My Five Unicorns

by Pat Fish

Pat Fish is the author of three novels, one-- "Everything You Need to Know About Being a Woman Can Be Learned in the Garden"-- is scheduled to be published in 1998. Pat also has a garden column on the web. In the past six months, Pat has tried her hand at writing short stories. She considers the one here her best piece.

March 1, 1960

Dear Mom,

Sister says we all have to get ready for the St. Patrick's Day show. Everyone has been asked if their Mom can supply a costume. And guess what I did? I raised my hand and when Sister called my name, I said I would be able to bring the unicorns. Course, Sister said I only needed one unicorn but I told her I had five! She seemed happy and put me down to supply the unicorns.

We read a real good story today in class. It was about two cousins and they each got to plant a garden in their grandfather's yard. Beth was the oldest and she planted all kinds of flowers. So did her cousin Mary. Only Beth kept picking her flowers and giving them to people as bouquets. Mary wouldn't pick any of her flowers because she wanted them to stay in her garden. Then, Beth's garden started growing even more flowers! Lots more flowers than Mary's even! So Mary starts to complain to her grandfather that Beth's garden shouldn't be prettier than hers because Beth keeps picking her flowers and giving them away. Then grandfather explained to Mary that flowers actually SPREAD when they are picked because they try to grow more flowers. He told Mary that by keeping her flowers in the garden and letting them go to seed, she was really helping the life of her garden to come to an end. Gardens, the grandfather told the cousins, want to grow flowers and go to seed. After this, their job is done and flowers stop blooming. By picking the flowers, Beth was keeping the garden from finishing its job. Anyway, I thought it was a good story, although I had already read it.

Sister says I am a very good reader and she says I write well too. This makes me glad, because I want to be just exactly like Anne Frank. She was 14 when she wrote her diary, and I know I am only 11. But I will keep writing my diary, only in letters to you.

Aunt has not been feeling well lately. She sleeps all the time. If I can get her awake I will make her some dinner, maybe some soup or cereal, if we have any.

Well, I miss you Mom. Got to start getting my unicorns ready.

March 7, 1960

Dear Mom,

Been working on getting my unicorns ready. You'll never guess what they are. Cats! I have five of them although Aunt doesn't approve. By the way, Aunt went to the hospital because she was so sick. She told me to just go on as normal and that she would call. It's been three days, but there are still plenty of hot dogs in the refrigerator and I saw some oatmeal in a cupboard.

Anyway, about the cats. I just felt so sorry for them, all living in an alley. I had been feeding and calling them for almost a year. They used to live right in that little alley between St. Patrick's school and the rectory. You remember it? I go right by there to go to school.

So I started bringing the cats home one at a time. Each time Aunt complained and told me it would be up to me to feed them...that it was all she could do to keep me fed and clothed.

Mom, do you think maybe you could send Aunt some money? I'd ask Dad, but no one knows where he went. Nobody really knows where you are either but I intend to send you these letters just as soon as you tell me.

After a while, I managed to get all five cats in the house and just like I promised Aunt, I find food for them. Most times I get food from the poor table at St. Patrick's, although Sister caught me one time and slapped my wrist with a ruler. I really felt bad, not just because the ruler hurt, but also because all I was taking Jane Cartwell's cruddy bologna sandwiches which she never eats. All the cats like the bologna except Tiny Tears. She had a hard time eating things sometimes. I think something is wrong with her stomach.

The cats are doing fine and I know they will make swell unicorns. Barbie is the best and doesn't even try to get the cardboard cone I made off of her head. Joan does good. Ken and Jerry try to get their cone off, but I pet them real good when I put it on and they like that. In case you don't remember, the cats' names are the same as the dolls I used to have. You know, when you and Dad and I all lived together? All except Jerry. I never had a doll named Jerry. He is named after Jerry Lewis because he makes me laugh.

Sister caught me scribbling on a scratch pad when I was supposed to be reading a story. I wish I could make her understand that I had already read all the stories in our readers and sometimes I get bored if I have to read them again. But she is a nun you know, and you just don't talk to nuns like you do normal people.

Anyway, she made me stand on a chair in front of the room and smacked my backside with a ruler. It didn't hurt really, but I hated the snickering, especially that Susan Polk who I call Susan Puke.

Now we got to sell Catholic Reviews. This is supposed to all be part of the big St. Patrick's day celebration. I do kind of like all the fun, and like to make fun of the kids who have to go to stupid Sacred Heart which does not have a holiday named after it. But no one EVER buys any Catholic Reviews from me. Sister says that every student who sells a Catholic Review will get a night with no homework. Last year, I was the only kid in the class that didn't sell a Catholic Review and guess what? I was the only one who had homework. I normally don't mind homework, but when all the kids make fun of you, you kind of feel like you are being punished. Sister says it is a reward for the kids who sold Catholic Reviews and not a punishment for those that didn't. Which was me.

THIS year I am going to sell a Catholic Review and don't forget my surprise of FIVE unicorns.

March 9, 1960

Dear Mom,

I ate the last hot dog last night. Then I only got a tiny bite of it because the cats were hungry. I got the oatmeal out of the cupboard but don't have no milk or anything to put on it. I can snatch pieces of other kids lunches and sometimes Mrs. Brown next door gives me some leftovers. But the cats don't have anybody to help them like I do. I am more worried about them.

