Our earliest discoveries of violence often hold a unique gravity in our memories. In this burst of awareness, Shneiderman comes face to face with the vast potential of a man’s abuse of power over herself as a young girl. With rich details and characterization of her younger self, the piece creates a clear before and after. This snapshot is a clear ice shard in the middle of a warmer childhood–Shneiderman writes with conscious gravity around this pivotal moment, and she conveys how the world seems to stop and turn in an orbit around a split second of fear.
by Jennifer Shneidermann
I remember tossing a ping pong ball into an array of fishbowls at the Miami and Erie Canal Days Fair. I don’t remember exactly why I went to the fair alone, but my father was always working and mother was often absent, in bed with agoraphobic panic attacks. She was diagnosed years later after multiple hospitalizations. In 1970, my older sister and I were taking sibling rivalry and animosity to dangerous levels. She was taking judo at the YWCA, and, at one point, in a fit of rage, she successfully kicked a hole in my bathroom door. Luckily, she was too astonished by the damage to beat me up. So, with that family scenario, it isn’t surprising that I was alone when a carnie, a skinny pale man in his thirties with greasy jet black hair, congratulated me and, with one hand, offered me a little bowl with a darting goldfish. I reached forward and, with his free hand, he grabbed my pinky finger hard, pinching the joint closest to the nail. He glared at me with black angry eyes. I froze and our eyes locked for a few seconds. He finally let go and slid a smooth bowl into my hand. I quickly jumped on my Schwinn bike, racing home, balancing the goldfish and spilling water on the handlebars all the way home. I rushed up the stairs, as fast as my nine-year-old legs could carry me, trying not to trip on the yellow shag rug. I made it to the bathroom and placed the fish, named Goldy during my speed demon ride to safety, on the vanity counter. I turned on the water as the level in the bowl had gotten dangerously low. My hands were shaking from my encounter with the man—the tightness of his fingers, his hard, determined eyes. My fingers slipped, the bowl overturned and Goldy slid down the sink drain. I covered my eyes in horror and cried, throwing myself down on the pale pink tile.
The next day, I got some fish food from Woolworth’s, said a prayer and sadly sprinkled some flakes into the basin. I ran the water and hoped that Goldy got some of the food, and that she knew I was sorry. I don’t remember telling my family what happened at the fair, but I doubt that I would have confided in them. I never got another fish, and I remained forever vigilant, on the lookout for the man with the dark eyes and the vise-like fingers.
Jennifer Shneiderman is Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a writer living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Indolent Book’s HIV Here and Now, The Rubbertop Review, Writers Resist, Trouvaille Review and Variant Literature. She received an Honorable Mention in the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation 2020 Poetry Contest.