Swimmy//Teresa Milbrodt


In the morning my goldfish is dead.  Again.  I stick my finger in the water, brush his fin.  Swimmy’s tail flutters to life.  I got him at a summer carnival.  He dies every week.  I didn’t invest in a huge aquarium, just a little bowl, so he goes round and round all day.  I think he dies to spite me, protest his cramped existence.  I drag him back from paradise–the big sky aquarium with plastic plants and ceramic castles–but I can’t send Swimmy down the toilet.  He’s frowning when I leave, plotting another suicide.

 

I’ve worked at the pet store for three years, an easy commute, four blocks away so I get there on foot.  I walk everywhere in case something needs help.  Today I revive a swallowtail butterfly.  My sister says it’s dumb–insects are supposed to die.  She lectures me on cycles, migrations, the horror of swallowtail butterflies overrunning the planet in a cloud of yellow and black.  Whatever. 

 

At the store, three gerbils kicked the bucket.  I revive them for the third time this month–some weird virus is going around the cage—but I keep myself humble, can’t do much if the lop-eared rabbits stiffen.  I was powerless when my neighbors’ six-month-old Dalmatian ran into the street last month and– 

 

I was too hopeful.  Made promises.  My neighbors shoot mean glances when I walk past their house.  It’s dangerous to overestimate myself when people are crying.  The talent only works on things smaller than a softball. 

 

Some crying kid brings a blue-tailed skink stiff as a popsicle stick.  I take it into the back room, call over my shoulder I’ll get him another lizard.  The skink squirms to life in my fingers, and the kid smiles, bouncing out of the store.  Hope he doesn’t squeeze it too tight…

 

My boss says I save the shop money.  He makes me revive rats before we feed them to Agnes the python.  It’s mean, but my boss says Agnes wants live food.  Most of our rats aren’t.  I can’t bring Agnes back, too big, so I keep her around this way instead.  A good and humane thing, says my boss.  I don’t argue loudly.  He signs my paycheck.  I like Agnes a lot.  When I stroke the rats’ backs and feel their limbs shudder, I repeat that Agnes is following instinct.

 

The afternoon slows.  I bring back bees, deluded souls that bashed themselves to death against the window, died on the sill.  Their wings hum hesitantly.  I crack the glass an inch, tell them to fly back to their hives, be careful.  News reports say some parasite has been killing honeybees.  I must save them, one bee at a time.

 

I need a greater mission, apply for jobs at zoos, but secretaries say yeah, someone will get back to me.  I could save endangered small things–birds and shrews and ground squirrels—but who cares unless you can resurrect an elephant.  Imagine the morning talk shows, movie scripts, endless book deals… 

 

Walking home I revive two swallowtail butterflies, believe they flutter their thanks on the breeze.  Swimmy floats dead in his bedroom bowl.  He can wait until morning.

Teresa Milbrodt has authored two short story collections, Bearded Women: Stories, and Work Opportunities: Stories, a novel, The Patron Saint of Unattractive People, and a flash fiction collection, Larissa Takes Flight: Stories. She believes in coffee, long walks with her MP3 player, face-to-face conversation, and writing the occasional haiku