FathomOnline

 

 Fathom 1994

Cover

 

Inside Cover

 

Poetry

Graham Touchie (3)
Derrick Higginbotham
Tara J. Hoag (3)
Jason Holt (3)
Nadine Herman

Prose

Otto Lambert
Michael Kohn
Peter J. Taylor
Andrew Mitchell
Andrew MacLeod
Kenneth Gordon
Urs Frei

[PDF]

Andrew Mitchell

 

 

Goldfish

     There were eight of us then; that is, me, Sid, and the rest of my cold-blooded companions, they being Goldey, Stanley, Rover, Goldey II, Shirley, Harry, and Abraham. We were goldfish, and shared a tank with a gruff algae-eater named Simon.
     We lived a contented life in that tank, not really considering ourselves to be limited by the glass walls which held us in, for it was all we knew, that thirty-litre world. The very walls that held us captive kept the water in, and that was what was most important to us fish, valuing survival over principle. We belonged to joneses – pale, large, air-breathing food dispensers who looked after us fondly.
     At first, I admit, we were startled by their faces looking in at us, huge and distorted as they were by the refraction of glass and water, but as we grew accustomed to that, and to their tappings and splashings, we grew to be fond of them, too. When the light was on, we would swim about for them, and when the light was off, we would relax and talk about the general state of the tank. Simon never participated.
     Over the years, we had watched the joneses breed – or more appropriately put, we watched the results of their breeding – and grow into a family of five. The smaller joneses were trouble at first, and would throw their toys into the tank; miniature figurines who were heavily armed, paper boats that would sink and clog the filter, as well as plastic sharks and alligators, that while obviously frauds, fuelled the imaginations of many nervous and dreaming fish. They tapped a little harder than the larger joneses, and stared for hours longer; enough to give some of my aquatic amigos complexes: self-consciousness is a definite liability for fish, as we tend to go naked. Our very innards are faintly visible when, by accident, a fish should have the embarrassing misfortune to swim in front of the light. In plain view are pulsating silhouettes of our internal organs for everyone to see.
     The children grew, however, and sadly lapsed into indifference towards us fish. The very children we had heard speak first words (for our ears are quite good) and watched take first steps, first solid food, and piano lessons; whose delight we had shared when they opened presents at Christmas and on Birthdays; whose tears we had sympathized with and would have shared if it were biologically possible when knees were scraped, heads were knocked, and hearts were broken, no longer seemed interested in us.
     We were perfectly happy with the joneses to this point, and they were perfectly happy with us – but doubts had arisen, and quite justifiably, when the joneses got a cat. At their children’s insistence.
     “Did you see the size of it?” asked Goldey after lights out that night. “And keep in mind, we’re still dealing with a kitten here.” She was still in a state of shock, she being the lucky one, for the rest of us had gotten over the initial shock, and had lapsed into fear.
     “How could they?” asked Rover. Rover was a vain fish and took the joneses’ acquisition of the kitten as a personal insult to his fishiness and credibility as a pet.
     “I blame myself,” said Stanley, who was the eldest fish. “I just don’t hustle like I used to ... They’ve lost interest!”
     “Before you blame yourself, Stanley, we should all remember that there is no ‘I’ in school. When we lose it’s because we didn’t swim together – the chemistry wasn’t there. We goldfished like a bunch of individuals out there.” Harry was the fastest fish in the tank, and was constantly pushing us to swim faster and be generally more entertaining when he felt that someone might be watching.
     Shirley and Goldey II, in sheer panic, made elaborate plans to escape or to murder the kitten. It was dawning on them, as on the rest of us, that as fast as we could swim, as trickily as we manoeuvred ourselves, there was no place we could go.
     It was Abraham, the wisest of us, who made light of our situation. “We fish are not part of the joneses world,” he said quietly, “and for all the selective breeding our ancestors did, we are no longer part of any world, save for this tank. These four walls protect us from our own genetic lack of survival skills, and hold the water to sustain our meagre lives. To sustain, fish, not to advance and improve. We blame the joneses for getting a kitten, a furry and vocal pet that belongs to their world, that can give as well as receive attention. We fish cannot give affection. We are cold and scaly to the touch. We make two sounds, a splash and the woosh of a toilet as we pass on. We are but silent, golden ornaments, the most typical of jewellery, kept in a box, looked at often, but never worn out in public. Indeed, it’s a small world, fish. But it is our world, and we must exist as we always have, but warily. The kitten has claws.”
     “Baloney!” shouted Simon who had drifted near our conversation. “Baaa-lone-eeee! You think I’m scared of a cat? Cats hate water, or don’t you listen to the cartoons? And as hard as they’ve been tapped, has a pane of glass ever so much as cracked? And did the joneses forget to feed you tonight? Nooo! They never have yet! You’ve even been overfed, which I’m sure you’ll remember!”
