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The Secret Goldfish

Hi, my name’s Jericho. No, not the city that Joshua knocked down by walkin’ around it¸ but it’s my name. Jericho Titus Fudbaum. I’m named after some good friend that my parents had back when they were in college or somethin’ like that. They said that his name was Titus Jericho, but I think my parents might have been a little crazy. Anyways, I’m not gonna tell you ‘bout that. You see, I hafta write a paper for my tenth grade English class in school and it’s supposed to be ‘bout somethin’ that we cared ‘bout very much and loved when we were young. So, I’m gonna tell you ‘bout my fish—he was a goldfish—and his name was Hercules. But there’s another important part to this story, and I can’t tell it to you properly if I don’t bring it up, so don’t worry if I talk ‘bout more than just Hercules.

Anyways, here I go. The whole point of this story all started on my ninth birthday, but I’m gonna start tellin’ it a little before that, so you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. We lived in Galion, Ohio near my grandpa’s farm. In fact, we lived so close that I could walk to his house in ‘bout ten minutes. It was only ‘bout a mile away from my house in town. I spent a lot of my time on that farm workin’ with my cousins, who visited my grandparents pretty often. They lived in Mansfield, which was pretty close to Galion, so they could come to his house on the weekends, but I was lucky enough to get to go to his house every day.

In case you haven’t noticed by now, I have a southern accent; that’s ‘cause before we moved the Ohio, we lived in Greenville, Alabama. Those years were pretty borin’ and I didn’t really like it down there even though most of my friends growin’ up never left that little southern town. Most of my Ohio friends made fun of me for a while ‘cause of my drawl, but they got over it pretty quick. So, anyways, most of my time, I was on my gramp’s farm instead of at home. He taught me how to fish in this big lake he had out back and hunt in the six and a half acres of woods that grew all around his house, and we would always look for mushroom when they were in season. However, on my eighth birthday, he got me my first pocket knife, and then he taught me how to whittle. The first thing that I ever whittled was a little wooden shoe that I gave to the cat, whose name was cow ‘cause he ate so much, but he didn’t like it too much—the shoe that is.

Anyways, to get to my point, on the day of my ninth birthday, I was back at my own house in town—I didn’t like it there ‘cause my sister was kinda mean to me, and that’s why I spent so much time at my gramp’s place—and we were gettin’ ready to eat lunch. At our house, we normally don’t have a big shebang on birthdays; we just have this tradition where the birthday kid picks what they wanna eat for supper and what kinda cake and ice cream they want and then we eat it at night around the normal time. Then afterwards, the birthday kid gets to open a few presents that they got from their mom and dad and sometimes, when my sister Havanna—another reason why I think my parents were a little nuts ‘cause they named my big sis that—was bein’ real nice, she’d make me up a card or somethin’ sweet like that. It’s only us two kids and she’s older than me, but only by 1 year, 6 months, 13 days, 8 hours, and 29 minutes. I liked doin’ that sorta thing, figurin’ out how far apart in age people are. I’m pretty good at math.

Anyways, on my ninth birthday, I decided that I wanted to have a traditional southern supper—grilled sirloin, green beans, mashed taters, and corn on the cob. You see, my birthday was in July, so all that stuff was in season. I also wanted to have a sugar cream pie and butter pecan ice cream instead of cake. Now, earlier that day, I had gotten in a little trouble with Sheriff Tucker ‘cause I’d thrown a rock in the old abandoned mineshaft out on Uncle Rupert Hill, which is what us local folks called it. Its real name was Adderack Mine, but we stopped callin’ it that years ago. Now it’s just the old abandoned mine. Anyhow, the rock I threw was actually a big piece of coal that I found by the tool shed in my back yard, and I threw it after I had marked all over the mine with the stuff. Old Tucker didn’t see me do it, but he knew who did it anyways. I think it was maybe b’cause I wrote my name about a million times in dif’rent styles, and Sheriff Tucker called up my momma and told her all about it, so she wasn’t in the best of moods when it came time to sing “Happy Birthday” to me.

