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Adventure Friendship Inspirational

“I feel like I’m living in a goldfish bowl,” said Sharky, the goldfish. He looked anxiously about.

“You are living in a goldfish bowl.” Marina, the mermaid, suppressed her cute smile. They’d had this conversation before. She was Sharky’s beautiful best friend. He always found her lolling on the rock in the shipwreck’s shadow.

Sharky gave her a look. “I don’t get it… What is a goldfish bowl, anyway? I thought it was a figure of speech.”

“It’s like… well, you know…” She shrugged her bare shoulders and smoothed her hair. She thought she knew but couldn’t put it into words.

Sharky looked at the sunken schooner looming over them. He scoffed. “Yeah, like that thing just dropped into a ‘bowl’ out of nowhere.”

Marina didn’t respond.

“And look at that treasure chest with gold and jewels spilling out of it. Guess it’s all mine. No one else wants it. And, in case you didn’t notice, I’m a goldfish.”

Marina said, “You are a goldfish, Sharky. That’s why they call it a goldfish bowl.”

Sharky counted to nine. “The point, Marina, is I’m tired of being spied upon. I want out of here.”

“You’d leave me behind?” She pouted. “Where can you go as nice as here?”

“Someplace where my every move isn’t scrutinized would be ‘nice.’ You talk and talk, Marina, only to cover how little you know.”

Marina looked hurt. “I may not be smarter than you, Sharky, but I do have porcelain skin.” She turned away. Her wavy hair drifted in the warm water.

Sharky expected Marina’s petulance when he spoke the truth. ‘I hate bickering, but…’ His fins fluttered. “Yeah, porcelain, with scales to match.”

Sharky darted away before she could respond with the last word. ‘With a twitch of my tail, I leave her in my dust. Whatever that is,’ he thought.

He swam around, trying to think. Feeling watched at every turn gave him chills, the willies and the creeps. He told himself, ‘Keep moving…’ Sharky knew thinking wasn’t his thing, but he’d heard it couldn’t hurt. ‘Who’s watching me? Predators? How can I leave?’

He swam by the shipwreck, but Marina did not look up.

From there, Sharky passed by the endless glass wall. It rested on the gravel bottom and rose beyond the water’s surface. Its purpose eluded him.

‘World’s biggest mirror…’ His reflection looked back. He enjoyed seeing himself. But, sometimes, he sensed shadowy movements beyond its shiny surface.

Who? Or what is there?’ He moved closer, almost touching his nose to the glass.

Sharky’s eyes were on opposite sides of his narrow head. He had excellent peripheral vision. But he could barely see anything directly before him. Shifting left and right he saw his reflection looking back. His cute little fins fanned rhythmically. Sharky thought his best side was his left.

Twitching his tail just so made his golden scales flash as he darted away. Sharky wished he could stay behind to enjoy that dazzling display. ‘Oh well…

‘Wait! Is that a gigantic eye…? There it is! Yes!

Behind his reflection Sharky saw a large eye nearly big as himself. Seeing it dimly, watching through the glass gave him chills. The huge orb with a vertical pupil blinked.

‘Oh no!’ Sharky left in a flash.

He retreated to his favorite hiding place, the cave. Within its gloomy confines, he could not see the giant glass wall nor the watching eye. And it couldn’t see him. He felt safe.

Jerry, the hermit crab scuttled over.

“Hi Jerry!”

“What do you want?”

“Oh, just taking a break.”

“From what?”

“I think someone’s watching.”

“Welcome to my world. Why do you think I became a hermit?”

“No idea. You ever think of leaving?”

“Only when uninvited guests show up.”

“I want to escape. I’m scared.”

“So, they look at you. Could be worse. At least they’re not hungry.”

“Not yet…”

“They been watching for a while?” Sharky nodded. “My guess is, if you haven’t provoked them yet, you’re okay. If you did, you’d be gone quicker than a Mayfly in June.”

“But they give me the creeps…”

“I heard it was a cat.”

“Catfish? Mama said catfish ran in our family. I could visit my cousins. You have any advice on…?”

Jerry gave him a sidelong glance. “You do that. Just because I’m a hermit, some think I never get lonely. Come back when you can’t stay so long.” Jerry scuttled away.

Sharky watched him. ‘I have something to go on.’ He swam into the open just as Clem, the seahorse drifted by.

