Melanie hasn't been the same since her goldfish died. She is twenty-four and married and holds herself completely responsible. She is sure she overfed him, or starved him, or didn't clean his water enough, or changed the water's temperature too dramatically when she did clean it. Maybe his bowl shouldn't have been in such direct sunlight. She doesn't know the exact cause, but the certainty of her guilt is devastating and overwhelming. At work she is a shadow of her former self, no longer chatting in the halls or sending around emails from the Stuff On My Cat website. At home, she has stopped eating anything but cereal, and doesn't bathe, get dressed, or leave the house for entire weekends.
Her husband is rapidly losing his sense of humor. From the beginning he has failed to understand the gravity of this event, and although he has tried to give her space to mourn, he is growing increasingly angry. It's a fucking goldfish, he screamed during her third weekend of self-imposed seclusion, what are they, a buck ninety-nine at PetCo? I will buy you a HUNDRED goldfish if you'll just shower and go see a damn movie with me!
The goldfish, in fact, had been free. She found it in the train station, its plastic bag knotted securely at the top, on the third step from the bottom as she approached the outbound platform. She brought it home and put it in a round glass bowl that once contained a centerpiece at her best friend's wedding.
That night, she didn't have the dream about her baby brother, drowning in the tub when she was supposed to be watching him, only four years old and not even fully certain of the job that had been assigned to her until the cartoons she had turned on were interrupted by her mother's screams.
She'd had no bad dreams at all for the eight months, three weeks, and six days that the goldfish had been in the house. And so, she now moves like a wraith through her workday, ignores her husband, keeps the empty bowl under her bed, and stays indoors on weekends. She wears the same pair of unwashed heather gray pajamas, and looks out the window at the street below. She tries not to think of the weight of the little glimmering body with its limp tail when she lifted it from the water's surface with her hands. She waits for the nightmares to come back.