There is a fish named Hamlet and he lives in a big glass bowl. The bowl is placed next to an alarm clock that blinks red numbers. The alarm clock, and the bowl, and the fish, all belong to a girl named Gracelyn O., but everyone calls her Gracie. She’s a senior at a high school in Westchester and she dances and plays piano and even sings a little. Gracie has a boyfriend and he writes her notes in messy handwriting with hearts that he folds up so that they can fit through the slats in her locker. His name is Calvin H. and everyone calls him Calvin.
Hamlet likes Gracie and Gracie likes Hamlet. She feeds him two small meals a day and cleans his bowl once a week. Without her, Hamlet would be very sad and lonely. Sometimes Gracie treats Hamlet like a cat. She dangles a plastic spoon into the water and Hamlet will obediently swim in circles around it, chasing it like a dog chasing its tail. He thinks it’s stupid but plays along because it makes Gracie happy, and Hamlet would do anything to make Gracie happy. Gracie is allergic to cats and dogs.
When Gracie goes to school Hamlet is very bored. There is nothing to do, and nothing to look at, and nothing to think about, because there is no one there. Sometimes he wishes he had another fishy friend that he could fish kiss and fish cuddle, but then he reminds himself that he has Gracie and she’s all he needs.
On Friday nights Gracie goes out wearing glittery lip-gloss. She says, Love you Ham Ham, and kisses the side of his bowl leaving a sticky, sparkly residue behind. It makes Hamlet dizzy to look at but it causes his heart to swell and his fins to fill with warmth. She loves me! he thinks. She loves me!
On Saturday nights Gracie will stay home. Sometimes she’ll read. Sometimes she’ll bake. Sometimes she’ll sing scales. Sometimes she’ll cry. And sometimes Calvin will come over. They’ll watch movies, and eat food, and lie naked in Gracie’s bed. Sometimes moving. Sometimes not moving at all.
Hamlet doesn’t like Calvin and Calvin doesn’t like Hamlet. He complains that he feels dirty and sullied when Hamlet is in the room. Like someone is spying on him from behind a curtain, behind orange scales and bulging eyes. Hamlet doesn’t like Calvin because he touches Gracie and Gracie says I love you Calvin, and Hamlet thinks no you don’t. No you shouldn’t.
In November Gracie has dance recitals and her room is cold. It’s when the first snowflakes begin to tumble from the sky that Hamlet meets the Ghost. The Ghost is pale like how ghosts normally are except it wears a pink sparkly tutu and carries a wand. The Ghost comes right over to Hamlet’s bowl and sits on the alarm clock. The time shines through its legs.
“Hello,” says the Ghost.
“Who are you?” says Hamlet.
“I’m your fairy godmother.”
“You’re a ghost.”
The Ghost shakes its head slightly, letting out a low chuckle from the back of its throat.
“A fairy,” it says, raising its wand. “A godmother.” It stands up and presses its face to the bowl’s glass. “See, look at those wrinkles.”
“You’re transparent,” says Hamlet, swimming as far away as possible and the Ghost disappears.
When Gracie comes home that night she is flushed and smiling. She lets down her hair and it falls in sweaty brown waves past her shoulders, draping over her face as she unzips her boots. I did it Ham, she says. Not a mistake. Calvin brought me flowers. They’re nice, aren’t they? Daisies. He wanted to give me violets but they all withered when the frost came.
A couple weeks later Gracie goes away for three days and leaves Hamlet at Calvin’s house. The first day Calvin dumps all of Hamlet’s food into the water. Unable to control himself, Hamlet gets a stomachache. The second day, Calvin doesn’t feed Hamlet at all.
Hamlet misses Gracie and wonders if she misses him too. He worries that her dance competition isn’t going well and he worries that if it does go well she’ll go away more.
It’s on the third day that the Ghost makes another appearance. It knocks twice on Hamlet’s bowl.
“Fishy, fishy, earth to fishy.” Hamlet opens his eyes.
“What do you want?” This time the Ghost is wearing a blue tutu and sultan style bed slippers.
“I’m a genie. I’ll give you three wishes.”
“Don’t play this game with me,” says Hamlet. “I’m hungry and I want to go home.”
“Do you wish for food? Do you wish to go home?”
“Yes,” says Hamlet.
“Too bad!” crows the Ghost. “I’m not actually a genie. Fish are so gulliable. You’d believe me if I told you…” it begins to say but breaks off abruptly. “Shh,” it hides behind a stack of CDs. “Shh.”