But, my momma gave me a nice sweater anyways, which I thought was kinda dumb seein’ as it was July, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Anyways, I only got three other presents on that day. One was a card that was all spiffed up by Havanna and said ‘Happy Birthday’ an’ all; one was a new pair of cowboy boots that my Aunt Tilly and cousins Jeffery and Bobbi Jo sent me. These cousins aren’t the ones who got to see me on the weekends. They lived in France at the time b’cause their daddy was real important in some big company and had to work there for a couple a months. I knew Jeffery didn’t have anythin’ to do with pickin’ out the boots for me ‘cause he was only one and a half, but Bobbi Jo, she was real sweet. She was ten and knew just the kinda thing that I would like.

My third birthday present was a shiny goldfish and a card with nine dollars in it—ya know, nine dollars on my ninth birthday—from my gramp. I named the fish Atticus, after the old geezer in that one book; I can’t remember what it was called, but my momma read it to me when I was six or seven. But, Atticus died a few days later. My momma said it was ‘cause I wasn’t responsible enough to take care of him an’ all, but I fed him every day and loved him very much.

So that night, I asked my pop to take me to the general store about four miles from our house, an’ I used the nine dollars I got from gramps to buy me a new goldfish. I even was responsible enough to ask the store worker how I should take care of him. This is the fish that I told you about in the beginnin’ of the story, the one I named Hercules. I took him home and put him in his bowl along with some new rocks that I bought for 75 cents and a little plastic plant that was only a dime. After I bought all this stuff, I still had five dollars and nineteen cents leftover.

I asked the cashier for a paper bag, and I put Hercules in it. My pop didn’t ask me what I bought in the store, he just drove me home. On the other hand, my mom did ask me what I’d bought. She made a big fuss outta it and everythin’, but I wouldn’t let her see inside. I took Hercules to my room to make my mom think that I put whatever I bought in there, but then I snuck outta my window; it was only about three feet off the ground, so I didn’t have to jump very far, an’ I hid Hercules in the tool shed.

Afterwards, I crawled back into my room through the window so that my mom wouldn’t get suspicious about Hercules. I don’t know why, but I felt like I couldn’t let anyone see how I spent my money. I didn’t know whether they would laugh at me ‘cause they thought buyin’ a fish was a silly way to spend my birthday money, or if they would like him, and I wasn’t goin’ to risk bein’ made a fool of.

All of my friends asked me about Atticus the day after he died. My birthday was on a Sunday, and Atticus died the next Wednesday, so my friends saw me on Thursday and wanted to know what happened. Some of them even asked if they could buy me a new fish. I thought that was real nice an’ all, but I just smiled and told them that they didn’t need to do that. My best friend—his name was Olly Beans, but everybody who knew him pretty good called him Yankee Beans—really wanted to help me though.

“Come on, Jerry,”—that was my nickname—“I just want to buy you a new fish. I’ll get you a nice big one from Perry’s Pet Store.”

“Awww, come on, Yankee Bean,” I told him. My accent was real heavy, too. “I already toljya I don’t need a new fish.”

“But I feel bad for you. That was your birthday present from your grandpa,” he said. “He’s your second best friend because I’m your first favorite.”

“Will ya just listen to me, please? I don’t need you to buy a new fish for me b’cause—well, b’cause I already got a new one.”

“What? When did you get him? Who bought him for you?”

“I bought him. I bought him with my own money from my gramps and I got him last night.”

“Wow! Well, when can I come over and see him?”

“Ummm, I don’t really want anyone to look at him. He’s kinda secret.”

“But I’m your best friend,” he complained. “You’re supposed to show me everything and tell me all of your biggest secrets.”

“Well, I just don’t wanna this time,” I yelled at him. That was the first time that I ever yelled at him, too. I felt kinda bad, but Hercules was mine, and I didn’t have to show him to anybody if I didn’t wanna show him to them.

Olly didn’t talk to me much that day, but I guess he had a good reason. He was kinda mad at me, but I was mad at him, too. But I had somebody to talk to when I got home.

