Winter comes for everybody

She folds up the tissue carefully, and places it with slow deliberate motion into the napkin, folding this over on itself and then putting the whole thing into a shoe box that has been lined rocks covered with cotton wool. When this is done, she looks to her father, and he nods solemnly, before saying a few words of comfort and producing the shoe box lid. He wraps a line of electrical tape along the join of box and lid, and picks it up, crouching down onto one knee before offering it to her. She pauses, and he has to tell her that this is best for Goldie, before she will take it.
He stands, and then puts his arm around her shoulder as they walk out of the house together. They walk across the road, and into the park, the park so close that she considers it her own garden. It is a mix of neatly kept grass and large rhododendron bushes, and she knows all of it very well, having crawled, run or climbed through and over every single inch of it this summer alone. The park is on a hill, with three paths. Once central path goes to a middle, circular monument, a great slab of stone, with many words etched into it. Words she has never read. Just before the slab, the path forks, both paths heading steeply down to a gate, and both bottom gates joined by a gravel strip that scrunches when you walk on it. She likes that one better than the tarmac ones.
Father and daughter walk down through the park familiar to one of them and unknown to the other, to the reservoir at the bottom. There are three bodies of water here, the first two are split by a footbridge, and have wrought iron railings all around them. She doesn’t want Goldie in one of them. All along perfectly straight lined banks are small breaks in the reeds and weeds, patches of concrete. And on most days, men, alone, and grey sit there, hunkered down under large umbrellas, long rods cast into the water, maggots writhing in tubs, sandwiches curling in either sun or drizzle. No. She wants Goldie to go into the third reservoir. Edgeley Pond. So, head bowed, she is steered by her father’s hand on the shoulder as they leave the park by the bottom right exit, and cross another road, onto not really another park, but an open field with a path through it. Here, there are only one or two anglers. No iron railings. The grass goes to the water, and along the water’s edge are dotted the occasional weeping willow. She likes them, they seem to bow respectfully to the water. And that makes this water seem freer than the other two, not bounded and caged, endlessly examined by men in galoshes. Her father picks what seems to be the least muddy section, and stops as the grass slopes down to the water, his hand falling away from her shoulder the only indication he gives to her that this bit, this bit she needs to do on her own.
She walks to the water’s edge, never once taking her eyes off the shoebox. Not until her toes get wet, and she hears a stifled gasp from her father, who now seems to be many miles behind her, does she stop and look around at where she is. She kneels down, ignoring the lapping water that wets her, and sits for a moment, shoebox perched awkwardly on lap, as she cries. She remembers getting Goldie from the fair, Uncle Jack getting three prefect bulls eye’s with the BB gun, getting him in a clear plastic bag, and her mother and father both agreeing that Goldie wouldn’t make it home. She remembers going with her father and Uncle Jack to buy a round, open topped tank, and choosing the multicoloured pebbles for the tank, saying it was like where a rainbow lands. She remembers carefully feeding Goldie, obsessing about not giving him too little or too much, but also just enough, and the day she took him to school and told her class about how she had to change his water, and the difficulty of feeding him. She remembers telling Goldie all about her days, and being careful to include him in her play whenever she could. Her dolls house sitting open and neglected, as another round of tea with giant Rupert and Goldie was had.
And coming home today, all excited to be back at school, and up a year, and finding Goldie on his side, not moving. Then she simply pushes the shoebox away from her. It floats, briefly, as it travels out into the pond, but it sinks as it does so, and as it tips up and disappears with a gentle shloop sound, giving a last burp of air to mark its location, she stops crying, wiping her eyes on the short sleeves of her summer dress. She stands, now cold and wet, and eager to get home. She says nothing at first, silently slipping her hand into her father’s as they walk home. It’s not until they are about the cross the final road, until after they have left the parks and reservoirs behind them, that she speaks. She hasn’t really thought about it until now, and, in all truth, she is forming the thought as she says it out loud. “It’s good, isn’t it, really, that he went now, Dad. I mean, Autumn. The trees are dropping leaves, everything is brown and red, like getting ready for winter. Like Winter is death. It feels alright that he died now.”
Her father pauses and looks at her, and she looks at him, silently finishing off the thought to herself, realising as she looks up to him that her father will die. That she will die. That winter comes for everybody.
He father hugs her, horrified by her sudden maturity. he does the only thing he can think of, and hopes aloud that they can find some cartoons to watch when they get back home.

