Stories from the broom closet #2

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I didn’t think I’d post more of these so soon, but my last article Adventures in Housekeeping: Stories from the Broom Closet, which included five anecdotes from my day job, was both popular with my readers and fun for me to write. So here are six more stories. I was joking when I said I could write a book of these, but I might do just that!

1. We Three.

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One of my favorite things about cleaning houses is the pets. There’s a house that belongs to an alcoholic dermatologist, whose retired husband spends his days tending after his three huge Golden Retrievers. Max is the lively one, no longer a puppy, but he thinks he is. Standing on his hind legs, he’s as tall as a tall man. You have to be careful coming up the basement stairs to let yourself in, because there’s no handrail and the dogs are never put out of the way. More than once, Max, in his rambunctious joy over seeing me, has almost knocked me down the stairs while lugging all my equipment. The solution to this problem is to go upstairs first, round up the dogs in the kitchen, and then go back downstairs to fetch my equipment.

Max lives with Dottie, a scaredy-dog if I ever saw one. She’s beautiful but very shy and hesitant, so I think she might have been abused when she was younger. Lex, the third Retriever, is older than Max and slightly less rambunctious, but not by a whole lot.

Max is the dominant personality of the trio. Before I learned it was best to keep the dogs in the kitchen while cleaning, he would try to eat my equipment. One day I went with a partner, and she was in hysterics as he jumped about six feet in the air and tried to grab the vacuum tubes with his huge lion-like paws and pull the whole contraption toward his huge jaws.

The alcoholic doctor, who’s usually sleeping off a binge on the couch in the afternoons, doesn’t seem to care much for the dogs. They are her husband’s babies, and she just tolerates them. One day she complained to me that she can’t ever have anything nice in the house or ever go away anywhere because of “those damned dogs.”

On another day, poor Dottie was in in the way while my partner was vacuuming, and her feathery golden tail got caught in the hose. The poor terrified dog yelped and whimpered. My partner, feeling terrible, began to apologize to the woman, but the doctor was already doubled over with laughter. She held her sides and could hardly speak. After she pulled herself together, she said next time she’d have her camera ready because that was so funny it belonged on Youtube. Dottie, tail now free and unharmed, slunk away and we didn’t see her again that day.

2. The Clotheshorse.

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A wealthy (“old money”) older woman lives in an 18th century plantation-style house that has four stories and a pull-chain toilet in the basement (out in the open, unenclosed by anything). The grounds are vast and immaculate, the ceilings and woodwork are ornate, and the house is brimming with valuable antiques. She’s one of my most annoying customers, for these reasons:

1. She is a slob and her master bathroom vanity always has mystery fluids and toothpaste caked all over it. She never picks up her clothes or shoes off the bedroom floor and there’s always about 100 used tissues under the bed. (She suffer from allergies, but I guess she’s never heard of a trash can).
2. She’s obsessed with moving furniture, and every time I go to her house there’s always some piece of old furniture in an inconvenient place, like blocking a doorway.
3. She keeps her microwave inside a cabinet high above the refrigerator. I understand she doesn’t want the “ugly microwave” on display in her Old Worlde style kitchen with its exposed brick walls, fireplace, and hardwood floor, but being that she’s about 5 feet tall, and the microwave gets a lot of use (it’s always coated in bacon grease and crusted on boiled milk), it makes no sense to keep it in such an inconvenient place. I wondered about this until the day I saw her pull a large stepladder out of the pantry to fetch a plate of bacon from the microwave.
4. She’s a world class snob who treats someone like me as “the hired help,” not that I expect or want my customers to talk nonstop either (and some do that too) or treat me like I’m royalty or something. Just being treated like a human would be nice.

She has a huge walk in closet that used to be a second bedroom adjoining the master. French doors with yellow-gray, antique glass open out onto a large deck that contains a hot tub and a gazillion potted plants. In this “closet” are racks upon racks of expensive designer dresses, gowns, pants, blouses, and other garments. One entire wall has shelves built into it that contain about 300 pairs of designer shoes.

One day last spring as I pulled up in the circular driveway, I saw that the French doors upstairs were left open, and all the racks of her clothes were out there on the deck, the garments blowing in the breeze. Obviously she was airing them out, but she wasn’t home. I soon got busy with other things, like scraping the dried toothpaste off her bathroom vanity and trying not to break her collection of miniature antique teapots.

