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art by Billy Sagulo


Elizabeth Archer has published poetry and flash, and can be found at eliza254archer.wordpress.com.

She looked at the golden orange fish swimming in the bowl and carefully examined the fins, the scales, the huge eyes, the size. She shut her eyes and dumped the fish down the wastewater chute and pushed the button to liquefy it.
"Not right yet? Malala is only seven. Will she really be able to tell it isn't the same fish?"
"Of course she will," she told Adan, narrowing her eyes at her husband. "I would have known, when I was seven. She looks at this fish first thing in the morning, the moment her light switches on. Gibba is her world. Her only pet. She loves that fish."
"Maybe we should tell her, Nala," Adan urged gently. "The time has come to talk of death and dying."
"I can't," Nala snapped. "Not yet. Not after."
"We have to at some point, darling. She's seven. She probably doesn't remember the accident that much anymore. She was in stasis so long healing. All those drugs."
"How can she not remember? The pain when that transport struck her--really Adan? Right now, she's a happy, well-adjusted child. I don't want to bring it all back. Gibba was bought for her before the accident. She's had that fish for three years. One constant, with all the terrible changes. "
"But people in her life will pass to beyond, Nala. My great grandparents are getting older. So are yours."
"They're what? Three hundred now? Maybe the next patch will come soon, extend another fifty years," Nala said, with a sniff. "Death is so rare now. It's just a stupid goldfish, Adan. I can replicate anything. Isn't that what we do all day, every day? I should be able to do a simple fish for my own daughter perfectly. The problem is my lack of adequate images. I didn't capture enough images of that silly fish in its bowl. I only have seven."
"Didn't Malala have a lot of pictures stored?"
"I'm not going to be amateur enough to leave her a path. She'd catch on if she noticed I had scanned all Gibba's pics. I'm just lucky it waited to die until she was at school. That gives me a nice long time window."
"What was wrong with the fish you zapped?" asked Adan.
"The eyes were too small. Gibba's eyes were a tiny bit larger."
She was adjusting her image replicator on her screens.
"What do you think?"
"I think it looks like a goldfish."
"You are no help at all. You probably think all goldfish look alike. But they don't at all. You are always so focused on the DNA of things, all the internal structures and variances. But for me, the outer details are what make our products the best in the world. Remember the first clones? Cats that didn't even resemble the cat being cloned?"
"That was hundreds of years ago, Nala. But every little speckle? Every little pigment variation? On a fish? What magnification are you using?"
"Just let me be me," she said.
He watched her continue, absorbed in the miniscule details from the selection of photographs. Malala would never notice these details.
"Some people would say," he said gently, "That we are denying Malala something important today. The chance to grow. To experience death, and grieve, and go on. There are people who argue that death is an important part of life, even for a seven-year-old. For everyone."
"But this is so simple!" Nala protested. "It's just a fish... a small thing. And I can do this for her. In a few hours. Adan, just let it go."
"Death is inevitable. We lose goldfish...."
He turned away. He left the lab, walking slowly, his hands beginning to shake.
It had been three years. She hadn't noticed yet. He wondered if he made the right decision. Someday, he would have to tell Nala the truth. But she wasn't ready.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Author Comments

The inspiration for "Goldfish" comes from my oldest son, who still thinks all his goldfish went to work with Daddy.

- Elizabeth Archer
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