Suddenly the door bursts open and Calvin barges into his room. His arm is around a girl who is laughing loudly.
“You’re so funny!” she says.
Calvin pushes her onto the bed, bending over her.
“What are they doing?” Hamlet whispers to the ghost.
“They’re going to have sex.”
“They’re going to have what?
“Sex. It’s what people do with each other. It’s fun.”
“Do you do sex a lot?” Hamlet asks curiously.
“No, genies don’t have sex.”
“You’re not a genie.”
“Touché fishy, fishy, touché.”
Hamlet looks back over at Calvin and the girl. They’re still in the bed and their clothing is off. Hamlet wonders what sex really is. Is it lying next to someone? Who do you do it with? Do you have sex with your mother? Your brother? Your neighbor?
“Sex is special,” the Ghost says. “It’s supposed to be. You do it with people you like.”
“Do you do it with people you love?” asks Hamlet. He thinks back to Calvin and Gracie. I love you, says Gracie, I love you, Calvin.
The next day Gracie picks Hamlet up from Calvin’s house. Hamlet nearly jumps out of his fishbowl with joy. Home! he thinks. Home and Gracie.
“I did well, Ham Ham.” Says Gracie. “But we didn’t win the competition.”
Back in her room she unpacks slowly. Hamlet watches her. She seems upset and he wonders if it’s because she didn’t win.
Calvin comes over at 8 o’clock. He brings Gracie pizza and they eat sitting on the floor. Calvin tells Gracie that he fed Hamlet every day and that he had so much fun with him. They formed a real bond, Calvin says, they’re bros.
“My two favorite boys,” Gracie smiles, but the smile is empty and forced. Calvin picks up on it. What’s wrong, he asks.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Gracie says and brings their plates to the kitchen.
“There’s something wrong,” says Calvin when she comes back. His voice is higher and louder than normal and it hurts Hamlet’s ears. Gracie doesn’t say anything for a while. Just stands and looks at him sitting on the edge of her bed. His shirt is off. He has nice shoulders.
“You’re cheating on me,” she says finally.
“Says who,” Calvin stands up quickly.
“Says no one. I just know. You are.”
“Who told you?” Calvin’s voice becomes even louder. “It’s not true. Who told you?”
“If it wasn’t true you wouldn’t care who told me,” says Gracie.
I would, I would, I would. Shouts Calvin. And suddenly he turns to Hamlet.
“It was you,” he accuses. “You’ve been watching me.”
“It’s a fish!” cries Gracie. “It’s a fucking fish.”
“And it’s watching me. I feel its eyes following me every time I’m here. The whole time it was in my house.”
“It’s your guilt,” says Gracie.
“Then who told you? Who fucking told you?”
And suddenly Calvin turns and jumps onto the bed. He leans across it, stretching out his arm and knocks Hamlet’s bowl off the side table.
Hamlet’s world spins. Then everything hits the ground with a sharp crash. And he can’t breathe. There’s glass everywhere. And water too, but it’s spreading across the floor. And it’s too thin. There’s not enough.
Water! he tries to scream. Water!
Hamlet feels a hand lightly brush his side and he looks up. It’s the Ghost, crouching over him.
“You can be like me,” it says. “You can be like me.”
“I don’t want to be like you.”
When Hamlet comes to, he’s in a shallow bowl, but there’s water and there’s Gracie. She’s sitting on the bed and she’s crying. There are pink tissues in her lap and in the garbage. Calvin is gone but the glass is still on the floor.
How could he? Gracie is moaning. How could he. She turns to Hamlet. You’re alive, you’re alive, you’re alive. She begins to cry harder. I saw her underwear you know. Under his bed. No one had to tell me. I saw it. She stops and blows her nose. Once a cheater always a cheater. She gestures wildly with her arms. One drop of poison and the whole thing’s bad.
She gets up from her bed. Goes to the bathroom and slams the door. It’s silent in the room. Hamlet’s head pounds. He wonders if he’ll see the Ghost again. He doesn’t think so and he’s shocked when it makes him feel sad.
When Gracie comes back from the bathroom she’s not crying anymore. She brushes the tissues off her bed and lies down. I’m still here, Hamlet wants to tell her. You have me.
But he knows that’s not enough. He’s in a fishbowl and she’s out there.
Age 15, Grade 10
Saint Ann’s School