(Originally published October 13, 2020)
The title of this piece honestly doesn’t leave much more to the imagination. This is about the time I quite literally robbed my goldfish of an eye.
But there’s several things you should know about me before you conclude I am a despicable human being.
I am not generally a negligent pet owner.
Historically, I have done my utmost to care for my pets, unlike my sister, who is the reason our cat ran away for two years while we were growing up and returned to us as basically the feline equivalent of Tarzan.
I loved goldfish so much that when I was a kid, I read a book about goldfish and quoted it to pretty much everyone I met. There was a time when “ah, but the benefits of Vallisneria Spiralis for the goldfish diet” was a common phrase in our household.
I realise, in hindsight, that the book was not exactly comprehensive, being about the approximate length of a Dr Seuss story, and that I was nowhere near as much an expert as I considered myself to be. However, at the time, I basically believed that I had learnt everything there was to know about goldfish.
Thanks to that book, I also knew all the goldfish breeds. One of my fish was called a black moor. If you haven’t read that book, this is what a black moor looks like:
Note the freaky, telescopic eyes. They will be important later on.
Anyhow, on account of my goldfish obsession, I was given a very large aquarium as a present by my parents. It had probably had capacity for 100 goldfish, but seeing as goldfish are basically the most fragile things on the planet, there was only ever about 5 goldfish living in the tank.
Anyone who has ever owned goldfish knows there is a critical period right after you take the goldfish home from the store. Even if there is absolutely no difference between the tank in the pet store and your tank at home, their chances of dying are about 50/50. If they survive that period, they are essentially immortal and will probably outlive you. I will admit, the high death count took a toll on my younger self’s emotions. My miniature encyclopaedia of goldfish just could not account for the fatalities. Brightly-scaled golden-orange bodies haunted my dreams. What was it about my tank that was so inhospitable? How could goldfish survive the horrifically overcrowded conditions of the local pet shop and yet succumb to death in the glorious environment of my fish tank?
My childhood dreams of stewarding a goldfish paradise were slowly crushed beneath the grim weight of fish-owning reality. My initial enthusiasm gave way to a lingering apathy and overwhelming existential malaise. The care of my tank’s remaining occupants began to slip.... little by little, I died inside.
Soon, it reached the point where the fish were hidden behind a layer of green algae covering the glass. You see, it was such a huge tank that it could take an entire day to clean, and for a twelve year old in the days before the Internet, it was impossible to be so bored that cleaning the fish tank was a viable way to spend a Saturday. But it wasn’t just laziness holding me back. For some reason, the cleaner the water was, the more the goldfish became afflicted with strange diseases and died. The day after cleaning the tank was always touch and go, working out who would survive and who would ascend to Goldfish Heaven. I never quite worked out why a clean tank killed more fish than a dirty one, but I tried my utmost to avoid replacing the water, hoping to forestall the inevitable loss of life that apparently accompanied better fish hygiene. Of course, it could have been traumatic for the goldfish, all those bodies floating upside down all the time, except anyone who knows anything about goldfish knows that they have a memory span of approximately 3 seconds. So I figured the survivors wouldn’t mourn their tank mates for too long.
One day, it became clear that the fish could no longer be seen through the glass. Or rather, it wasn’t clear at all. To speed things up a bit, my dad and I decided to trial a new pump that could remove the water in a fraction of the time. It was basically a little motor attached to two long, transparent hoses. One went into the tank, and another went out the window where the water would drain.
Bingo. Now, one would think that prior to turning on such a pump, one would remove the goldfish from said tank. But for whatever reason, it didn’t happen in that order. My dad started the pump, and I called out that I hadn’t removed the fish yet. Being on the other side of the house, he didn’t quite hear me. The next thing I knew, there was an extremely strange sound. In English at school, they teach you about onomatopoeia. You know, where the word is written exactly as it sounds (slap, bang, etc). Well, if I was to transcribe the sound of my goldfish’s eye getting sucked out with a pressurised hose, it would probably go something like this: Slllllllluuuuuuuurrrrrrpppppp
Of course, initially we had no idea that my goldfish had just become the fish equivalent of post-Ragnarok Thor. All I saw was a tiny black object making its way up the transparent hose.
“Oh no, Dad!” I exclaimed, with dramatic twelve-year-old flair. “We sucked up a pebble.” “Oh-oh,” replied my dad. “That won’t be good for the motor.” We continued to watch as the black pebble miraculously vanished without blowing up the motor as we had expected. It was then that we realised that there were, in fact, no black pebbles in the aquarium. Greyish pebbles, yes. Browny ones, of course. Weird beigey-coloured rocks? Absolutely. But no black pebbles. I looked at my goldfish and did a quick head count. All present and accounted for.
And then I glanced back at my black moor. I bit down on a gasp.
There he was, swimming slightly lopsided now, with no better visual acuity than Nick Fury after the Flerken Incident.
(Remember how that ends?)
I don’t remember if I screamed, but honestly, it was like something out of a horror movie. Not because it was gory. No, as it turns out, you can suck out a fish’s eye and there’s no blood or fleshy bits (there was, however, a bit of optic nerve still flailing around in the current). It was the cleanest wound I’ve ever seen.
But it was still utterly horrible. I had just sucked out my fish’s eye with a hose. With a hose, like some kind of monster.
My fish, despite everything, continued swimming around, no doubt forgetting the reason why his world was so off-kilter every three seconds in a weirdly helpful case of retrograde amnesia.
The worst part was how awful I felt. Was I some kind of fish mutilator now? Would the RSPCA be swooping in any moment to inspect their living conditions? Would I be sent to prison with that freaky kid from Toy Story who ripped off his toys’ limbs and re-attached them to killer robot toys? Lingering dread filled every waking hour.
The most surprising thing of all was how long that fish lived in the end. I imagine that my crushing existential guilt led me to feed the fish gigantic amounts of food in compensation, which lead to the fish suffering from rather substantial abdominal obesity. Suddenly, half a field of vision was the least of its problems.
Nonetheless, it lived a long and fruitful life, sans one eye, and I eventually persuaded myself that the RSPCA was not going to arrest me, or at least they’d first come for my sister, who by that stage had killed, incapacitated, or permanently alienated several more pets through neglect.
And me? Thanks for asking.
Well, we eventually got rid of the tank, which was a relief since I’m pretty sure we could have harvested oysters from the contents.
To this day, I still have recurring nightmares that I haven’t fed my goldfish in weeks (or that I’ve forgotten about them altogether), which I take as a weird and enduring type of guilt over the loss of Goldfish Fat Thor’s googly eye. But, as Shakespeare says, all’s well that ends well, right?