Of all the nights Aaron had chosen to show his face, it was tonight. Ashley had spent the last three months secluded in her room. Confined to the monotonous routine of work and home. Thanks to modern conveniences, she could order her groceries, toilet paper, and even have her laundry picked up.
There was no chance whatsoever that she’d have to take a chance going out to see Aaron. But, tonight, the first night she’d decided to go out — on a date mind you — Ashley found herself locked in the bathroom.
Sitting on the cold tiled floor, lost in a haze, she traced the diagonal lines of the ground. In the middle of the tiles, the lines came together to form a shape, a diamond. And with this realization, Ashley began to think about Aaron. How their relationship was like these tiles: two people crisscrossing through life that met and created something magical. At least, that’s what she thought they had—magic.
Everyone said so. Ashley’s friends and family remarked about how perfect they were. Two peas in a pod. And like the diamonds that the lines of the tile formed, she thought they had something special; even through their rough times, they found a way to shine.
Now, all the emotions she’d thought she’d worked through over the last few months came back. Flooding over her like a tidal wave. A montage of scenes of the last three years began to play through her mind. Including the moment when she realized she’d loved Aaron; when she knew that he was the one.
Ten months into their relationship, Aaron had taken her to the Oregon State Fair. That particular night, a brief rainstorm had kept most people away, leaving the few who showed up with next to no lines for rides. Ashley and Aaron enjoyed this free reign for about an hour, but Aaron had other plans. A hopeless romantic at heart, Aaron wanted to win his lady a prize. Ashley laughed at him when he told her of his plan. Though, deep down she soaked up this moment.
As men will do, Aaron was determined to go big or go home. The greatest challenge for carnival games this year was a ring toss. In the middle of what Aaron suspected were close to 50 or 60 glass bottles was a large bottle with a tiny top. The goal: get the smallest ring around the top of this bottle, and you win the largest goldfish known to man.
Nearly an hour went by. Aaron had attempted nearly a dozen times to get this ring over the bottle and nothing. Clink after clink after clink filled the air. Ashley tried to convince Aaron that it wasn’t a big deal, that there were other prizes elsewhere. None of that mattered. Aaron was determined, like a Knight slaying a dragon, to win this prize for his lady.
Ashley had stopped paying attention for a brief moment when the siren went off. It startled her at first until she turned around to see Aaron celebrating; he’d done it. Damn near an hour later, Aaron had slain this modern dragon and now presented his lady with the beast. In that moment, Ashley knew that his was a man who’d do anything for her—even spend an hour trying to win a stupid goldfish just to see her smile. He’s the one, she thought.
Was the one.
For a moment, Ashley found herself back on the cold floor of the bathroom. Accepting the stark reality that there would be no more fish won in her honor. No more dragons slain by her knight.
Oh god…she’d almost forgotten about it. The goldfish. And in a moment she was transported back into her mental montage.
“Aaron, you didn’t have to spend an hour trying to win this fish. What the hell am I going to do with a goldfish?”
“Keep it in your office and brag about how your man spent an hour tossing rings at the Fair to win it for you.”
“You just want me to brag about you to my friends and co-workers. And. I already do that all the time, silly.”
He smiled back at her. And like one of those swooning moments from a romantic comedy, he swung her around, pulling her into a tight embrace; looked her in the eye and said, “I love you,” then kissed her like he’d never kissed her before.
Time stood still. And she locked her arms around his neck and let herself go. She let every emotion and thought explode at that moment into her lips as she kissed him back. She felt weightless.
Aaron tried to pull away, but she pulled him back, tightening her grip around his neck and his lips. Then, in a sudden forceful push, Aaron pushed her away. Confused and hurt, Ashley wasn’t sure what to make of their sudden intimate embrace and now sudden detachment.
Had she gone too far? Oh God, was he about to say something she didn’t want to hear? No, impossible. What if he proposes, right now?
A meteor shower of thoughts flashed through her mind in a span of a few milliseconds.
“Ashley! Oh my God, you dropped the goldfish. Where is it?”
That’s impossible, she thought, the bag was in her hand….
But it wasn’t. She’d dropped the bag when she had made the move to put her hands around Aaron’s neck. And now, all that was on the ground was an open bag and a river of water flowing from the temporary home of her goldfish.
