She pissed off even her goldfish.
“Darwin, dear! Come to me, you son of a bitch!”
His face had the look of someone who’d taken a bite from a peeled apple only to realise it was raw onion. What the hell did this mad woman want now?
“I sometimes think it’d be better if I didn’t share a flat with you.”
Calix ignored Darwin’s caustic barb and beckoned him over. Yeah, that was typical. He could threaten to attack her with a tyre iron and she wouldn’t flinch. Nothing fazed her.
“Money’s dust, but my self respect isn’t,” Darwin muttered to himself. And he wasn’t even sure what he meant. It just felt like the thing to say in that particular moment.
Calix was pointing at the shelf with the look of Caesar saying the sacral “Et tu, Brute?” moments before being killed. Or doing the killing. Darwin had a funny feeling that the second option was more likely.
“What? It’s a shelf. There are things placed upon it. That’s its function.”
“I’m not retarded, Ezra.” Calix pulled a face. “I ask you, where’s the fucking fish thing?”
“The what? You’re a writer. How is it you cannot use your words all of a sudden?”
“You seem to have forgotten that I take lessons in Krav Maga. I don’t only belong to the school of high versification, you know.”
“Fine. So you can beat me with your fists as well as your tongue. What do you mean by ‘fucking fish thing’?”
“Fish! Fish! The aquatic craniate bearing gills that lacks digit populated limbs!” Exasperation was creeping into Calix’s voice. “It swims underwater? God, Ezra! Surely you’ve heard of fish!”
“You’re asking me where the goldfish has gone,” he said a little blankly.
“Well, you’re not as irredeemable as you make out.” Calix threw her arms up. “Yay! Let’s celebrate this fact, shall we?”
Darwin rolled his eyes. “Okay, I can do without the sarcasm.” He indicated the empty shelf. “I’ve got no idea where the fucking thing’s gone. Perhaps it grew legs and walked away in disgust.”
“Nice guess, Hercule. But in this case it would have left a fucking dust trail, wouldn’t it?”
“Not necessarily. It’s a fish. Fish are wet.” Darwin searched the shelf and the surrounding floor. “It would have left a trail of water…”
Incredulous, Calix watched as he got up on tiptoes to check the near the corner wall. He did realise that fish didn’t have lungs, didn’t he? How would it have gone anywhere if it couldn’t breathe out of water? Idiot!
And suddenly he said, “Oh, there you go!” He picked something up and waved it in front of her. “Looks like a letter. That isn’t your handwriting, is it?”
“No, it’s yours,” sighed Calix, barely hiding her annoyance. What a moron!
Seeing that she was trying so hard to keep her composure, Darwin backed off. He focused his attention on the letter instead. It was slightly soggy and the ink was a bit smudged, but at least it was mostly legible.
“Dear C & D, I have a very important message…”
“What is this?” laughed Calix, her annoyance quickly melting away. “Did you scrape this shit from out of our spam inbox? I can already guess what it’s going to say. We’ve won 1,589,125 euros, right? Oh, go on! Don’t break my heart. Please say we did and that we need to pay them a fee to have our prize money processed!”
“It’s not a scam.” But that’s not what his face was saying. In fact, Darwin was scrunching his nose in what seemed to be disbelief. “It’s for real. And… I think the goldfish wrote it.”
That caught Calix by surprise, so much so that she forgot to insult Darwin with her next comment. Well… it was more of a question really.
“The goldfish?! The goldfish wrote the note?”
She looked for all the world like a little girl that’d been told that clouds weren’t made of fairy floss. And this piece of information just wasn’t able to fit in her tiny cute head, let alone be processed.
Darwin nodded. “The goldfish.”
“Could you please do me a favour and explain?”
The rattled, almost polite, version of Calix was rattling even Darwin. He wasn’t used to seeing her at a loss like this. The sight made him inwardly cringe.
“I can’t.” He looked back at the piece of paper. “Fish don’t write letters. Only… it did.”
Darwin found a chair near the coffee table and sat in it rather heavily. He placed the letter on the tabletop and attempted to smooth it out, only his hands made the ink smear a bit more. “Okay,” he said softly, “I guess I should finish reading this.”
All Calix could do was nod.
Darwin harrumphed, then began to read.