“Howdy Clem.”

“Whoa, Nelly! What’s the hurry, Sharky?”

“I want to make a break for it. Have any ideas?”

“You know me. I never have ideas. Especially suicidal ones. Why leave paradise? No one eats us.”

“I don’t know, Clem. Something’s watching me.”

“Time to worry is when they stop watching, friend. Stick with the skillset.”

“I can’t get rid of the nagging sense there’s more for me out there.”

“More what? Where? You’ve got your needs met.”

“Don’t you wonder if there’s more to life than eating and swimming in circles?”

“Honestly Sharky, since you ask, that would be a solid ‘nay.’ The gains to be had from foraging and dodging predators aren’t worth the tradeoff. I like my three squares.” Clem leaned in. “And not worrying about becoming someone’s lunch.”

Sharky shuddered. “You think…?”

“But if you’re hot to trot, let’s see what Bubbles says. He’s connected.”

“Great idea, Clem.” They swam to visit Bubbles, the diver.

Bubbles always dressed head to toe for deep-sea diving, with a helmet, rubber suit and air hose. His name referred to the stream of bubbles he released every time he sank to the fish tank floor. A minute later, his air hose raised him back to the surface. Bubbles repeated that circuit, all day, every day.

Clem sidled up to Sharky as they approached the diver. “Try to keep up. He keeps a tight schedule.”

“Can we hear him through his helmet?”

“Yeah, but only on the descent. Some people complain that he gargles, I mean, garbles his words.”

Sharky nodded. “We’ll figure it out…”

Clem said, “Right. I’ll introduce you. He’s no chatterbox, but a good guy once you get a handle on his accent.”

The two approached the diver and matched their swimming to his rising and sinking. He waved. Clem spoke as they rose, and Bubbles replied on his way down.

“Howdy, Bubbles! My friend, Sharky here, wants to travel. You have any suggestions for the best route out of here?”

Bubbles looked at them as he paused at the surface. He sank as a stream of bubbles flowed from the top of his helmet.

“B-b-byou b-b-bould b-b-bstand b-b-batop my b-b-bhelmet b-b-band b-b-bjump to b-b-bry b-b-bland b-b-brom there b-b-b.”

As they reached the bottom, Sharky looked at Clem and said, “Bwhat?”

Clem said, “Do your best. We’ll compare notes later.”

They followed in Bubble’s wake as he ascended. The diver reached the surface, paused and sank again.

“B-b-b-Sharky, b-b-ban b-b-byou b-b-bwalk b-b-bon b-b-bry b-b-bland? B-b-bif b-b-bnot, b-b-ban b-b-byou b-b-bfly? B-b-ban b-b-byou b-b-breathe b-b-bout of b-b-bwater b-b-b?”

Clem said, “Thanks, Bubbles! We’ll get back to you.”

Bubbles waved. “B-b-bno b-b-broblem. B-b-bsee b-b-byou b-b-blater.”

Clem and Sharky swam away.

Sharky said, “Nice guy.” Clem nodded. “If I understood him, he could get me out. But that’s just the beginning. I mean, what the heck is ‘dry land’? And a ‘walk’?”

“We need more info, Sharky. The solutions sound worse than your problem.”

“My uncle is a flying fish. I never knew what that meant. And what does he mean by ‘water’?”

So many questions. Too few answers. They looked at each other, mouths agape. Though lacking shoulders, they tried to shrug.

A shadow moving over them drew their attention.

They exclaimed, “Yay! Feeding time!” and began zig zagging about catching morsels of food drifting from the surface. Sharky and Clem moved like children catching fall leaves. Finally sated, they settled to the gravel floor and groaned with pleasure.

Clem said, “It doesn’t get better than that.”

“I’d consider taking a nap, but I have things to do. See you later…”

Clem watched his friend swim away.

Constant anxiety propelled Sharky forward. But he didn’t know where to go. Always fleeing his fears, he never pursued an ideal.

What did he want? He felt aimless, unfocused and adrift.

His friends offered help but lacked skills or resources to address his needs. Which were? They hadn’t abandoned him. He’d left them behind.

Alone, Sharky swam forward, wanting to slough off his constant anxiety. He felt like he’d swum for hours, yet had gotten nowhere.