Every day I would go out to the shack when my family wasn’t lookin’ and take care of Hercules. He was very special to me ‘cause he listened when I needed a friend, didn’t take much time or effort to take care of, and he always looked at me when I was playin’ or talkin’ with him. That’s very important to me. I like it when people look me in the eyes when I’m talkin’ to them. I told him about my argument with Yankee Bean after school and he looked at me again and just stayed real quite an’ all. He was a great listener.

Anyways, I would take old Hercules outside when it was sunny so that he would stay gold. When I was that little I thought that goldfish were gold because they absorbed the sunlight. I was worried though. I didn’t know what I would do with my friend when it started to get cold. In the wintertime I couldn’t leave him in the shed. He would freeze and die because there wasn’t any heat in there. I wouldn’t be able to take him outside either ‘cause it would be too cold and there would probably be snow on the ground.

I started panickin’ in about September, a little after school started. It was startin’ to get pretty chilly in the night times, and it would only heat up a little in the daytime. I needed to find a new home for Hercules.

Then one day, everythin’ started goin’ wrong. I was walkin’ out to the shed to feed Hercules, but when I opened the door, there was a girl in there. She was about two inches shorter than me and she had bright red hair that stuck out a little in the back, like she had just got outta bed or somethin’. She was lookin’ at Hercules and talkin’ to him in this real girly voice like she was talkin’ to a baby or a new kitten. That’s when I really freaked out.

No one was supposed to see Hercules. I’d managed to keep him a secret for almost two months and now all of a sudden some girl that I don’t even know is lookin’ at him and talkin’ to him. I had a problem with that.

“Who are you?” I yelled. Actually, I screamed it. “What are you doin’ in here? No one’s supposed to be in here. This is my shed. That’s my fish. And no one is supposed to be in here.” My southern accent sounded a lot scarier when I was yellin’. But the girl didn’t seem to be scared. She jumped a little when I first yelled because she didn’t know I was there, but after that, she just stood there with this weird look on her face. It almost looked like she was smilin’, but it was dark in the shack. I didn’t think that she was smilin’, but she walked outta the shed and turned towards me; then I saw her face. She really was smilin’.

“Well, hi!” she said to me. “My name’s Elsie May Yapper, but you can call me Em. You see, if you put my first and second initials together, you get E-M, and that spells Em.” She was a little too perky for me.

“Wh-what are you doin’ here?” I felt like someone smacked me over the head with a brick, and I was stumblin’ over my words. “I’ve never seen you before. Why did you go into my shack?”

Elsie May was weird. She told me that she liked my accent, but that I need to pronounce all of my words instead of slurrin’ them. She didn’t like how I dropped the ‘g’s after all of my progressive verbs and she told me not to end my sentences with prepositions, whatever that means. I was only nine. She said my age was no excuse. She was almost nine and she knew what it meant.

“You’re voice is cute, but ‘doin’’ is not a word. The word is doing,” she said to me. “Anyway, I saw you going in and out of the shed every day, and I was curious. I wanted to see what you were hiding.”

Boy she was annoyin’. “How did you know I was hidin’ anythin’?”

“Hiding, not hidin’, and I knew because your shed is very old and full of holes, so it’s pretty cold in that room.”

“So?” I said.

“So, nobody would go into that shack unless they had a good reason and you never went into or came out of the shed with any tools. It is a tool shed. Besides, I like your fish. He’s cute. What’s his name?”

“Ummm,” I didn’t know what to say. She was an enemy to me.

“Fine, don’t tell me. But your fish is going to die from the cold unless you get him out of there soon. The weather is supposed to get very cold in the next week.”

“Hercules. His name is Hercules,” I said to her. Yeah she annoyed me, and she found out about my secret friend, but she already knew about him, so I might well have told her. “How cold is it supposed to get?”

“The temperature is supposed to drop into the mid-forties this week and then warm back up into the sixties after that. Don’t you watch the news or weather?”

“No, nobody watches the weather channel at my age.”

