In the beginning, there was the goldfish.

Her habitat: a rectangular prism of the toughest plastic, ten gallons of tepid tap water.

Her furniture: glittering blue stones once scattered from a packet.

Her sole companion: a plastic frog with a plastic rod on a plastic lily pad beside a plastic sign which read, ironically, gone fishing.

In the beginning, there was the goldfish.

And the beginning was the late 1980s, and her position in our habitat was its epicentre: the kitchen – site of every great speech, bottleneck for every strong emotion. On the countertop in-between the toaster and the sink, above the old twin-tub, beneath the clock.

And there the goldfish spent many hours immobile, suspended, as if in a state of reverie, as if visualising the silk and agate and amber and earthenware of the Tang dynasty – when her carp ancestors were first bred especially for the mutation of their goldenness, plucked from water gardens and placed in glass bowls in palaces for emperors to admire. And the goldfish was beautiful and replete with equanimity; sometimes it took her days to extrude a single poo.

In the beginning, there was the goldfish.

And her tank changed, once every several years – and her water changed, once every several weeks, after she had lost sight of the scenery due to the accretion of slime and somebody had finally thought to fill the gallon drum and leave it sitting in the kitchen for long enough to reach tepidity. And then the scenery changed; an electric kettle arrived, a grill, a modern washing machine.

New faces came and went; constant faces aged.

In the beginning, there was the goldfish.

And there on the countertop now, beneath the clock? A mug tree, and a socket from which we are inclined to charge our mobile phones. And the goldfish is everlastingly earth-bound – her glass-like bones sunk beneath a layer of flowerbed and marked by her old, blue stones, which now glitter only barely.

The goldfish survived for almost twenty years, but there isn’t a single photograph, and I cannot pinpoint the day she died any better than I can the day she arrived; the only event of her whole life I can clearly remember is the afternoon on which the filtration system was installed.

I remember: how the tap water swelled with tiny balls of air, and the goldfish relinquished her reverie and entered the moment; how her fins shimmied with bliss; how her gilded scales glinted brighter than silk and agate and amber; how her extruded poo sprung up and danced.

Photograph © Sara Baume

American Journal