Ho, ho, HORRORS!
Gather round, kiddies, as I tell you a true Christmas tale; one of pathos, heartbreak, terror, and stupid fish...
Years ago, when my daughter was a wee lil' lass, I thought it'd be cool to get her a couple of goldfish for Christmas. For you see, she'd been asking for a dog. I thought I'd start her out on a trainer pet. I mean, how hard can it be to take care of goldfish, right? RIGHT?
So, I enlisted my brother's help. Together, we conspired and planned and set off to Walmart to pick up the golden goods. The dunderhead West brothers filled that cart up with a bowl, fish food, junk to stick in the bowl, a pump, anything else I could think of. I mean, it was for my daughter, I wasn't gonna skimp. The last item on the list, of course, were two of the perkiest goldfish I could find. Plastic bag in hand, we went to my brother's house and set the goldfish up in their brand new bowl.
Now, my knowledge of goldfish was pretty limited. I kinda thought it was all about sprinkling some flakes on top of the bowl on occasion. Maybe tap the bowl a couple times daily to scare the fish. That's it.
But, Ken, the Walmart fish guy, set me straight. "No, no, goldfish are a lotta work. It's a privilege, not a pleasure to own goldfish. You have to change the water and clean the bowl regularly." Ken went on to tell me exactly what I needed to do. Man, talk about a full-time job.
After the first day, I thought it was time to change the bowl. Healthy water, healthy fish. I scooped the lil' buggers out, threw them in an alternate bowl. Cleaned and washed and did everything I was supposed to do.
That night, my brother calls. "Um, they're dead."
Crap. Oh well, better they die before my daughter gets them. Off we went to Walmart. Ken wasn't there, but Roger was. We explained our dilemma. Roger--king of sympathetic, puppy eyes-- nodded a lot and finally held up an authoritative finger. "I see where you went wrong. You need to blow oxygen into the fish bowl for them to breathe."
Huh. Okay, fine, whatever. I picked up a box of straws. Every chance I got, I ran to my brother's, took out a straw, and felt like an idiot blowing bubbles into the water. (The backsplash didn't taste very good either; no wonder the first two died.)
The next morning, I went over again to blow more bubbles. Alas, things--and the fish--had gone belly up again.
With Christmas fast approaching, I trundled off to Walmart again. Petey, the newest fish expert (and just how many did they have, anyway?) sold me on the ultimate in high-tech (for Walmart) pumps. "Yes, sir, this baby here, Stu ( I can call you Stu, right?)"
"Um, I don't really--"
"As I was saying, Stu, with this Turbo-Blaster Fish Air Express 3,000, you'll never have fish dying on you again."
Clearly Petey's last job had been a car salesman as he knew a rube when he saw one. I left with an armful of expensive crap and a couple more fish.
This time the Express 3,000 did the trick! The fish survived two, count 'em, two days, just hours before Christmas. Huzzah! Hark the hairy angels sing and whatever!
It was worth it. On Christmas morning, my daughter was overjoyed when I unveiled the bells and whistles and fully stocked fish bowl. A Christmas miracle.
That night, we stayed up late, cleaning out the bowl and changing the water. Just a good, instructional, warm, close father and daughter bonding experience.
The next morning I wake up to my daughter shaking me. "Dad? I think the fish are dead."
Sure enough, the sad fruits of my labor (and cash and good intentions) floated like so much driftwood.
I'd had enough.
"They're in Heaven now, Sarah. You want a puppy?"
Happy holidays! Let's be kind to everyone this new year, deal?
of holiday horrors, how 'bout stuffing your stockings with one of the fine
Christmas horror short story collections from Grinning Skull Press? All
proceeds go to an excellent charity: The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. I'm particularly fond of The Shadow Over Deathlehem (Fine, I'm biased because I have a frightful holiday tale in the book!).