     He was referring to the time that the littlest joneses dumped an entire shaker of food into the tank. It was terrible. We all gorged ourselves until we could hardly swim. It became hard to breathe, as our lack of motion made it difficult to suck the sweet, oxygen-bearing water into our lungs. Then Vincent, a slow and fat fish by any standards, just stopped swimming and floated to the surface. Helpless, we watched him suffocate. And for hours afterwards, he just sort of bobbed there, as we mourned him down below, until he was scooped out and flushed to that big bowl in the sky. It was a painful memory to be sure, and one Simon needn’t have brought up.
     “You bastard!” I cried. “You fungus-sucking bastard! You weren’t fit to clean the pebbles Vincent dirtied. You think we’re wrong to feel threatened by the kitten? Well, maybe you’re right, but maybe you’re not. Are you willing to risk the sensation of his cold claws wrapping around you as they drag you to the surface to be eaten? You know something, Simon, you’re worse than the kitten. He does what he does because he has to, it’s in his blood. You hurt because you enjoy it. I’ll tell you what, I’d rather have that kitten in here than you any day!”
     “Oh, stop it, you’re hurting my feelings, oh, I’m so upset – whoops! Wait a second, I just remembered something. I’m cold-blooded! Ha ha!” Simon swam off laughing.
     “He may be cruel, but he’s got a point,” said Rover. “Worrying isn’t going to help anything. Let’s call it a day and get some open-eye.” And so, we all drifted off into an uneasy sleep, the sound of Simon’s laughter still echoing in our ears.
     To understand the events which followed the joneses acquisition of the kitten, you must first understand a little something of Simon. First of all, he was not a fish like us, but a shark. He felt deep down that he was superior to us in breed, and that it was beneath him to associate with us at a common level. But there was something else, too, something that Simon would never admit, and that caused him pain: Simon was lonely. We had each other and he was alone, as most fish owners buy only one algae-eater, which is all anyone needs. Aesthetically, Simon was unappealing to look at. He was of a drab grey that didn’t shine as we goldfish did, and had whiskers growing out of the sides of his face. Eating algae took him underneath the rocks, and into the skull, so the joneses never saw him and never appreciated him as more than a care­taker.
     All this, compounded with the fact that, without us to dirty up the tank, he wouldn’t even be necessary, made him loathe us so deeply it was almost pitiable. He needed us, and it killed him. A contradictory fish, however, he was also capable of kindness. Once, when we fish came down with the ick, Simon cleaned the tank of all germs. And though he claimed that watching us suffer gave him an extra appetite, and that he was just protecting his job, he took great satisfaction from the simple fact that we needed him, too.
     And so, we all settled in and lived our lives around the kitten’s daily interferences. He would often wait until the joneses were out of the room to approach the tank, plot lunch and lick his lips. Occasionally, he would dart his little paw into the water to observe the hysterical reaction it would have on us. Although we feared what might happen when that arm of his got longer, for now, we were in no danger, provided we kept a watchful eye on him, something which is not difficult for us fish who have eyes on the sides of our heads. Our vision is near three hundred and sixty degrees, save for the little blind bits directly in from of us and behind our tails. Our lives had changed somewhat, but for the most part, we still lived a contented life.
     Simon, however, became restless. Upon noticing that the kitten, too, had whiskers, he deduced that they somehow must be related and, as a relative, the kitten might prove to be some kind of companion to himself. Once, when the kitten poked his paw into the water, Simon swam up to greet it, and would have swam into it, if the woman jones had not walked into the room just then. The kitten jumped down and walked towards her, stopping once to look at the tank over his shoulder.
     “You’re one crazy son-of-a-fish, Simon! That kitten was going to eat you!” yelled Harry. “And while, personally, I wouldn’t be too broken up at that prospect, the fact is that if he gets to you, he’s going to think he can get to all of us.”
     “Relax, Goldey!”
     “Harry.”
     “Whatever – you all look alike, anyway. You just don’t understand us sharks, that’s all. The kitten and I were just going to discuss some shark things, as sharks do, and that’s all. I’ll still have time for you.”
     “He’s not a shark,” said Goldey II, “he’s a kitten. And kittens love to eat fish. You can see it in his eyes. You can almost smell it on his breath when he leans in close and licks his chops. And just the other day, I could have sworn I saw him eat a cat treat that was in the shape of a fish.”
     Abraham swam up to Simon, who was retreating behind the wave of recriminations. “Please listen-”
     “Just get away from me, all of you!” screamed Simon. “You’re just jealous that I finally have a friend to bide the time with. You’re worried that if I actually get involved with somebody I can relate to and have a half-decent conversation with, I’ll stop cleaning your precious tank. Well, flush you... and flush the tank!”
