GOLDIE WAS A GOOD FISH

A. JOLLYETTE ROGERS
There was a flash of gold against the green ceramic of the toilet bowl, and the ill fated fish was swallowed with the final slosh of water. The girl would have endlessly gazed into the aperture her fish had been washed down had it not been for her mother’s hand guiding her out of the bathroom, for her mother thought there were far better activities to occupy oneself with than staring into the toilet bowl, but the girl might have just disagreed. An empty gaze directed at the plumbing might have been exactly what she needed. To the mother, this impromptu fish wake was a rather bothersome interruption to the process of making dinner, which she resumed shortly after the funerary flush. Once she had nearly scrubbed the skin off her hands, disgusted by the thought of touching a fish carcass even through a glove, she continued to dice vegetables for that night’s dinner. The girl was now sitting on the floor, her chin settled upon her knees as she ogled the steel knobs of the cupboards. The singular sound in the room was the rhythmic chop, chop, chop of the knife sliding through a carrot and onto the dense wood of the cutting board. There was only a pause in the knife’s rhythmic beat when the mother heard the baby make a noise. Setting the knife aside, she went to go check on him, the inconsequential utterances of a sleeping baby a far worthier excuse for pause than a dead fish. When it was determined the whimper was nothing, the chop, chop, chop echoed once more. The girl had not moved or made a sound, nor did the mother speak, for she was otherwise engrossed, not by her chopping. Her mind was busy contemplating a conversation she had had with her sister the week before. The girl, who would usually be telling her mother about her day at school, also remained silent, too preoccupied by grief to speak. The girl would have sat there in her dolorous state had it not been for the fact that she, like any child of seven years, had a number of obligations anyone over such an age would find quite trivial. There were no exemptions from elementary school homework assignments on account of the plumbing-based departures of beloved, aquatic friends. She’d still have to remember how to define and spell “doubtful” for her quiz the next morning. As she stared at that word on the sheet her teacher had distributed the previous week, she couldn’t have loathed it more. It reminded her of what her mother had said before they sent her fish down the river, if that vile, manmade, subterranean procession of waste could really be considered the equal of a river. As they had stood, fish in hand, over the porcelain sepulcher, the girl asked her mother, “Are you sure he’s dead? What if you put him in there and he’s alive?” The mother glanced down at the slimy, gold lump in her hand. Her nose instinctively wrinkled in disgust. “It’s dead, sweetie.” “How do you know? He could be alive, right?” “That’s doubtful.” And with a fateful plunk, the fish met its watery grave. Nevertheless the girl remembered how to spell that dreaded word before she was tucked in that night. As she lay in bed, her eyes remained open, pointed towards the vacant fish bowl with its factory made pebbles, all various shades of blue and green, and plastic seaweed. Usually the bowl was in the living room, but she had taken it into her

bedroom that night. She gazed at the still water of the empty bowl until her eyes, too exhausted to stay open, fell shut with sleep. When morning came, the first thing she saw was the fish bowl, and when she was up and dressed, she took it with her. Neither of her parents knew what to say when she stood before them, ready for school and clutching residence of her deceased pet. Eventually her father, who took her to school every morning, said, “Put that down or we’re going to be late.” The girl glanced longingly at the bowl in her hands, but did as she was told. Without the fish bowl, she went to school where she got an A on her spelling test, the only A in her class. All the other children had omitted the B from “doubtful”, a mistake which accounted for all their B grades. She wasn’t one for bragging though. At recess she said nothing of it, for she said nothing at all. When the other kids ran around on the jungle gym or sat on the swings, she crouched under the shade of the looming oak at the edge of the field, and with the twig in her hand, she drew a fish in the soil around her. She was almost finished with it when the teacher called them all back into class. When the school day was over, the girl ran out to the playground. Seeing as it was a beautiful day, her mother simply assumed she wanted to run around with all the other children, so the mother was rather perplexed when the girl bolted past the jungle gyms and fell to her knees beneath the oak tree. The girl ran her fingers across the trampled drawing, obscuring it even further. The impressions of the soles of the shoes that adorned the other children’s feet covered the patch of soil that resembled a fish only an hour before. The girl glanced back at her mother. With a few of the other parents, the mother sat on a park bench, caressing the girl’s baby brother as he drooled and stared into nothingness like any ordinary baby. The mother had yet to notice the girl was distressed as she knelt under the oak tree. When the mother did glance over, she said, “Honey, get off the ground or you’ll ruin your pants.” The girl rose to her feet. Dark flecks of dirt were already ground into the ridges of the comparably light corduroy. Though she attempted to brush it off, around her knees a faint discoloring remained. Running to her mother, she asked, “Can we go home?” “Are you sure? It’s such a lovely day,” the mother insisted as she gestured toward the picturesque expanse of uninterrupted blue. The girl nodded. “I just want to go home.” The sun was out and the sky was cloudless for the entirety of the week, so each day the mother picked the girl up from school, the mother expected the girl to want to enjoy the weather’s pleasantness. Had such weather occurred the week before, the girl might have just been as delighted as the mother would anticipate, but no. She wanted to go home, for home was where the fish bowl resided. When she went home, she sat beside it, hugged it, stroked it, spoke to it. In that week she said more to the empty fish bowl than she did to her mother, whose worry only grew. The first day of the girl’s new behavior, the mother hardly took notice. She saw the bowl was placed next to the girl as she did her homework, but she was distracted by the baby too soon to make any mention of it. While the mother was making dinner, the girl didn’t come in to talk, which she often did unless her homework prohibited, so it was

