I didn't know what to do with the goldfish dad bought me. He just kind of floated in the plastic bag, eyes all puffed out, sort of like Carrie after a nap. Far as I could tell, fish were useless, even if you were really, really bored. All he could do was go glub, glub, glub with his dumb mouth. Not even Carrie went glub, glub, glub anymore. Sure, she might do it once and a while, but that's what three-year-olds do. And this fish wasn't some little kid. He had a few fish-birthdays to figure life out. I placed my eyeball against the plastic baggie, convinced my stare could knock some sense into him. Of course, he didn't listen. He kept going glub, glub, glub until I picked him off the counter.
I brought the bug-eyed freak down to the fort, even though he wouldn't stop glubbing. He watched me while I played, perched on the shelf next to my Dodger's cap. Once he got bored, I colored his baggie with a magic marker, transforming him into a ferocious animal. He looked like a shark-pirate when I was done, with an eye-patch to match his new attitude. I followed his lead by coloring over my own eye. That way we'd be the same. We were, after all, bound by a secret oath I made up that afternoon together. He couldn't repeat after me, so I let him say glub, glub, glub instead. It wouldn't be fair to exclude him just because he was a big dummy and couldn't speak properly. Mom would've been real disappointed in me if that were the case.
Before the Dodger's game, I ran through the lineup with him, confident we'd choose the same batting order as Lasorda. Normally dad would do this with me, but he was running late. It didn't matter, since the goldfish wanted to help. We combed through the lineup until the players were in order. He glubbed once for yes, twice for no. Three glubs meant he was confused. In less than an hour, we got through the whole lineup, which was a record for me. Normally it took me and dad an hour, because he was always busy with his paperwork. Now I had all afternoon to finish our game of pirates. Carrie screamed as we chased her down the hallway, afraid that I might snatch her right up, then take her down to the pirate dungeon, which was really the laundry room. She didn't know that, and hid when Mom called us for dinner.
We ate in the living room, huddled around the television, food place on individual television trays. I placed the goldfish on his own cushion, pointed straight at the screen. I had the game on mute, so I could explain to him what was happening. Mom talked over us, though, correcting me when I made a mistake explaining a play. Eventually, she moved over to the couch, repositioning my goldfish on her lap.
"You have a name yet?" she asked.
"Ah, clever," she said. "So, he's a boy?"
"Duh. And he's also named after the best super hero ever."
"You'll have to tell dad when he gets home," she replied. "Then you two can place this little guy into his new home."
"I know, mom."
"Okay," she said, hand tangled in my hair. "Just checking."
When the game ended, she tucked me into bed, positioning Tony on the nightstand, next to the Dodger's lamp. I kept my eyes open, fixated on the door, counting the seconds until dad arrived. We waited in the darkness, discussing tomorrow's game against the Cards. While he didn't seem that optimistic about our batting, he was positive that Hershiser would deliver the win. I drifted off to sleep sometime in the night, arm draped around the dresser, placed carefully on top of the plastic baggie.
I woke up in the middle of the night, pjs completely soaked, concerned about Tony. He didn't go glub, glub, glub after I poked him. He was upside down now, near the bottom of the baggie, eyes almost completely white. I filled the bathroom sink with water, then placed him inside, hoping he'd be able to swim again. He sank to the bottom, settling near the drain.
From the study, I heard dad wrestling with papers, clearing his throat each time he turned the page. Part of me wanted to stay near the sink, hoping my presence would revive Tony, but the rest of me knew I had to interrupt his work. I tiptoed across the hardwood floor, dodging the creaky spots throughout the hallway. With both hands on the door, I leaned into the room, careful not to touch the carpeting. The desk lamp caused his shadow to fill the wall. It towered over me, stretching over the entire office, growing larger each time he moved forward in his chair. I should've called for him, asked for his help, told him about Tony, yet I couldn't speak. All I could do was stare at that shadow spilling across the room. My feet pushed me backward, toward the bathroom, where Tony rested in the sink.
I placed him back inside the plastic baggie, even though he didn't float anymore. Shadows danced beneath my door, but I was unsure if they were moving toward or away from my room. I whispered to them, explaining my dilemma, detailing I did everything I could to save Tony's life.
Dad opened the door, arms resting on the frame, his eyes tracing the trail of water to my nightstand. Without checking on me, he picked up the baggie, examining Tony, holding him up to the light. I expected him to rush back into the study, pull out his stethoscope, then bring my friend back to life. Dad didn't budge, though. He kept twisting the bag in the light from the hallway, squinting at my fish, his nose an inch away. I half expected him stop start going glub, glub, glub, but he didn't, not even when dad poked him with his index finger. I don't know what dad does all day at that hospital, but I bet he could fix some little bug-eyed fish. To keep from making a sound, I squeezed my eyes together, fists wrapped around the quilt nana knit last year, mouthing tomorrow's lineup.
Carrie cried from the other room, shouting as if she were stuck in the No-No corner. Dad, before leaving my room, scruffed my hair, never bothering to look down at me. He kept my fish, too, palming the baggie with his hand. It all made sense. Dad, like mom always explained, couldn't work if I was in the room with him. He needed complete silence. When I woke up, Tony would be whole, swimming around the empty fish tank in the living room.
The entire night I gazed at the ceiling, picturing the tank near the television, the Dodgers' game reflected inside the glass. I even picked out several things we could place in the tank, such as a little treasure chest that spit bubbles each time it opened. It would make that glub, glub, glub noise as well, just like the fish my dad bought me.
BIO: William Lemon received his M.A. in Literature and Writing at California State University San Marcos, then began teaching English at the Community College level. For the past several years, he has taught at Santa Monica College and Irvine Valley College. He has been published in Drunk Monkeys and the Eunoia Review.