Friday, November 22, 2013

Red Fish Blue Fish
(a character exercise)

            I can only go to the pet store for my supplies on Tuesday mornings. Amy is the only one who doesn't think I’m strange.  She goes to school full time, so during the fall, she only works on Tuesdays.  She has blond hair and wears glasses mostly. I think she’s pretty, even if she is never wearing makeup at nine AM because she works at a pet store and has to wake up early so why bother. I always get the same thing, but it’s always different. Thirty large feeder goldfish, but I have to pick each one individually. She is the only one who knows my secret, and the only person I would tell. When I first met her, she asked me the normal questions that everyone else did when I insisted to pick each one out: “What are you feeding?”
            Depending on whoever I was talking to, I would change the answer. But today, I decided I was feeding a piranha, so I told her so. And she quietly and patiently let me pick out the ones I wanted. Goldfish aren’t just gold. They come in all types of different color combinations: orange and black, white, or white with orange spots, grey, gold, and sometimes even yellow. The fins are always either long or short; their eyes can be black or blue.
            There is a lot of decision making that goes along with these variations.
           And then there are always things to watch out for. Does the fish have some type of disease that could infect the rest of them and lessen another’s chance for survival? Are its eyes cloudy? Are there any swimming with clamped fins? These are all factors that I have to take into account.
            But this girl has never given me anything but survivors. That’s one of the reasons why I chose her. The reason why I told her my secret.
             “Why do you have to pick each one out individually?” She asked me one morning with a smile. “If you’re just going to feed them to something else, why does it matter what color they are?” It was a friendly, curious, question, and she is always so nice to me, picking thirty specific fish out of the tank of at least seven hundred where other employees have either rolled their eyes or simply said no.
            So I answered her: “I like to name them all. Having different colors helps me keep track.”
            She laughed, a soft, happy sound that I hadn’t heard in a while. “But they’re just going to die. Why bother?”
            “I keep a notebook and write each one’s name down.”
            She looked confused.
            “That way I can write how long each one survived, if there was a particular struggle between it and the piranha,” I realized I might be scaring her, so I added on,  “It’s silly, but I feel the need to give each one something more than just death.”
            She took in what I said for a few seconds as she poured my fish into a plastic bag, filled it with oxygen, and tied it with a rubber band. “Well,” she said as she handed me my purchase. “That’s more than most people give them.”
            “Thank you,” I said when I took my victims from her small hands.
            “I’ll see you next week,” she said. “Have a good day.”
            I smiled and went to the register and paid for my thirty writhing fish. I walked to my car and checked the trunk to make sure all of my supplies were still there from last time. I dug the pocket notepad out of my jeans flipped to a clean page. I would have to buy more duct tape before Amy got off of work at three. I wrote her name down anyway, wondering how long she would survive as I drove to the hardware store. 

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