Sharky arrived at the far side of the shipwreck. He spotted Clive, the sea turtle, sitting, as usual, in a passive, meditative pose. The sand around him looked like a Zen garden. A grove of Bonsai trees surrounded him, adding to the illusion of his size.

Sharky thought, ‘That’s Clive, alright. What a poseur.’

Sharky realized Clive had been watching him. When the massive sea turtle nodded, a profound calm washed over the goldfish. Clive was famous for his wisdom. Sharky approached with due respect.

He said, “Mr. Clive, I have a problem. I can’t escape. I’ll give you a treasure chest full of gold and jewels for some advice…”

“Hmmmm…” Clive sat perfectly still with eyes closed.

Sharky wondered, ‘Did that mean ‘yes’? Did he fall asleep? Is he smiling?’

Several minutes passed before Clive opened his eyes and spoke. “Yes, Sharky? What do you seek?”

“I want to be left alone.”

“Then go.”

Sharky tried to clarify. “Wait… I mean, I feel like I’m being watched.”

Clive thought for a moment. “Many crave the attention you seek to escape.”

“I feel vulnerable. Out of control.”

“Threatened? Were you attacked?”

“No. Except for this fear, life is good. My needs are met. I have friends.”

The sea turtle said nothing. Sharky felt restless.

Clive said, “You look within and reject what you see. Don’t watch yourself. Look without.”

Sharky wasn’t good with riddles. “What do you mean?”

“You know the great glass wall?” Sharky nodded. “You stare and see only yourself.”

Sharky felt uneasy.

Clive continued. “Another reality exists beyond your narrow vision. Your surroundings are benign, yet you’re filled with fear. Empty yourself.”

Sharky tried to understand. He felt confused.

“To find peace, Sharky, retrace your path. Return the way you came.”

Clive closed his eyes. The meeting was over. Clive would clarify no further.

Trying to remember where he’d been all day, Sharky swam away. He meandered about feeling stunned. Passing the great glass wall, Sharky focused on moving forward. He didn’t study his reflection or even glance at it.

From a distance, Sharky saw Clem swimming toward him.

Sharky said, “Much to tell. Can’t stop now. I’m on a quest.” He kept swimming. In a moment, Sharky paused and swam back to Clem. “Thanks for your help today, Clem. It meant a lot.” The sea horse nodded and they parted ways.

Seeing Bubbles comforted Sharky. The diver continued his routine while the goldfish hovered. Bubbles gave him a little wave. Sharky turned a summer-sault. There was no need to speak.

Swimming on, he came to Jerry’s cave. Jerry scuttled out and waved a claw.

“Hey, Sharky! Long time no sea shells! Where you been?”

Sharky called out, “I’m on a mission! Can I visit later? I want to thank you.”

“Of course…” Jerry stirred up a cloud of sand and stomped into his cave. Sharky swam on.

The shipwreck loomed before him. He spied Marina relaxing on her rock. She waved. Sharky went to her. Smiling, she smoothed his scales.

“I missed you Sharky.”

“Missed you too, Marina.”

“How was your day? You were upset when you left.”

“Sorry about that. Thanks to you and the others, I’ve found peace with living here.”

“I hope so. We love you, Sharky. Whatever watches over you provides clean water and food. Maybe it likes you.”

Sharky took a moment. “Never thought of that,” he said.

October 13, 2023 22:03

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6 comments

Amanda Lieser
05:43 Nov 15, 2023

Hey John! You have done an amazing job of creating a reflection for your readers for the story. I appreciated each sentence of humor, because they cut the tension of the the existential crisis. I particularly enjoyed the character of bubbles. He certainly made me smile. I also like the relationship that you set up for our narrator because it reminded me of so many of my own relationships where I go out, go to work as does my husband and when we return home, we’ve each had very different days, but they have impacted us, and thus have impac...

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John K Adams
18:22 Nov 15, 2023

Thanks, Amanda. Your thoughtful comments are always appreciated. This was a fun one to write.

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Bonnie Clarkson
00:10 Oct 21, 2023

Loved theme/symbolism im the story.

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John K Adams
01:59 Oct 21, 2023

Thank you, Bonnie. You usually like my stuff, and I look forward to seeing your comments.

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Mary Bendickson
00:11 Oct 16, 2023

Pearls of wisdom from the other side of the glass wall.

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John K Adams
15:24 Oct 16, 2023

Thanks, Mary!

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