Disclaimer: Marlin, Nemo, and Coral are the property of Disney/Pixar.
A Bedtime Story
"So, Nemo, are you ready for your first day of school tomorrow?"
"Uh-huh!" chirped Nemo, bouncing on the anemone floor. Oh yeah, he was ready. I wished I felt the same way. He was growing up so fast, but I wanted him to stay little forever.
"I'll get to see all the kids, and ride on a stingray!" Nemo continued. "Have you ever ridden a stingray?"
"Well no, my teacher was a skate. Now settle down, you have to get up early tomorrow."
"Will you tell me a story?" asked Nemo, still jumping.
"Only if you stop bouncing," I said half sternly. Nemo stopped.
"Now, what story do you wanna hear?"
"Tell me about Mom."
"Oh no, Nemo." I tried to hide the sadness in my voice. "Not tonight, I-I'm just not up to it."
"Please Dad? You don't have to tell the sad part if you don't want to. It's just-when you tell me about her, it's almost like I can remember her." He looked at the floor, his lucky fin fluttering at his side like always. "I wish I could."
"Oh Nemo, you were so little then," I said, resting my fin on his back. "I could hold you in the middle of my fin. Of course you wouldn't remember."
He looked up at me hopefully, sensing that I was about to give in. I sighed.
"Your mother was the most beautiful fish in the ocean. She was smart and kind . . . And she loved you so much, Nemo. In fact, she was the one who named you. If it wasn't for her you'd be Marlin Jr."
Nemo made a face, almost a grimace.
"What?" I laughed in spite of myself.
"Nothing Dad, it's just that... I'm really glad Mom named me."
I smiled. "Me too. Your mom was a lot more creative than I am. I wanted to name all your brothers Marlin Jr. and all your sisters Coral Jr."
Nemo laughed a little. "Wouldn't that be confusing?"
"Not as confusing as trying to think of four hundred names. And remember them, no less."
"Four hundred brothers and sisters . . . Dad . . . Are you sure I was the only one that-that survived?"
It broke my heart. I know how much he wanted a brother or sister. God knows I wanted him to have brothers and sisters too.
"Nemo . . . I told you before that I looked all over the drop off after I found you. There was no one else."
"I know but . . . what if an egg got buried in the sand, and you didn't see it?"
"I-I suppose it's possible . . ." No, it wasn't. If any others had survived, I surely would have seen them, or at least heard about them. Word travels fast in the ocean. But I didn't have the heart to crush Nemo's last hope of having a sibling.
A smile warmed Nemo's little face. "Maybe there's other clownfish my age swimming out there." He gazed up at the water above our anemone. "Maybe even one with a lucky fin."
"Yeah . . . Maybe." I hoped he didn't hear my voice catch. The thought of all the little clownfish that should have been swimming around the reef, but weren't . . . I almost couldn't bear it.
"Dad? Are you okay?" Nemo looked up at me questioningly. I took a deep breath, trying to regain my composure. But my face must have told him exactly what I felt. "It's okay, Dad, we don't have to talk about it any more." He folded his fins sadly against his sides and sank to the anemone floor. It was as if he knew just by looking at my face that his dream would never be. Slowly I sank down beside him. I hated to see him like this, especially right before his first day of school.
"Oh Nemo, I'm so sorry."
"No Dad, I . . . I didn't mean to make you sad . . ."
"You didn't make me sad Nemo. The barracuda did."
"I know." His hopeful look returned. "But you and Mom stood up to him, didn't you?"
"Yes, we did."
Nemo smiled. "You were really brave, weren't you?"
I nodded. Yes, we had been brave, but what good had it done? Coral's desperate attempt to save our eggs had been in vain. And I hadn't been able to stop the barracuda. If I hadn't landed in the anemone, I would have died too, and then who would have taken care of Nemo? But apparently Nemo wasn't thinking about that. He wanted his parents to be heroes, even if they failed. He closed his eyes, a smile still on his lips.
"Night Dad," he sighed.
"Good night Son," I said softly. Sometimes I wished I could be brave again, to be the hero my son wanted me to be, that perhaps I once was. But after what had happened, I just couldn't. Or at least I didn't think I could. My eyes drooped shut as I settled into a restless sleep.