The bowl was small, but big enough for a single goldfish. It was home. A watery sphere where on most days food would alight on the water without the effort of the hunt. It was safe. No big fish to eat little fish, no currents to sweep away; a couple of litres of goldfish tranquillity sitting on an old veneered sideboard.
Inside his world Billy the fish swam around and around. Sometimes pressing his fishy face to the glass, other times bobbing to the surface to gulp the stale air trapped inside the bowl. Of course his name wasn’t really Billy. Nobody had bothered to name him. He was just fish, but any creature without an identity seems wrong somehow - at least it does to me. Not to everyone though.
Billy didn’t notice the change at first. There was nothing to see, no obvious modification to his watery world. The first he, or it could have been she (fish are so hard to sex) felt of his impeding death was a tingling in his gills and a soreness around his already bulging eyes. The water smelled wrong, it tasted wrong too. It felt like water, it looked like water, but it hurt and burnt. He floated to the surface then sank down again, listing to one side as the change began to take effect. His tail flipped and then flipped once more as he sank to the bottom where he lay panting. His gills worked hard in a last desperate attempt to survive as he flew to the surface and failed to leap out of the water. Whatever was eating into his shiny golden body had won. He turned upside down on the surface before sinking once more to the bottom where he settled like a lump of carrot. If he’d only known he was alive, he may have felt his death. But do fish really have any understanding of their own mortality?
After a while Billy’s body rose again to float on the surface like some very unsatisfactory resurrection for a very small fishy Jesus. It was two days before anyone noticed him rotting on the surface, by which time his glinting shine had dulled to grey, his eyes had become a milky white and all signs of his small life had dispersed into the poisoned dead water. The smell of the bleach was hardly noticeable now, the only odour dead fish. Of course nobody noticed and nobody cared, and that was only part of the problem with this particular nobody.
After nobody cried at his passing he was unceremoniously emptied into a different bowl, white porcelain this time, and flushed away as if he had never existed. Just a small life, in a small world, doing small things to pass the time, so small it shouldn’t have had any impact on anything at all. But sometimes it’s the nothings that start the ball rolling and before you know it there’s an avalanche on its way.
And so the death of one small fish became the start of a big, big future. Of course not for Billy the fish, just for nobody really.