The Secret Goldfish
He’s got big eyes the goldfish does. Always looking around staring out to the world through that bag he’s in. That plastic bag. Only I don’t see how he can see very much out of that bag, even with those big eyes and all. but he’s perfect. He’s gold with these flecks of brown and red in his fins. And his body is small and round and simple. When I went to the pet-store for him at first they said he was one dollar. I didn’t have one dollar. But everyday I saw him, even when I closed my eyes. Staring out of his plastic bag at me, opening his mouth, and closing it again. And so I knew I had to get him. Even if everyday after school I had to go to the ball club and get the balls for the big men who came every Thursday at 3 and stayed ‘til 5. Even if I had to let them pat me on the head and tell me what a big boy I was getting to be I would do it for my goldfish. Then this one day it was raining real hard. All the drops were touching the earth and making this humming sound. No one was on the golf course except me. I guess they thought they would all drown, but not me. I can swim see. So I looked for all the balls in the mud and there were tons. But they was all brown with the mud and I could hardly see them, I had to look real hard. I kept thinking of my goldfish then, and how he would be watching the rain now too. Maybe he would be sad he was stuck in that bag when everyone else could leave and be in the rain. I like the rain see. It feels refreshing and when I open my mouth it lands on my tongue and melts and I feel happy. I also don’t mind the mud. My mom does though, when it’s on my clothes, or caked in my hair. She thinks its bad to be dirty and all. And so that day I spent longer at the course, there was no one there to tell me to go home and all. I might have stayed there past dinner only I remembered I had told my mom I wouldn’t. So then I took all the golf balls and wrapped them in my shirt and counted them slowly so I didn’t miss any. There were 14 sitting on my shirt soaking it through. That was 70 cents. I grinned as I thought of the other 50 cents sitting in my shorts pocket all crumpled from the last two weeks of going to the golf course. But then I was real scared. If I got my goldfish and took him home, what if he died there. What if he wasn’t even in his bag anymore, but in a bigger place and he still died. I couldn’t stand the thought of him floating there with those big eyes. So what I did, I just ran home with all the balls.
And the next day I didn’t go to the course, it was Thursday and all but I still didn’t go. I only listened to the crashing of my brothers as they went through my house. They’re older than me and bigger too. They like laughing only it’s this mean kind of short laugh. Like they don’t mean to make someone smile, only to make them kinda stand in the corner and be sad. They do it to me sometimes, and it makes me real sad, only I can’t say so or they’ll just laugh more I think. I think if I got my fish I couldn’t show him to them. What if they laughed at him too, and then he’d have nowhere to go. Nowhere at all in that clear plastic bag of his.
I have a sister too. She lives somewhere else now that she’s graduated from college and all. I think it might be Boston, or New York, or a bigger city, bigger than our small town anyway. I think I could have showed him to her. She wouldn’t have laughed if he was small or with big eyes and all. She had a baby of her own now, and she’s nice. Maybe I would have showed her, only, I don’t now where she lives.
The next day sun was coming in through the shades by my bed and casting shadows onto the red threadbare carpet. I got up and ran my hands across my bed covers. They’re white and shiny. On the floor were my shorts. A couple of threads were splitting at the seams of them but I picked them up and felt the lump of coins in the back pocket. I counted out the 50 cents and then took them from the pocket. I guess it thought it would feel like more money, 1 dollar and 20 cents. And the fish was only one small bill. The one that had taken me weeks to get suddenly felt smaller.
I walked up and down the street that day kicking some rocks back and forth with my shoe, dulling the toe. I counted the birds in the sky but there weren’t many that day. I guess it was almost winter. After a while I sort of couldn’t stand it anymore and I found myself walking back and forth past the pet-store looking straight ahead. I couldn’t bring myself to go in though until I saw my brother coming up the street. He had his hands in his pocket and he looked bored. It was a school day and all, but early, and so I went in. I just didn’t want him to see me standing there looking all confused I guess. When I shut the door it made this clanging sound on the hinges like when you drop some kind of pot on the kitchen floor. When you’re all alone in the house it clangs and bangs for hours. That kind of stuff can sort of make you nervous, all the echoes in the place. And suddenly I was scared of that shop. The doors were took big and metal, the floor too silent.
