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Fred the Fish

Moving on

By R F KPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 12 min read
Fred the Fish
Photo by Ahmed Zayan on Unsplash

When you move into a new stage of life there is a tendency to want to tie up the loose ends; say your final goodbyes, bury the hatchet, and have a huge celebration; to have everything fixed like a neat straight line drawn under it. Most of us learned long ago that life never works out that way, sometimes people leave without saying goodbye, sometimes friendships end with a fight, and sometimes what you're leaving isn’t worth celebrating. A lot of it is out of our control and yet you can still persist.

Annie had just got accepted to her dream job and tonight she was leaving town for good. She had said her goodbyes, she was meeting with her close friends tonight for a party and all of her hatchets were well and truly buried. She had packed up her belongings and was finally ready to go. Yet as she looked around her kitchen she saw on the side the small bowl which was the home to her pet goldfish, Fred.

Her friend had won Fred the fish at a carnival two years ago and wanted to get rid of him but as an animal lover, Annie, took him home to look after instead. Annie had certainly looked after him well, at first, she got him a nice bowl and a lime green miniature diver and she would take his bowl into the sitting room and watch BBC wildlife documentaries. But since she started working harder to apply for jobs she hardly remembered to feed him.

She owed more to Fred than just leaving him for the new tenants that were moving in tomorrow. He deserved more than just staying in someone's kitchen as a decoration, he needed somewhere that would appreciate him as the fish he is. This was the last loose end before she could move on. The last piece in the puzzle. It was decided, she was going to give Fred the best care that she could think of. Annie grabbed a clear plastic bag, pouring in both Fred and his diver friend. She was going to smuggle Fred into the Aquarium.

It was an unusual Saturday for the Poseidon Aquarium. Usually, hundreds of visitors would make an orderly queue to enjoy a fun-loving day, however, today most of the staff were on strike. They were protesting the change of ownership, but as this was a Saturday the owner had insisted on keeping the Aquarium open. This meant that today was run with the bare minimum, and it was chaotic.

Children were running about and people were confused, walking in and out of the gift shop or looking for the toilets. The ‘orderly’ queue for tickets resembled a swarm of mayflies around mouldy fruit, as the desperate parents crowded around yelling at the struggling receptionists, who were, in turn, trying not to cry. Even those families that managed to get tickets didn’t seem to make it beyond the security checks. The one glass barrier that separated the entrance to the exhibits was controlled by a security guard whose only security experience was guarding the fish tanks at night. He was completely out of his depth.

Annie had placed the water bag Fred was in underneath her jumper creating a large bump over her stomach, the pregnancy tactic, a tactic she'd used countless times before to sneak snacks into movies. A fool proof plan as she'd never been caught at a cinema and today her plan was so ridiculous that surely no one would check. To succeed in her mission she had to get in unnoticed; navigate her way through the aquarium and then find a surreptitious place to leave Fred. It would be like Finding Dory - in reverse.

“One at a time, come forward,” the security guard gestured. As Annie walked over she collided with a lady with a pram. Annie looked up to see a sleep-deprived mother whose eyes were twitching as she looked back at Annie. The collision blocked the security gateway and they had caused a jam. As they tussled another parent behind yelled.

“Oi, get out of the way!”

“Just send them through!” said the vexed and overwhelmed receptionist. The security guard ushered Annie and the mother through without checking a thing.

“Hope I didn’t wake the baby,” the mother jested to herself. She seemed terrified at the thought.

“Yes, Yes!” Annie laughed nervously and followed suit. “There there, sleep. Shhhhhh.” Annie reached out to pat the pram knocking Fred in the baby-shaped bag of water under her jumper causing it to wobble around.

“I think she has gone back to sleep. Thank you!” The mother looked up and mouthed a thankful prayer, she looked over at Annie. “Should your stomach be wobbling like that? Are you okay?”

Annie panicked, she couldn’t think of anything to say so quickly turned around and began to walk away. As she turned she again knocked into the pram, this time waking the baby, and it began to cry. The mother swore loudly as Annie ran to the closest exhibit - Mediterranean Sea Life.

Phase 1 success! Annie was full of adrenaline because she didn't think that she would make it this far. Wanting to stay away from the main entrance she decided to wander around the exhibit to find inspiration. The Mediterranean Sea life was wonderful, the tanks full of beautiful and exotic fish. So grand and prestigious. Fred would be so fancy if he lived here. She explored the large colourful tanks alone as no one else seemed to be walking this way.

