My home stood at attention, coifed and welcoming, the real estate sign displayed prominently in the front yard. I lived on a man-made lake in the Phoenix desert –- surely a quick sale to some Californian or sucker from Boston.
I stepped out back to snip my already pruned bushes before prospects started knocking down my door with contracts. The view stopped me dead in my tracks. My hand full of dead hibiscus flowers covered my mouth to quash a squeal. Lucky for me the other hand clutched my best pruning shears.
Over a hundred dead fish floated within fifty yards of my dock. All sizes of tilapia bobbed belly up, bloated and stinking to high heaven. I screamed for the husband who never freaks. As usual he didn’t freak, so I did, pacing the backyard seeking a solution to Mother Nature’s trick on my Saturday Open House.
I ran to my front window and peeked through the blinds. People drove by the house regularly taking flyers from the tube hanging on my For Sale sign. “Please don’t call,” I pined. “Not till the fish sink!”
Right in front of me, a lady did a U-turn, took a flyer, and jumped on her cell phone. She drove a sleek, jet-black, brand new Cadillac, the kind of car that goes with money that easily buys houses. People who pay cash. Any other time I would have danced a jig on my grandmother’s grave. “Not today, not today.” My mantra rose to the real estate gods as I prayed she’d be too busy to see my house.
I ran back past the unfreaked husband and tossed twist ties, rubber bands and dried-up pens out of my junk drawer seeking the homeowners’ association phone number. They maintained the community lake, and I felt sure this was a high-priority situation. No answer. Only an answering machine leaving other numbers that also had answering machines. The day was too pretty. I assumed they must be at open houses, too.
I ran to the back for another body count. As fate would have it, up pulled the money-dripping Cadillac along the lake’s edge about thirty yards from where I stood. No time to run inside, so I jumped behind a Lady Bankshire rose that climbed my wrought iron fence. Pressed back against the fence like a bank robber hiding from the coppers, I held my breath peeking between the blooms and the thorns.
A man stepped out and replied to the familiar woman in the passenger seat. “Look at all the dead fish!” My heart fell through my stomach. The Caddie left never to be seen again. My pride remained intact, but my house remained unsold.
I turned my despair and wrath on the homeowner’s association president, a short Polish woman named Blanche. Not like “ranch,” but like “launch,” she said. She liked the aristocratic feel of her name through your mouth. Distraught about her lack of concern, I “blanched” her ears with my Southern tongue and asked when someone would dispose of the Piscean bodies.
“Is a part of living on ze water, no? Happens sometimes.”
“No, Blanche. Rotting fish corpses are not part of living on the lake. I grew up on lakes. This is mismanagement, disease or pure stupidity. Besides, I’m selling my house right now. Fish bodies are not an option on the contract.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but ze caretaker vill be out soon.” Her benign answer to my carcinoma. She lived on the golf course, didn’t know one fish from another and assumed I was leaving soon anyway. I went to bed scheming how to leave fish corpses on her doorstep in a Godfather flair.
The fish coroner arrived two days later and gathered the remaining buoyant bodies in a black plastic bag. The association had pulled a man-made mistake in the man-made lake, and the lake keeper assured me it would never happen again. He acted like the pond was a giant fish tank someone forgot to plug into the filter one night. No big deal.
We received a contract a week later from a new couple who saw the house sans fish bodies. The wife stood on the dock admiring the view when two catfish, two tilapia and three carp swam up to be fed. “Oh, this lake is FULL of fish. How nice!”
“Yes,” I replied. “If you think that’s a lot, just imagine all the fish you can’t see!”