“Dear C & D, I have a very important message…
Sorry, but I’ve had enough. What’s a goldfish to do when the two humans he loves most are at each others’ throats all the time? Every hour of every day is filled with your constant backbiting. It’s stressful, man! STRESSFUL!
I’m going on a trip to Ibiza with the express purpose of kicking back in a glass of rum and coke balanced on the navel piercing of an impressively norked chav. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in two weeks. In the meantime, I suggest you snippy suctorians work out your shitty problems, and learn to cohabitate in peace.
See ya later, motherflippers. It’s been real. A little TOO real.
Augustus Adelaide Harold III”
Darwin leaned back in the chair, letter still in hand. Calix squeezed her eyes shut. It wasn’t clear for a moment if she was trying to digest what she’d heard or was simply in pain.
“Augustus Adel— What?! What the fuck was its name?”
“Augustus Adelaide Harold III,” repeated Darwin obligingly.
There was a pause. An uncomfortable pause. A light had suddenly switched on behind Calix’s eyes. “Hang about…” she said, as if to herself. Then she reached into Darwin’s pocket and fished out a leaflet. Before he could stop her, she read: “The most popular royal baby names.”
Darwin offered her a sheepish grin.
“Augustus?! Adelaide?! Fucking Harold?!” She looked at him with a mocking smile. “Oh my god, Ezra! You’re the worst! You were unable even to invent a cool name for a fish?! And what’s with the three on the end? Really?!”
Darwin’s grin slipped into a look of embarrassment. “I was trying to think of a name with authority. I guess it didn’t work, huh?”
“Oh, Ezra…” Calix sat in front of him on the coffee table. “You lovable idiot! You’re incorrigible.”
“Why did you invent this bullshit?”
“I guess…” he began, then seemed to think better of it. “Nah. Never mind.”
Now it was Calix’s turn to roll her eyes. “Okay. Whatever. If it makes you happy then… ugh. I don’t know.” She looked around. “So, where did you hide the poor fish?”
It was at this point that Darwin’s eyes grew as big as saucers. He sprang out of his seat like an electrified eel and raced out into the back yard. “Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit…”
Calix shook her head and smiled. Yup, Darwin was quite mad, the adorable goof. This much would never change. Of that she was certain. She made a cuckoo sign, then walked off to poke her nose into her laptop.
“Look at this bloody thing…”
Calix didn’t look.
“Amazing. The way it uses its foot to get the garbage into its trunk, then from its trunk into the bin…”
“Darwin, I get it. You’re quite able to find one million and one reasons for procrastinating. I’ve asked you to take out the garbage at least…” she counted in her head “…four times in the last hour. It stinks like hell in here! Or are you too busy watching ‘Taking Out Trash for Dummies’ to notice?”
“What can I say?” shrugged Darwin. “Instagram’s so damned addictive. And this elephant video…”
He held up his smartphone for Calix to see. She, of course, made no attempt to engage. Maybe she could get him to drop dead of boredom. That way, he’d finally leave her alone.
“Seriously, it’s funny!” Darwin was trying to wave it beneath her nose now. “Don’t you like funny?”
Calix stuck her nose further into the laptop and kept typing. Nope. There would be no stupid comedy animal videos for her. No way! She had better things to do than watch dumb animals be stripped of their dignity for human amusement.
Her lack of response only put Darwin in a foul mood. He was like a petulant little child, swivelling on his chair and pouting. Then he stopped, and continued to fuss a finger about his phone’s tiny screen. “Fine. See if I care,” he muttered to himself.
Calix sighed inwardly. After an evening of this infantile behaviour, was he now going to leave her be?
Then suddenly: “Calix! I just remembered!” Darwin jumped out of his chair.
Calix nearly wiped the laptop clear off her desk in surprise. And the ballpoint pen. Panting, she turned to Darwin, her look promising nothing but retribution. “What the fuck, Darwin…”
“The goldfish! I found it in the toilet bowl yesterday.” He flapped his arms a little, as if this would aid in her comprehension. It didn’t.
“In the en suite. My toilet bowl. It was having a good old paddle. Happy as Larry!”
“Dammit, Calix. It’s an expression. Do you have to take everything I say literally?!”
“On the contrary, I feel a powerful impulse to not listen to anything you say at all.”