After a while, the wind picked up and the sky began to darken. Thunder rumbled in the distance. I remembered the racks of clothes outside, and I had an evil thought. For a moment I was tempted to leave them there outside to get rained on. The visual of this unpleasant woman’s thousands of dollars worth of designer gowns and dresses getting soaked in a rainstorm filled me with a kind of mean, psychopathic glee. But my conscience won, so I ran upstairs to roll the racks back inside the huge closet and leave the woman a note. I never got a thank you.

3. Trustafarian Animal House.

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I really can’t stand people who have everything and don’t appreciate it. There’s a woman of indeterminate age who inherited a huge rambling two level house in one of the most affluent areas in town. The house, which could be stunning, is a disaster. It’s completely trashed by her and her redneck lover, which they share with her five dogs, four cats, two grossly overweight brindle rabbits (who have the whole sunporch to themselves), and a giant turtle who lives in the dining room and whose smelly quarters are never cleaned. The front yard, which was once nicely landscaped, is overgrown with weeds and the winding stone walkway to the front door is a crumbling ruin.

This owner is whiny, loud, lazy, and childish, with a grating voice, but she’s less annoying if I compare her to a cartoon character because when thought of as this way  instead of a real person, she really can be kind of funny.

She obviously came from wealth and I’m not sure what happened, because she works as a store clerk at the mall.  Maybe even with that monster of a house, she’s strapped for cash. Her lover works in landscaping, but I don’t think either of them works much because they are always at home and they are always high. Sometimes they have friends over getting stoned with them. They also drink a lot. There are always empty cans and boxes of Bud Light or Pabst Blue Ribbon scattered everywhere.

The many animals come and go as they please. The dogs are allowed to run all over the upper middle class neighborhood unsupervised and none of the cats are fixed and the house always reeks of male cat urine. The dogs and cats are friendly, but they walk all over the floor you just mopped and then she whines about the paw prints that were missed.

I remember the first time I went there to clean, she told me to “watch out for dead animals” when I vacuumed under the couch. It turned out she was referring to the possibility of finding dead mice and birds brought in by the cats. I didn’t see any, but wondered if she’d actually live in that house with a dead mouse or bird under the couch until I came to clean again. Probably, given the usual state of the house and the fact she’s such a lazy person who doesn’t appear to ever clean anything herself.

The last time I went to her house, she was sitting at the kitchen table building a Lego tower. I noticed other Lego structures sitting on the fireplace mantel. A huge stuffed Snoopy sat on the living room couch. She said her mother gave her the Snoopy for Christmas. I think this lady is eternally 10. Not that an adult playing with toys is a bad thing, but she’s 10 in almost every other way too, like something bad happened to her at that age and she got stuck there. You gotta feel kind of bad for someone like that.

4. The Jilted Lover.

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One of my customers is a writer of novels who is probably in his early sixties. He’s a very friendly and pleasant man, who always tips and offers coffee. The first time I went to his house, he introduced me to his fiancee, a gorgeous and very thin woman about half his age. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man his age so much in love. He’d regularly bring her flowers and candy, and the two of them would hold each other and kiss and stare into each other’s eyes like smitten teenagers.

One day he answered the door and I could see he’d been crying. Either that or he had a very bad cold. He smiled at me sadly and I asked if he was alright. He said no, he wasn’t, because his fiancee had left him. I was shocked. Choking on tears, he said he was going to go in his office and try to write for awhile. I watched him close the glass doors behind him, and dejectedly trudge over to his desk.

Later I was vacuuming the area in front of the office, and looked up and saw the old man holding his head in his hands. He certainly wasn’t writing anything. I didn’t know what to do. He looked up and his face was wet with tears. Embarrassed, I looked away quickly. I felt terrible for him but I knew it was best not to say anything. When I was finished with my work, I let myself out quietly and drove home.

They are back together now, and going ahead with their wedding plans. They both made me listen to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. They held hands and said that’s going to be played at their wedding. It’s as if nothing ever happened. I hope things last this time.

5. Mandarin Oranges.

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There’s a divorced mother who lived in a big house with her two teenage sons. The older son, about 16, lived in the attic. Besides his bedroom, he had his own bathroom and sitting room with a big screen TV. There were blankets out on the roof, so I think he slept out there sometimes.

You never knew what to expect when you went up to his room. He liked to leave “surprises.” He collected expensive basketball shoes, and they were usually out of their boxes and strewn all over the floor, along with all his clothes, which never saw a hanger. One time there were plates with dried up food that must have been there for a long time, because flies and maggots had found a home in the dregs. Another time there were porn magazines under the sheets and a jar of Vaseline (I tried to pretend I didn’t see this). More than once the toilet was clogged but he hardly ever flushed it anyway.