The two that got away

“But it’s raining”
“Just another hour. He comes out in the rain.”
“I’m not sitting next to a pond in the rain for an hour.”
Julia got up, struggling to walk on the mud at the water’s edge with her heavy bag. The high heels didn’t help. She sliped her way back to the park. David watched her briefly, but the sounds of splashing water quickly brought his attention back to the pond. Julia shouted something before she was out of sight, but if David did hear, he didn’t let it distract him from his vigil.
Nothing happened for two hours.
David had started to reel in, wanting to check his bait. It was still quite far out, when he saw the wake. As he was pulling it in, something was chasing. Something big. Maybe the goldfish. He stood, adrenalin rushing through his already excited slender frame. He tried to steady his shaking rod, to keep the reel at a constant pace. Keeping it slow was the problem. Could he be about to catch it? He looked around the ponds edge. There was only one other fisherman, across on the far side. He seemed to be sleeping, slumped in his fishing chair. David wanted to shout, to wave his arms. “Hey, watch this! Watch what I’m about to do!” But then the bait was bitten. A single, strong, grasp and tug. It almost pulled the rod from his hands. This thing was big. People had been saying it was eating dogs, but no-one but David had thought those stories could possibly be true. He had a fight now, whatever had the bait was large. He struggled to control his rod. He had to stop reeling in, using both hands to pull on the rod, before straining to get a hand back to the reel winder. This was going to be a fight. He pulled the rod high, and then went back to winding. The closer he brought it to shore, the more the rod bent, a dangerous and angry ‘n’ shape over the water. Then it slackened, and David saw what he was up against, as the fish broke the surface, only part of the lamb’s leg visible out of its huge mouth. The Fish was a monster. A goldfish, but not really golden anymore, it was a deep, burnt orange. Its mouth was lined with deep green and black algae that made it look as if it was smiling through crooked teeth. Only the fins were recognizably goldfish, bright orange to golden yellow. Overall, the fish was about as large as a bulldog. Oddly squat, the only shape David could liken it to would be a puffer fish, or an angry suitcase. The fish hit the water. How long had this thing been in the pond? He pulled the rod tight again, desperate to get a hand free to wind, but not having the chance. Now it was close to shore, the fish was fighting madly. And it truth, David’s resolve had wavered after seeing the monster first hand. Doubt entered his head; maybe he wasn’t good enough to land this creature. Maybe no-one was. It wasn’t a fish anymore; it was some kind of God of the pond. A force of nature. The rod eased, and David focused on reeling. Damn it, he was going to get it to shore at least. He had it. Maybe the fish had weakened. Maybe it was toying with him, but David felt a surge of hope, and reeled madly, yanking the rod high as he did. The Goldfish flopped out into the shallows, only its belly wet, flapping madly. Even out of the water, it wasn’t letting go of the meat. David tried to get his catch net with his right foot.
“No, you know, I’ve had enough of this. You come home right now, or I’m leaving you.” Julia said. David slipped, falling hard with a sloochk into the mud. He held the rod aloft, his right foot kicked the catch net into the water. The fish flopped and jumped, swallowing the lamb’s leg. Now just the line came from its mouth. It was going to win.
“Little busy! Help me”
“No. We’ll be over. Do you understand? It’s just a fish, David. It’s…” she paused, looking at the scene before her. David thought she would see the monster, the huge, unusual giant goldfish, and understand, all that he had been talking about for moths, all of his hopes, they had come down to this, and now she would see, his struggle, his sacrifice, all worth it. But unlike in the fairy tales, his princess would be by his side, no mere damsel, she would help him to slay the beast. Then he would commit, they could marry, settle down, and he could tell his children – his grandchildren – the tale of how he caught the killer goldfish of Edgeley pond, before showing them the beast itself, mounted on a fine oak board above a roaring fireplace in the front room.
“No. damn it, is this ugly thing more important than me?” She ran towards it, and kicked it hard on the nose. She pulled her foot back to kick it again. David shouted, the goldfish jumped, the line in its mouth snapped, and Julia kicked out again. But she slipped as she did, and her heel swiped across the fish, cutting up from below its eye to the top of its head. Her shoe came off and spiraled through the air as blood gushed from the wound, and the eye rolled up, punctured and useless. But then the fish landed, jumped once, ate the shoe that had injured it, Jumped again, and was gone back to the deep water. “Nooo!” David yelled, still on his back. Julia struggled up, and kicked David with her now bare foot. “Those were Jimmy Choos, you IDIOT! We’re through. I’m sick of stuff like this, I’m sick of you!” She stomped off, as best she could with one shoe through water sodden soil. David lay there, in the cold mud, both of his dreams dead; the only though he had in his head was sadness at his failure to catch the fish, and a vague puzzlement over why Julia had been wearing a pair of shoes that belonged to some Jimmy guy.