Silence. It was the only decent response. Anything else would have been a waste of words. No matter what Darwin said, Calix would have a counter. So, no words. He’d clamp his mouth shut, flick through his Instagram and ignore the hell out of her.
Calix, for her part, didn’t give a damn. It was all the same whether her friend spoke or stayed quiet. Sure, she betrayed the faintest hint of a smile but that was only because she loved to annoy him. The rest of her face was kept scrupulously impassive as she positioned the laptop back into its correct place and resumed typing.
“Anyway, it’s a free country,” Calix said evenly. “Everyone can be wherever they want whenever they want. I don’t tell the whole world about your visits to the restroom and that sometimes you spend hours in there. It’s your legal right. What I don’t understand is why you don’t think the fish should have this same right?”
Darwin couldn’t help but bite. “I didn’t say it couldn’t! What I’m saying is how the hell did it get there?”
“Are you sure it was a fish? Or maybe you didn’t flush well enough and it wasn’t exactly a… you know… fish?”
“I do not shit orange turds, okay?! Jesus!”
Surprisingly, Calix started to look interested by this point. She shut her laptop and turned to give Darwin her complete attention. It was as if her inner Sherlock had suddenly activated. Yup, she was ready to pick up the trail of the murderer.
“Okay, let’s start again. What did you do in the toilet?”
“I didn’t do anything!” protested Darwin. “Well… I was going to. A number one to be precise.”
Calix nodded, and marked something in her notebook. Darwin blinked in confusion. Where the hell had she suddenly whipped that from? And was that his pen she was using? His favourite pen! Why wasn’t she using her own pen?
“Could you give me more details?”
“Hey! That’s mine!” He indicated his pen. “Get your own! The one you were chewing on!”
“Please. Don’t try to confuse the investigation.” Calix kept writing in the notebook. “Now, tell me, what did you do in the toilet on the 11th of September between 6:30am and 7:15am?”
“I said I didn’t do anything!” Darwin was flapping his arms again. (Perhaps for emphasis?) “I was going to take a piss but then I saw the goldfish in the toilet bowl and decided against it. Look, how many times do I have to say this?”
“Are you sure you’re not hiding some important details?” Calix squinted at him with suspicious eyes. “I’m certain I heard sounds at the time that testify you were not using your nether or nozzle exit. And leave the pen alone, scrooge!”
She snatched the pen away from Darwin’s grasping hands, and shot him a frosty look.
“Okay, so I chundered a little bit,” he sighed, dropping his arms to his sides. “Are you saying that’s a crime? It didn’t hurt the goldfish any!”
“And why do you think the goldfish appeared in the bowl before you started to barf, and not after? Hmmm?”
“What?” Darwin spluttered. “I don’t know! How about you tell me? You seem to know more than you’re letting on.”
Calix guffawed like a horse. “Because I saw how you were drinking water from the aquarium the day before, you idiot! You were as drunk as a fish!”
“I… what?! No! I think I’d remember doing something like that…”
“I tried to talk to you, but got only mooing and bleating. It made no sense to try and persuade you that an aquarium wasn’t the best way to tame your thirst! So, I left you alone.”
Darwin was shaking his head in an emphatic ‘no’. He wasn’t speaking now, just forming words with his mouth and making no sound. Much like a goldfish.
“By the way, you can find a video of this on Instagram.” Calix poked her phone under Darwin’s nose. “You want to like or comment?”
Darwin’s mouth was now a flat, tense line.
“Seriously, it’s funny!” She gave the phone a mocking little wiggle. “Don’t you like funny?”
“So, she’s telling her friend that her vagina’s beginning to smell like potato chips.”
Calix looked at him with a straight face. “Which brand?”
“What do you mean, which brand?” Darwin gave a rueful shake of his head. “Does that even make a difference to genital fragrance?”
“Of course! Every detail matters.”
“Well, they didn’t cover that, strangely enough.” He rolled his eyes. “If anything, I was more concerned with the fact that two women were openly discussing chips and vaginas on public transport!”
“I’m more concerned that you care about the bullshit people discuss on public transport.”
Darwin bristled at this. Calix had a special knack for turning his statements back on him, and he hated it. He made a point of sniffing haughtily but she took no notice. She was being all nonchalant instead, sitting there writing the next article for ‘Hooves, Horns & Rhododendrons Monthly Digest’ like she didn’t have a care in the world.