There was a man at the counter that day. He had these big hairy hands, with these ugly fat thumbs. They were just sort of drumming the table and flicking dirt from under his nails. I shuffled forward toward the section where they keep the fish. They’re all floating on these big hooks, suspended in their bags. Its kind of eerie to tell the truth, you feel like everyone’s watching you. I looked toward his regular spot, toward my fish. Only he wasn’t there. I started to get nervous, and then right there in the middle of the fish aisle I started to cry. It wasn’t loud crying like a little kid in a department store when they don’t get there favorite colored balloon with their shoes. It was kind of like rain. Just standing there with the tears crossing my cheeks in zigs and zags. I guess since it wasn’t as loud I had time to think, why was I crying? I didn’t know. I guess I was just scared. But I stood up after that and went through all the fish. They were all right. There were bigger ones with these little beady eyes, and then these others that looked kinda like my fish, what with there small bodies and huge staring eyes. At that moment I wanted to take all of them. I wanted to take them out of those plastic bags and bring them into the rain. But I only had 1 dollar and 20 cents.
After a while I saw him. He was at one of the very lowest hooks, so that if someone wasn’t careful he might kick him off. Carefully I undid the plastic bag without shaking the water inside. I brought him close to my face and saw him. He looked scared, with his big eyes darting all around trying to see out of that stupid plastic preserving him. I cradled him in my arms and suddenly I couldn’t even think of putting him back on that hook. He was my fish anyway. Not my brother’s, not anyone’s but mine. I guess that made me feel better, I mean at least I could protect him. I went up to the counter and put up the dollar. The man said something but I didn’t hear, I turned to go and he must have spoken louder because I heard him then.
“Hey you, yeah you, kid come back here. What’s that you got there buddy.”
I didn’t know why he called me buddy, but it reminded me of my brothers’ voices. I could almost see him laughing behind me. But I turned around anyway and walked back to the counter.
“I have a fish.”
“Yeah buddy, wise guy, lemme see it then. One buck aint gonna buy you no trophy fish there buddy.”
But suddenly I wouldn’t show it to him.
“Its my fish. I gave you a dollar for him.”
“That right buddy? Well see here little fella I cant have you walking out of here with nothing more than you paid for. So toss him up here buddy. Go on.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say, but I only knew I wouldn’t show him my fish. I could almost feel him churning up the water in that bag with fear.
The man at the counter looked down. He had these small beady eyes and this sneering lip. He held out his angry palm for my fish, but I just stood there. Finally, I fished the other twenty cents out of my pocket and put them it into his hand. His hand held slack for a moment and then the hairy knuckles crumpled around the coins.
“Get of here kid,” he grumbled as he pushed open the dirty cash register drawer and inserted the money.
When I got home that night it had started to rain, but not any calm soothing rain, pounding, hard, scary rain. I sat in my room holding my fish in my lap. He was still in the bag, and it crumpled around the edges of my legs. The door creaked and my brothers came crashing in.
“Hey, what’s that bud, hey, come on.”
“Yeah you got something of ours bud?”
I covered my fish with my hands.
“Its my fish, just mine.”
“How do we know you aren’t lying to us bud.”
“I got him with my own money.”
They seemed to close in on me with their big palms out, like some crazy shadows, and before I knew it I was screaming. The plastic bag was behind me on the bed and my eyes were closed. When I opened them my brothers were gone and my door was slammed. I could hear them laughing all down the hall.
That night I lay awake watching my fish circle around and around his plastic bag. I had tried to protect him, but my brothers’ laughs still echoed in my mind. I couldn’t. So I picked up his bag and held it in my palm. He looked so sad in there with the water pounding up the sides, and the laughs pouring down on him in waves. So what I did is I took him and I left. I walked over towards the stream behind my house. It was late and all, but I didn’t care, not even when I heard a dog howl somewhere very close to me in the grass. I waked up to the stream with him and sat by its bank for a while. I looked at him, and he was staring at me. My hands shook as I undid the plastic tie around the bag. Then I held it carefully with two hands so no water fell out. I looked around holding that bag, but it may as well have been raining because no one was out there except us. I guess I had protected him in a way, no one could laugh at us now. I slowly dipped the plastic bag into the pool of water. My hands lowered like toy hands after I wind up the thing in the back, and I couldn’t get them to stop. Finally the bag was under. A light current was flowing over the top, real calm like. He came up from the depths of the bag and looked around at me before he was gone. My fish. And I stared after him, and the ripples he formed gliding through the water, like tiny beautiful raindrops.
I sat on that bank for a long while, and my pajamas were soaked with mud before I was finally crossing the hall towards my room and shutting the door.
The next morning it was dry outside. But everything felt fresh and you could tell it had just stopped raining. Everything had a kind of happy shine to it. So I sat by that pond for a long time, watching the ripples of sunlight jump in the water. That plastic bag was by the edge of the pond blowing in the breeze, and I got up and threw it out. It was crumpled and broken, and I smiled as I thought of how my fish wasn’t in it anymore. I went back to the pond and sat there thinking for a long time about my small fish swimming through the rain.
Kyra Guillemin, Age 16, Grade 10, Trinity School, Honorable Mention
The Secret Goldfish