The Secret Goldfish

© 1999 Ree Tjeerdsma

I wrote this story to fulfill a high school English class requirement, and had the time of my life doing it. Here's the idea: In The Catcher In The Rye, protagonist Holden Caulfield's older brother D. B. is an author. Holden's favorite story from his brother's collection is called "The Secret Goldfish." My assignment was to write a story with that title, but beneath that single rule I wrote more for myself. Beneath you'll find my contribution, a tale I imagine D. B. Caulfield might have written and something Holden would have enjoyed immensely.

I once knew this cute, sweet little boy. His name was Michael, and he looked like a cherub, with fair blond hair and eyes of faded denim.

Out of the blue clear sky, he showed up on my doorstep one day. Tugging the hem of my shorts embarrassingly, he motioned with his plump hands for me to kneel. When I did, he half-screamed in my ear, "I'm gonna get a pet, Mom says! I'm," -- and here he wiped his snotty nose on the already-stained collar of his hand-me-down T-shirt -- "I'm namin' him Rover, an' he'll sleep on my bed!"

Now I knew Shelley, his mother, rather well. Their apartment had a "no pets" requirement, and Shelley always carefully followed orders. The woman wouldn't keep a penny she found in the street, for fear she might be stealing. She hated when I called her son "Mikey," because "if she wanted his name to be Mikey, she wouldn't have written 'Michael' on the birth certificate." Ms. Play-By-The-Rules, No-Matter-How-Stupid-They-Were was not about to let Mikey get a dog.

I smiled gently, and insinuated carefully that perhaps he misheard his Mommy's exact words. But all he said back was, "He's gonna be orange-y an' purty an' I'll feed him every day and pet him lots an' lots!" Hmm. Not an easily dissuaded kid, eh?

Just as I was opening my door to let Mikey walk in to play, Shelley walked by. She didn't have a car, on account of not making much money, so she drove mine if the weather was too bad for walking to work. Today was sunny, and so was Shelley. Her red hair glistened in the golden sun as she gaily called to her little angel.

Of course, Mikey was enthusiastic. He ran to his Mommy like she was holding a candy roughly the size of her head, but all she held was a crumpled paper bag roughly that size. Her grip was tenuously firm, as though she didn't want whatever it was in her hands, but couldn't bring herself to drop it, either.

Mikey saw it too. "What's that? Is that my Rover?" One day, I vowed, I had to have a good hard talk about animals with the kid. However, if Rover the Red would make him happy....

Shelley leaned down. Damn, she was hot! I tried to look away as she bent further and further, tried to concentrate on audio rather than visual. "Yes sir, Michael. This here's your new goldfish. Do you like him?"

"Rover" was a goldfish?

But Mikey seemed happy enough, as he inspected the bag's contents closely. When his face turned near mine, he suddenly clasped himself onto Shelley's purchase. Then a neon grin split across his face, and he cried, "Rover!"

I crept nearer as well. Mostly I wanted to see Shelley while she was bent over in that tight skirt and blouse, but I also figured I could claim I wanted to see Mikey's fish. Unfortunately, Mikey turned possessive. He refused to let me near until a friend called for him to play, so I watched an oblivious Shelley instead.

Shelley's bubbly mask slipped off about the same time Mikey yelled over his shoulder, "Don't let nobody see MY fishy, Mom!" Near as I could see, the fish had quit moving. I raised an eyebrow by way of general query to Anyone listening over the whole situation.

Poor Shelley hastened to explain. "Michael had saved his money to buy a puppy, but you know our house rules. So, I told him how nice fishes are."

"Okay. At least that explains why Rover wags his scales and not his tail," I said. "May I see Mikey's new dogfish?"

She gave me a dirty look. "His name is Michael." I waved it aside, waiting impatiently for her to answer the damn the question. Instead, she began nervously babbling about God only knew what. "You know how fish die so quick and all. I didn't want to disappoint Michael, after he saved his own pocket change for so long, but I didn't want his pet to die! So I bought this." She tilted the wrinkled sack toward me, her collar abandoning a slender ivory throat as she did so.

I peered in after a swift glimpse of her. (I couldn't resist the unusually low neckline -- perhaps she had lost a button.) I couldn't believe what I saw.

Mikey's newly acquired, dearly beloved goldfish wasn't moving, except with Shelley's slight body movements (which were quite appealing...). But I suppose that wasn't really odd at all, since Rover was obviously a red rubber bath toy.

This is the end. If you haven't followed a link yet, perhaps you should take it from the top.