only logical the mother assume that was the case. Only when they all sat down to dinner was the mother made fully aware of her daughter’s new habit. She had just begun to eat when she saw the glass orb of stale water and garish pebbles staring back at her from across the table. “What’s the fish bowl doing at dinner, honey?” she addressed the girl. The girl ran her fingers across the bowl’s sleek side, which was smooth in the way only mass produced glass products seem to be. To the unoccupied water rather than her mother, the girl said something just low enough for no one to hear. The only fragment anyone but the girl could hear was, “I’ll miss you.” After all her unintelligible mutterings had ceased, the girl took the bowl back into the living room. Once she was excused from the table at the end of dinner, the girl went right back to the bowl. The mother, who was otherwise engaged, said nothing of it. The weekend came and went, and the girl had had the fish bowl by her side for the entirety of it. Besides dinner, at which it was clear the abandoned aquatic dwelling was unwelcome, the girl experienced no separation from the bowl until school that Monday. After the girl’s uneventful classroom experience, she ran over to the mother, who waited outside. Upon reaching the mother, the girl, like she had done the week before, asked, “Can we go home now?” Surprised she’d ever need to command a child to do this, the mother ordered, “Go to the playground with the other children…You’ll have fun,” she felt the need to add, subtracting from the forcefulness of the first statement, but not making it any less mandatory. Obedient child she was, the girl complied. Once she entered the playground, she did nothing more than sit on the steps of the jungle gym and aim an occasional glance her mother’s way. Ending the several minutes of her solitude, a few children from the girl’s class ran up to her and inquired as to her participation in a game of kickball. Her eyes darted about them, then rolled with her head towards the sky. “Do you think,” she began, “about the sky? It’s so blue, and round. It’s like being inside a giant fish bowl, or maybe just a normal fish bowl, and the fish bowls we have are small. Maybe a kid owns this fish bowl, and watches us swim around inside it. Do you think that kid misses us when we’re gone?” All the other children stood in confused silence, until one boy, an excessively plump child with an unflattering skin tone that gave him the appearance of being perpetually sunburned, said, “We’re not in a stupid bowl. My dad says space is outside of the sky.” The girl’s eyes fell from the blue enclosure above them to the pudgy, pink boy’s face. “Space can be in the bowl.” A usually reticent girl with a quiet voice and twitchy feet broke her silence by adding, “The teacher says space goes on forever.” “How does she know? It’s a big place out there, a big fish bowl, and maybe that kid, the kid who owns our fish bowl, is in another fish bowl, and we’re all inside fish bowls inside more fish bowls.” “You’re weird,” the once pink, now scarlet, boy almost aggressively replied for lack of any argumentative retort to otherwise respond with. “Don’t play with us.” And with that he walked away, hesitantly followed by the remaining children.

The girl ran to her mother. “I want to go home.” After another day of watching the girl adoringly stroke the bowl, the mother had had enough of this concerning behavior. When the girl was at school the next day, the mother dumped the water out of the bowl, something she regretted not having done the second the fish was flushed. The girl was horrified when she came home. There was not a speck of her beloved algae, but still the bowl never left the girl’s side. Observing the whole ordeal was the girl’s aunt, who watched quietly from within the kitchen doorframe. When the girl had settled herself in the other room with her precious bowl and the mother had returned, the aunt pressed for an explanation. The mother sighed. “Her fish died, and I think it’s just that she hasn’t experienced death before.” “Her great uncle died last year. Did some fish send her a card on her birthday?” “No,” the mother admitted as if this affirmation were really necessary, “but she really loved that fish –” “Are you saying she didn’t love her uncle?” Assuring the overly-defensive aunt no, the mother continued, “I mean he lived in Florida, and the fish lived in our living room. It’s just a little closer than a card on her birthday.” The aunt shrugged. “If it were my kid, I’d just get another fish.” When the girl came home the next day she ran over to her bowl, now refilled with water in which a single, lonesome goldfish idly swam. Her eyes widened when she saw it. The mother stood behind her, waiting for the girl to make some exclamation of childishly mirthful surprise. After what was almost a minute of gaping at the fish, the girl turned around. For the first time in days, the two of them made eye contact. “Is that what the kid who owns our fish bowl does? Replaces us when we’re gone?” “W-what are you talking about, sweetie?” The girl skimmed her fingers across the surface of the water, no longer looking at her mother. “I don’t want to be replaced. I wanted to be missed…but it’s such a big fish bowl. How could anyone miss all of us?” “Don’t you like your new fish, dear?” The girl had stopped paying any mind to her mother long ago. “But don’t worry,” she assured the fish, “I’ll miss you.” With far greater urgency, the mother pressed, “Honey, what are you talking about?” When the girl didn’t respond, the mother stood, taking the bowl with her, and shuffled to the dining room, where she placed the bowl on an unoccupied portion of the credenza. The girl was kneeling on the floor when the mother came back and asked, “Are you sad, dear?” Pulling her knees into her chest, the girl began to cry. “I don’t know. I feel... trapped.” Having lowered herself to the ground as well, the mother enveloped the girl in her arms and didn’t let go for an hour at the least, when her daughter’s sobs finally ceased. That night when the girl’s father came home, the mother related the day’s events. After a

