Your pet fish is growing wings.
You won it at the carnival and brought it home, triumphantly, in a dripping plastic bag. Your mother found a bowl in the cupboard that was deep enough to put your fish in. She allowed you to take the bowl and the fish into your father’s room, where he was dying.
Your father said, Nice fish. You said, I won it. Your father said, Good for you, and closed his eyes.
The fish swirled round and round in the bowl. You named it Hubert. You taught it to do tricks. Jump, you’d say. Jump, Hubert. It would nip a piece of bacon out of your fingers. Your mother didn’t like you giving bacon to your fish. You had to sneak. She kept talking about getting a real aquarium, with plastic plants and a little treasure chest and more fish friends for the both of you, but she never did. Your fish lived in the bowl and went round and round.
You would put your hand into the bowl and gently enclose your fish in your fingers, and it seemed like your fish loved you.
And in the other room, there was your father, dying.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon when you first see your fish has sprouted feathers. It looks like a mistake at first, or an accident. Your fish drags through the water pathetically.
You tell your mother and she says, That’s nice, honey, and goes back to cooking soup on the stove. Your mother is always cooking soup on the stove. She brings bowl after bowl to your father, spooning the broth to his lips. He doesn’t swallow, and the soup spills down his chin. Your mother cleans him with a damp washcloth. Your father’s lips open and close.
Your mother is always cooking soup on the stove.
You bring your fish and its bowl to your father’s room.
Look, you say.
He thinks you’ve brought him a bowl of soup. His mouth opens and closes.
At school, you ask your teacher if there’s any kind of fish that grows feathers. He says he’s never heard of it happening, but anything’s possible, which is what the doctor says when your mother asks if your father will ever recover.
When you get home from school, your mother is cooking soup on the stove.
For your father, she says.
I know, you say, and you take your fish and its bowl out to the back step.
Come on, you say. Come on, Hubert.
At first your fish does nothing and you think maybe anything’s not possible.
At first your fish does nothing and you think maybe anything’s not possible. How could it be? But very slowly your fish begins to rise out of its bowl. It stretches its wings and shakes the water from them, and then your fish joins the other feathered things in the sky, looping higher and higher until it is gone.
Goodbye, you say. Goodbye, Hubert, alone on the back step, holding the empty bowl.
Cathy Ulrich once got a fish in a bag for qualifying for the state swim team. She never liked that fish. Her work has recently been published in Pidgeonholes, The Literary Yard, and The Citron Review.
Illustration by Maya Beck.