Happiness is a goldfish. On my seventh birthday, I saved Happiness and forty nine of his finned friends from the pet store near my house and put them in a glass bowl on our kitchen counter where the light shone through the windows in the late afternoon. For those brief, radiant moments, sunshine would reflect off shimmering scales, setting the bubble ablaze. In this single effervescent hour, my fish became pure energy and their bowl a beacon, illuminated. I spent small eternities with my face pressed up against their tank, hypnotized by this glowing galaxy that dared to be so delicate yet so sublime.
Within a week, it would become a mass grave.
For them, the sun’s cosmic brilliance must’ve been nothing short of hellfire. In hindsight, their sudden energy was perhaps a result of mass hysteria on a miniature scale. The gentle sunlight, magnified through the glass into brain-frying laser beams, sparked a group panic amongst Happiness and his fellows. Fish-on-fish violence erupted in search of their scarcest resource — shade. What cruel irony it must be to find oneself tormented in a tap water paradise while some giant, simple creature sits idly by, awed by the beauty of the slaughter. Imprisoned in their glass and glistening world, I saw these iridescent beings, once divine, reduced to tiny nervous animals like the rest of us. I watched as, one by one, my beloved pets were boiled alive, knowing no better than to think that the sun made the fish happy.
My mother, always conscious of our earth’s limited natural resources, refused my pets the customary burial at sea. Each time you flush, it’s a gallon down the drain, after all. Instead, she would stand barefoot on our backstair and unceremoniously toss the deceased into the yard.
In death, they found wings. Thrown from my mother’s hand, they bared their heads to the sun, emancipated from their counter-top confinement. They took to the sky as if reunited, once again immortal and immaculate. And for one shining moment, they levitated, unbound by the mere technicalities that are the laws of physics. In death, they knew not of worldly woes or the sorrows of solid ground, only of flight. Then, like Lucifer from the heavens, like Alice down the rabbit hole, like Icarus into the sea — they fell.
These water dwellers, in finding themselves condemned to dirt, made their peace with the earth at last. Later, I am running barefoot in the garden. Squish! There goes Happiness beneath my toes.
Lily O’Dowd graduated Bethesda – Chevy Chase high school in 2016 with mediocre grades but a thriving art portfolio. Currently, she lives in a van with her close friend and traveling companion, exploring the country searching for something but she isn’t quite sure what. Her work has been featured in a few amateur film festivals and a smattering of public school flash fiction contests. Besides that, she is no one.