lengthy discussion, they decided it was in everyone’s best interest to seek therapy for their daughter. When the girl was in school the following day, the mother went on a hunt for prospective shrinks. A day of searching turned up a lanky man with copper curls and a voice like butter left on the counter for hours. The girl’s first appointment was that Sunday. The shrink’s waiting room was perhaps the most banal space the girl had ever encountered. The secretary was the same shade of beige as the walls. The girl was surprised that the plaster hadn’t come to reclaim its missing piece, swallow the secretary into the hole she left in its spackle splotched expanse. There was one lonely interruption to the insipidity of the room, a fish tank. The rocks might have been hideously brunneous, the seaweed just as dull, and the fish were portly as well as achromatic, but they caught the girl’s attention, which was instantly ripped away by the secretary, who called her name. She knew she was supposed to sit on that couch of muted tones, which matched the walls spite one vibrant painting of almost cubist flowers that just seemed so extrinsic amongst the various shades of beige. The couch sunk comfortably beneath her as she sat down. She could feel the taupe corduroy assuage the uncertainty that was ever growing inside her, uncertainty that stemmed from a lack of knowledge as to why she was there. Those inklings of anxiousness flared at the entrance of the shrink, who took the armchair across from her. His voice was indescribably soothing, and it soon mollified her uneasy sentiments. As the appointment progressed, it never really occurred to her to bring up the fact that she felt her world existed in an impenetrable orb of glass, nor did it occur to the shrink to ask. All that the girl could think to do in this foreign setting was stare at her feet, and occasionally glance up at the shrink, who always smiled warmly when she did so. She would try to smile back, but the alien setting somehow forbid her from curling her lips in return. Fish never came up, not during that appointment, and not in any for years to come. Once a week she’d come and sit on the corduroy couch, witness a new sweater vest adorn the shrink’s aging torso. Every week the girl was convinced the shrink looked progressively more like his chair, but she said nothing of it, like how she said nothing when the vivid, abstract flowers were removed from the wall to make room for a vapid landscape. As grey hairs weaved their way into the shrink’s tawny locks, the girl never thought once to mention fish, and in time, she, at least consciously, forgot all about them. She was fourteen when her fish died, and though she had barely paid any mind to it in life, she was suddenly woebegone at its death, and she hadn’t the slightest clue why. The shrink blamed it upon the depression he had diagnosed her with, ands in his mellifluous voice he called it “a reminder of the fragility of life,” but that didn’t matter; the girl was still quite dejected over the fish she had frequently forgotten to feed. When she stood over the toilet, the muculent mound of expired flesh heavy in her hand, she felt guilty for all those times she forgot to feed it. Her mother always got around to it if she didn’t, so the fish hardly knew the difference, but she couldn’t help that feeling of compunction that overwhelmed her. Though she was hardly sure why, tears fell from her eyes as she lowered the fish into the basin of the toilet. As she pushed the lever

to send the fish to the necropolis of beloved aquatic pets, a place better known as the sewer, she found her self saying, “I’ll miss you.” The girl never got another fish, but she for some reason found herself unable to dispose of the bowl. It sat in disuse, collecting dust beside her desk. Years went by and she never touched the bowl, never directly looked at it. It held a permanent residency in the corner of her eye, like how the thoughts it had incited dwelled in the back of her mind, refusing to make themselves known to any consciousness. Since her fish’s death, the first contact she had with the bowl was tripping over it while looking for her black shoes, the ones that matched the ebony dress she had adorned for her mother’s funeral. Brushing off the dense layer of dust, she took the bowl with her. Everyone thought it was just a vase, for she had filled the bowl with flowers as to not look so outlandish. Though she had lamented for a fish, her eyes were dry as she stood above her mother’s grave. They only began to grow moist as she placed the bowl of daisies beside the professional flower arrangement atop her mother’s coffin. The other funeral-goers tried their best to hide their expressions of bewilderment out of sensitivity, but the girl paid no mind to them. Blinking back tears as the dirt hid both mother and fish bowl from sight, the girl muttered, “I’ll miss you.” Everyone either looked at their feet or the headstone as the soil, displaced to make way for the coffin, was returned to the ground. That is everyone but the girl, whose eyes were fixed on the cerulean cage above them. As others mourned she smiled, to herself and to the child in possession of their fish bowl, for she no longer felt so trapped. Maybe that child missed her mother, would miss her, but it’s such a colossal fish bowl, so spacious, so populous, filled with other fish, who live and die, who missed her mother, and would miss her. She just hoped that there were others beyond the fish bowl to miss the child, for even that fish, so grand and sublime, celestial even, is just a fish after all and must be missed.

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