     “You don’t know what you’re saying, Simon, please listen!” cried Abraham, but it was too late. Simon swam away.
     For the next few weeks, we watched both Simon and the kitten uneasily. The kitten kept his vigil on the shelf over the tank, and Simon lazed around, just pecking at his food, which made things difficult for us, as algae had covered the glass sides of the tank to the point that we could hardly see out.
     Then, one night while we were dozing, Simon swam up into the clutches of the kitten. We were awoken by the sound of a splash and a meow, and when we realized what had happened, pandemonium broke loose amongst us. We collided with one another in a futile effort to escape, filling the water with the glitter of gold scales. We were frightened for ourselves as well as for Simon.
     While we were panicking, Simon was fighting for his life, a gruff but practical fish. With a desperate flick of his tail, Simon caught the kitten in the side of the face hard enough to startle the would-be midnight snacker, who lost his grip. Simon fell back into the water and darted into the protection of the ceramic skull. The kitten recovered his senses and started to flail his arm about in the water, creating waves in the tank strong enough to lift the sediment from the bottom, which swirled around, choking us.
     Frustrated and angry, the kitten jumped down and ran from the room. Things calmed down eventually in the tank, but it was a long time before anyone could speak. And, when we could, our reproaches to Simon, and eventually our pleas to Simon to come out were lost on deaf ears.
     “C’mon Simon. It’s been days since it happened. Don’t worry, the paw hasn’t been back.” Shirley had taken it to her heart that what had happened to Simon was our fault, and that if we had just been kinder to him, he never would have done what he did.
     Harry and Rover shared this view, believing that anything that happened to one of us happened to all of us, us being us goldfish and Simon, who shared the tank. “All for one, and one for all,” said Harry. “If one of us breaks down, the tank breaks down; and if the tank breaks down, we all break down. Let’s tighten up, you fish, and give a hundred and ten percent.”
     Simon did come out eventually, but did not acknowledge any of us. Instead, he swam straight to the surface, ignoring our plaintive cries for him to come down.
     “You have so much to live for. Don’t jump!” I cried, but I was too late. When the kitten leaned over to look into the water, Simon jumped out, evading the kitten’s claw. When he hit the water again, his impact splashed the kitten square in the face.
     What happened next happened too quickly to accurately relate, but I must try for posterity. The outraged kitten jumped up onto a higher shelf and, with a nudge, sent a bookend down which landed on the side of the tank. He then jumped down to the floor and waited.
     We watched helplessly as the side of the tank cracked and starred in a pattern like a spider’s web. There was a creaking sound and the side bowed out under the pressure of the water. A piece near the centre broke loose, and then another, and then whoosh! – the water rushed out, and we fish with it, screaming and thrashing about like salmon in a waterfall.
As we cascaded down, out of the comer of my eye, I saw the kitten jump up and snag poor Simon from the air with his teeth. The last I saw of him was his tail fin dangling lifelessly out of the kitten’s mouth before it was sucked down like a noodle.
     We hit the floor, the eight of us, and lay there stunned. Things couldn’t have been more hopeless then, for we were doomed to be eaten by the kitten or to suffocate on the carpet. I was determined not to give up so easily. “To the toiled” I cried and started flopping madly in its direction. The other fish followed me and we all flopped zig-zag across the living room floor.
     Stanley, being the slowest, was caught first by the kitten, who deftly plucked him from the air as he did Simon. But, an old fish, he was sinewy and harder for the kitten to chew, a fact that, though grisly, bought us time to get organized.
     “The bathroom is through the kitchen at the end of the hall. If we flop fast enough we can make it,” panted Shirley.
     “But what about the kitten?’ asked Goldey, bounding over a hassock.
     “He’s faster than we are.”
     “At least some of us might make it. I bet that- AIYEEE!” Goldey II flopped right into a cactus, where she stuck fast.
     “Slow it down, you fish,” yelled Harry. “You’re getting sloppy, playing the kitten’s game instead of our own!”
     “A head-start is all we have on the kitten, Harry. To slow down would be suicide!” That was Abraham, who had moved into the lead through careful flopping.
     “Never play the odds!” said Harry, who, to our surprise, started flopping in the other direction.
     “Harry, stop, this is crazy! Harry–”
     “Never mind about me, Sid. I’ll hold that kitten off for as long as I can. You just make sure you reach that toilet.” The kitten looked up and saw Harry flopping towards him.
     “Come back, Harry!” pleaded Goldey.
     “Come back!”
     “Please come back!”
     “Come back?”
     “Awh, let him go.”
     “We’ll never forget you, Harry!” I cried, and flopped back on course.
