The Tragedy of Perception

Permission to breathe is withheld

In which a goldfish is severely offended.

In the goldfish bowl, there were two goldfish, one called Sheila Softly and the other Bruce Softly.

One year ago Sally’s previous two fish committed suicide. When she bought these two new fish, she was told they were of Australian origin. The man in the shop went on to explain:

“You see, madam, about thirty‑five or forty years ago, there was an overwhelming—” And here, he rose up on his ankles, as if to emphasize the overwhelmingness of ‘overwhelming’, “—an overwhelming demand for goldfish created by a new bylaw.” He quickly held his hand up at Sally and said, “—Don’t ask me why it was made, madam; all I know is that it was something to do with a project that nobody can now remember anything about. And that’s all I know, so don’t ask!” He put his hand down and said, “So you see, madam, to meet this demand for goldfish, a large batch was imported from an Australian goldfish farm. And these two fish, madam, are direct descendants.” He folded his arms and proudly beamed at her.

When Sally got home that day, she thought she would be kind to the fish (because she always did her best to help other people whenever she could) and to reflect their Australian origin, she gave them the names of Bruce and Sheila. But she was unfortunately unaware that both fish were male.

(At this point, I should point out that what’s about to follow may at first seem a little implausible. But if it should, I can suggest a remedy. What you should do is remember that when I’m talking about the goldfish in the way I’m about to, I am not necessarily talking literally, you understand, but am merely using the same sort of language I would if talking about a human’s experience of life, and applying this instead to the goldfish—so that this might enable us to gain an insight into the goldfish’s point of view during the following few days.)

Over the past year, this little oversight of Sally’s resulted in an unpleasant situation in the goldfish bowl. In the beginning, Bruce taunted Sheila about his name—Bruce finding it immensely funny that Sheila had such a sissy, girlie name. And Bruce went on taunting Sheila for several months, until even Bruce eventually became tired of the joke. But to Sheila, Bruce’s “bit of fun” just seemed like wanton mockery. And right to this day, Sheila never forgot about it. But since (from Bruce’s point of view) it was all merely a bit of fun, Bruce could never understand Sheila’s reaction. Bruce (as far as he could see) had never done anything to hurt Sheila, so it always seemed that Sheila was behaving in a “moody” or “argumentative” way merely for the sake of it.

In this way, over the past year (as a result of Sally’s “help’) the relationship between the two fish became somewhat strained.

Bruce Softly was leisurely circling the goldfish bowl and then came to rest beside Sheila Softly.

Sheila said, almost spitting the words out, “There you are, Bruce!”

Bruce said, cautiously, “Yes... here I am, Sheila—”

“Well, where’ve you been?”

Bruce tried to glance casually out of the bowl while saying, “Oh, just swimming round the bowl, Sheila, just—”

“You didn’t tell me, Bruce; I might have wanted to come.”

Bruce sighed, “You can always come next time, Sheila.”

“But that’s not the point—you know I like to swim round the bowl.”

Bruce snapped, “You’re pathetic!”

You’re pathetic—you should have told me.”

“I’ll tell you next time, alright—!”

“Are you shouting at me, Bruce?”


“Yes you are.”

“I’m not!”

“You are!”

“I’m not! I’m not! Okay—?”

Sheila looked away and said nothing.

Bruce shouted, “Alright if I breathe, is it—?”

Sheila said nothing.

Bruce snapped, “Right! I’m going for a swim round the bowl—you coming?”

Sheila continued peering silently out of the bowl.

Bruce said, “Right... I’m going then—”


“Don’t say I didn’t—”

Sheila shouted, “Just go!”

“Right—” Bruce turned, glanced back at Sheila, looked away, glanced back at him again, then angrily swam off.

Sheila sighed, glanced up at Bruce, then looked away and sighed again. Bruce swam by above him, angrily glancing down at him. Sheila continued looking away and merely sighed yet again—but this time even more deeply.



© Copyright Fletcher Kovich 1995-2016