The Stubborn Goldfish
“Why’d you have to flush it down the toilet Daddy?”
Looking into the bloodshot blue of Jacob’s eyes, I knew I couldn’t come up with an answer to justify flushing Goldy.
“Goldy died last night Jacob. He’s in a better place.”
The water was spinning in blue circles. Goldy was drifting slowly down the drain. The toilet gurgled. Goldy was gone. Tears filled the eyes of my six year old son. His nostrils quivered, the bottom lip swallowed the upper lip in an attempt to compose himself.
“But Daddy, what’s better than my room?”
He had a point.
“Your bottle was the best place for Goldy, Jacob--but goldfish don’t live forever….”
“Yes they do,” Jacob said.
“Unfortunately, they don’t,” I told him. “But we can buy you a puppy or a kit--”
“I don’t want a puppy--or a stupid kitten. I want Goldy.”
I led Jacob out of the bathroom as if I was walking him away from a cemetery; just as I had last year when I had to explain that his mother would never be returning from Afghanistan. Jacob couldn’t understand why she shouldn’t “wake up” and rise from the “rock in the ground with all the flowers.”
“She’s very tired,” I told him. “She’s not coming home son.”
Jacob won Goldy at the Jackson County Carnival last weekend. He fired a water pistol with accuracy enough to knock down six tin cups balanced on a pedestal. He looked so natural with a gun in his hand, just like his mother. She was shot in the head while drinking water from a canteen just outside of Kandahar. The only one picked off from her platoon, the corporal said he thought perhaps because she was a woman. Her blonde hair hung beneath her helmet, she was an easy target. So were those tin cups.
“I’m never gonna let Goldy go away like Mommy,” Jacob said, after I poured Goldy into an empty soda bottle, until we could find something more suitable for a fish so dignified. We never had that opportunity. Goldy’s death was too much for Jacob to endure. He sat in the corner of the kitchen shaking gently back and forth against the cobwebs I hadn’t swept away since my wife’s murder, his knees curled up in his arms, an empty expression swimming in the shallow depths of his eyes, blue as an ocean.
I tried to comfort Jacob. I cooked eggs and bacon for breakfast. He just sat in the corner staring into space. Nervous, I reached behind my head and scratched the hairy mole growing on the back of my neck, where stoic barbers had pondered upon for decades running razorblades across as if it were nothing more than a crater on the surface of the moon.
“We’ll go back to the carnival,” I said. I wasn’t sure if the carnival was still in town, but damned if I wasn’t going to find another goldfish.
Jacob didn’t have any reaction, as if the words were floating someplace beyond the world in which we remained--the two of us--together against a fate which gave us brutal blows for pleasure. The boy began to whimper as a fluorescent lime green lizard crawled across the wall above his head, unperturbed by the shaking, as if it was just another vibration from a planet that never rests.
“There’s a lizard in the house Jacob,” I said. He didn’t care about a lizard.
“I wa--wanna Goldy, Daddy,” he said. As he spoke he shifted positions and the lizard seemed to suddenly become aware of this adjustment--jumping onto the floor--spreading his four appendages on the grout between tiles.
I tossed a paper napkin onto the plastic plate (our dishwasher was broken and besides: the sight of water only reminded me of Jacobs’s mother) and began to chase the lizard across the floor. It was a baby lizard, not speedy, nor vociferous like others. The lizard was reluctant to run away. Barefoot, I patiently pushed it along the corner where the wall connected with the floor. It would only move a few inches at a time, so it took a few minutes for me to bait him into the bathroom. I was hoping he would disappear into the crack beneath the sink--where many agile lizards have disappeared before. When this didn’t work, I ripped a couple sheets of toilet paper from the dispenser and after a few failed attempts, managed to pick up the lizard by its tail. I dropped the poor little guy into the toilet and flushed it.
“Daddy--no--not again?” Jacob whispered.
I knew I had made a grave mistake as soon as I saw the green angel disappear down the drain.
“He’ll come out the other end outside the house,” I said, wishing I had lifted the lizard safely out onto the terrace. This family has seen enough death to last an eternity. “Don’t cry Jacob…please…don’t cry--Daddy made a mistake--he’s very sorry.”
“It’s ok Daddy.”
Jacob rose from the corner, throwing his arms around his father. “I never even step on ants or anything anymore, Daddy. Things get wet and go away like Mommy. You never know what that lizard’s family is feeling.”
“That’s very big of you Jacob.”
“I know. I hope Mommy, Goldy, and Lizard are all together.”
“In heaven,” I added, rubbing my son’s blond head with the hand I used to drown the lizard, grabbing a crisp golden piece of bacon with the other.
“No--not heaven Daddy--some place without water…like the moon.”
Motivation: I noticed a lizard on the floor. I flushed it down the toilet. I felt sad and flooded with regret.
Bio: Matthew Dexter lives and writes on a fortified compound near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. He has been known to drink beer and eat tacos. He belongs in an insane asylum.