James Norcliffe

The goldfish

I did not like Gloria. I sensed her disapproval and responded in kind. She aspired to be the perfect hostess, so I was a particular challenge. Of course, she tried too hard. She tinkled too loudly at my one attempt at humour; she gazed around the table at the others as if encouraging them to laugh as well. It was patronising. It was hard not to feel diminished.

My response was to shrink into silence, avoiding all eye contact. I stared into my soup as if looking for a goldfish in its depths. That there was something lurking beneath the garnish of chopped cilantro seemed probable given the slight flurries of movement in the liquid, the popping of tiny bubbles on the surface. It may well have been a goldfish. Or a guppy. Perhaps, even, a baby turtle.

I pushed the bowl aside, unwilling to risk damaging the goldfish (or guppy) with my spoon, and certainly not willing to drain the bowl, thus exposing the fish to die a gasping death. I could imagine it flopping helplessly at the bottom. I could hear the astonished comments. Of course, there may not have been a goldfish in the bowl and, even if there were, it may not have been endangered.

However, it satisfied me to believe that there was a goldfish there. It gave me a more tangible reason to dislike Gloria, to say in response to her solicitous question that there was nothing wrong with the soup, nothing at all, and that I had enjoyed my few mouthfuls immensely.

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NZ poet James Norcliffe has published ten collections of poetry including Shadow Play 2013 Dark Days at the Oxygen Café (VUP) 2016 & Deadpan (OUP) 2019. Recent work has appeared in Landfall, Spillway, The Cincinnati Review, Salamander, Gargoyle and Flash Fiction International (Norton, 2015). In 2010 he took part in the XX International Poetry Festival in Medellin, Colombia and in 2011 the Trois Rivieres International Poetry Festival in Quebec.  Last year, with Michelle Elvy and Frankie McMillan he edited Bonsai (Canterbury University Press) New Zealand’s first major collection of flash and other short forms.