Welcome to your new home! I thought the top of the fridge might get kind of boring, so I hope you enjoy your little pied-à-mer by the window. Bet not too many goldfish wind up with a sixth-floor windowsill in the Village! Nice view, huh? It is, I know. It’s a wild world out there, and you’ve got a 360-degree view from your bowl! I’d say that’s one of the better things about fishbowls.
Do you like the names I gave you? I hope that while they convey a sense of me, your roommate and master, as a fun-loving, creative person, they don’t suggest that I consider your puny lives to be jokes. Not at all! Percival Sharkington, you’re always darting around and confronting your own reflection. You, Red October, seem to enjoy lurking in the shadow of the plastic fern thing. You see, I did put some thought into this, even though I was in a rush to get you named before you died, which I assume will be any minute now.
About that dying thing—you’re goldfish, so you tell me—when parents give their kid a goldfish, do they really intend for them to be loved as pets, or are they just teeing up a teachable moment? Because, see, no offense, but the defining characteristic of all goldfish is that you die. Prematurely. Apropos of nothing. And prior to that you spend your whole lives in a fishbowl. With an artificial habitat and not a hope in the world of bettering yourself. You’re on long walks to nowhere, goldfish, and that is a stiff dose of Nietzsche for people still grappling with the implications of Dr. Seuss. Whenever I see an ecstatic child carrying a leaky Ziploc, I think, good luck, my young friend, because you are about to confront the void. I hope your tiny mind doesn’t just explode.
Maybe the parental thought process is like this: “Well, Grandpa has a big heart surgery coming up and health insurance that is, frankly, third rate, because Cabo cannot biannually visit itself. And, just last week, Junior asked where Mrs. Jenkins would be re-spawning. In real life, re-spawning is not something that third-grade teachers who have recently succumbed to advanced heart disease just up and do. Looks like we’re playing catch-up in the child-rearing game; time to get our hands dirty with some visceral life lessons. Hey kid, here’s a fish, mazel.” Then, two weeks later, when you fish are discovered floating upside down in your bowl, the few tears shed over you will be thoroughly discussed, and Mom and Dad can host a little burial ceremony in the park and really pat themselves on the back as parents, like, whew, tough one, but I think we nailed it, Junior gets the whole cycle-of-life thing now. Then when Grampy suddenly passes on the operating table and the kid is like, “Um, pardon me, but just where the heck did my Grampy go?” the parents can say, “It’s like what happened to Mr. Fishums! He’s with Mr. Fishums up in Heaven!” So, in that sense, is a gift of goldfish like… an emotional inoculation? Like a little spoonful of sugar to help the “we’re all going to die” medicine go dow—
PERCIVAL SHARKINGTON ?!?!
Oh, whew. I didn’t know fish could… shudder like that. Jesus.
When you guys do die I guess it will most likely be from me overfeeding you. Red October, you especially seem to be hungry all the time! You’re always scooting your fishlips around at the surface. But other things you could die of include: drastic changes in temperature, owing to your current placement above the radiator; me accidentally knocking your bowl over while having some kind of wide-ranging sexual encounter (and in that event I would prooobbbbably not stop what I’m doing to pick you up, because, I need to, like, compartmentalize the gross things I do in life); and, of course, neglect.
So, stay alert to those risk factors. I wasn’t really expecting, or even ready to share my life with two fish, see. My sister gave you to me for my birthday yesterday, which is like, a really priceless gag, sure, right up until the algae begins to bloom. Then… I don’t know what we do then, honestly. I’ll Google it when that happens. Actually I guess that’s a fifth plausible cause of death.
So anyway, welcome, Percival Sharkington and Red October. If it wasn’t for Instagram I’d probably have flushed you straight away. But no, we’ll have fun!
A.C. DeLashmutt is a Virginian living in New York. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The Washington Post, theNewerYork, Flash magazine, and elsewhere. She also writes plays. Follow her on Twitter @acdelashmutt.