“Now, don’t be so certain. I watch it. It’s nice to know what I’m going to need to wear to school. And you have seen me before this. We go to the same school, and we have science class and art class with each other.”

“Oh,” I said. I had never noticed her.

Then, all of a sudden, she said somethin’ that I wasn’t expectin’ at all.

“Hercules may stay at my house if you’d like. I have a girl goldfish. Her name is Delilah, and she would love to have some company.”

“Ummm.”

“You say that a lot. It’s not even a word. Now prestidigitation, that’s a great word. I don’t even know what it means, but I have a dictionary in my house if you would like to come look up the meaning of it with me.”

“I don’t care about that word. I can’t even pronounce it. It’s too long for me. And what do you mean that Hercules can stay at your house with Delilah?”

“I mean that you can bring your fish to my house and put him in my goldfish tank in my room with my fish, whose name is Delilah. They might even make baby goldfish. That would be marvelous!”

“Ummm.” I still couldn’t think of anythin’ to say. So, finally, I told her that I could bring Hercules over right then. I really didn’t want to keep him in a tank with a strange new fish, but I didn’t have any other choice. He would die if I didn’t let him live with Delilah and her odd owner, Elsie May.

So, I picked up Hercules, and I walked with Em to her house and Hercules and I met Delilah. After that, I put Hercules in the tank with his new girlfriend; well, that’s what Em called them, boyfriend and girlfriend, but I didn’t like that. Hercules didn’t even know Delilah that long, and he already had to share a tank with her. That wasn’t really fair. But I let him do it anyways b’cause I was thinkin’ that he would die unless I let him move outta the shed.

Every day, I walked to Elsie May’s house and fed Hercules before school, then Em would want to walk with me to the bus stop, and she would talk all the time about things that I didn’t understand. After school, I would walk back to Elsie May’s house and check on Hercules and make sure that he was okay an’ all, then I would walk back to my house. It wasn’t that far really. She lived about two blocks from my house, but it was still cold in the wintertime.

A week after Hercules moved outta my shed, I went to my grampa’s house to visit him. I felt like I needed to talk to somebody about this whole mess. I took Hercules with me because I wanted my gramp to see what I had done with the money that he gave me for my birthday. But when I got to his house and showed Hercules to him, all of a sudden, Em popped up behind me outta nowhere. She made me so mad sometimes.

Em followed me to my gramp’s house all the way through the cold snow just so that she could meet him. We had become really great friends over the last week, but she still annoyed me most of the time.

Em met my grampa, then after I talked to him a little about my situation, I walked back to Elsie May’s house with her and Hercules. We got a bit of a surprise when we walked into her bedroom though. We went to put Hercules into the tank with Delilah, but the water was full of little dots. We didn’t know what happened, so we got Em’s magnifyin’ glass from her desk and took a closer look. I guess Delilah and Hercules had decided to get married because those little dots were little baby Herculeses and Delilahs. We were real surprised; well, I was, but Em just kinda smiled like she had known what would happen all along. She probably did know that it would happen. She knew everything.

After we put Hercules back in the tank, we went down to Perry’s Pet Shop to look for a bigger tank. We were gonna need one if we were gonna keep all those goldfish. Nobody else knew about them, so we acted all casual an’ all, then we asked Mr. Perry how much the bigger tanks cost. He said they were twenty five dollars. We didn’t have that much money. I still had my five dollars and nineteen cents saved in my piggy bank, but Elsie May only had a dollar and two nickels in her piggy bank. Well, I guess I can’t say that because her piggy bank was actually a goldfish bank. Ya see, goldfish were her favorite animals, so her room was decorated in them. Her bed sheets had goldfish all over them; so did her slippers and her wallpaper. Everythin’ had a goldfish on it. She thought that everyone should be allowed to have a goldfish. That’s when we had a great idea; well, she had a great idea.

