While riding on the train in Sydney today, we lost Delaney’s precious cuddly toy — Fishy — which acts as a stand-in for her comfort rug. However, David launched a daring rescue and brought Fishy back to the bosom of our baby.

Delaney with Fishy, January 2012
Delaney loves to take Fishy with us when we go on outings.

Fishy is one-of-a-kind. Irreplaceable. It was made especially for Delaney by a friend in the United States who also sewed up Dell’s comfort blanket.

We are sitting on the train, in a mostly empty carriage. The girls are delighted to be travelling on this exciting mode of transport and are hanging off the poles and climbing up and down the steps even while the train is in motion. They’re tanked up from our fruit smoothies, and the sugar is making them happy and loud.

When the train stops at the first station past Bondi Junction, the doors to our carriage open, but no one gets on. The girls keep playing. With an automated warning, the doors start to close.

And the impossible happens. At the same time as the doors close, Delaney throws Fishy in glee. I watch its trajectory as if it’s flying in slow-motion. The soft yellow fish noses through a hand-wide crack in the closing doors and dives down into the dark void between the train and the platform.

It’s gone.

What are the odds? If you had tried to aim it between two objects six inches apart, you’d have had a hard time making the target. For Fishy to squeeze successfully between the two small cracks in that specific window of time … well, that is phenomenal.

Dell, of course, can’t understand where Fishy is gone. And it is impossible to successfully communicate the finality of its demise. She starts crying, heartbroken.

David responds. Rallying us into action, he shepherds us off the train at the next station. The train guard calls to us as we alight. “You won’t be able to retrieve your toy,” he warns. “It’s fallen on the tracks.”

Nevertheless, we cross the platform and ride the next train in the opposite direction back to Edgecliff, the station where Fishy is lost. We’re going to try anyway.

We need to first locate Fishy. Which section of train were we riding? Is the toy still intact? Or is it lying shredded on the tracks by the multiple trains that have already passed?

Taking turns, David and I start looking. Leaning over the edge of the platform is a bit scary. Not to mention the fact that we’re crossing the yellow line!

Glancing up at the cameras as if to apologise for our errant ways, we still break the rules. As we take turns leaning out and over the tracks (at the same time vociferously telling the girls that they need to stay waaayyy back from the edge), we realise that we can’t see anything beside on the tracks — it’s all a murky black.

The platform hangs out over the tracks, and a dark void sits alongside the metal railway. We peer in the gloom but it’s hard to see anything down there.

David pulls out his new phone and directs the light onto the tracks. (No, we haven’t discovered the torch app at that point.) The phone’s light doesn’t help much, and “Don’t drop it!” I nervously bark.

We have to pull away from the edge as a train approaches the station. We wait, impatiently, for the train to leave again. Then we’re back at the edge.

I discover that if I give my eyes time to adjust to the gloom, I can make out some rubbish alongside the rail. Then I notice a pale blob that may or may not be Fishy. “Is this it?” I ask David, and I move back from the edge to mind the children.

David leans over the precipice. “Yes,” he calls. We both glance at the screen advertising the next train’s arrival. Four minutes. Do we wait? Or do we try to sweet-talk a rail worker into retrieving Fishy for us?

“It’s now or never,” David says, and leaps over the side. The rails are probably five feet below the platform. He picks Fishy up and then hoists himself back up to our level. It takes only a couple seconds, but we feel like he’s just stared danger in the face and survived.

David’s hands are blackened from the rail and the edge of the platform. Fishy is also darker than usual.

I walk over to where Delaney is sitting patiently in her pram and hand her the toy. She accepts it with alacrity. No thank you. Not even a smile. She just fingers the corner of its tail and pops her thumb into her mouth.

Delaney has no idea what we’ve just done for her. She has no understanding of what it takes to parent consciously — all the services we offer and the sacrifices we make.

But we offer our services cheerfully anyhow. She’s worth it. They’re all worth it.

Postnote: While walking through Central station several days later, we met the train guard who had seen Fishy disappear onto the tracks (he said we were an easy family to remember). He asked us what happened in the end, and we told him this story. He was friendly and congratulatory on the Fishy rescue!