The Killer Goldfish of Edgeley Pond.

It was dark around the edge of the water. Elsewhere, it was dusk, but the weeping willows, close to the edge of the water, turned the pleasant air of the evening from something warm and inviting into something cold and fearful. The way they drooped down, willing supplicants, timid worshipers of the water. There was no wind, so the water was still, large and grey, shimmering with a diffuse misery, sucking the last of the days heat selfishly.
The dog was a Yorkshire terrier. Big for his breed, and cocky, his easy and well cared for life giving him confidence that was misplaced. Tim, he had been called, but being a dog, he simply associated the name with either treats, or hugs. Or a scolding from the man. The man, Tim knew, was very different from the woman. She was kind and caring, a summers day at the park. The man was… More like the park at dusk, on the edge of the water. But the man, who only ever brought Tim to the park after an exchange of shouting, would do something the woman would never do, something Tim lived his days for, often excitedly shaking in his basket at the smallest recollection of it. On arriving in the middle of the park, that large green grass square only contained by roads, with a single path cut through the middle, the man would roughly shake Tim’s lead free from his collar, give him a swift kick, grumbling ‘g’on y’little sod. G’on an get lost’ before lighting a cigarette.
Tim had come to learn two things; one, the man meant every word as he kicked him, and two, by the time he had finished his second cigarette, he would be different. Panicky, frantic, even, if Tim was not back on the lead. Tim didn’t care. For two brief, burning sticks, he was free to go and do as he pleased. So long as he didn’t go too far. But again, Tim’s pampered life meant he didn’t really have a concept of too far. Freedom to Tim was being off the lead, but always being able to see the man. For too brief a Time, he was free of the leash, free to go wherever the sights, sounds and smells pulled him. Tonight, for the last time in his life, they pulled him to the water’s edge.
It was a strong odour, lush and earthy. Unmistakably female. It led Tim a swaying path, from weeping willow to weeping willow, before stopping abruptly at the water’s edge. He had enthusiastically dived between the branches of the willow, to the trunk, where it was darker, gloomier. After examining the spray on the trunk of the willow, Tim glanced out between the branches, and felt a pang of sorrow as he saw the man throw the first cigarette to the ground, snub it with his foot, and quickly pull out and light another. Tim shivered, cold here, under the skirt of the tree, and apprehensive at the thought of having the lead back on. But he still had time. He reacquainted himself with the scent, and followed it out into the open, down to the water’s edge. The ground sloped down, the short, kept grass ending abruptly into dark water. He couldn’t see the man from here, but his eagerness to saviour a last minute of freedom, and his confusion at where the scent had gone meant he didn’t notice. He backtracked briefly, found her smell, and followed it, diligently, slowly. Accurately, it took him to exactly the same spot. Right on the water’s edge. Had Tim any sense of occasion, he would have squeaked out a short confused bark, and tilted his head to one side, allowing an ear to flop comically down to signify his puzzlement. But he didn’t, so simply stared into the black water, wondering where she had gone. The water was still, a glistening, metallic blob. She hadn’t gone swimming, then, Tim decided. Then, a ripple. Straight in front of him. He lowered his head for a better look, but could see nothing. The water hid whatever had moved. Maybe it was her, Tim reasoned, and moved closer to the edge, eager to greet her.
A jet of water hit him hard, knocking him over on his side. It drenched him, the water was cold and smelt of pond scum and her. Tim got up, and was shaking himself dry, more confused than ever, how could the water smell of her? When the fish jumped out of the water, flopping down hard enough to knock Tim onto his side again. It was a goldfish. But a huge goldfish. Easily four or five times the size of Tim. No longer bright orange, it was a muddy, bloody terracotta colour, And one eye was white and useless, a jagged scar above and below it. The killer goldfish’s remaining, working eye moved around erratically, scanning for food; for Tim. It found him, and the giant fish convulsed, leaping again into the air, catching the back legs of Tim in its gaping maw as it landed, then jumping back toward the water, using the momentum to propel a yelping, squealing Tim further into its mouth while it was in the air. As the fishes tail felt the water, Tim was more than half swallowed, and with one final jump the fish had swallowed Tim whole before landing back into the lake with a deep splash.
The man, who had finished his cigarette and started to look for Tim, had seen the fish jump, but it wasn’t until he had come closer to this oddness that he had seen the killer goldfish of Edgeley pond take Tim to a watery grave.
“well” said the man as the water settled. “She’s never going to believe me.”