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THE GOLDFISH, female. Old in goldfish years. Reasonably jaded.
HENRY, a little boy. Naive, as little boys generally are.
HENRY’S FATHER, agreeable and friendly.
THE CAT, male. Sleek. Young. Silent.
The fishbowl in Henry’s room.
The present, or reasonably near it.
(A SPLASH. LIGHTS UP on a desolate fishbowl. One flimsy sandcastle decoration stands out of sheer spite, but the rest of the bowl is empty. THE GOLDFISH stands in its center, a little dazed from her fall. Downstage, HENRY and HENRY’S FATHER stand around a normal-sized fishbowl on a normal-sized dresser in a human-scaled world.)
Make sure to feed it twice every day, okay? Just a pinch. Once when you get up, once when you go to sleep.
It’s your fish now, so you have to be responsible for it.
Are you listening?
Uh-huh. I’m gonna go play now. Bye!
(HENRY sprints off.)
Happy birthday, Henry.
(FATHER smilingly follows his son off.)
Goody. So I’m going to die at the hands of… Henry! Happy birthday, Henry.
(GOLDFISH turns to the audience.)
And really? What a great way to go about things. The kid doesn’t know the first thing about responsibility. Either A, the parents do all the feeding, the kid learns zip, and the whole thing is a burden for all of us, or B, they let me starve to death. Those two bucks really paid off.
(GOLDFISH pauses to reflect.)
Two bucks. I can’t believe that.
(She shakes her head.)
A birthday gift. I’m a present. Nothing but a… souvenir.
There cannot be a god.
(HENRY rushes on.)
The man of the hour.
Don’t you have artificial sweetener to ingest? It’s your birthday! Raise the roof.
Fishy-fish! Fishy-fish! Very astute. I’m in good hands.
You’re my favorite fishy-fish.
How old are you? Can you count on your fingers how old you are?
Fishy fishy fish.
I’m six years old. Six.
(She holds up six fingers.)
That’s pretty old for a fishy-fish. And you’re five!
(She holds up five.)
I’ve lived on this sweet little old earth longer than you. And somehow, you own me.
I love you, fishy-fish.
Hey, Henry. Can you say “enslavement?”
Can you say “forced relocation?”
Can you say–
Gotta go, bye!
(HENRY sprints off again. GOLDFISH stands in the bowl alone. There is silence.)
(To the audience.)
(No response, naturally.)
I mean, you can’t expect me to hold up a conversation on my own, can you?
Anything to add? Any… pearls of wisdom?
(No response. GOLDFISH is blasé.)
That’s fine. I can do quiet. I’ve done it before, I’ll just… do it again.
(GOLDFISH sits. An uncomfortably long pause.)
Hey, at least it wasn’t at one of those carnival games. Those are the worst. I heard all about them at the pet store. Tiny little bowls, no space to breathe. We need air, you know! We need a lot of air. When we have good air, we can live up into our twenties, which is insane.
I read that at the pet store. This… big sign said so. Good tank, good filtration, all that, it’ll get you twenty years. But in one of these… death chambers?
(She motions all around her.)
(She gives the audience a look, daring them to question her authority.)
Ten! Look, I’m six! It’s all… downhill from here!
(She takes a breath.)
Okay, a little melodramatic. Fine. Could be worse, I guess. Could be a feeder fish. I guess I’m lucky.
You know, I’m not supposed to have all this… noise hanging over my head. I’m supposed to forget all this… nonsense in four seconds flat. Or three. Or eight, or something. I don’t know, I don’t remember.
(It sinks in. GOLDFISH laughs, in spite of herself.)
Oh, I didn’t– “I don’t remember.” I wasn’t saying that as a joke. But that’s… that’s good.
(GOLDFISH laughs again.)
I’m really funny.
(THE CAT enters slyly.)
Ah. Of course. There has to be a cat! Oh, and a black cat. Nice. Very subtle, God.
(THE CAT purrs. He nears the normal-sized fishbowl.)
Bring it on, you slick feline monster! Go ahead! Just once in your life, have one real moment of ANIMALISTIC VICTORY!
(THE CAT purrs again, staring at the bowl head-on.)
Wait a second. I know that look. You cheeky… old… kitty-cat. You’re from the pet store.
(THE GOLDFISH stands on the other side of the normal-sized fishbowl. The two hold a staring contest through it.)
I remember the way you looked at me. Every day, right across the aisle. Your big, wide… large eyes. They did it on purpose, keeping you there, I’m sure. The workers. I couldn’t tell you why they did it, putting you right across from me, those sadists. But there you were. Huh? Say something!
(THE CAT says nothing.)
Nothing. A brick wall. Well, I’m not giving you the satisfaction, kitty-cat. If you want me, you’ve got to get me. It’s got to be you. I’m not helping.
(THE CAT makes no motion. Then, it slinks away.)
(She becomes aware of the audience.)
Oh. Excuse me.
(Pauses. She waits for a response. There is none.)
I’ll just assume you’re impressed.
(Pause. GOLDFISH turns to the sandcastle.)
Ah! Let’s check out the new home!
(GOLDFISH circles the sandcastle once, slowly.)
Wow. What a tour.
(There is an uncomfortably long silence.)
Are you bored? I’m bored.
(HENRY clatters in.)
The prodigal son returns.
I have your fishy food!
That’s a… genuine surprise!
Just a pinch!
