by Monika Cooper
A soft wind in the willow branches, minnowing the water of the pond. A huge moon of orange gold. In the black water, minnowed with golden light, ribboned with orange moonlight, the goldfish are playing. Playing under the water the way the moonlight plays on its surface.
The goldfish talk to babies. They flirt their tails and bat their eyes and talk to babies, whom they don’t like. They say things to babies to get them in trouble and then they flirt, they shrug themselves away and become silent again, low lying orange streaks under the water.
In this great house of patios and porches and tiled roofs, there is a golden cradle where the windows stand open and the moon pours in. In upon the lucky little prince who gets more moonlight than any other child in the kingdom. The little prince speaks to the goldfish. They are pretty. He would like to catch one and even to eat one. He likes the goldfish, loves them. He only wants to eat them the way he wants to eat all shiny things he loves. He reaches out his hand to touch the goldfish, his fat little hand patting the water. And oh how insolently, how sleekly they dart away from him, how mockingly. They do not like babies, the goldfish. Sleek, they let the water preen their insolent faces, leaving the big baby to cry on the shore for vexation.
They tricked the baby. Yes, they tricked him. It was their fault he fell into the pond tonight. So tonight all the little goldfishes lie low, flattening their ears in the current, hanging there like willow leaves hanging on the breeze. And there are lights on, burning in the great windows of the palace. There is no sound. Even the mother is breathless.
The baby is not alive. The baby is swimming, he thinks, swimming. The baby tried to get the moon. The goldfish told him to. The goldfish told him that there was the moon in the water, go get it. And they flirted their tails and away. Now the baby thinks he is still swimming and the mother and the father and the doctors in the great gold room think he is there with them. And the goldfish lie low and guilty in the water.
But the baby begins to cough. And one by one the goldfish come to the surface, eyes and mouths questioning. The baby begins to cough and water pours from his mouth and nose. He looks so confused coughing and then he begins to cry. They have made him alive again.
Relieved, the goldfish turn malicious. They flirt and flirt their happy little backbones. The soft wind flows in the willow trees. Round, orange, the solemn moon.