The biggest surprise was the day I opened the toilet lid to find it filled with mandarin orange slices. There must have been 20 or 30 of them in there. For what reason would anyone put mandarin oranges in a toilet? Of course it was clogged. I knew I had to tell his mother, who had just come home. She was pissed. “That’s it,” she snarled. “I don’t ever want you to clean his room again. He’s spoiled rotten, because of his father. That boy needs to learn to clean his own damn room and if his toilet won’t flush because he did something stupid like throw expensive fruit in it, then he needs to fix it himself.”

At least she’s not like this other woman who won’t allow her teenagers to clean their own rooms because “they weren’t raised to have to do that sort of thing.”

 

6.  The Best Reunion Ever.  

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This isn’t really a housekeeping story, but it still belongs here.  Several years ago, I was visiting a friend in New Jersey, who worked as a pet-sitter, and I accompanied her on a few of her jobs.

We had to go feed and check up on a cat and dog whose owners had been away for two weeks.  They were due back any time.   The dog, Eddie, had a tennis ball that was almost destroyed, but Eddie wouldn’t accept any other tennis ball except that one.  Not only that, he refused to eat his food until you sank the tennis ball in his food bowl, and then he’d happily eat around the ball, and finally pick up the ball and finish the food under it.  It reminded me of the way a kid eats an Oreo.  After Eddie and the cat,  Missy, were fed, we took turns throwing the ball to Eddie for him to fetch.

It was at that moment the owners pulled in the driveway.  Eddie and Missy both ran excitedly to the door, and both started pawing at it.  Eddie barked and whimpered and ran around in circles and danced in front of the door.

The owners came in and their pets ran to them like children on Christmas morning.   Eddie barked and jumped up and down, and Missy rolled ecstatically on the floor, chirping and coming as close to smiling as I’ve ever seen a cat do.

The owners looked just as thrilled to see them.    In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reunion quite like that.  The innocent joy and love for their humans those two animals displayed really touched my heart.

 

Stories from the broom closet: adventures in housekeeping.

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I don’t write a whole lot about my job working as a part time housecleaner because of the stigma attached to a job like this. As a college educated person with a very high IQ, who used to make a living as an editor/columnist for a long-defunct medical journal and moonlight writer of book reviews for publications like Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, sometimes it’s hard to reconcile just how low I’ve fallen on the social status ladder. I’ll spare you the details of how that came to be, because it’s not very interesting and has a lot to do with self-sabotage and being trained to be a victim by my abusers (and has a lot to do with the economy and the geographic region I live in as well). I’ve written about all that before anyway.  This isn’t about that.

This isn’t supposed to be a depressing post though. Framed the right way, I actually have a very interesting and even fun job, albeit one that doesn’t pay much and fluctuates depending on time of year.

12 Reasons Why Cleaning Houses for a Living May Be Underrated. 

1. It sure beats sitting in a call center all day getting screamed at for things totally outside your control and where you are required to put up with and “handle” the abuse thrown at you. (I did that too and had enough after 4 years of it)

2. You’re constantly busy, and the scenery is ever-changing, so you never get bored. No interminably long afternoons spent watching a never-moving clock.

3. You’re constantly moving and it’s a great way to keep in shape. I was able to cancel my gym membership.

4. Sometimes you get tips, especially around the holidays. Some of the tips can be good.

5. You sometimes get really nice stuff other people want to get rid of: I’ve taken home small furniture, a crystal vase, books, an antique mirror, original paintings, clothing, leather bags, and shoes, various homemade baked goodies, and a homemade quilt (which got eaten by my dog, well I hope he enjoyed it).

6. I work alone most of the time, and as a socially awkward, introverted person who never could decipher office politics and the kiss-up games most offices require you to play to move ahead, this works well for me.

7. Once you start having your own clients who request you only, you begin to establish a kind of relationship with them. They look forward to seeing you and it feels good that your giving them a clean house (and sometimes providing them with company) makes them happy.

8. I’m not required to work evenings or weekends, and sometimes I’m off as early as 1 or 2 o’clock. Sure you don’t make as much on slow days like that, but it’s nice to be home early, as long as it doesn’t happen too often.

9. Although the novelty of this has worn off, it can be interesting seeing the types of homes people have and the way they have decorated them. Some of the houses are impressive indeed!

