There was a girl who had a father. The girl’s name was Peculiar, the father’s was Pendulum.
Pendulum loved three things:
- The plants in his garden.
- The fish in his aquarium.
- Crossing tasks off the list he kept in his shirt pocket.
Pendulum was good at taking care of things like that.
Pendulum was a big man. When Peculiar was a little girl he’d sit her on his lap, surrounded by the plants in his garden where she’d clap her hands and talk baby talk gibberish to no one in particular. Pendulum wore thick-framed glasses and had severe black eyebrows above them, but in pictures of such times Peculiar could later, when she was all grown up and Pendulum was gone, detect a certain pleasure behind his shaded dark eyes.
Pendulum had had a father, too, one who never held him on his lap and one who had said exactly 100 words to him in his entire life—Pendulum knew because he had counted. Because of a father like that, he didn’t know quite what to do with little Peculiar. But one thing he did do was to make sure he said more than 100 words to her by the time she learned to walk—words like “hi” and “ice cream,” “sycamore” and “angelfish.” He knew when he’d gotten to 100 because he had counted.
When Peculiar was a little older, Pendulum and Peculiar’s mother decided to move to a big city that was very far away. There, Pendulum couldn’t do the first thing he loved, gardening, but he could cross many more things off the list he kept in his shirt pocket because the pace of life was faster in the big city and he wouldn’t have all that weeding to do. And at least he still had his fish tank.
In the big, faraway city, the family was known to go out for Saturday hamburgers (they were on Pendulum’s list for that day of the week). Hamburgers were Pendulum’s favourite, while Peculiar opted for chicken enchiladas with green sauce on them. Peculiar would walk behind her father and when his arms would swing, he’d slap her hand behind him so they made a clapping sound as they strode along, just like one of those wooden clacker toys and very like the clapping sound Peculiar once made on Pendulum’s lap in his former garden away from the big city.
When Peculiar got a little older, father and daughter stopped their clap-walk trick, along with their high-fives and dates to clean Pendulum’s fish tank and piggyback rides in the swimming pool of their tall apartment building in the big city. Pendulum didn’t know what to do then, with a little not so little girl.
Peculiar started wetting her bed, even though she was too old to be doing something like that.
When Peculiar got even older (and her bed wetting had stopped years before—thankfully and abruptly, at her first slumber party), she got into trouble at the school in the big city and started doing all the things parents are afraid of. Pendulum told her mother that she was too easy on the girl and told Peculiar she’d end up a juvenile delinquent. Then he went back to watching his fish swim and making bold sweeps of his pen.
Peculiar tried to get Pendulum’s attention. She decided to take up a sport. The only one she was suited to was the one where all the girls wore funny outfits and did dances and splits on the sidelines. But Pendulum didn’t come to watch because he never liked silly sports like that and because his work was on the other side of the big city, too far away by taxi or bus or train. Then Peculiar got into trouble on the team because she smoked cigarettes and couldn’t run as fast or jump as high as the other funny outfitted girls anymore anyway on account of her smoky lungs.
Peculiar and her best friend got all dressed up to go to a dance and tried to show Pendulum how pretty they looked in their red lipstick and curled hair, all grown up. But Pendulum was too busy watching the TV and his fish tank that sat next to it, alternating his eyes between the blue of both, to notice.
Finally, Peculiar decided to sing and act in a school musical, in a play she thought her father would like, even though it had nothing to do with plants or fish or completing tasks. But then she got in trouble with the police on the day of the musical, over a small matter of taking something that didn’t belong to her, and she missed the performance while she was rolling black ink on her fingers. Pendulum and her mother missed it too.
After that, Pendulum and her mother decided it was time to leave the big city once and for all and go back to the small town where Pendulum could garden and where Peculiar wouldn’t smoke or steal things or do funny dances anymore. Pendulum could still cross a lot of things off his list while living there, after all.
But Peculiar didn’t like it in the small town where she was born, despite the beautiful garden and the bigger, more beautiful aquarium that her father now had room for in the house. She’d liked it in the big city.
So Peculiar came home less and less and eventually she left the house and the garden altogether for a nearby city—smaller than the one far away that she’d grown up in, but a city nonetheless.