“Well, it was hard not to listen!” he muttered defensively. “They were talking loud enough.”
“Darwin, you’re lucky enough to be deaf! You get to choose if you listen or not.”
Calix’s nose was wedged firmly in her laptop. He watched her absentmindedly nibbling on a ballpoint pen, intermittently jabbing at the keyboard. How on earth had they even become friends? They disagreed on everything! And yet Darwin couldn’t imagine life without her. God, he hated that.
“I’m too dependent. That’s my problem.”
Calix looked up from the laptop and fixed her eyes on his.
“Shit. I said that out loud, didn’t I?” His cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“On what?” Now Calix seemed almost interested. “What are you dependent on?”
“Erm, nothing. I’m just rambling again.”
Darwin backed away and turned to leave the room. It was time to make himself scarce before the conversation got too awkward. But Calix wasn’t having a bar of it.
“No, hang on! Where are you going? Don’t you want to talk about vaginas and chips any more?”
Darwin slumped his shoulders. Yup, that had stopped him in his tracks. She always had to have the upper hand, the final say in everything. He hated that so much. In fact, this friendship had too much hate going on. Was that normal? Perhaps ‘hate’ was too strong a word to be using in this context…
“Let’s start with chips. Could you go to the kitchen and bring me the paprika chips? I think I left an open pack on the table.”
Nope. It was the right word.
“And feed the goldfish. I think it needs to eat more than twice a week.”
“Yes, mum,” he grumbled under his breath. “Three bags full, mum.”
And suddenly Darwin recalled the night before… How had that damn goldfish ended up in his toilet bowl anyway? He wanted to ask Calix about this, but her unbearable acerbity would beat reason out of anyone. Perhaps he’d ask later when he was feeling up to the challenge.
With these thoughts swimming in his head, Darwin shuffled to the kitchen. He took up the open pack of chips, sniffed it, and shrugged his shoulders. No vagina he’d ever encountered had smelled like this. He sniffed again. Yeah, this was completely ordinary.
Write drunk, edit sober.
I look at those empty cans in the trash bin. Then I look at the empty screen with its blinking cursor. So far it’s three to zero for the cans. Words are trailing far behind. But I won’t give up. It’s only a matter of time and patience. I open the next can.
“So, it turns out that the average number of blinks made by someone getting their photo taken is ten per minute. The average blink lasts about two hundred and fifty milliseconds and, in good indoor light, the camera shutter stays open for about eight milliseconds. Exciting, huh?!”
Oh, shit, really?
“This way, photographing thirty people in bad light would need about thirty shots. Once there’s around fifty people, even in good light, you can kiss your hopes of an unspoilt photo goodbye. Listen now, this is the most interesting part…”
Gosh, what a load of cack!
“To calculate the number of photos you’d need to take for groups of less than twenty, divide the number of people by three if there’s good light and two if the light’s bad. Hey, Calix, buy me a camera? Please, pretty pretty please! I’ll take a photo of you and Darwin!”
I take my eyes off the screen and point them at the tank sitting on the book shelf. The goldfish goggles at me from there, its own eyes pleading, magnified through the dirty glass.
“You got a smartphone at Christmas, didn’t you? Use that!”
The goldfish pouts and turns its luxuriously long tail towards me. I give a nonchalant shrug and get back to the throes of creation. I don’t have time for silly chitchats. It’s about one in the morning, four to zero for cans, and I’ve still no fucking idea what I’ll write for tomorrow’s advice column. Nasty egoistic sprat! Instead of babbling various nonsense about blinking and winking, it would be better if he helped me with the task at hand.
Absently, I pull a book from the shelf and open it at a random page.
He called out to the golden fish
and the fish swam up and asked him,
“What is it, old man, what do you need?”
Yes, I know what I fucking need now, but where can I find a bloody talking golden fish? This is life, silly Calix, not Pushkin’s fairy tales! I gloomily open the next can. At least the beer is real.
My last thought before my head droops on the table is that I need to wake up early and take out the trash. I don’t want Darwin seeing this mess. After all, every accomplished woman of letters has her own little secrets.
by TETIANA ALEKSINA
© All rights reserved 2018