It started with a goldfish. Well not one goldfish but a bag of goldfish, feeder fish. Ginny had saved five whole dollars to buy her own pet, something just for her. That day in Polly’s Crackers Pet Shop Ginny learned five dollars doesn’t go very far and some pets were raised to be eaten by other pets. She went home with a bag of fish and a globe tank the owner threw in for free. Al, the pet store clerk, taught her how to care for them but also told her not to be too sad if they die because things just die on you.
As she was cleaning one of the big tropical fish tanks in her and Vin’s family room, she thought about Al’s words and her first five fish. Her bright purple net dipped in and out in delicate loops. A school of black ruby barbs flitted past her net while a lemon striped angelfish waited to rub her fingertips. Their family room, their living room, and one wall of their dining room all featured large aquariums. Someday she would own her own pet store.
Upstairs heavy bass rumbled from behind Bethany’s closed bedroom door. Vin, Jr. wouldn’t be home till late if he came home at all. Ginny continued cleaning her tanks, from freshwater to saltwater. Flashing silver, loaches wiggled their bellies for her. The side door slammed as Ginny was feeding the red cap orandas. Ginny was careful to feed only a few granules at a time so the fish wouldn’t gorge themselves or damage their fins gobbling greedily.
“So I guess there is nothing for dinner again,” Vin called out from the kitchen. The last three nights she had made dinner and eaten it alone.
“There are some nice leftovers,” Ginny called back. She listened to Vin open the milk and down it in front of the open fridge door. She waited with a tin of fish food in her hand.
“I can scramble some eggs,” Ginny said. Her voice was a little too high. She slowed her breathing. Vin didn’t like it when she got too emotional. He didn’t like Ginny angry or sarcastic or sad. He called her tears manipulation.
“Why would I expect a hot dinner after working all day?” Vin said into the refrigerator.
“Well I work the same hours as you,” Ginny said to her lion head who was pushing the other fancy goldfish around look for food. To Vin, she said, “I could go out and pick up your fav—“
“Forget it, hon, sorry to bite your head off. Just have a wicked headache. I’m taking some Tylenol and heading straight to bed.” Vin was in the doorway to the family room. Pain pinched his face and his large hand rubbed the back of his neck. Leaning against the doorway, Ginny remembered how he looked in high school. How they looked together, before babies and marriage and bills and house payments, Vin was her person, her one and only. They were Vincent + Virginia in curlicue letters surrounded by hearts and daisies. Without realizing it she stepped towards him. Vin shied away from her. Then she remembered Vin didn’t like it when she got too emotional or too close. Ginny turned back to one of her tanks, the cloudy one with the Siamese flying fox fish. Vin headed the stairs.
“If you came straight home you would feel better,” she said to the tank.
“What?” Vin called from the second floor.
“Feel better, sweetheart.”
Kissing up and down the furry glass, the emerald striped fish were doing a good job of clearing this aquarium of algae. Ginny put down the goldfish food and picked up an old tin of chemical algae cleaner labeled poison. Vin’s heavy unsteady footsteps walked overhead. She tossed the nearly empty can of Algae Destroyer into the kitchen trash. Ginny tried not to be too emotional as she tied the bag shut and set it on the back steps for Vin, Jr. to take to the driveway’s end.