We waited a few weeks until the baby fish were a little bigger, then we put all of the baby fish in one of Em’s mom’s glass cookin’ bowls. We took the bowl to school with us and sat it on Principal Nougat’s desk. We told him that we would like to sell the fish to the students so that we could raise enough money to buy a big tank. He didn’t like that idea because he said that the kids’ parents wouldn’t all agree about lettin’ their kids have a goldfish, but we told him that the kids could each have a goldfish if we were allowed to put all of them in the big tank that we would buy with the money. Then we would put the tank in the school where everyone could see it. It would be a great display for the school.

That made Principal Nougat happy. He was kinda large, so when he smiled, his chin kinda puffed out and made two rolls where his neck was supposed to be. He kinda looked like a seal or a walrus without its tusks. Anyways, he said that he would send a letter home with all of the students to give to their parents. The next day, a bunch of kids that I didn’t know came up to me with dollar bills. They wanted to buy one of the baby fish. By the end of the day, Elsie May and I had gotten forty-three dollars from different people. There were only forty-one fish in the bowl. We tried to give the money back to the kids, but they said they would share the fish with a friend.

We didn’t know what to do with all of that money. We went down to Perry’s and bought a bigger tank for the fish in the school. Then we bought a big bag of colorful rocks to put in the bottom and some plants and a little tube that bubbled—that was pretty cool—and we also bought a big container of goldfish food. Principal Nougat said that he would take responsibility for feedin’ the baby fish every day. All of the kids wanted to help, but that would have been too difficult to remember who got to feed them last and who still had a turn, so we decided we would let Principal Nougat do it. But all of the kids came up with names for their fish. They had things like Molly and Champion picked out; you know all the normal names. But some of the kids named their fish weird names like Dragonfly and Butterscotch and Yo-Mama.

But that was okay with me and Elsie May. Hercules and Delilah were very happy together in their small bowl and they took turns sleepin’ at each of our houses. Every once in a while they would make new babies. So, Elsie May and I would go back down to school and talk to Principal Nougat again, and we would decide to sell the new baby fish again, and get more money to buy another tank and put it somewhere else in the school. That was pretty cool because pretty soon we had aquariums all over the place.

But nobody but Elsie May and gramps and I ever saw Hercules. Even my momma never saw him. But one day, when Hercules was stayin’ at Em’s house, Elsie May called me up on the telephone. She had some bad news. Hercules had died in the night. I ran all the way over the Elsie May’s house to see if she was tellin’ the truth, but I knew she was. She had never lied to me before. I cried all the way there, too.

When I showed up, Elsie May was cryin’ even harder than on the phone. I asked her what else happened and she said—well, she said that Delilah died, too. I guess Delilah had fallen really in love with old Hercules and just couldn’t stand the pain of losin’ him. We both felt really sad and we buried our friends behind the school. That way we could visit them when we wanted, maybe durin’ recess or somethin’; but we also wanted them to be close to their children. They were the fish that started all of this business about the school fish and the big aquariums after all.

We never forgot those two golden companions of ours. They were Elsie May’s an’ my friends. So that’s the end of my story. I’m now in tenth grade in high school. I don’t like it much, but it’s not too bad. Elsie May and I, well, we decided to start being girlfriend and boyfriend and it’s workin’ out so far. We had to switch to a different school because we weren’t in elementary school anymore. Oh, and we moved to Alabama. I guess that’s another reason. Old Yankee Beans is still up north, but we keep in thouch. Em and I still live about a block away from each other and see each other every day. I still don’t say my ‘g’s at the end of some of my words and still end my sentences in prepositions, but at least I know what they are now. That really bugs Elsie May half to death. But she still has that little tuft of hair that sticks out in the back of her hear. I call her Bed-head for a nickname. And she still talks really fast, and it’s normally about stuff that I don’t understand. Oh, and we still haven’t looked up the meanin’ of that one word that I still can’t pronounce; that, ummm, presidentigation or whatnot. And we have a lot of goldfish.

None of them are quite like Hercules and Delilah, but those two still live in our hearts. To this very day, only Elsie May and my gramps and I have seen old Hercules, but only Em and I really know him. He’ll always be one of those secrets that only gets shared with your best friend. He’ll always be our secret goldfish.