“Ashley, where’s the fish? I don’t see it?”
Distraught, Ashley wasn’t sure what to do next. She’d dropped the prize her man had spent an hour trying to win for her honor. And now, it was gone. In a matter of seconds, very passionate and life-changing seconds that she’d never forget, but still, the fish was gone.
And with that thought, Ashley’s mental montage ended. The tile felt as if it had dropped another 10 degrees and now felt ice cold. She dropped her head into her hands, and she cried.
On a first date, the first in months, here she was crying in a bathroom. And all because she’d seen him. His face. His dark brown wavy hair. Even from near 100 feet away, she swore she could smell him. Remembered his lips and their touch. How gruff his hands were from his job, and yet, how soft and carefully those hand once caressed her skin. She let the tears flow. She’d been holding them back for months.
“Hey. Are you okay?”
Ashley ignored the voice and continued crying, hoping that they’d get the point.
“Hey. I asked you a question. Are you okay?”
She stopped crying as she felt an uncomfortable fear radiated up her spine. That voice sounds like it’s coming from inside the bathroom. She’d thought she’d checked every stall before she locked the door. There was no one anyone was in here; she was sure of it.
“Hey, lady. You can sit there all day and cry, or you can tell me what’s up.”
Ashley slowly moved her hands from over her face and raised her head to see who was speaking to her.
But there was no one there. Nothing.
She pushed herself up to her feet and checked the door. Locked.
Was she going crazy? Had she passed out in the bathroom and was now locked in a nightmare?
“Hey, I’m in here. Open the stall. Sheesh.”
Ashley crept close to the stall where the voice had echoed and opened the door.
“You found me. Now, what’s all the blubbering about?”
Okay. She had to be dreaming. Yep, Ashley was certain she was locked in a nightmare and that she’d passed out on the cold tiled floor of the bathroom on a first date.
“First off, no. You’re not crazy. I can see the look in your eye. And second, yes. I’m a fucking goldfish. But you know that. Or you should because we’ve met before.”
“Oh my God, how…how…did you survive? Where did you go? We looked everywhere for you that night.”
“Well, while you and what’s his facey were sucking on each other’s lips. I hit the ground and slid all the way down the rain-soaked walkway and ended up in the sewer.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to drop…”
“Yea, yea. Apology accepted. Nothing I can do about it. But I will say, I don’t know what you humans eat, but holy shit is it awful down there. So I want to be mad at you for dropping me, but then again I would have probably died in a fishbowl within days of you taking me home anyways. So in retrospect, thank you.”
A cold dead stare crossed Ashley’s face.
“Look, I know right now you’re freaking out inside. Not only are you having a conversation with a goldfish in a toilet, but you’ve just seen your ex for the first time since you broke up. It’s rough; I get it. But let’s assume that fate, the gods, or whatever fucked up entity dictates our outcomes have decided this moment needed to happen, I have a couple of things to say.
I’ve sat in this toilet listening to you cry and moan on out loud about Aaron. Yea, he’s here. But you’re here trying to move your life forward. And that first step isn’t easy. For fuck sake, I spent one night in a bowl and the next in a sewer covered in human piss, shit, and God knows what else.
Sure, I could have cried about it and bemoaned my situation. But I didn’t. I accepted it and kept going.
You’ve spent three months hiding in the cave that is your apartment, worried that you’d have to see his face again. I wish that I had had time to worry about things like that when you dropped me almost two years ago, but I didn’t. You know why?”
“I’m pretty confident you never thought you’d hear a life truth come from a goldfish. But prepare yourself because here it is.
Life is a river of shit. Plan and simple. One day you’re all good. Then the next you’re dropped on the ground and left out in the open trying to survive in the most threatening environment, and then you get thrust into the shit river of life.
Do you stop swimming? Do you succumb to the torrent of feces and let it seep into your gills (lungs for you) and contaminate your very essence?
No. You swim. And you swim. And you come up for air, in my case any toilet you can find, and every once in awhile you enjoy the moment of fresh air…or water.
And you? Well, you’ve been avoiding dealing with your shit and trying to float by on life’s shit river.
Well, honey, you either sink or swim. But either way, you’re gonna have to deal with shit. So deal with it and move on.
Oh, and you should probably lay off the weed.
But what do I know, I’m only an imaginary talking goldfish.”