The Secret Goldfish

January 23, 2011
Sitting in school, I was looking forward to one thing and one thing only, the weekend. It was Friday afternoon and I was stuck in Mrs. Fuller’s room learning about the Civil War. It was May and you could tell all the children were beginning to grow antsy as they longed for summer to come. Despite my young age of only 8 years old, I, James Cooper was incredibly intelligent for my age although sometimes I didn’t much care for schooling. I had some trouble reading because all of the letters seemed to jumble together. I forget what the doctors called it, but I’m sure it was some scientific name. However, I was very good at math and science and Mrs. Fuller said I was a joy to have in class. Robert, my older brother was really the only one who really got me for who I was and I always cherished the time we spent together, even though I knew he’d rather be hanging out with his girlfriend or other friends than some little kid. But despite this, he tolerated me and we would always find something adventurous to do. He never complained and that’s what I loved about him. Always there for me, Robert was.

The bell rang and the other third graders began to pack up their stuff as fast as their little hands could and rushed out of the room. I slowly piled my books and papers that were strewn across my desk into my backpack and pushed in my chair. Mrs. Fuller asked if I was alright and I said that I was doing fine and all and told her I’d see her tomorrow. The thing is, I wasn’t doing so great. All that daydreaming about Robert just made me realize how much I missed him since he had gone to college. Yeah he’d be home in a few weeks, but I didn’t know what to do with myself until then, since I really didn’t have any true friends in school. I was more concerned about myself than making friends with some smelly little brats from that private school. Some of the kids weren’t too bad like little John Anderson and Michael Rose, but we just never really spent too much time together outside of recess. Both of them had that condition the doctors have a special name for, which I guess is why we’re friends. They’re among the few that understand me. I figured maybe I’d give them a call once I got home and see if they wanted to do something.

My house was only a few blocks from the school, so my parents let me walk home when it was nice out. Today was a beautiful early summer day and the sun shone through the trees that formed a canopy above the sidewalk as I trudged home. As I was walking home I passed the Passerville Pet Shop. Passerville is the town I live in and I loved going into the pet shop and was especially fond of all the various types of fish and watching them just swimming around was almost mesmerizing. I had been saving up my allowance for over a month now to buy one of the fish because I was thinking that it would keep me company while Robert was gone. While I sat on the weathered wooden bench bolted into the sidewalk outside the pet shop I counted up the money and laid it across the bench. I had $14.87, which was enough for a fish and maybe one of those round little fish bowls with the rocks on the bottom. I gathered up my money and jammed it into my pocket as I got up from the bench and walked over to the pet shop door. As I opened the door the little bell above jingled and Mr. Olson, the store’s owner, welcomed me and asked if he could help me with anything. I said that I was looking for a fish that would keep me company. He said, “Follow me, I think I have just the thing you’re looking for.” He led me to the corner of the store where all the freshwater fish were and pointed to the tank filled with goldfish. I usually just passed the goldfish over when I was at the store, but today I took a closer look and saw a little one in the back of the tank that seemed to have a damaged fin and seemed to be ignored by all of the other fish. I told Mr. Olson that that fish was the one I wanted and he asked, “Are you sure? This one has an injured fin.” I reassured him that I couldn’t have any other fish except that one and as he chuckled he scooped the fish into one of those little plastic bags filled with water. We walked to the cash register and he asked me, “Is there anything else you want today?” I told him that I wanted one of the fish bowls and some fish food and he grabbed them off the shelf behind him and told me that the total cost was going to be $15.63. I pulled out my money from my pocket and told him all I had was $14.87, but he said that it was close enough and smiled. I thanked him many times and said that I wouldn’t forget his act of gratitude as I rushed out of the store, eager to get home and put my fish in his bowl.

Once I got home I hurried to my room and put the bowl on my dresser and quickly added the fish to the bowl. I sprinkled some of the food flakes over the bowl and as they began to sink my fish swam swiftly and gobbled each one up before it hit the colored blue pebbles that rested on the bottom of the bowl. Sitting on the corner of my bed, I just watched the fish swim around, thinking to myself that for a fish with an injured fin he got around pretty well. As my fish circled his bowl, I decided that he was in need of a name. Pondering over various names I decided upon the name of James because my fish wasn’t all that different than me. Sure I was about five hundred times his size, but other than that we were pretty close. I thought back to the pet store and saw how he was ostracized from the group because he was different from the other fish even though he was no different than them. So right then and there I decided that James would be a perfect name for my new pet goldfish.