Up above the large tanks, there was metal scaffolding and two, what she assumed, marine biologists were walking along dropping various food items to the fish below. Perfect. Annie needed to get up there. She looked around and found the maintenance door - it was unlocked and had been propped open by a mop and bucket. She checked to see if anyone was coming but, other than her, the exhibit was still empty. She opened the door and snuck inside.

The room smelled awful, it was damp and the scent of rotting fish hung in the air. Along the wall were crates and plastic boxes of bait and other fish food. But it was the corner of the room that caught her eye, there was a metal ladder that led to the walkways above the tank. This was her chance. She took out Fred from underneath her jumper and held him with one hand as she navigated her way up. As she peaked over the railing, she could see the two marine biologists walking along the top continuing to spread the contents of the bait boxes. Unnoticed she quietly got to the top and crouched down. She took Fred's bag into the water and began untying it.

This was the final knot. Fred will be free and Annie would be ready to move on. As she lowered the bag the sea water mixed with Fred's. She felt relieved. As if this warm water was not just warming Fred but also her.

But then Fred started to swim quickly in circles and flap around. Was he panicking, what was wrong? The water! She pulled up the bag quickly - Fred was a goldfish, a freshwater fish, which couldn’t survive in warm sea water! She stifled a yell and quickly pulled the open bag back out, dragging as she did, Fred and a gallon of salted water onto the platform. The two marine biologists looked up from their bait spreading.

“Hey! You shouldn’t be up here!” They started to make their way over to Annie.

She roughly tied the bag together again and scrambled to the ladder. She could hear their heavy footsteps on the metal walkway running towards her.

Climbing back into the store room, she rushed to the door and grabbed bait boxes off the wall, knocking them to the floor creating a smelly, fishy slush behind her. Once through the door, she kicked the mop and bucket that had kept it open. The door had a safety dampener on it so was slow to shut. What use is safety in an emergency? Annie pushed frantically to shut it quicker, which did nothing to quicken its progress. The marine biologists were at the top of the ladder making their way down. Finally, the door shut and with a click, it locked itself.

From the other side, she could hear the yells of the staff trapped inside.

“Oi come back here!!”

“Open the door, Garry!”

“I don’t have the key, the security guard opened it for me!”

“Dang it, Garry!”

Annie, still holding the leaking water bag with the confuddled Fred, ran through the exhibit to the toilets at the end. She was lucky that the hall was still empty. Inside, she placed Fred in the sink and drained the seawater out refilling it with water from the tap. Fred soon stopped panicking and had gone back to his lazy swimming. That was a close one!

She could not give up now, Annie had never given up on anything and especially as her plan had almost worked. She leaned by the basin and racketed her brain. She needed to find a freshwater exhibit.

“Any ideas?” She asked Fred. Fred stared back blankly. She pulled out the flier she had received with her ticket and scanned the pages for a place for Fred. Bingo! The flier read - Head down to the Kids Zone and try our new freshwater touch tank! Perfect.

Phase two re-initiated. She grabbed Fred, shoved him back under her jumper, and stuck her head around the toilet door. Still - there was no one to be seen in the exhibit, just the echoed hammerings of the staff trapped in the maintenance room. Where was everyone?

Following the map from the flier, she made her way back from the empty Mediterranean exhibit to the entrance, from there she could navigate herself to the kid's zone. At the entrance, Annie was thankful that the sleep-deprived mother was nowhere to be seen but things seemed to have escalated between the parents queuing and the security guard was distracted as he was attempting to break up a fight. Annie watched the parents that were fighting as they shoved and punched each other, it was an amusing sight until one threw the other right into the glass security barriers. With a crash, the barriers broke off and fell to the floor. The floodgates were breached!

“Wait, stop! Please…” The security guard pleaded to the crowd. But his plea landed on deaf ears as the chaos of the front desk began to spill into the exhibits as hordes of parents and children climbed over the broken barriers and ran inside waving their tickets. Annie tried her best to keep her distance, hugging Fred close to her belly as she weaved around the crowd making her way toward the kid's zone. She put away the map and followed the trail of children dragging along their parents - racing to see the fish.

By the time Annie arrived at the freshwater touch pool every spot next to the open tank was taken. She looked over the top of the children's heads to see the dozens of pairs of hands poking around at the fish in the tank below. In the pool several eels were slithering around passing a school of carp, Annie looked for other Goldfish. There were a couple but they weren’t the vibrant gold that Fred was.

“Look Fred, Friends!” Annie muttered to herself. Relieved that he wouldn’t be alone.