There is supposed to be a big snow storm tomorrow. Sister is all worried that the snow will cause a problem with the St. Patrick's day show. That's almost 9 days away! Sister just likes to worry.

And speaking of the St. Patrick's Day show...I can't wait. All of the cats have learned their roles well. I am going to have to find some hot dogs though, because that is how I trained them. It isn't easy to get a cat to do what you want and Ken and Jerry always get into fights. Tiny Tears seems to be getting skinnier. I hope she is okay.

We're going to be doing the song..."Green Alligators" know it? I remember we used to sing it together sometimes.

"Well there was green alligators, and long-necked geese,
Some humpty-back camels and some chimpanzees.
Some cats and rats and elephants but sure as you're born...
You'll never find no unicorn."

Sister didn't like us doing that song but Father Parks said it would be fine. We all really like Father Parks. The Fathers are always so much nicer than the Sisters.

Anyway, Susan Puke tells me her mother made the best humpty- back camels. Then Jane Cartwell says HER mother made the best chimpanzees and then Jimmy Radizwell says we are never going to believe the rat his mother made. But you know what? I didn't say anything about my unicorns. Because no matter how good their mothers made the animals, MY unicorns are LIVING.

I read a real good book by Betty Callahan. Got in a lot of trouble though, because I borrowed it from the library at school and forgot to bring it back. Sister told me I was irresponsible.

Going out to sell some Catholic Reviews tomorrow night. And maybe find some hot dogs for the cats.

Have not heard from Aunt. I hope she is okay. I am doing like she said and going on with my normal business.

March 10, 1960

Dear Mom,

We got to get out of school early today because of the snow. Only there wasn't any snow so I went out to sell Catholic Reviews. As usual, nobody wanted to buy any from me. I think most of the kids in my class sell Catholic Reviews to their parents. Since I don't even know where my parents are, I guess that's out of the question. I went door to door for almost three hours when it finally began to snow. It makes me mad that I will once again have to be the only one to have homework when I almost froze my toes off walking in the cold for three hours trying to sell one. I bet I worked harder than anyone in that class and still have to be punished by having homework.

Pretty soon though I might not even have a school to go to. Sister told me today that tuition would be due next month. Dad used to come over and fix something in the convent or the rectory and they would give me free tuition. Only Dad isn't around to fix anything anymore. Sister told me the rectory needed a new door and could my father come in and fix it? I didn't want to tell her I don't know where Dad is. Sister then reminded me about tuition.

While I was out trying to sell Catholic Reviews I had to steal some food from the grocery store. I guess I am going to have to tell about this in confession. And I will, Mom, but only about the stuff I stole that I actually ate. I figure God isn't going to send me to hell for stealing food to feed the cats.

Now I don't think the heat is working because it is very cold in here. When I first got in, I didn't notice the cold because it was so cold outside. Plus I had some beef jerky and crackers for the cats and they were so excited. I am wearing my coat and as many clothes as I can find but I think I can see my breath.

I also have another problem and it feels bigger to me than having no heat or food. I wrote on my desk in school. I don't mean I just wrote on the desk, I actually took a pen and carved my name on the desk. I don't know why I did this. I was bored I think. And I think Sister knows it because she keeps walking past my desk. I kind of fold my arms around my desk when she does this so she won't see but I am sure she sees it when I go home. I am really scared and wish more than anything I could go back in time and NOT carve my name in the desk.

March 11, 1960

Dear Mom,

There was no school today which is not such a good thing for me. At least it is warm in school and sometimes I can get some food from the poor table if Sister isn't looking. The cats and I slept all huddled together under as many blankets as I could find. They kept me warm so I really wanted to go find them some food. I am a little hungry, but I am a human and can ask for food. The cats can't so I feel like I should get them some. This time I did a little digging in the trash cans and had no problem. No one goes outside in the snow, so I didn't have to worry about being caught. Mrs. Brown had thrown away almost a whole loaf of bread and I found half a bag of potato chips in Mr. Denton's trash can.

I found a book by Edgar Allen Poe in Aunt's room. It was hard for me to read but I really loved The Tell Tale Heart. It was really scary. I liked The Raven too.

The cats ate the potato chips but didn't really like them. Tiny Tears wouldn't eat anything. Anyway, since it was so cold in the house and the cats needed the practice anyway, we all played "Green Alligators". The cats part was to be the unicorns and they really did good Mom. Course I think they thought I was going to give them some hot dogs but....

Haven't heard from Aunt.

March 12, 1960

Dear Mom,

Got a whole pack of hot dogs today! Joey Simpson's Mom gave them to me because she heard my cats liked them. Loud mouth Joey had to tell her. I ate two of them myself just as soon as I got home. I gave the cats two. I have six left and I got to make them last until St. Patrick's day or the cats won't be good unicorns.

Sister said something to me today that really scared me. She said that she hopes 'no one wrote on their desk' because they will be severely punished. Oh why did I write my name on that desk Mom? I have nightmares now about it. Sister also said I was going to have to wear cleaner clothes especially if I wanted to be in the St. Patrick's day show. I got to be in the St. Patrick's day show Mom! I don't care about anything but this. The unicorns are ready and I am saving my hot dogs.

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