I absolutely love this story. I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever written and I’m eternally grateful to Australia’s that’s Life! Fast Fiction Quarterly for publishing it in their Winter 2013 issue. Unfortunately, they had to edit out some of my best lines for length and content, and I didn’t think the published version was quite as good as the original. I did, however, think the picture and blurb they posted with it were hysterical. As the rights have now reverted to me, for the curious, here is the full original story:
FUNERAL FOR CHARLIE
Charlie was dead. It was hard to say what had done him in, but given that his roommates Rusty and Redhead had passed away unexpectedly the week before, my husband suspected environmental causes. Not me, though. I suspected Fishy.
The teeniest of all of our goldfish, Fishy had outlived not merely several new fish, but several entire sets of new fish, of a variety of breeds and sizes. We had often remarked on the unquenchable virility which seemed to sustain his minute form while our other fish went belly-up all around him. When poor Charlie got sick, he took to lurking in a corner of the tank, scarcely flapping his large fins, not moving, not eating; barely even breathing. We had watched him anxiously for days before the end. That night I had slept restlessly. Waking up long before dawn and failing to fall back into sleep, I finally got up and went into the kitchen to fix a glass of warm milk. Flicking on the light by the fish tank, I was startled to discover that Fishy had taken up residence in Charlie’s corner, and was, as nearly as a fish can, sitting on Charlie’s head as if trying to smother him. He quickly swam away but it was too late; I had already seen him. And the next morning, Charlie was dead.
I couldn’t prove anything, of course. But I did examine the body pretty carefully when Bob brought it sadly to the surface in the fraying green net, and it seemed to me as if Charlie was missing an awful lot of scales for a domestic goldfish. There were also some detectable gouges on his underside, almost as if he had been fighting. But it was pretty hard to pin anything on Fishy. He swam about as enthusiastically as ever in his empty tank, now entirely bereft of playmates, but not appearing to suffer from either loneliness or a renewed sense of his own mortality. And if he looked with fond or melancholy recollection at the plastic bridge that Charlie used to like to hide behind, or the fake coral that his brothers had favored, it never showed in his face.
“I’ll be right back,” Bob said, holding his hand under the wet mesh to prevent drips from falling all over the floor.
“Wait, where are you taking him?” I asked, alarmed.
“Um, to the toilet?” he replied, as if it were a stupid question.
“Charlie’s not going to fit down the toilet!” I answered indignantly.
“Sure he will!” Bob assured me. “He’s no bigger than a turd.”
“Are you crazy?!! He’s at least twice as big around as a turd!”
“Not my turds!” Bob answered proudly. “And if those will go down the toilet, this goldfish will, too, you’ll see.”
“Okay,” I said, trying hard to comprehend why we were arguing over this, “Okay, let’s just suppose that Charlie really is no bigger than a turd. He’s still not a turd, he’s a fish. A turd breaks up in the water; a dead fish will not. He will get stuck halfway down the pipe and you will be stuck trying to plunge up dead fish.”
“Listen, sweetheart,” Bob said, his tone bearing none of the affection implied by the term, “I’ve fixed plenty of toilets in my day, and I know how big the opening in the pipe is. That fish is going down, mark my words.”
I marked them and followed him into the bathroom. I bowed my head as he plunked our deceased friend respectfully into the deep. I listened quietly as he somberly activated the flusher. And then I watched as the water swirled away, taking Charlie on one final miraculous journey to the home of his ancient ancestors, to the ocean the abrupt end of his short life had precluded him from ever going to see. And then I flushed again for good measure.
It didn’t take. The water backed up into the toilet, causing Bob to flush again, full red in the face this time.
“He didn’t go all the way down,” I observed.
“There’s probably something else stuck in there,” Bob reasoned.
I made hissing noises that can’t be translated into words before finally spluttering, “That fish is stuck in the toilet! Do you hear me?! Stuck in the toilet. There is a dead fish in our toilet!”
“He can’t have gotten stuck; he was too small. And even if he did, I’m sure he’ll break loose and go down eventually.”
“Break loose? Break loose eventually? No way, uh-unh, mister. I am not peeing on that toilet knowing that Charlie’s in it. And we don’t even know where he got stuck. What if a rotten fish comes popping back up into the bowl?”
“That’s unlikely,” Bob assured me.
“Darn right it is,” I answered huffily. “Because you’re going to get that fish out of the toilet no matter what you have to do. And you know why? Because it’s your fault he’s in there.”
I resolutely returned to the kitchen, accompanied by the comforting cadence of Bob’s creative cursing and the gruesome gurgling of the plunger as it sought to resurrect the unfortunate former member of our household from his watery grave. I sidled nonchalantly over to the fish tank. Fishy was still nibbling a leftover bit of his solitary breakfast, flicking his tail-fin contentedly, his conscience apparently as untroubled as the calm unruffled waters which now surrounded him.
“I know it isn’t really Bob’s fault,” I conceded, now that he was out of earshot. “It’s yours. You may have gotten away with it this time, but now I’m on to you. And you know what else? Charlie might not have fit down the toilet, but there’s no question in my mind that you’ll go down quite nicely. One day, one day, Fishy… whoosh!!” I threatened.
Fishy just spat out his chip of orange fish food and swam carelessly away.
I have to offer full credit to boyfriend “Bob” on this one for unintentionally providing most of his own dialogue. In spite of all of the evidence to the contrary, he persisted in refusing ever to admit that Charlie just didn’t fit down that pipe.
We did, however, mutually agree to stop buying fish after that.
“Funeral for Charlie” is one of the stories featured in my autobiographical short story and essay collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $2.99 Kindle, $6.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book’s webpage or subscribe to my newsletter.