Monday, September 19, 2011

Each One an Individual: A Story About Goldfish

Let me tell you about my brother Seymour. He was a fish lover. I am not talking flounder. I’m talking gold. 
It started early for him, this strange attraction. Five or six years old. Probably because he was an unhappy child. He had bad habits. People stayed away from him. So he gravitated towards fish. 
Let me tell you about the fish. There were many fish. It would not be an exaggeration to say, even, thousands. We are talking a lot of years. A moderately long life. For Seymour. Not for the fish. Thousands of fish. One at a time. Get the picture? 
In the fish bowl, by his bed, my brother Seymour had, at all times, one fish. When that fish died he replaced it. In this way, over the years, he went from one to many. This is how a life is lived. I, myself, could not see much difference between them. 
Seymour disagreed. “Each one an individual,” he was fond of saying. 

Still, he gave them all the same name. Goldie. My brother was a modest man. He made no claims to an imagination. “Goldie” was good enough for his first fish, so why change mid-stream. That is a little joke he used to like to repeat. As I said, Seymour was a modest man. In terms of wit and talent. If it were not for the fact that I am his sister, I would say he was a moron. But as his sister I will not say that.
Let me tell you a story. One day Seymour got married. Her name was Ruby. She, too, was modest. In terms of intellect and also appearance. Don’t let her name fool you, she did not sparkle. Which is to say, she was exactly the right wife for my brother. Everyone had high hopes for the marriage. That was a mistake. Things went wrong from day one. There was an incident at the wedding itself. Blood was spilled. Not a lot, but some. From there, it went downhill. Until the separation. The entire marriage lasted twelve days. Most people did not take sides. They were equally unsympathetic to Ruby and Seymour. You would be too, if you knew the details. Which you don’t, nor will you, ever. This is just to say, during the duration of the marriage, there lived eight different Goldies. 

The fish, it should be noted, had nothing to do with anything. Not the spilled blood, not even that little problem with Ruby’s brother, Bad Arnold. Which resulted in the brief arrest. All you need to know is, there were eight fish, in and out, while my brother was a married man. In case you find such details interesting.
Let me tell you another story. One day a man from a newspaper came to interview my brother. He had heard about the fish. It’s no mystery where he got his information; his uncle and aunt ran the pet store where Seymour bought the Goldies. They were trying to help their nephew out. Give him a leg up. A head start. A hot tip. 

He came to the door with a sharp new pencil tucked behind his ear. He was eager. All he wanted to do was talk with my brother about the fish. Seymour didn’t let him in the house. There was a little accident on the front stoop. Involving the pencil. Again, some blood was spilled. And that was the end of the big scoop. There wasn’t any. I heard the young man quit the newspaper business soon afterwards and became an orthodontist. Apparently he’s done quite well for himself. Just goes to show, you can never tell how something will turn out.
Let me tell you another story. I knew a way to get under my brother’s skin. This is how I did it. Let’s say I was downstairs and he was upstairs. Or maybe I was in my room and he was in his room. Whatever. I would call him, my brother, I would call him like this: Seeeeee Moooorrrre. And he hated it. I probably shouldn’t have done it. But I did. In fact, I took quite a bit of pleasure in it. Whenever I did this, Seymour felt compelled to slam his door. Hard.
Let me tell you another story. All the Goldies, one by one, were kept in a fish bowl the size of a small pocketbook. The fish bowl, as you already know, was perched on a table beside my brother’s bed. But here is something you don’t know, because I haven’t told you yet. The table was tippy. The fish bowl was not secure. In other words, the Goldies never had a chance. 
I want you to picture something. Picture me calling, as loud as a person can possibly call: Seeeeee Moooorrrre. Now picture this. My brother, in his room, growing redder and redder. In his face. Also under his arms. And behind his knees. And between his toes. As I called, again and again. And again. Seeeeee Moooorrrre. Seeeeee Moooorrrre. Redder and redder. Until finally, my brother slammed his door. And the tippy table toppled. And the fish bowl crashed. And the Goldie, whoever was the Goldie of the moment, fell onto the hard, wood floor. 
Ahhhhgh. That’s the sound of a goldfish, gasping its last breath. Maybe I should have warned you, at the beginning, that this story was full of violence. Well, now you know.
Let me tell you another story. This is the last one. In case you’re in a hurry to go someplace, you can put your coat on now. My brother Seymour, he died. It wasn’t tragic. And I’m not saying that just because he was my brother. Anyone would tell you the same thing. So, he died. Let’s move on. 
After his death I discovered, much to my surprise, that I myself had developed something of an attachment to goldfish. Ironic, isn’t it? Without them, I sensed a certain void. So I filled it. I went to the pet store. Not the same one where Seymour used to shop. The aunt and uncle of the young reporter had retired, years ago. 
I went someplace else. I bought a large tank. With a fancy pump. And a special filter system. I placed that tank on a big, sturdy table and I filled it with water. And I bought a goldfish. I named her Lottie. I fed her. Exactly as much as the instructions on the fish food carton said to feed her. No more, no less. She looked healthy. But not happy. Obviously, Lottie was lonely. I am not much of a conversationalist, despite appearances. 
So I went back to the pet store. I bought another goldfish. I named her Seraphina. Everybody should have a companion. If they want one. Lottie and Seraphina appeared quite content. Until one day. When they made it crystal clear to me, as only goldfish can do, that they would appreciate a few more friends. I was happy to oblige them. I  went back to the pet store and returned with Yetta, Zoey, Felicia and Geraldine. This seemed to liven things up. Couldn’t be better, in fact. 
One day, when I was passing the tank, I saw the fish were having a little birthday celebration. I’m not certain who the birthday fish was. It was probably Zoey, although it could just as easily have been Seraphina. It’s hard to say. Everyone seemed to be having a splendid time. In their own quiet way. Quiet, but festive. I think that’s a good way to describe goldfish.
This never would have happened when Seymour was alive. Joy and rapture in the fish bowl? I don't think so. My brother did not provide a conducive environment. It might not have been, entirely, his fault. There could have been extenuating circumstances. Who can say? I haven’t made a study of it. But this much seems indisputable: no good has ever come from a man who loves fish.