A Visit to the Pet Shop by John Holland

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You show me the mouldy, rotting body of yet another Siamese Fighting Fish so we stop drinking and head off.
In the pet shop we stop to talk to the yellow and blue macaw which answers to the name Pauline Conway.
‘What a disgrace. It’s too big for that cage. We’d do a better job,’ you say.
When you walk away I teach it ‘Biff is a weirdo’.
In the fish section your hands are on your hips and there’s a ‘what the fuck’s going on?’ expression on your face. The tanks are covered in furry green algae making it hard to see the fish gasping at the surface.
‘It’s a disgrace,’ you say. ’Someone should liberate them.’
You’re looking at a long-finned black Angel Fish sailing like an underwater galleon in its own polluted ocean.
‘It’s a beauty,’ you say, ‘but it’s a dead fish swimming.’
A smooth-faced crop-haired boy wearing a worried expression and an oversized brown overall wanders over.
‘How much for the Angel?’ you ask.
The kid says nothing is for sale, because the shop is transitioning.
‘Get me the manager,’ you say.
‘I am the manager,’ the kid says.
‘No, you’re not. Where’s your mummy or daddy?’
I know you’re joking but the kid’s upper lip starts to go. He walks away.
‘Proud of yourself?’ I ask
‘Always,’ you say, as if you mean it.
I suggest we leave, but you’ve pushed aside the sliding screen above the tank and you’re up to your elbows in water, chasing round the Angel with a net. As you slosh, water is cascading from the tank, soaking your Megadeth t-shirt and pooling on the floor.
I have a flashback to the time we went to a sleepy Cotswolds pub and you helped yourself from behind the bar. I left when the landlord walked in, but you didn’t. Since then you’ve had a Carlsberg logo imprinted on your forehead. People you know say you’re probably the best fuckwit in Bristol. Then there was the time at the zoo when you took a shine to an otter.
You have the fish in the net, but the kid is back with a bald tattooed bloke wearing a full Aston Villa strip. The footballer poleaxes you to the floor and grabs the net with the writhing fish.
‘You’re not having that, sir,’ he barks.
Squirming on the floor like a landlocked tadpole, you yell back, ‘Someone once said that to me about an otter.’
The kid is crying now – great gobby tears. I ask him if he’s ok but he doesn’t reply.
‘Are you his dad?’ I ask the footballer with the fish.
He shakes his head. ‘I’m from the café. Ethan lives with his grandparents. His dad died recently.’
I see your face change. You’re up on your feet, your arm around the kid, fishing an old tissue from your pocket, asking him if he’d like to come back home with us.

*****

John Holland

John Holland is a multi-prize winning short fiction author from Gloucestershire in the UK. His work is often darkly comic and is widely published in anthologies and online including The Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine, The Cabinet of Heed, Reflex Fiction and NFFD. John also runs Stroud Short Stories. His website is  www.johnhollandwrites.com He’s on Twitter @JohnHol88897218

Cover Image by Keenyam

pencil

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