When I hear the scream, I run to the bathroom expecting to find that my wife has slipped in the shower while trying to cut her toenails, her skull split in half from the impact of the faucet or ceramic soap shelf. Or I am expecting to find her lying on the imitation sheep-curl rug we keep in front of the toilet with a toothbrush lodged in her throat because she has this thing about brushing the little bumps on the back of her tongue and sometimes when she did things like this she would take it too far.
But what I find instead is an empty room. The mirrors are fogged and the bathtub is nearly full. The water is still running. I shut it off before it overflows. It is grey and soap-slicked with a film on the surface that looks like rainclouds coupling with bubbles. I think I see a bar of soap floating from one end to the other because even the tub has currents and currents have a funny way of moving things that aren’t supposed to move. But when I look closer I find that this thing should be moving. That it isn’t a bar of soap or a sponge or loofa even. This thing is a goldfish. I touch my lips to the water and say, “Amelia?”
When I cup my hands to lift her she slips out and swims away. I unplug the drain thinking it might be easier with less water. She is pulled back towards me, but as she nears the drain she begins to spin. Her mouth opens and closes like she is sobbing. Her body twists as though she is a sling stone that could be thrown away at any moment. I replug the drain and align my eyes with her fish eyes and I tell her I am sorry for all of this.
The only way I am able to scoop her up is with a ziplock bag. I carry her around the house like a carnival prize. I try to get her to talk to me. I ask her what she remembers. I ask her about this morning and the night before when everything was upright and she was breathing air dry as concrete. I ask her about our life together. I start small: “What’s my name?” With each non-answer my questions get more specific. I ask about things that even I had forgotten until now. I say, “Do you remember how you insisted we set up those glue traps in each corner because you wanted to be sure there were no rodents and how the whole year we caught nothing but dust and sometimes a roly-poly closed up in a ball because it was stuck and afraid and maybe it thought it could hide its way to freedom, or that if it stayed that shape long enough eventually it would roll?” All I get is a pair of upturned lips and black specks of dirt for eyes.
I am trying to keep still but my hands are trembling a little and the water inside the ziplock bag is bubbling. I think, Maybe she can’t hear me. I can’t remember if sound travels through water. I can’t remember if being underwater is it like being on the moon — just cold and silent with an uncomfortable stuffy feeling between the ears.
But do fish have ears? Amelia had ears this morning. But now?
Now I’m trying to figure out what to say to everyone else.
“Amelia is feeling unwell.”
“Amelia is busy with a project at work.”
“Amelia is visiting her parents on the West Coast.”
No. her parents are dead. I was at both funerals. I mean, it was the same funeral. They died the same time. We spent that week in a hotel room making arrangements. We were lying in bed when she asked me why there were so many windows in the funeral home. I suggested they were one way windows. We could see out but no one could see in. The next day she told me to go outside and check. I went outside and she pressed herself against the window. I waved at her and she smile and I tried to not react to the smile. Later we were packing up the flowers and she asked what I could see her through the window and I told her I could see nothing.
I could say Amelia left me. I could say there was another man. There’s always another man. I could say many things and everyone would understand. They would tell me things change. I would tell them I never expected it. I never saw it coming. They would say, “It only seems like that at first,” and then they would ask about the boy.
“What will happen to the boy?”
The bus is outside and I meet him at the front door. “No work today?” he says before seeing that I am holding a goldfish. He trades me his backpack for it. He asks me what we will name him. I tell him we will call her the fish for a while or at least until we get comfortable with her and she becomes comfortable with us. He asks me how I know she is a woman. I tell him it’s complicated and that eventually this is something we’ll sit down and talk about.
We pour the fish into a glass bowl. He asks me if I fed it yet. I tell him I haven’t. I ask him if he’s ever fed a fish before. He tells me he has. The class fish at school. His name was Nolan. I ask him what Nolan ate. He tells me that Nolan ate sprinkles. He motions as though he is using a saltshaker. “All we have is pepper,” I say. “We’ll have to buy some food.”
We look at the goldfish for a long time before I say that she is looking tired and maybe we should leave her alone for a while.
He asks about dinner and then about his mother. I send him to his room.
I keep Amelia on a shelf in the living room. I lie on the sofa and watch her. She is swimming in circles and I wonder if she feels like she is getting somewhere. And if she is, what does that mean for me and the boy? I fall asleep thinking about the two of us stuck in the same place we’ve always been as Amelia swims away.
By morning I have a stiff neck from sleeping with my head against a sofa-arm. It wasn’t a good sleep because it takes me a few moments to really come to. To really know where I am.
Everything is the same as last night except the boy is asleep on the floor. He’s lying in front of the shelf that holds his mother. I have to step over him to check on her. She isn’t swimming. I think, Maybe it’s early, but it’s more than that. Amelia is floating belly-side up in the glass bowl.
I put my lips to the opening and say, “Amelia?”
Before long my son is awake and crying. I explain to him it isn’t unusual or unexpected. It just happens. I lower to one knee and kiss him on the cheek. I ask him if that makes him feel better.
I lift the fishbowl and carry it to the bathroom. He follows and I wonder if this is something he should be witnessing, but I don’t stop him from standing in front of the toilet with me.
I ask him to say some last words. Instead, he waves goodbye.
I dump the goldfish into the toilet. The splash is big and the water moves from side to side. This moving makes the goldfish appear to be still alive and my heart jumps a little. The boy jumps too. He looks terrified. When the water stops moving, so does the fish. I pat the boy’s head and say, “It’s okay. The goldfish is dead.”
But it’s not okay, is what I’m thinking. Amelia has taken it too far and here I am hoping she isn’t finished. Hoping when I flush she comes back to life and swims up the plumbing and leaps into my body when I use the toilet next. I want her swimming circles inside my stomach. I want her swimming from one end of my intestines to the other and into whichever cavities or arteries she can fit. Which turns out can’t be many because when I do flush she doesn’t even fit through the pipes. The toilet is clogged and the bathroom is filling up with water. And in the water I see little bits of gold that must have washed off her body and all I’m thinking is they look like tiny blond heads and my son and I must look like giants to them which is unfair to us both because we are holding each other as though we are becoming very small and the water is going to lift and carry us away and all we can hope at this point is that we haven’t forgotten how to swim.