Gary the betta fish sat and gaped through the glass of his tank at the dingy living room. A shark swam past and smacked him in the head with a ping pong ball.

Wait, what? What does that have to do with anything?

Let’s restart.

Gary the betta fish sat and gaped through the glass of his tank at the dingy living room. Sara sat on the drab couch and stared back at him. She was torn. Her career or Gary? Move to Paris to become a fashion designer or stay in Buffalo working at McDonald’s so she could be with her fish?

She should have listened to her father. He had warned her about attachment. She could practically hear him now.

“You’ll never be able to move forward and get ahead in life if you’re constantly clinging to the things you don’t want to leave behind. The things that drag you back.”

Well, Gary was dragging her back, and now the water was dragging him back. She watched as he slowly drifted backwards in the current, then caught himself and wiggle-swam up to the glass again. Gary never had learned that if he stopped moving, the water would gently move him away from wherever he was to the other side of the tank. Just like she never had learned that fish held her back from her dreams. 

She had gotten the offer that afternoon, during her lunch break, which she'd spent seated at a McDonald’s booth, eating a McDouble because she was too poor to go anywhere or eat anything else. Her beat-up phone had buzzed, and there it was. A text from Christian Lacroix offering her a high-paying billion-dollar job that basically consisted of approving or rejecting dress designs. It included a free apartment in the Golden Triangle, a private chef, and an ivory yacht that he said he didn’t want anymore. His generous text even hinted at a possible romantic interest. 

Everything was perfect. 

Except for Gary. He looked at her with big eyes, mouth slowly opening and shutting over and over again, side fins slowing waving in sync. 

She knew his mind. She had lived with Gary long enough to distinguish the floating in place and opening and closing his mouth in joy at her good fortune to the floating in place and opening and closing his mouth in emotional devastation and depression that she would abandon him. Gary watched her with sad eyes. 

“I have to, Gary,” she whispered, bringing her eyes closer to the glass. “I’d be a fool not to.”

His mouth opening and closing over and over. His big eyes, staring at her in frightened trust. She knew what he meant. “You could never be a fool, Sara. You’re a genius. That’s why you’re working at McDonald’s.”

Sara brushed a tear away from her eye and went across the room into the kitchen. Gary always knew how to get to her. He always knew exactly what to say. And he was right. If she was a fool, why was she working at McDonald’s?

Sara’s phone buzzed. It was Christian Lacroix again, even though she hadn’t responded to his first text. He said he was doubling the offer. A twice-as-big apartment, two ivory yachts, two professional French chefs, and two billion dollars a week for approving or rejecting dress designs instead of just one. After a minute he sent follow-up text which hinted that the chances of a romantic interest were also doubled. Sara clutched the counter to steady herself, then darted a guilty look back at Gary. His mouth opened and shut, his eyes vacant. “You would part with me for two billion dollars?”

He was crying. She knew he was crying. It was obvious to anyone who knew him well. His whole face was wet!

“A week, Gary,” she cried desperately. “Two billion dollars a week!” He stared and gaped for a moment, then suddenly turned and swam away. Sara broke. She sank to the ground, sobbing. She knew this was the right thing to do. The only thing she could do. Why hadn’t she listened to her father about attachment? He had always forbidden pets, and now she knew why. They pulled you back, they dragged you down. Attachment was weakness. If she went to Paris, she would forever carry this hidden guilt. Even as she met famous movie stars and ordered food from her two private chefs, her conscience would plague her for what she had done to Gary. How she had abandoned him.

Sara fled into her room. She could no longer take Gary’s opening and closing mouth. Stretched out on her bed, she questioned her place in the universe and meditated on morality. Christian Lacroix texted again tripling the offer and throwing in a state park.

Sara put her phone on the kitchen counter, not daring to look at the fish tank as she returned to her room. She decided to sleep on the decision and face it again tomorrow. She and Gary could have a calm, level discussion about what would be the wisest thing to do.

Even though she already knew what that was. But that wouldn't change how hard it would be.

As she lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling, she questioned herself. Could she really get rid of Gary? Could she live with the guilt? Could she bear her new life, knowing what she had done to obtain it? 

In the morning she was no further along. She didn’t want to get rid of Gary, but she also didn’t want to be the only human in history to turn down a job of approving or rejecting dress designs for three billion dollars a week plus an enormous apartment, three ivory yachts, three private chefs, a state park and an extremely likely romantic interest.

Sara peeked out of her room at the fish tank. Gary was waiting for her. Clearly not for the food. For the discussion. 

She checked her phone before going over to him. Christian Lacroix had texted again saying he was very eager for her response, and in addition to that there was a missed call from John Galliano. Sara gasped, her hand to her mouth. Why was all this happening? Why was the universe making it so hard on her? She gasped again as she realized she was going to be late for her six o-clock shift at work.

“Don’t you think,” Gary’s accusing opening and closing mouth seemed to say, “deciding both of our futures and happiness is more important?”

Sara swiftly crossed the room to him. “Here’s the deal, Gary,” she began quickly. “Out of the blue, Christian Lacroix has texted me and offered me one of the most amazing job offers in history. Unbelievably amazing!” She took a breath. “Unbelievably.” 

Gary floated and gaped. “Unbelievably,” said Sara softly. “Wait…do I believe it?” Gary’s mouth opened and closed. 

“Wait a minute how did he get my number? Did you give it to him? Are you trying to test my loyalty?” 

Gary didn’t move. Just floated there, staring and gaping. Sara gasped and jerked upright. “How could you? What have you done to me?”

Gary’s eyes cut into her like knives. Sara staggered across the room, but she could not escape his gaze. Gary floated and stared at her, mouth opening and closing, side fins in sync. Sara grabbed for her phone and dialed 911. 

“I believe I have been hypnotized by my fish,” she gasped into the phone, and then collapsed onto the kitchen floor. Across the room in his tank, Gary the gaping fish was replaced by Gary the evil and scheming betta. He lashed his tail and zipped up and down the glass of his tank in glee, straining to get a better view of her prostrate form. He always knew he would best her in the end. Fish was above man.

He chuckled dryly, which was actually quite impressive, given that he was completely submerged in water.

May 10, 2020 21:47

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