Apr 1997

My Five Unicorns

by Pat Fish

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 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 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 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 every student who sells a Catholic Review will get a night with no homework. Last year, I was the only kid in the class who 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 who 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 the snow will cause a problem with the St. Patrick's day show. That's almost nine 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"... you 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 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 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.


March 13, 1960

Spent all day today trying to wash my clothes. I don't know much about Aunt's old washing machine. Aunt always washed the clothes. Anyway I found some soap powder and pushed some buttons. For a day after the snow storm nothing was coming out of the faucets except a drip, but now there seems to be water. The weather has gotten a lot warmer and if I turn the jets on the stove it heats up the kitchen. The cats and I sleep in there.

Only everything I washed got smaller. That real nice sweater you gave me for my last birthday Mom, now only fits Tiny Tears. I always loved that sweater, with the fabric rose buttons. Two of my uniforms faded real bad. I just know Sister will be so mad.

The cats had a wonderful meal of tuna fish! I managed to swipe two tuna fish sandwiches off of the poor table today. I wonder why they call it the poor table and why I don't qualify.

I found some old True Romance magazines in Aunt's room and read every one. I know I could write as well as some of those stories Mom.

And next week... .ta da... .the St. Patrick's day show.


March 14, 1960

>Dear Mom,

I went to church today. I go to church every Sunday. Sister says Catholics go to Hell if they don't go to church on Sunday. Last Sunday I put two pennies in the collection basket. This Sunday I didn't have any money to put in the collection basket.

I stole some ground beef out of Mrs. Brown's refrigerator. I confessed to Father Parks about the hot dogs I stole, but like I said, only those I ate. I intend to do the same thing about the ground beef. The cats and I were so hungry, I didn't even try to do anything with the hamburger but to fry it up in the frying pan. Then the cats and I sat down at the kitchen table and ate hamburger right from the pan.

Cindy Baker came over and we played jump rope. The weather is getting real nice. I was so happy to play for a while, I almost slipped and told Cindy about my unicorns. I even had fun though Cindy sometimes cheats. We did "fudge,fudge... call the judge... mama's got a newborn baby... .wrap it up in tissue paper... send it up the elevator... first floor... .STOP". The idea is the person turning the jump rope tries to trick the jumper. So I went "second floor... .." then I waited a long time while Cindy jumped even if I winked an eye. Then I went "JUMP" when Cindy least expected it and she stepped on the rope. Only she says she didn't. We got into a fight and Cindy went home. I didn't care, I was tired of her anyways. I hope Cindy confesses to Father Parks about her cheating and lying. I wonder if I could confess for her.

Still haven't heard from Aunt. If I don't hear from her soon I am going to call somebody. I may as well wait until after the St. Patrick's day show. Then I guess I will call the police. I would ask Sister to help but she is still mad at me about the writing on the desk. She hasn't done anything yet. I wish she would just punish me or whatever she is going to do.


March 15, 1960

Dear Mom,

Since we ate all the ground beef, I had to go through Mrs. Brown's garbage. She caught me and gave me a really hard time about it. I told her I was looking for food for my cats, that Aunt says I have to feed them myself. I was kind of scared. I figure if she knew Aunt was gone she might call the police or worse, Sister. No matter what I want to be in the St. Patrick's day show.

But Mrs. Brown told me I should get some sort of job to feed my cats, that going through people's garbage was not respectable. She did ask me how was Aunt, and I told her she was fine.

With Mrs. Brown on to my garbage taking, I had to go out of the neighborhood. It was kind of scary. I went picking through some trash cans and this really ugly guy yelled at me. Finally I found some food in the big bin at the Gino's down from Aunt's. Some real good food, too. I got right down in the can and picked up every hamburger bit or roll I could find. When I got home, the cats were really happy. Even Tiny Tears ate a hamburger roll.

I saved a whole bunch of hamburger bits and we all practiced being unicorns. My hot dogs are still in the refrigerator, waiting for St. Patrick's day. Sometimes I get real hungry and think about eating them. But I couldn't eat the cat's food. They depend on me.

Anyway, the unicorn practice went well. What I do, I have them all stand in a line and follow me. Course I have to drop some pieces of hot dog in just such a way they know where to go. They don't even bother with the cone horns any more and they do look so cute. I just can't wait I just can't wait.

Father Parks talked to me today. He thinks I spent my collection money on a doughnut and chocolate milk at the bakery. I did do that one time before and confessed my sin to Father Parks. So since I didn't have any money for the collection plate, he asked me if I might have gone to the bakery again. Which I don't think is real fair, since I don't think the Father is supposed to talk about stuff you said in confession. Father told me he knows Aunt always gives me collection money and since I didn't have any, I must have spent it. Father told me I would go to Hell for spending God's collection money. I decided if I was going to Hell anyway I may as well not even go to Mass on Sunday.

Found a whole bunch of newspapers outside of the school. Nobody appeared to own them so I brought them all home. Read them all... even the classified ads.

Sister still has said nothing about writing on the desk. I wonder if I will get away with it.


March 16, 1960

Dear Mom,

Had to use a hot dog today to practice with the unicorns... I mean cats. Hahaha. Still have plenty left for the St. Patrick's day show. I tell you, Susie Puke's humpty backed camels have nothing on my unicorns!

