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My Goldfish Obsession

By Alan Hindle

Tuesday January 22, 2008

So, to make a long story shorter, I had just had kidney surgery and was sleeping on the floor of my flat in Cardiff, Wales because the roof of my bedroom had caved in while I was away touring with the circus. Having brought you all up to speed, I can now reveal that I have a pathological obsession with goldfish.

I actually rescued my first goldfish from the circus. When I call E.L.A.N. (the European Live Arts Network) a circus, I mean that it is a physical theatre/mime/clown/dance/5-40 piece orchestra/acapella harmony/multi-lingual/improv/acrobatic “spectacolo”. To which most people go “huh?” and to which I reply, “it was like a circus without animals.”

In fact, in Britain it is illegal to have live animals in a theatrical production, precisely because of the sort of conditions Bob the fish had to undergo. The flashing lights, the thumping music, clowns dipping their big toe to check how wet the water is – don’t get me wrong, I love clowns, I am a clown, but if I were a goldfish I would be pretty freaked out. Maybe clownfish are different. Regardless, Bob the fish was appearing stressed. The Italian director of E.LA.N. is a genius, but considers fish happiest next to a wedge of lemon and was indifferent to Bob’s condition. My girlfriend and I felt obliged to spirit Bob away, clandestinely substituting a decoy fashioned from gold duct tape and a carrot. Nobody ever noticed he was gone.

Bob was psychologically damaged, however, and his scales looked grey and waxy. My girlfriend and I renamed him Sad Bob.

I bought some fish drugs to loosen Sad Bob up. The colour of goldfish is actually a by-product of their waste-management system, and when they go dull it’s because their pipes are clogged. The piscine weed/laxative caused him immediately to jet a stream of poop that he could drag around behind him like a toy. Like Theseus unraveling the sweater his aunt gave him for Christmas so he could find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth, Bob could follow the shit trail and retrace his steps around and around his little castle and never get lost. He seemed delighted with his sudden freedom. His colour came back, but the scars ran too deep. When I bought other goldfish to keep him company he aggressively chased and nibbled at them, eating them alive and crapping on their floating remains. The pet shop guy who sold me the drugs commented I had successfully evolved my goldfish into a shark. An incontinent shark. We changed his name to Psycho Bob.

Psycho Bob didn’t put me off buying more fish. I bought a second, much larger tank, and then an even larger one, using the second one as a ‘hospital tank’ where I could isolate and medically treat my fish when they got sick. I treated fish for stress, cotton fungus, fin rot (a form of flesh-eating virus) and even anchor worm. Anchor worm are small, parasitic white snakes the size of staples that hook under the scales and feed until they kill the host. When my favourite fish, Max Beckmann, picked up anchor worms, I called my local vet.

“Doc! Max has anchor worm! What do I do? Can I bring him in to the clinic?”

“It’s two o’clock in the morning! It’s a goldfish! There’s nothing you can do, let him go.”

“Godammit doctor, I am not going to let this fish die! You’re going to have to talk me through this!”

By the way, did you know the phrase ‘goddamnit’ originated in Spain and actually meant ‘horse cock’? Anyhow, back to the story.

Dr. Evans patiently took me, step by frantic step, through Max’s surgery. Fish can last anywhere between 30 seconds and a minute out of water, which gave me that long to scoop him out, work the anchor worms out with a pair of tweezers, and dab his wounds with iodine. The pain must have been excruciating, but he never complained. Stoic goldfish. I dumped him into the hospital tank and dosed him heavily with pooping juice. Max lived, though not for long. He died two months later. And then I brought him back to life in my toilet.

Again, it’s not germane to the tale, but my girlfriend and I were sleeping on the floor of the living room, surrounded by a forest of our belongings, as the rest of the apartment was uninhabitable. The tank had not been cleaned properly for some time as we had been away touring continental Europe, and the water purifier was probably stiff with algae. The fish, therefore, weren’t getting enough oxygen, causing them to hang around the surface heaving huge gasps of air, making little popping sounds.

I had just had kidney surgery and was on some pretty interesting drugs of my own. Sprawled on the cheap carpet, dazed and only mostly senseless, I could still hear the popping, popping, popping, and remember wishing they would just stop for a minute so I could sleep. I promised the fish, in my head, that if they could just hold their breath for one night, I would somehow find the strength to scour their world in the morning.

The popping stopped. I smiled beatifically and plunged into unconsciousness.

When I woke up I saw why the popping had stopped. Max Beckmann, desperate, his little chest a-heaving, had jumped right out of the tank and now lay dead on the floor. He had been there for hours, his fins dried out and curling up. Two other fish, Giacometti and Jackson Pollock, both convalescing in the hospital tank, had also passed away in the night.

Miserably I took the withered corpse to the bathroom downstairs, and dropped him in the toilet. I looked down at him bobbing in the intense blue of the toilet bleach, and then went back upstairs to fetch the other casualties. When I returned I was shocked – SHOCKED – to see Max Beckmann splashing about, his eyes bulging in stinging agony, begging me through a complicated system of facial expressions we had worked out together to be rescued. The bleach had actually jump-started his heart! He was ALIVE! I tossed in Giac and Jackson, scooped Max into my hands and ran (my kidneys roaring abuse at the unexpected exercise) and gingerly released him to safer waters.

Max lived another year. We renamed him Lazarus. Psycho Bob lived another two. He never loved again. Giacometti and Jackson continued their journey to the castle with the waving scuba-diver in the sky, via the sewer and the bellies of Welsh rats.