George lived with us for exactly two weeks. Ashley won him at the carnival by throwing a ping-pong ball into a brandy glass. I bought an aquarium for him and Mack the Knife, the other fish in the bag, to live in. Mack died a week ago. I came over to Ashley’s place that morning and found him stuck to the filter intake. I fished him out with the net, told him I was sorry before I flushed him.
George developed ick, which I learned is a relatively common disease among goldfish, which manifests in little white spots on the body and tail. I went to PetSmart on Monday and got him some medicine, along with three new fish to keep him company. Ashley named the new guys Cool Hand Luke, Jack the Ripper, and Stevietta. I gave George his medicine for three days, but he didn’t make it. He died around 11 this morning.
He went fast, too. I fed all four of them this morning after Ashley left for work. One minute, George was swimming around, being chased by Stevietta (we thought those two kind of had a thing going), and the next he was tumbling lifelessly through the water, pushed around aimlessly by the current from the filter. Like I did with Mack a week ago, I fished him out with the net and flushed him. I told him I was sorry, that I did my best. I’ve had goldfish before, but this is the first time I’ve really tried to have a serious go at keeping them. I know I’m just starting, and I have a lot to learn, and casualties are inevitable, but it is remarkable how attached you get in such a short time. I liked George. I felt like I had gotten to know him. When I waved my hand in front of the glass, he would react to it, swim in another direction. When the other fish chased him around, they seemed to genuinely be enjoying themselves. Maybe it’s horseshit, maybe I’m just projecting, maybe they’re just fish and they have no more awareness of their surroundings than a tree or a clump of moss.
But that doesn’t matter. George is still dead. Seeing him floating there, that ineffable spark that animated him now gone, I couldn’t help but think of my dog lying in the back of my dad’s Bronco in the parking lot of the cemetery where we took her to be cremated. I thought of how Pap looked lying in his coffin, hands neatly folded, face contorted by mortician’s hands into an unsettling approximation of a smile. Floating in a glass tank, or lying in the back of a truck, or made-up nice and shoved into a coffin – it doesn’t matter, we’re all heading in the same direction. Real don’t get no more real than that, children.
I’ve heard it said that the most we can hope for out of life is to mean something to someone else. If that’s true, George, well, you meant something to me, so you did pretty fucking good. Say hi to Mack for me, and Stripe and Stripe Jr., too.