Going to bed early. Starched my uniform for the show tomorrow. It is really really shiny. Am excited. Weather is warm so I probably can sleep in the bed tonight. Had dinner at Cindy Baker's house. I ate so much Mrs. Baker thought I was hiding food. Which I was. Managed to get three pieces of chicken out of there, hidden in my socks.

Talk to you tomorrow, Mom. St. Patrick's Day!!!


March 18, 1960

Dear Mom,

Miss Virginia is downstairs right now and waiting for me. I begged her to let me write this letter because, well, I don't know when I might be able to write to you again. And Miss Virginia says when she finds out your address, she will definitely let me send you all my letters.

I took the cats to the St. Patrick's day show. Only things didn't turn out quite the way I thought they would. I guess it's probably okay though. Miss Virginia seems nice enough.

After I got home from school last night I changed my clothes. I did not have anything real nice to wear, so I took some clothes out of Aunt's closet. I had to put a belt around the skirt to hold it up but it looked pretty good. Then I had to take the cats to the school. The show was held in the combination lunch room and auditorium. Anyway, I hadn't figured the cats would be so hard to transport. Actually, I hadn't thought about it at all. And it was a problem.

You really can't make cats walk on a leash. And they don't especially follow you when you want them to. So I carried them all in a cardboard box except Tiny Tears. I had to carry her on my shoulder because she is so sick.

It was hard walking along with four cats in the box and Tiny Tears on my shoulder. And my skirt kept slipping so I almost fell a couple of times. Anyway, I finally made it to St. Patrick's Elementary School and was ready and real excited.

Each grade got to do a little act and sing a song. All the parents were there. Except you Mom. I hope you come home soon so you can go to the school shows like the other parents.

Anyway, it was our classes' turn. The green alligators were really cool. Joan Petrucci's Mom made them. Joan and her sister both did a duck walk under the green felt. Course I couldn't watch the show because I was so nervous and because the cats were getting hard to control. They hated being in that box.

Finally it was time for "there is no unicorn." I got all the cats out of the box, put on their horns and put Tiny Tears down from my shoulder. Only she could hardly walk. I picked her up and carried her on the stage.

Mom, even though I had practiced for so long with the cats, I forgot there would be so many people at the show. I was dropping the hot dogs real nice and they all followed me from behind the curtains. It was when they saw all the people that they freaked out.

Jerry ran first. He ran off the stage he was so scared and ran right up Sister's habit. Sister was real mad and was screaming to get this cat off of her. Someone in the audience had to take off her habit to get the cat because he was really hurting Sister. It was kind of funny really, because Sister had on this great big pair of underwear. I have never seen underwear this big, it was like they were pants or something.

Ken just crouched down at first, then he took off when Sister screamed. Barbie and Joan each ran off the stage, over and through people. Soon everyone in the place was screaming and the cats were screaming too because people were stepping on them. It was so crazy and I couldn't do anything but hold on to Tiny Tears because she was so sick. The screaming and running went on for almost ten minutes but even with all this I couldn't think of anything but Tiny Tears and how worried I was. She depends on me and I let her down.

Then the police came.

Then I started to cry.

I couldn't help it Mom. I know you told me to be a big girl, that tears don't help a whole lot of things. But I just knew the police were going to take me away.

At first I thought they were going to take me away because I wrote on the desk. But then I realized having the cat run up Sister's habit was probably worse than this. For a moment, I thought maybe they were picking me up because I spent the collection money at the bakery.

Then I knew the truth was I was the one who brought these five cats and caused all these problems. And it didn't matter anymore whether I wrote on the desk or bought doughnuts with the collection money or stole from Mrs. Brown's trashcan. Because I knew I was going to be put in a home even if I wasn't sure which one of my many crimes was the reason. So I just started to cry.

And right then I didn't care what they did with me because Tiny Tears counted on me and I had to get her help. When the policeman came up on the stage he asked me what was wrong.

So I told him to please, please, please get all my cats. And to please, please, please let me take Tiny Tears to the doctors because she was real sick. I told him we didn't have any heat during the snow storm and I don't think I have been getting Tiny Tears enough to eat. I just cried and sobbed and told the policeman I will pay for the desk and I promise to leave Mrs. Brown's trashcans alone. I was just real upset Mom.

The policeman had me sit in a chair and promised me he would get help for Tiny Tears and he would find all my cats. He was real nice. He told me to just sit in a chair.

That's when Miss Virginia showed up. I had stopped crying right now, but I was ready to start again. Tiny Tears just lay on my shoulder. I just felt so bad she had counted on me to take care of her and what a lousy job I was doing.

So Miss Virginia took me to this real nice place last night. She had a brother who was an animal doctor and he came over to get Tiny Tears. He told me he thought she had a stomach blockage, and if it weren't for me, she probably would be dead by now. That made me feel better. Miss Virginia took the other cats home with her and promised me she would take care of them.

So I am back here at Aunt's house and am packing all my stuff. Miss Virginia says I will go live with some nice people and she promises me I will be very happy. I told her I was pretty happy right now.

I probably won't be going back to St. Patrick's school. Miss Virginia says I will probably go to another school as nice, or nicer, than St. Patrick's. And she did let me write this letter and she says when she finds out your address she will let me send you the letters.

Miss Virginia promises she will take care of my cats and just as soon as I go to a new home she will try to let me take one or two of the cats with me. But she is so nice Mom, because she said I could visit them anytime.

Which is so important, because they really depend on me.

Bye, Mom.


Pat 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, she has tried her hand at writing short stories. She considers the one here her best piece so far.