It’s far from the slopes of Mount Etna those goldfish were reared. There was a funeral of course. He put them in the rockery which he had fashioned in the shape of that iconic tor in Close Encounters. But there wasn’t yet a three-D model of the mother ship – that was still in the garage awaiting the addition of painstaking detail, colour matched paint, to-scale models of Richard Dreyfuss and the aliens.
But where did the goldfish come in? Roy had a son, as some men tend to do. His name was Barry. Barry asked and Roy said no, and Gillian, Roy’s wife said why not and Roy said, okay then and forgot about it and Gillian and Barry went to the local pet centre and chose two fish with light sabre tails and Barry called them Obi Wan and Kenobi.
And Barry cared for those fish as 9 year olds don’t tend to do. They are usually too busy forgetting. Or playing Fishy Tales on the PC. But he was the sort of boy who took things seriously. He fed the fish daily, changed the water twice a week, he even talked to them. Obi Wan and Kenobi used to move to the side of the bowl at the sound of his voice and swish their light sabres at him. His granny said he was diligent. His Mum worried.
Roy was a connoisseur, an aficionado, an anorak, a man in slacks, a collector, a school inspector, a well bred table quiz head – no IPhones under the anorak. He took pleasure in detail. Sometimes he infuriated Gillian by adjusting the slant of her flower arrangements – the ones she brought home from her flower arranging course. Flower arranging wasn’t her thing at all but it was the only course left on a Wednesday night – the only night that Roy wasn’t bird watching, chess playing or down in the pub sweeping the boards with his knowledge of Spielburg films and associated literature.
And it was on Wednesday night when Gillian was out and Barry had dutifully gone to bed that Roy had found himself somehow, at a loss. He had been on his way to the cabinet for his stamp collection when he noticed that the fish tank looked a little empty and that the fish were bored. He’d seen how playful they were when Barry spoke to them but right now they were staring at him, heads dipped. Obi Wan looked positively grumpy. Kenobi was disparaging.
Roy collected stones. Whenever he went somewhere new he brought home a stone. He had pieces of Lanzorote, the Grand Canyon, Maderia, Majorca and Mount Etna, he’d even chipped off a piece of the Cliffs of Moher, even though he wasn’t supposed to.
There was always something special about the stones, a glint of quartz, a glassy surface, a fissure or a fossil. The crystal from Mount Etna was shone through with blue and contrasted with the dark basalt.
He thought it would look beautiful glinting in the water. He had a flash of merworlds, Neptune with his fork, slinky mermaids shimmying, jewel encrusted crustaceans. An underwater underworld where the boom beat from the outside world was a dull thud and the rest was pleasure. He took his time arranging the rest of the stones, colours that intensified once in the water, red with speckles, smooth green ovals, obsidian black. He was happy with his creation and the fish were delighted. They flicked their tales and slipped between the stones.
Only in the morning when he noticed that the crystal had dissolved and black volcanic flakes had polluted the water did he realise what he had done. The fish were belly up on the water. It was the last time he would ever forgo scientific analysis for beauty.
He quickly emptied the tank and refilled it with fresh water – but put the goldfish back floating on the top. He was one of the hard knocks and they might as well get the chickenpox brigade.
Before he left for school Barry hadn’t noticed so Roy pointed it out. Barry began to wail and wouldn’t eat his Weetabix. ‘These things happen, sometimes without rhyme or reason’ said Roy. Gillian choked on her muesli.
They had the funeral before the school bus came and Barry went up the steps with tears on his sleeve.
‘So how did it happen?’ asked Gillian
‘One of those things’ said Roy. He made an alien before he went to work and put it at the mouth of the mother ship. The Richard Dreyfuss character had already legged it inside. It was only weeks later that he noticed the wife and son, left of centre, their hands held to their faces in an expression of aghast.
They got no more fish. But memory is wonderful. It’s quite possible that Barry never quite understood why, later in life, rockeries gave him the shivers, why he never quite trusted his Dad. And most certainly Gillian never grasped why Barry never again ate his favourite tea time meal of fish fingers and sculptured mashed potatoes.