I don’t know how to start, but I’ll start like this. My name is Bill, and I’m a carnival goldfish. Now, if you don’t know what a carnival goldfish is, it’s one of those fish that never, ever die. One of the fish that can’t die from old age, or from tank sickness. A carnival fish is one of the fish that can only die from accidental stupidity, or the cruelty of an owner.
How am I telling you this story?
The old man who sold me gave each of us fish a small amount of powder that he put in our water, depending on what kind of fish we were. Betas got a grain, koi got what could fit on the tip of your thumb, like that. See, now us carnival goldfish, we get a little more, because we’re less expensive. We only cost twenty-five cents half the time.
Yeah; sad, I know.
Anyway, we get a short sprinkle of the powder, which the old man poured in the center of his hand. Now, right before he was about to pour my sprinkle into my bowl, he forgot about something. He picked up another thing of powder to check on it and, apparently, some of it got in his hand.
I dubbed that power ‘The Talking Potion.’
So, that’s how I’m talking to you, for starters.
I guess I’ll tell you about how I came to be where I am, huh? It’s better to start there than anywhere else.
Little Timmy and his big mama came into the pet store one day. Timmy ran up and immediately said he wanted me, the little fish. I was so, so happy, but I couldn’t reveal my secret that I could talk, much less understand.
So, Timmy bought me with his twenty-five cents, then named me Bill.
After they brought me home in my little bag, they put me in a small glass container with a few pebbles. Now, mind you, I can’t die, but an air hose would’ve been nice. Normal fish die without one. Most parents just say ‘fish die’ to their children when they do die, but the truth is that we goldfish can live for a long time if we’re taken care of.
Come bedtime that first night, Timmy asked to take me to bed, which he did. Then come the following morning when he was playing in the tub, I joined him.
Thank the heavens that the old man’s magic powders work as good as they do, because I would’ve been a dead fish. I’m not stupid. The old man put all his knowledge into those powders.
So, when Big Mama comes in to help Timmy, she gasps as she sees me slowly but skillfully avoiding the little boy. She plucks me back into my tank, expecting me to be dead. She lets out a shriek when she knows I’m alive. (To this day, I don’t know if that shriek was a good one or a bad one.)
Timmy wasn’t allowed to bring me into the bathroom anymore, much less take me to his room. Big Mama set me up in the kitchen, where I got to hide at the bottom of the tank under a little treasure chest while Princess, the cat, tried to get me.
As the years grew on, I lived. When Timmy’s voice started deepening, he was allowed to take me into his room. By then, they’d given me a light inside the tank and an air filter. And by then, Timmy’s mom was gone. Dead, Timmy said. She died in a car crash.
At the time, I felt bad. I mean, Timmy was hurt; who wouldn’t feel bad for him? He’d lost his mom and was now stuck with his step dad, who hadn’t done much for him his whole life.
Timmy talked to me a lot. By now, I had let on that I was a little smarter than the average fish. I nodded when I agreed with something and moved back and forth when I disagreed. Timmy knew he could only ask me yes and no questions shortly after I revealed my intelligence.
That was me, the magic eight-ball, except I wish a fish and didn’t babble like those things do.
The problem started when Timmy’s step dad stopped coming home. He’d come home for one day, be gone the next two, then be back for a few minutes before he left. Timmy started asking me where he was going.
I didn’t know; I was only a fish. I may have been able to talk, but I wasn‘t a mind-reader by any means.
‘Bill,’ Timmy said. ‘What if Dad doesn’t come back?’
I shook my head, and at that point in time, I think I actually frowned. I’m not sure, because I’ve never frowned. All I know is that Timmy sighed and closed his eyes.
‘You’re a smart fish, Bill. Do you know where he might’ve gone?’
I moved back and forth. Again, Timmy sighed.
‘I miss him,’ he said. ‘Since Mom died, he… My step dad… He’s the only thing I’ve got.’
I nodded. I swam to the end of my small world and pressed my nose to the tank. Timmy smiled and set his hand on the glass.
“You’re such a good friend, Bill.”
And I was his only friend. When he told me that he didn‘t have any friends, it made me feel bad. Timmy, a thirteen-year-old boy, shouldn’t be sitting in his room talking to a goldfish; he should be spending time with his friends.
‘You know, you’re the only thing I really care about, right?’
I knew that. He always bought me new toys or special food when it became available. Timmy was a good boy, the best friend a fish could have, but he was too dedicated to me. Maybe it was in his nature to be dedicated, and if so, whomever he decided to be with would be very lucky.
‘And you know what, Bill? I love you.’
I nodded. It hurt me to hear him speak so passionately. I shouldn’t be his best friend, I just shouldn’t.
That phase didn’t last for long, because Timmy’s step dad eventually let up on whatever he was doing. With the step dad home more often, Timmy had become a social butterfly and was rarely ever home. This pleased me beyond all words.
As he aged, he grew into a fine young man, one on the honor roll and the football team. The girlfriend was nice. She’d come over and wiggle her finger in the tank, then shriek in delight when I’d swim up and bump her. She was a good person. Her name was Mary. Mary was a good name, I just knew it. Mary was good for my Timmy.
When Timmy finally moved out on his own, he took me with. He went to college and worked long days and hard hours to keep himself in school. He eventually graduated from college and became a technician. Then he married Mary and she had a baby not a year later.
Through all of this, I could feel the world changing. It wasn’t a physical change, but more like a change in the air. Maybe it was because I wasn’t aging, because I was still alive. Timmy had been five when he got me; that had been twenty years ago.
I’ve always appreciated my life. It’s made me feel good about myself. The thing I like is that I bring so much happiness to Timmy. His friends come over and he brags about how I’m his ‘never-aging fish,’ then they laugh it off and say he’s joking.
Timmy’s not joking, and that’s what makes me warm inside my small body.
As his children emerged into themselves, they too appreciated me. They quickly picked up their father’s habit of talking to me whenever they had troubles, and I always listened. I served a purpose, a good purpose, one that made Timmy and his whole family happy.
But time seemed to flow so fast. It only seemed like the day before that his daughter had been born, then she went to college. It only seemed the twins were born the minute before, and then they went away to Europe to study at the tender age of sixteen. Then Mary passed away. Timmy talked to me a lot those first few years after Mary passed, then he stopped.
It hurt to know that I was only there as a pet and not an actual person. When Timmy came to my tank, he usually didn’t smile. Those times he smiled made me feel special, like I had so many years before.
And then, just then, he was older, a man with white hair and a long beard. Timmy was old, much older. I was so old. Almost a hundred, at eighty. Me and Timmy were separated by only five years, yet I never aged. He aged, but I didn’t.
And then came the day when Timmy passed. I knew he was gone when his drink slid out of his hand. He didn’t move, didn’t stir, didn’t make any noise. I then realized that I would soon be gone too, because even though I don’t age, I still need food to survive.
I had finally been given the answer to the question I had desired for so long. I now knew that immortality, while painful, could also be a beautiful thing. I had brought Timmy so much happiness in the eighty years I had been with him, and that was all that mattered.
And finally, I close my story. For those of you who have taken the time to listen to it, thank you. I know that I was the first of my kind, and now I believe that I am the last. If I am not the last, I pray that the fish who receives my gift will be given a good home. Because, in the long run, a good home is always the best thing, and a best friend is what makes life worth living for.