This… should not make me as happy as it does.
For you, fishy!
Clearly, the bar is far too low.
(HENRY adds a pinch of fish food to the bowl. GOLDFISH snatches a nearby flake with her hand and takes an enormous bite. She chews ferociously.)
(With a full mouth.)
It’s so… bland! I love it!
Eat, fishy, eat!
I’m working on it, kid.
(She chews and chews. She holds up a finger for HENRY’S patience. She swallows.)
Thank you, Henry.
(With a twinge of sarcasm.)
Fishy fishy fishy. I’m gonna call you… Grover.
I wouldn’t really… call myself a Grover.
All right, all right. Ruth!
(GOLDFISH pauses for a second, suddenly baffled.)
Wait, can you hear me when I–
Gotta go, bye!
(HENRY sprints off. GOLDFISH stares after him.)
(To the audience.)
That was too… close, right? That was…
(She shakes herself off.)
That felt like a real conversation. Why would he–
(She stares ahead, astounded.)
There’s no way he– And it was a girl’s name, too. Ruth. He wouldn’t just switch. The timing was–
(FATHER enters. He crashes down in front of the dresser and pulls out his phone. He begins dialing madly.)
Oh! What’s happening now?
(GOLDFISH approaches the dresser and stares down at the seated FATHER.)
Hey! Can you hear me too? Have all of you been giving me the silent treatment for fun?
No way! Hello! It’s me, The Goldfish! Hello! Hello hello he–
Can I talk to her right now?
I’m an idiot. I’m an absolute idiot.
Where is she?
Serves me right for getting my hopes up. Why in the world would I be able to–
But it’s all right, right?
To talk to people, that’s ridiculous. I just talk AT people.
(FATHER sets down the phone. He begins to cry.)
Wait wait wait, what happened.
(FATHER buries his head in his hands.)
Hey, no, wait, I missed it. No, you gotta tell me what it is! I need details! There’s nothing else to do! Give me the gossip!
(FATHER motions for HENRY to come to his arms. HENRY runs over. The two embrace. GOLDFISH nears them, watching it all play out.)
Wait. Everybody be quiet.
What’s going on?
(FATHER whispers into HENRY’S ear. GOLDFISH eavesdrops, not very subtly. HENRY begins to cry. The two hug for a long moment. Then, FATHER guides HENRY by the hand out of his room.)
No! Wait! Don’t leave me here!
(She screams after them.)
I DON’T HAVE ANY ENTERTAINMENT! I’M BORED!!!
(She sees the audience, turns.)
Oh, don’t give me that look. I have no obligation to, to… empathize with anyone here.
(She gives the audience an exasperated look.)
Oh, please! She’s, what, in her forties? Look, I know I’ve already said this, I don’t want to burden you with it, but guess what? I don’t get a quarter of her lifespan. And she isn’t dead! Not necessarily! She might make it! Better odds than I’ve got.
(She pauses. Then, she rephrases, defensively.)
You know, if this does anything, it’ll improve my chances of getting fed regularly. The kid’ll be a lot more… you know, aware. Of life, and death, and such.
You know what? I feel very judged right now. I don't appreciate that.
Hey, it’s a harsh world out there! I don’t have the time or the energy to–
(She pauses. She sits. She rests her forehead in her hands.)
(THE CAT enters.)
Really? Now? Great time as always, cat.
(THE CAT steps toward her.)
Just… do it. Don’t hold it over my head. Ya wanna break the glass? Break it. Shove it. Come on, I dare you. Enough of this… this lurking around.
(THE CAT raises his paw to the glass.)
There you go. You filthy old cat. Just do it. You’ll get punished for it, but it’ll be worth it. To have something under your own control for once. Just once. Just–
(THE CAT taps the glass. GOLDFISH falls to the ground, writhing about and gasping for air almost comically. THE CAT exits. GOLDFISH’S breathing gets increasingly more rapid, her expression more panicked. HENRY enters in a rush, spotting an invisible goldfish on the ground near the dresser.)
(GOLDFISH yells really, really loudly, and for as long as possible without taking a breath. It's right on the line between funny and terrifying. Then, she returns to her gasping breaths.)
Fishy! I’ll save you!
(HENRY drops the invisible goldfish into the bowl, which is still intact on the dresser. GOLDFISH recovers, taking one long, deep breath after another.)
Fishy! What happened?
It was that– that cat!
Your very stereotypically unlucky black cat! Why would you buy a cat and a fish? Your only two pets! Nothing else!
Maybe if you had a whole ARMADA of pets, I’d understand. You’re so distracted from giving your seventh dog a walk that you forgot all about the relationship between cats and, you know, fish! But we’re ALL YOU OWN! We’re staring you right in the face! You have no excuses!
(In a moment of absolute, sober, adult-like focus.)
Ruth. We don’t own other pets.
(There is a long pause. HENRY transitions back into standard kid mode.)
Daddy says I’m not old enough to handle other pets yet, but he says if I do a good job with this one, he’ll buy me a bigger one someday. I just have to feed the fish, twice a day, just a pinch.
You don’t own–
I’ll be sure to take good care of you, fishy-fish. I promise. Don’t worry.
Gotta go, bye!
(HENRY rushes off. GOLDFISH sits in silence, and contemplates. There is a long pause.)
(Another long pause. She takes a breath.)
(A pause. A breath.)
Happy birthday, Henry.