In the beginning we had six. Two were black and three were orange and one was black and white striped with bug eyes. Goldy was one of the orange ones. At first I had her pegged as the weakling. I didn’t tell the kids, but I knew the goldfish would die. It always happened with those stupid carnival fish — right after you name them, you find them floating in the bowl, their little pale bellies bloated with death. I figured Goldie would be first.

So I was surprised when Bug-eyes was missing in the morning. I asked the kids if they had flushed him, and they cried at the mere suggestion that they would do such a thing. Then I said that Bug-eyes had probably gone to a lake, and the kids spent the morning drawing him in his new home. When Blackie disappeared I said he was with Bug-eyes, but I looked real closely at all the other fish in the tank. I realized that one of them must be a cannibal. After watching them for a while I could tell Goldy seemed a little fatter than the rest — no longer the runt, she had developed a paunch. Right then that I should have separated her from the others, but something stopped me. Okay, I was curious. It’s perverse, but I wanted to see if she could eat them all.

The next day, Boo-boo was missing, and Goldy was the size of Yogi and Stan put together. She wasn’t just fat — her body was as long as my index finger, and she had big, lustrous fins. As I watched her, I swore she was avoiding my gaze. We put Boo-boo in the lake pictures with his brothers, but the kids weren’t too sad — they were as fascinated with Goldy’s size as I was.

After she ate Yogi and Stan, Goldy was too big for the tank. Her fins smashed up against the size, and she looked out with a pained expression — I know it’s ridiculous, but I swear she was embarrassed. Late at night I imagine her speaking to me: “I’m sorry,” she said, “I couldn’t stop myself.”

We put her in the bathtub, but she grew troubled. Whenever the kids went in to brush their teeth, she leapt out of the water, snapping. Then she would sulk near the bottom with an expression of extreme penitence. I started feeding her T-bone steaks, and that quieted her for awhile, but she didn’t stop growing. I started having friends over just to gawk at her. They suggested I start a business, charge admission. I started looking up regulations in our county. I looked into above-ground swimming pools for Goldy. I had to fill the bathtub to the very rim just to cover her, and she was getting antsy. I had to take my daughter to the emergency room one evening; Goldy had taken off the tip of her thumb.

It was a May morning when I found her. Her fins were splayed out over the linoleum, her head lolled to one side. Had she jumped for a tasty morsel and overshot? Or had she killed herself in a paroxysm of guilt? I ran to check the children’s beds. But they slept soundly, dreaming of lakes. I saw then that Goldy knew her limits — she saw she could no longer control herself, and so she gave her life to save ours. And even though I had already bought the swimming pool, I was grateful.


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