The prognostications of Mr. Fish

Vitou, Constantine

Walking quickly to keep pace with him, we would ask: “Tell us Mr. Johnny Fish, what's the weather going to be like tomorrow'?" Without breaking stride, Mr. Fish would look up at the sky and deliver his forecast: “Tomorrow it’s going to rain in the morning, but it will be sunny and nice in the afternoon --- just heavenly.” We would thank him, run home, up a flight of stairs and before someone else broke this hot piece of news to her, excitedly disclose, “Ma, Ma, Mr. Fish says it’s going to rain tomorrow, but don’t worry, it will be nice in the afternoon.” Johnny’s forecast to inquiring youngsters was absolute dogma. To this day, I don’t think he was ever wrong. Or so it seems. But then, one must remember that the days of Mr. Johnny Fish go back more than sixty years.

We would meet Mr. Fish walking along William Street in Griffen Town, a neighbourhood in Montreal noted for being the most impoverished district of a destitute region. Whereas the average monthly rent in the city proper was about $40.00 a month, one could rent the “best” house on William Street, the hub of Griffen Town for about $2.50 a month, tops.

Our own house had slanting floors, a dilapidated stairwell and was of dubious architectural stability. But this was home for my struggling parents and their four young children.

We didn‘t know where Johnny lived. He just seemed to appear from nowhere at the top of William Street. His gait was so unique that even as young pre-teenage children we were able to identify him blocks away.

He didn’t swing his arms when he walked, but kept them close to his side. He seemed tall, but then again we were youngsters and height was relative. He was a fairly young man, perhaps in his thirties, certainly younger than my father or uncle.

Forever gentle and obliging but sombre, he was always humming or chanting, seemingly discussing the weather with obscure powers that we were never privileged to see. I recall him always wearing a brown jacket and dark trousers.

When we spotted Johnny, we would run enthusiastically to greet him, and he would walk with a child on each side grasping his motionless hands.

“Mr. Johnny, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow’?”, we'd ask excitedly.

He would continue walking hand in hand with the inquiring youngsters, look up at the sky and then, after a moment of deliberation, form his weather prediction. Even on a cloudless day, he would study the sky from various angles, hesitate for a moment, then announce his forecast. We knew his careful scrutiny of the sky meant an accurate forecast for he didn’t want to disappoint us.

Johnny was respected by everyone in the neighbourhood, youngsters and parents alike. I can still recall my mother asking: “If you see Mr. Johnny Fish today, ask him about the weather for this weekend, and if it’s nice, we’ll make sandwiches and go to Fletcher’s Field for a picnic.” Fletcher’s Field was an open field at the foot of Mount Royal, a good hour‘s walk from William Street. Other children may have enjoyed car rides in the country or trips to the beach, but for us this picnic ground was Shangri-La. And Johnny’s forecast made it all possible. In fact, we believed that it was his mastery in producing good weather that gave us our picnics.

Medical school and my rotating internship in psychiatry after graduation made me sadly aware of Johnny’s affliction -- his distinctive gate, his soliloquizing, his mannerism. Unfortunately, Johnny lived before the advent of neuroleptic pharmacology.

There just wasn’t any treatment for schizophrenia then.

It is obvious that kindness and friendliness have nothing to do with functional cognition. Today, I’m sure Johnny would be put on risperidone or clozapine or some such drugs enabling him to have a more complete and deserved mode of living.

I don‘t know what became of Johnny. When my father changed jobs, we moved from Griffen Town to an area too far away for us children to revisit. My parents inquired, but it seemed Johnny just vanished. Many thought he had moved away, but the youngsters were absolutely convinced some communication medium somehow, somewhere had hired him to give weather predictions.

As children, we always thought of him as someone very intelligent, pleasant and kind, a good person who was singularly capable of giving us enjoyable weather. He added some sunshine in very difficult times.

It’s obvious that Johnny imprinted a positive mark in a child’s mind for me to be able to still recall him after so many years. I don’t know where Johnny is today or if he’s still alive. I don’t even know if Johnny Fish was his real name or just a name he gave himself.

I hope that time was kind to him and he was able to savor some of the happiness that was due. It would be more than adequate and fitting if it was even a fraction of the happiness he dispersed throughout Griffen Town.

Perhaps, wherever he is, he is still giving his weather forecasts, looking down on our sky and reporting, “It’s nice and sunny --- just heavenly.”

Theme: History | Histoire
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Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.




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