Flash Fiction: In the Morning, a Castle
by Aki Schilz
One morning a goldfish bowl appeared on Harold Groom’s doorstep. He opened the door and there it was, the sunlight glancing off its rounded edges. Harold was bewildered. He hiked up his trousers, and slowly squatted down on the porch. He peered into the bowl. At the bottom were white rocks, neatly banked against the side of a plastic castle. He wouldn’t have seen the fish, only just before he was about to tip the water out onto his lawn, he caught a shy little flick of orange.
‘Well hello there, fishy.’ Harold looked around him. He didn’t want to be seen by the neighbors. The fish disappeared inside the castle.
‘Look here now,’ Harold continued, quietly. ‘I’m gonna take you inside, OK? Then maybe you won’t mind coming out and saying hey?’ He placed his hands carefully on the underside of the bowl. It was heavier than he thought, and he leaned it against his chest, feeling the slosh of water. ‘You okay?’ he called out. Then, more quietly, ‘My goodness, if Marjorie could see me now.’
Harold placed the bowl on the kitchen side. A stack of dirty dishes teetered by an abandoned two-tub with a pair of underpants soaking in it. A line of mug rings ran like stencils along the side, and an abandoned coffee cup holding the cold, oily remains of instant coffee had started to bloom white mold. Harold felt suddenly ashamed.
‘Gee little fishy, I’m sorry about the state of the place. It’s not been the same since Marj left.’ The fish shimmied out. Harold bent down so he was level with it. It was a small fish, probably no longer than his little finger, with a large, fanned-out tail. Its scales were speckled orange, red where they bloomed into the tail and fins, which moved in a constant forward whirring motion. Propellers, Harold thought. They were like tiny propellers.
‘Chopper. You’re like a chopper. Except that’s no name for a pretty fish like you. Heli. Hey, I like that. Whaddya say, fishy?’
The little fish cut through the water in a quick, zig-zag motion. Harold smiled. ‘Alright,’ he said. ‘Heli, nice to meet you. My name’s Harold.’
Harold spent the rest of the day tidying the house, gathering up and flinging out the beer cans, takeout boxes and crumpled tissues. After checking on Heli, he took the bus to the local store (Marj had taken the car) and picked up some basics: milk, egg, bread, steak. He also picked up some fish food. Heli was waiting patiently, flicking her tail. Harold carefully pinched a fingerful of flakes from the plastic packet, and sprinkled them over the top of the water. The flakes fell like snow around her.
He tapped on the glass with his forefinger.
‘Heli?’ There was no response. Harold felt sadness filling up like a balloon. He couldn’t quite tell what he felt sad about.
‘I’m going to bed now, Heli. I’ll come check on you in the morning.’