     The benefit of eye placement allowed us to watch the battle which then took place. The kitten, spotting Harry’s approach, had crouched back on his hind legs and waited until he was close enough to pounce. But Harry flopped high up into the air at just that moment, and the lunging kitten missed him cleanly. Harry turned around, and the same thing happened again. On the third go, however, the kitten managed to clip Harry, who fell to the carpet at his feet.
     “You bastard!” we heard Harry yell. “Well, come on, then. Come and get a piece of this!” The kitten slammed his paw down, but Harry flopped to the side at the last moment. Again the paw came down, but that, too, missed. “You ain’t so bad, you ain’t so bad.” Again and again the paw came down, but Harry was too quick for the kitten, who lost interest. The fight was a draw. “Abraham!” Harry yelled, and died on the carpet.
Meanwhile, we had made it through the kitchen door.
     “I can’t make it! You guys go on to the bathroom, I’m going to try and make the sink.” Rover never was much of an athlete, and his years of hanging out under the filter, sucking on the highly oxygenated water, had finally taken their toll.
     “Good luck, Rover!” said Abraham, and we watched Rover flop off towards the kitchen counter. “You’ll need it.”
     The kitten was hot on our tails and managed to swipe his sharp claws into Goldey’s side. Goldey screamed as she dropped to the tiles, only to be scooped up into the kitten’s voracious maw.
     “The kitten never even broke stride!” wailed Shirley. “We’re all going to die!”
     “I’ll never let him get to you, Shirley, I swear it.”
     “Thank you, Sid, you’re so sweet.”
     “You’re sweet, too, Shirley.”
     “Never mind that now,” said Abraham, “there will be plenty of time for romance in the toilet. But we’ve got to make it there first.”
     The kitten didn’t follow us, but instead went for Rover, who had just reached the counter after jumping off a chair.
     Seeing the kitten jump up onto the counter behind him, Rover dove into a full glass of water in front of him. Only, it wasn’t water, but vodka. He sat at the bottom of the glass for a few seconds before bounding out. “Yahoo! Thatsh right, kitty, come and get your uncle Rover.” Rover flopped around sporadically, hiccuping and singing at the top of his lungs. “We’re jusht two losht soulsh shwimming in a fish bowl... year after year!” The kitten ate him, burped, purred, and went to sleep.
     “Quick, in here!” Shirley and I followed Abraham into the kitten’s water dish. “Catch your breath, and then we’re off again.”
     “Why don’t we just stay here until the joneses get home?” asked Shirley.
     “Abraham is right, Shirley. We’ll die in here just the same as we would out there. There wasn’t much oxygen in this dish before it went flat, even.” I gave her a reassuring look. “The bathroom’s not far away now, and that bowl the joneses have is big enough for all of us. Well, you’ve seen it every time they’ve taken us to the tub to clean the tank out.”
     “Oh, Sid! You’re so smart. And so brave.”
     My words bubbled out, gills trembling: “I love you!”
     “Stop it, already! You two are pathetic. Pa-thet-ic!” Abraham threw his fins up in disgust. “If we’re going to go, we have to go now.” And with that, he flipped out of the dish and resumed his journey down the hallway to the bathroom. Shirley went next, and I brought up the rear. I was scared, but enjoyed the view, if you know what I mean.
     We made it all the way to the bathroom before the kitten woke up. Our hearts skipped a beat when we heard him hitting the floor, and then his claws scratching the tiles as he came running. “FLOP!” Picking up the pace, we headed straight for the toilet, Abraham in the lead. We watched in horror as he jumped up into the air, and misjudging himself in his excitement, fly right over the toilet into the magazine rack. Shirley and I jumped up – over the pee-rug, over the rim, over the seat – and landed – nothing but bowl.
     In the face of death, Abraham found God and so reasoned with the kitten. “If you kill me, kitten, it is a sin in the eyes of God, He created us goldfish on the fifth day, and you on the sixth, and that means, technically, that we were here first. So push off!” The kitten ate him.
     For Shirley and I, the ordeal was over. The bowl was quite comfortable, despite its function; swimming in waste was nothing new to us.
     What was left was either to be rescued by a jones or to be flushed inadvertently, which was not entirely a bad option, as all fish are curious about the sewers. I imagined drifting out to sea before the winter, going wherever the current might take us. I told this to Shirley. I talked about the Bahamas, Shirley about Barbados, each of us dreaming of an ancestral happiness, together under bluer skies, in warmer blue water, lit by the purest sunshine of the universal tank.
     Most likely we would be rescued, in which case the joneses would buy us a new tank and perhaps some new friends. The fact that we would breed goes without saying. And something would be done to insure that the kitten could never harm us again.
     Indeed, the future for Shirley and me was bright. It was also white and antiseptic and made in the U.S.A. And while our friends were gone, they would not be forgotten. Or maybe they would, but please remember that our brains are only the size of pinheads.

 

last updated August 17, 2007 | © 2007 Fathom Publishing
poetry, prose, and artwork © individual authours | website created by Alana Paul