Australian fiction, poetry, essays, book reviews
  • Time to read 5 minutes

My great-grandmother was born in a large puddle in Osaka. I’m not really sure what happened in the middle. It’s irrelevant to my story. But I was born in that pet store. The one with the photo of the smiling girl surrounded by puppies and kittens hanging out the front.

I didn’t hate my time there - it was by no means extraordinary - but I didn’t mind. I was fed daily at 2pm and every Thursday my tank was cleaned out. I lived alone with my thoughts, which was relaxing.

My little tank was at the back, and no one ever bothered going there to see a little, boring Siamese fighting fish. And rightly so. It stunk of dog shit. Besides, the customers got so distracted by the goldfish’s bulging eyes or by the colours of the coral reef fish. I was boring, and I was glad for it. The only people who ever voluntarily saw the Siamese fighting fish were the women who walked slowly and with a stick. They obviously either had no sense of smell, or no brain cells left to register it. Some of them stunk even more than the dog shit. They were practically decomposing before my eyes. They would just stare at me, which was rude, but preferable to children tapping on the glass. 

My nightmare began when my tank was put on a pedestal, so I saw everything that went on in the shop. It was dreadful. The tank of goldfish was right in my line of vision. I felt so sorry for them. They were all swimming around one another, chatting, seeming jolly. But behind the scenes, tension built like a volcano about to erupt; Johnny’s slept with his sister-in-law, and Sophie was pregnant again (there’s talk the shop doesn't have a spare tank to put them in). Michael was sold before his older brother. Drama. Drama. Drama. Who could be bothered? 

One of the shop girls put a goldfish into my tank, maybe six months ago now. I think she thought it would be nice - another friend to keep me company. Well, the goldfish wouldn't fucking shut up for a second. I ate it. Then, finally, I was left alone. The shop girl didn't feel the need to put another fish in the tank, and never, especially never a goldfish. 

One of the shop girls put a goldfish into my tank, maybe six months ago now

On Christmas Eve a lot of the pets were bought as last-minute gifts. Michael’s older brother was finally bought. The shop had a tank out back to put Sophie’s babies in. Johnny’s wife had forgiven him, but it was too late because her sister was already pregnant. 

All was well. It was that afternoon, a couple of hours before the store closed, I remember seeing a little tuft of shining, blonde hair rush past my tank. It water made it glitter, brighter than my scales. I was hypnotised. Why was such a beautiful creature back here? 

She obviously caught me staring, because she stopped in front of my tank and stared right back at me. She didn't touch the tank. She never touched the tank. She just pointed at me, said something to her mother, and before I knew it, I was in a bag, sitting on her lap. 

I wasn't happy about leaving my tank. Even sitting on the pedestal watching the stupid goldfish didn't seem so bad. But her hair was lovely. So golden, mesmerising. 

The girl’s mother read the instruction book and did everything she was supposed to; kept me in the bag until I was used to the water (it was much colder than I was used to.) After a few hours, release me out of the bag, don’t put any decorations or foreign objects into the tank for the first few days. Wouldn't want me to scare myself on a bunch of rocks moulded in a fancy castle, or a scuba-diver. 

And so I sat. I was content once again. I may have been even happier than at the pet-shop. The little girl didn't own any other animals. She never touched the tank. My feeding time changed to 9 am, and the tank was cleaned on Tuesday instead of Thursday. But other than that, everything was fine. And when she came home from school, when that little girl came home from school I saw that beautiful hair on her head.

The little girl would come by my tank while she had an afternoon snack and watch me. The sun came in through the glass doors, lighting up her hair, making it glitter. All the stars had fallen from the sky and landed on her head. The suns rays illuminated it. They were threads that shone like gold. More beautiful than anything I had ever seen. 

One day, when the little girl came home from school, she sat in front of my tank as usual and stared at me. Then she barked something at her mother and resumed staring. Her hair looked different today. She had drama class after school, and when she came home the sun had nearly set. The sky was streaked with deep oranges, blues and purples. Her hair appeared warmer. The light didn't reach my tank, which made me wanted to reach out to it. I wanted to touch it, to feel the glitter against my scales. But it was so far. The beautiful thing was so far, outside my tank, in another universe. Nothing makes a fish more desperate than deprival. 

I saw something blue, feathery behind me. I turned around and there he was. Staring right back at me. Just like me. What had they done? His beautiful blue scales shone and glittered. He was stunning and danced in lovely circles. I tried to keep in time with him, but he was fast, and his scales shone in ways that blinded me.

Deep down I knew it was only a matter of time before she was enchanted by another Siamese. And I could see, he had eyes only for her golden hair. She had betrayed me. My little girl, with her precious blonde locks, had turned to someone else for excitement, for entertainment. I would fight him. I would fight him. The little girl was mine, she was only for me. Her hair was created by the Heavens, only for my eyes. My little girl had made a mistake in buying him. That was ok. In time, I would come to forgive her. But he wasn't for her. He couldn't be here. 

The fish was smart, smarter than any other fish I’d met. Much smarter than any goldfish. And stronger too. He danced around me, in ways I couldn’t keep up. He was behind me, then in front, wrapping his glittering tale around me. He swam out of my vision, then behind me in an instant. 

He danced around me, in ways I couldn’t keep up

I waited until I was alone with him. I didn't even know his name. I didn't care. I danced around him and snuck up behind him. I bit him. He bit me. He surprised me. I hid behind the scuba-diver. He was there with me. I bit on his tail and he bit on mine. I was so hurt but I didn't think about it. 

The hair, the hair, the hair. That was the victory. 

I bled. I bled a lot. There were chunks of me missing. But he’d lost chunks of flesh, too. I saw his bone. The white of his eye was filled with blood. I’d get the bastard. I went in for the attack, but he was so fast. 

I was winning the war, but I was also tired. I’d taken my fair share of blows. There was a second there I thought he’d win. I needed a rest. I hid in the castle, behind a tower. I was alone and exhausted. If I just closed my eyes for a second…

The midday sun streamed in and reflected off the water, decorating the tank with a rainbow of colour. 

When the girl returned home from school, she screamed. “What happened?” 

“Oh dear,” her mother said as she picked up the four-page manual about Siamese fighting fish. She read from the last page. 

“…but don’t leave the mirror in front of the tank for too long. The Siamese fighting fish is an aggressive creature and in an attempt to protect its territory, will think it’s reflection is a threat and try to kill itself.” 

The little girl stood up and planted her hands on her hips. “Time for it to go in the toilet.”

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About the author:

Natalie Bojko

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Natalie Bojko, the twenty-two-year-old Ukrainian-Australian born and raised in Sydney, is an avid reader and writer, often writing psychological or coming-of-age fiction. She studies law and lives in the most chaotic house in Sydney with her two younger brothers and two dogs.