Peculiar was happy in the new medium-sized city. Her one big complaint was that she started having to go to the bathroom every hour on the hour at night (or really in the morning)—12:00, 1:00, 2:00 and so on. It made her wish she would just wet her bed like she used to and get some uninterrupted sleep.
Only one time did Pendulum and her mother come to visit Peculiar. She made them a special dinner and a special dessert that Pendulum didn’t comment on. After that, Pendulum showed Peculiar a plant he’d brought for her. It was sitting outside her front door in a big, clay pot and she could see that it had bright pink blossoms. Pendulum explained that it always had those blossoms, even when it wasn’t watered for weeks on end. He explained that it was the perfect plant for Peculiar because, unlike him, she didn’t have a knack for taking care of things. As far as he could tell.
Soon after that, Peculiar went to a place where a tiny woman talked to her in a voice like freshly baked bread and inserted special pins into certain points on Peculiar’s skin. Peculiar felt like a pincushion or a voodoo doll, but she stopped having to go to the bathroom every hour on the hour at night. After a while, Peculiar could go weeks without any pinpricks and still sleep through the night without getting up (except for maybe once like everybody else).
After some time of sleeping through the night, Peculiar started to feel the best she’d ever felt since leaving the big city she’d loved. Then one day she got a call from Pendulum. He’d only called her once before and that was when he’d gotten some big, good news: he was elected town gardener of her hometown and would be called upon to oversee all the trees and shrubs and flowers around all the small town’s official buildings. But now he was calling her with big, bad news: he was sick. Very sick.
“Really?” asked Peculiar, incredulous, for Pendulum had rarely had a runny nose or a stomach-ache.
“Really,” Pendulum pronounced.
“Is it bad?” Peculiar asked, hearing the same tone in his voice he had when he talked of the PH level in his aquarium.
“Quite,” he said.
“Okay,” Peculiar said, “I’ll come and see you,” and that night she got up to go to the bathroom five or six times.
Peculiar began making the long drive to visit Pendulum every other week, usually on Sundays. First she visited him at home, then in the hospital, and then at home again. Pendulum got so sick he had to give away his aquarium—he gave it to the mayor who placed it in city hall with a special plaque honoring Pendulum’s service as town gardener—and he couldn’t keep the weeds out of his yard. Pendulum still kept a list though. He now wrote and crossed off entries like Eat breakfast, Try walking ten steps, Eat lunch, Eat dinner, Peculiar visit, Shave, and basic things like that.
Sometimes Peculiar would do her best to weed Pendulum’s garden. Other times she would help her mother lift heavy things or figure out how to turn on the TV.
One day Peculiar visited Pendulum and he looked really bad. His eyebrows were sparse and had turned completely white. He just lay in bed with a pained expression on his face (even though he and the doctors insisted he wasn’t in any pain). All the hair had fallen off his head and he didn’t look very big anymore, except for his bones. Because he couldn’t work on his list and had nothing interesting to look at—no plants, no fish swimming around—he’d taken to counting. He’d pick a random number and start counting from there on up, until he reached 100, tapping his bald, scarred head with every tally. Sometimes he asked Peculiar to count with him, so cradling his head-tapping hand, she would. And he would thank her.
Some time later, Pendulum stopped counting. Instead he lay with his eyes closed and the same pained expression on his face. Peculiar sat by his bed and watched him for hours. He was peaceful, like a slumbering bird-man with his olive-skinned head, his stretches and snores and scratches, his long, black eyelashes draping his cheeks. When he opened his eyes, Peculiar noticed something she’d never seen before. First, they appeared to be watering. Second, with his glasses and his dark, severe eyebrows gone, it was like she could see them clearly for the first time. And it turned out they were the same exact chocolatey color as hers. And, for the first time seeing them, really seeing them, the word that came to her mind about his eyes when he looked into hers was, well, full. And she was.
As a boy, Pendulum’s father gave him only one gift. It was a fish bowl with a fancy-finned fish inside it and a solitary underwater plant. Pendulum, thinking how his father had never done anything like that before, had named the fish Peculiar.