In the Fishbowl by Hun Ohm

For N.P.

In her fingers my sister held a spoon, and in its bowl the spoon held a goldfish, which in turn held its breath as it beheld the dry world in its shiny, unblinking eyes.

Or was it the memory of water the fish clung to inside its gills, its tail fluttering every now and then in search of slippery purchase? What did we know, what with our sighs of wonder and free respirations, our breathless exclamations of glee as we cleansed the fishbowl. But perhaps our new playmate harbored other thoughts while it brooded in that tarnished spoon. Perhaps a clock was ticking, and each sad chew of those smooth lips might be an hour, a day, a week or longer in goldfish years, though who had a moment to do the math when the time was well past nigh to make the world spic and span.

After all, we had been instructed to feed it thrice a day. Or was it thrice an hour, or maybe something else and why not? The more the merrier is what they say, and merry we sought to remain after we tossed a ping pong ball into a plastic bowl at the Sunday carnival and won our shimmering little friend. We were quite pleased with our prize, and once back home we celebrated our newfound fellowship with feast after feast of multi-colored food flakes until the stone rook and all the pebbles were quilted thick with sustenance.

The untouched bounty arose again when we swirled the gravel with a wooden chopstick, and the lovely scrape of circles and zigzags and made-up shapes was sweet music to our ears. Our strokes were strong and true, no stone was left unturned, and we marveled at the perfect, silent flurries blizzarding in the globe. Then we emptied the bowl and filled it anew, careful now to not make a mess or have it too hot or cold, let’s do it over, let’s empty and fill it until the water feels just right for a warm winter’s bath, and here’s a squeeze or two of Palmolive to cut through grease and grime, a pinch of flakes for a midnight snack. And of course we’ll do our best to help you rest through the night until the early morn. See there you are, all cozy and afloat, still slumbering in half-remembered dreams. Of what? Who knows. Maybe seaweed and shipwrecks and sunken treasure, bubble clinks and golden fins and other piscine pleasures. Or maybe my sister and me while we hold our breath waiting for you to awaken and dive back down for repast, or to open your sad, smooth lips, just shiver your tail once more, yes, and look how round and pretty were your eyes.

Hun Ohm is a writer and intellectual property attorney. He lives in western Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in JMWW, Bull, Necessary Fiction, The Citron Review, Literary Orphans, and other publications.

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