Fortune Teller Fish
I love Christmas crackers.
When I was a kid, my Dad would buy a box of 12 (just one box, mind) many weeks before the big day and I would find myself staring at it for hours on end, imagining what the delicate crepe-paper tubes held inside.
At the time, the possibilities seemed endless. But, in fact, there were only a few likely options. Alongside the paper hats (so thin they ripped apart on my unkempt Christmas day hair within minutes) there were terrible jokes that, no-matter how groan-worthy each had to be read out as soon as they were hatched from their crackers.
But it was the gift that I always coveted, searching frantically for it on the floor while the snap from the cracker was still ringing in my ears. And what exactly were these priceless little pressies, rendered in the finest plastic craftsmanship?
There was usually a ring not quite large enough to fit anyone's finger; a yo-yo that escaped its string with one or two less-than-aggressive moves; a whistle guaranteed to annoy everyone for five minutes until it mysteriously disappeared; and two strange face adornments: a plastic moustache that attached to the bottom of the divide between your nostrils, irritating you so much your eyes would water; and a pair of rosy-red lips that you placed over your existing lips and that tasted like you'd rubbed your mouth with warm crayons.
There was one gift, though, that I always craved. And if anyone found one in their cracker, they were under strict orders to hand it over to me. The Fortune Teller Fish was a crinkled sliver of bright red cellophane shaped like an unidentified water-dweller and housed in a little holder with a slip of paper that decoded its secrets. The idea was to place the flat fish onto someone's palm where the cellophane's instant response would reveal deep, dark insights about the hand's owner.
A moving head? That meant Jealousy. A moving tail? Independence. And -- the one most of us kids wanted to avoid -- the moving head and tail, which could mean only one thing: you were In Love. It was a revelation that triggered howls of "wooo-oooos" from everyone around you. I went as red as the fish itself if that response came up. I would have preferred the always rare Motionless response, which -- apparently -- denoted a Dead One. Of course, anyone who has a dead person at their Christmas Day dinner table, probably had bigger issues to deal with than worrying about being caught In Love.
Even now, family members know The Fortune Teller Fish must be surrendered to me if it pops out of their Christmas cracker and I am within 100 miles of the table. But the main reason I have a dozen of them tucked into my desk drawer today is my Dad. He may have bought the cheapest crackers he could find when I was growing up -- it was all he could afford -- but he knew how much fun they delivered on the big day. And although I missed many Christmases with him during my adult life, he always saved the Fortune Teller Fish from his crackers for me, making sure to deliver them to me in a little white enveloped whenever I visited.