After watching James swim around a little longer I decided to call up John and ask if he wanted to come over and play basketball. First, I called John and his mom said that he couldn’t come over and play right now, so I decided that I would try Michael. His mom picked up the phone and I told her that it was me, James Cooper and she asked how my mom was doing and I told her that she was fine. When she finally gave the phone to Michael I had practically given a full synopsis of my mother’s life. Michael said he would love to come over and play basketball and told me he would be over in five minutes, since he just lived down the street.

When Michael got there we played basketball for about an hour and then we came inside to cool off. We talked about all the stuff any eight year old boys would such as how Sally was the most annoying girl I’d ever met and how we couldn’t wait to go swimming this summer and then I told Michael about my new goldfish. I’m not really sure why I told him, I guess I was just excited about my new pet. Michael said his mother had bought him a goldfish a few months ago. Michael asked, “What’s your goldfish’s name?” I told him that it was James, just like me and he laughed and seemed to approve of my name choice. Michael then suggested that we go look at the goldfish and one might think that this was a simple request, but something inside me snapped. I said, “NO! It’s my goldfish and I paid for it with my own money, my mommy didn’t buy it like yours did for you. You just don’t understand!” Michael flinched at my response and said that he didn’t realize it was that big of a deal. I wondered if the reasoning I gave Michael was the actual truth or if it was just a part of it. In any case I decided it would be best not to tell anyone else about the goldfish from this point on.

A few weeks later school was on the last few days and Robert had come back from college. It was just like old times and we played baseball, basketball, football, and anything else we could think of. One day we even went camping in the forest behind my house. My goldfish was always on my mind and other than the times I was with Robert I was always sitting on my bed, captivated by the small fish swimming around. I hadn’t told anyone about the fish after that day I told Michael, not even Robert. A few times Robert would come into my room and I would hastily hide the goldfish bowl underneath my bed and he would just look confused and walk away. Every time I left my room I hid my goldfish in his bowl under the bed behind boxes of toys so my mom wouldn’t find it and sneak peeks at something that was all mine and the most important thing I’d ever bought using my own money. I think Robert knew I was hiding something, but Robert didn’t get to see the goldfish, because he didn’t pay for it, I did. I went on with this hiding process, but one day about a week into summer I pulled out the bowl and was horrified at what I had seen. The goldfish was floating on the top of the water, clearly dead. I ran out of my room crying and barged through my brother’s closed door. He’d been sleeping and slowly woke up and asked what was wrong. I explained everything that had happened and how important my goldfish had been to me and how I’d bought it with my own money and all. Robert listened to the entire story and all he said at the end was “I’m sorry.” I could tell he knew that I was upset but I don’t really know what I expected him to do, I just hoped he could do something. He hugged me and we just sat there hugging with me crying and sniffling for about an hour and finally he said that we needed a proper burial. This was a phenomenal idea and I knew it was what James would have wanted. We dug up a hole in the garden and put a few of the pebbles from his fish bowl around a big rock like a type of tombstone. I said a few things about my fish and couldn’t continue because I started crying again. Robert said he would like to say something as well and said, “I know that I never got to meet James the Goldfish but anyone who makes my little brother as happy as he did must have been something special.” I ran over to Robert and hugged him, wiping my eyes I said, “Thank you.”

Weeks passed and the empty fish bowl sat on my dresser and I was lonelier than ever. Robert spent more time with me, noticing that I was still depressed over the loss of my fish. I went about my business in an almost machine-like state, no emotion, just finishing the task at hand. Robert sometimes just watched me as I played basketball; he never said anything, just sat there on the porch while I played. One day I went into my room and just sat down on my bed, not even wanting to glance at the fish bowl because it would just bring back memories. But the temptation was too great and I stole a quick glance. What I saw was a goldfish swimming happily around. Shocked, I rubbed my eyes not believing what I was seeing, but after a few more looks I confirmed that a goldfish was really there. I ran to Robert in the family room and jumped onto the couch next to him. Barely containing my excitement I told him there was a goldfish in my bowl. I asked him if he knew where it had come from and he never even looked over or said anything but I could see a faint smile on his face. At that moment I knew my brother would always be there for me more than any fish could. I named my new goldfish Robert.

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