Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Today, I've posted another story I wrote. This is a version of a piece of fiction that appeared in Metro magazine over summer this year. It pretty much comes in tact from my life, well, my experience of my life (it's my lie about the truth). My mother reminded me after reading it that my brother and I did indeed have pets (we a cat called Tiger who makes an appearance in the story Shopping which is published in Everything We Hoped For and another cat called TC - who I am yet to write about). I'm sure there are several other contestable events in the story as well. But, yeah, basicially, I have an awful time trying to deal with the pet question and this was one of the ways I tried to wrestle with it - pretty much to no avail. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.


By Pip Adam

After sex we talk about the goldfish. Lying on top of our bed and each other, naked, we’re dopey and slightly invincible. We start by talking about how great the sex was, which leads us to talk about how great we are, which leads to silence, which leads to how lonely our four-year old daughter is, which leads to all the reasons we have for not having another child, which leads to all the reasons we have for not having a dog, which leads to why I hate cats, which leads to the goldfish.

‘She'd still be unhappy if she had a brother or a sister,' you say.
'She'd still be unhappy if she had a cat,’ I say.

Then we talk about what it is, exactly, giving her goldfish would teach her about ownership, about animals and about rights. We're vegan so it’s complicated. It’s more complicated than usual because it looks like I’m becoming a Buddhist. Not on purpose but by degrees – a little reading here, a little meditation there until eventually, and now, on our bed after sex, I’m wanting to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings and can’t believe in individualised self existence any more. I’m trying to hide all this so I temper it and at length the conversation comes to the place where you say, 'So fish?' raising your arm in a lying down, sideways, let's-shake-on-it gesture and I shake your hand.
'Let's not mention it until she whinges about it again,' I say.
'Is that how we play it?' you say.
'Not "whinges",' I say, 'I didn't mean "whinges"'. Sometimes I say things just for the effect of them – so nobody thinks I care about anything too much – as much as I do. So I appear unphased and like everything I say is off-hand, coming from an easily intelligent mind. 'Not "whinges".'

The simple rule is that the first goldfish needs 20 gallons of water and every goldfish after that needs 10 gallons each. I don't know what a gallon is. On the way to the supermarket, in a tunnel, my daughter tells me she wants to be a big sister. I say I understand. She starts to cry and talk about how much she wishes I was pregnant. I say she sounds sad and I understand how sad it is and how her father and I don’t think we can look after any more children. Through the crying, she says, ‘Why can’t we have a dog?’ I think about the gallons and gallons of water and say, in an off-hand way, ‘Oh, it’s complicated – owning animals – it isn’t very vegan. What about the animal’s brothers and sisters?’ It’s the lowest blow. As we arrive at the supermarket she’s crying for all the animals who don’t have brothers and sisters because of the people who want pets.

My younger brother and I weren’t allowed pets until, at some point, we were given two goldfish in a small round bowl. Goldfish are the only pet fish that can live in cold water. Round bowls are no good for goldfish; gasses don’t escape and there is no way of getting 30 gallons of water into them. Our goldfish died a lot. We sank tiny shell-shaped things that would bubble to the bottom in the stones and oxygen weed. I expected that if I called my fish Gretel my brother would call his Hansel but they ended up being Peter and Gretel – over and over again. We ate fish every Thursday night and my grandmother opened small salty tins of sardines and tuna for our lunch. We never ate Peter and Gretel. Someone from down South sent us whitebait one year and we ate that: heads, fins, tails, bones – in an omelette.

Our daughter likes to go into the attic. We get the ladder and she climbs up onto our flat roof and we walk to the attic window and open it and she climbs in. It’s always warm and cramped and close. There are boxes. While we’re up there we move the boxes, checking in each one to make sure we really need what’s in them still. Paper is heavy. While we are up there she tells me about electricity and how the roof stays up and the chimney. The floor of the attic is broken into by the glass skylights that let light into the back part of our lounge. We tell our daughter to be careful not to stand on these. She is careful. She is smart and healthy.

One day the heavy outside attic window falls and jams two of her fingers. It’s awful. We take her to the afterhour’s doctor. A nurse dresses the raw meat of her fingers. Tallulah watches closely and asks questions like, ‘What’s that?’ When the nurse goes she says she wants to be a nurse. At home she has several anatomy books and a human skull with eyes she can take in and out and half a brain.

At the supermarket, while I’m at the bulk bins buying, pulses and nuts and dried fruit, I often lose her. She’s usually standing beside the plastic boxes that are filled with ice and dead, whole fish. She’s usually put on the latex gloves the supermarket supplies and is gently pushing an eye or opening a fin or a tail. When she sees me, she usually stops and says, ‘Poor fishy’ to me. She could stand there all day. She looks at the live mussels. The water sprays start and, sensing my impatience, she says, ‘Poor mussels.’ I tell her about a friend of ours who came with people from his temple and bought mussels and let them go into the sea down the road from the supermarket. She asks, Should we buy some mussels? I say it’s complicated that if we buy mussels the supermarket will get more mussels and then more mussels will be here, trapped. ‘It’s capitalism,’ I say, ‘there’s no care in it.’ Tallulah takes off the gloves reluctantly and we go and buy tofu and bread, me reading the labels while she looks at the brightly coloured soft drinks, singing to them, ‘Poison, poison, poison.’

Image is Creative Commons licensed by Flickr member tigerweet . I believe thay are Scottish fish.

1 comment :

  1. This story is great. Does Tallulah ever say anything uninteresting?
    Well done Metro for funding good writing.