“Keep your hands still - don’t poke the fish, let them come to you.” Said the helpless Staff member who had clearly drawn the short straw being assigned to this room. He was already soaking with water as the kids found it hilarious to splash him whenever he walked by.

As an eel passed over one kid's hand, the kid yelled and jumped back, Annie promptly took his place next to the tank.

“Hey! I was there.”

“Wait your turn, Andy.” Said the kid's disinterested parent who was standing at the back on their phone.

Annie knelt close to the tank's surface. The children were now imitating an epic anime water battle as they yelled and pushed increasing volumes of water onto, a now, very angry staff member. Take two. With the children distracting the staff, she once again grabbed the bag of water containing Fred and slid him into the tank. There was a small splash, she looked around. No one had noticed. Heart pounding she once again went to untie the bag's knot. Slowly she let the water naturally flow in and out of the bag. She let go, and the bag, Fred, and the lime green miniature diver all fell to the bottom of the tank.

Fred nervously took a couple of strokes looking around at all the other fish and the giant hands.

“Go on, it's okay. It's new, but it's okay.” Annie urged him on. Fred couldn’t have heard her but he started to swim up and down the tank confidently. He swerved with ease around the hands attempting to poke his eyes. Fred had done it! She had done it! Annie lifted her hands in celebration, accidentally splashing the child in front of her in the face. She apologized and then stood back up, triumphant. She might be the greatest fish smuggler of all time. And then the moment was ruined.

“That's her.” Annie looked up to see two angry marine biologists covered in fish bait accompanied by an angry sleep deprived mother and the flustered security guard. They were pointing at her and then at Fred. “And that's the fish!”

Dang it.

After being handed back Fred in a bucket, she was promptly escorted back over the broken glass barriers and out of the aquarium by the security guard. Disheveled and disappointed, she sat on the pavement, the bucket of Fred in her hands.

What must Fred think? She was unable to give Fred the home he deserved. If she couldn’t even look after one tiny fish how on earth could she survive at her new job? How could she leave happy knowing that it was tainted by her neglect and the hurt she had caused Fred? She wanted to explain to Fred that she was sorry and that she tried everything she could. But then again he's a fish. Even if he could understand, would he even want to listen?

We aren’t always able to have closure, there isn’t always a nice straight line to draw. Sometimes it's jagged. Sometimes we leave people behind that we hurt. Sometimes we both just move on to our separate ways and choose to remember what was good.

“Miss, you left this in the pool.” Annie looked up and saw the kid she had accidentally splashed from the freshwater touch pool. He was holding the lime green miniature diver, Fred’s miniature diver.

“Thanks,” Annie said as she took the diver, annoyed that he had broken up her thoughts.

“What's their name?” The kid asked, looking at Fred.

“Fred, Fred the fish,” Annie replied, placing the diver back inside the bucket and watching it sink to the bottom.

“He is so beautiful, he looks a lot like my fish at home - except my fish is brown. She's called Brown fish.”

“Okay…” Annie said, the kid still stood there not walking away. “Do you want anything else?”

“No.” He said, still staring at Fred. The kids' mother came over.

“Come on, don’t bother the woman, Clarence.” the mother took Clarence's hand and began to walk away.

Going back to her thoughts, Annie stared at the lime green miniature diver. At least Fred has a friend, that's something at least. A friend…

“Wait!” Annie yelled at Clarence and his mother. They stopped and turned around puzzled. “Do you like Fred?” The kid nodded. “Would you like to keep Fred?” The kid nodded excitedly and looked up at his mother.

“Can we? Can we?”

The mother looked at Fred and then back at Clarence. “I’m sure he can fit in with Brown fish…As long as you promise to look after him.”

“I will, I will!” Clarence was jumping up and down.

“Then he is yours.” Annie passed over Fred to the beaming kid.

“Say thank you to the kind lady.” Prompted the mother.

“Thank you with all my heart!”

And with that Fred the fish and Annie parted ways, for good this time. Annie was both sad and relieved as she watched the family walk away holding the bucket.

Despite her final loose end being tied up, she didn’t feel any different. She still felt nervous about tomorrow, the start of her new life. Maybe what she had felt was not guilt about Fred but the feeling of inadequacy, the fear of the unknown, and the sadness of leaving a part of her life behind. Leaving her friends behind. There is a lot out of her control but Annie is persistent, and if today had proven anything it was she and Fred would be just fine.

HumorShort StoryYoung AdultAdventure

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