, rather than keep him in a centuries-tested hutch, is still hopping around the grounds, making soft half-black-and-white baby bunnies. When in reality, dogs ripped him to shreds three days after his escape. I wish he had just told me the lie, too.
By: Val on December 13, 2013
I am a hard-nosed old bitch and would have told him right away the first time. But my mom killed my goldfish by cleaning the bowl and boiling the water after we brough them home ... she never replaced them. I am married to a man who studied fisheries biology, so we are pretty practical about fin life in this house.
By: Tabor on December 14, 2013
Outside of the obvious Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy, not that I can remember, but in all honesty I'm sure I told 'em a small white lie or two to spare their feelings.
By: Scott Cody Park on December 14, 2013
When Tom was 3 years old his 7 year old brother told him that Santa Claus wasn't a real person. Tom was furious with me at the time for lying to him. I've just reminded him of this Christmas story and he couldn't stop laughing. He's 24 now!
By: Sharon Bradshaw on December 14, 2013
Note to self: No Goldfish for any grandkids! You handled it well. Just like any other parent who didn't want to see their child hurt. Good job Dad!!
By: Bouncin Barb on December 14, 2013
That's outstanding. I still lie to my children. #1 Lie: I don't have any money. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 14, 2013
I like the old Winston Churchill story. It is (or at least was) not allowed to call someone a liar on the floor of Parliament. So one day Churchill was attacking another member and said he was perpetually guilty of terminological inexactitude.
By: Catalyst/Bruce on December 14, 2013
You big softie! Your story expertly captures the awkwardness of these moments of sharing bad news to our kids. I did think your story might have ended with the discovery that your son was feeding the fish bleach or similar noxious substance (given the rate of mortality in that bowl)!
By: Bryan Jones on December 15, 2013
Their little eyes just tear your heart out and makes you want to protect them always. So difficult.
By: John on December 15, 2013
Well, I've never told a fish story like that! How old was he when he figured it out?
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 16, 2013
AWWWWW...so sweet of you and Mrs. Chatterbox to try and spare your little guy any pain. I honestly don't remember how we handled it but I know we had backyard funerals complete with tiny little boxes...oops I mean caskets. It's tricky teaching kids about loss.
By: Cheryl P. on December 17, 2013

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