10. The work is mentally easy and I can let my mind wander while working. It is physically hard work though, and sometimes at the end of the day, I’m very sore! A hot bath with epsom salts usually helps though.

11. The pets are awesome, and are the best part of the job (even though they shed and make messes). I could write other stories just about the different pets I meet. Maybe I’ll do that sometime.

12.  It’s also a great job for an aspiring writer because you meet so many different kinds of people (they’re not all snobby rich people living in gated communities, though we have those too). You have a front row seat to a lot of family drama and eccentric types and other things sometimes that make you go hmmmm or WTF!   It’s a great opportunity to study and observe human nature and that hones your skills as a writer.  You also learn a lot about people.

Some of the things I hear and see make pretty good stories, so here are  five of them.

The humorist and memoir writer David Sedaris used to work as a housecleaner in New York City, and used some of the things he experienced during that stint as fodder for his uproariously funny essays.

1. The Lonely Lady and the Surprise Birthday Lunch.

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A well to do older lady living alone, whose husband died last year, seems to want company more than having her house cleaned. Although she talks way too much for my taste, she’s a sweet lady and last year threw me a surprise birthday party just for the two of us! She said she needed an extra hour and I thought, oh no, she’s going to want me to clean out her refrigerator or organize her closet or something (trust me, you do NOT want to see this woman’s closet–she’s almost a hoarder and never throws away anything).

When I arrived she asked me at one point to stop what I was doing and come into the sunroom. It was a beautiful warm sunny day and the table was set beautifully, with flowers and greens everywhere. She had prepared delicious chicken salad with vinaigrette and fresh tomatoes and basil, another tossed salad, sweet ice tea, and an amazing lemon cake with lemon buttercream from an expensive bakery (with NO cream cheese icing, thank God!) To top it off, she presented me with $50 in cash! That was a good day. And even better, she didn’t ask how old I was. I really think the woman is just lonely and felt like having company and I got the honor.

2. Schizo Santa Claus and the Cup of Hair.

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It’s not coffee in that mug, but the words say it all.

There’s another guy, a Vietnam veteran who looks like Santa Claus who probably suffers severe PTSD or even schizophrenia. The man is very strange and his house is a disaster and it stinks too. He always wants to go back to sleep after you clean his bedroom. He collects beautiful, antique chessboards and has them all over his house. He seems to be somewhat of a hoarder too and it’s hard to move around in the tight, cluttered rooms.

The man sheds; his wiry gray hair is all over everything. The first time I went there I thought he must have a pet, maybe a wirehaired terrier, but no, the hair belongs to him.

He keeps a mug of his sheddings on the bathroom vanity. You cannot touch it, you are not allowed to throw it away. The first time I went there I didn’t know so I threw it away and he started to panic. I had to dig through the trash to find the hair and with a pair of plastic gloves, retrieved it to its rightful place in the mug on the bathroom sink. I have no idea why he needs this, and I don’t want to know either. Maybe he’s knitting himself a wig or a sweater. Who knows.

3. Contact High and the Stoner House.

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The other day I went to clean a one-time house (not a regular client). The door was answered by a guy in his early 20s or maybe late teens, who was obviously stoned. He told me his mother was up in Maine having chemotherapy treatments but would be returning the next day. He showed me around the house and told me not to worry about cleaning his room, he would do it himself.

Two of his stoner buddies were there with him, and they all sat in the living room smoking out a bong and watching some anime movie.
Soon he came upstairs and told me he had spoken to his mother on the phone and she told him I had to clean his room after all (I know he had not been on the phone; obviously he decided he didn’t feel like cleaning it).

His room reeked of pot smoke and there were bongs and pipes on almost every surface and little piles of weed.   I got a contact high just from being in there.  Later I overheard a telephone conversation where his mother told him his two friends had to be gone when she arrived home the next day. I guess that was the last time he could party!

I got a $25 tip from him when I was leaving. He said the house looked great. I hope his mom agrees.

4. The Elderly Couple Who Refused to Move Downstairs.

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At another one-time job, the middle aged son from New Jersey had come to try to talk his elderly parents, one who was wheelchair bound, the other with advanced Alzheimers, into moving into a downstairs bedroom. He wanted to close off the stairs because of the danger of falling, but the father, the ambulatory one with Alzheimer’s, wouldn’t have it. The old man walked around in nothing but a diaper, and his bowed legs looked like toothpicks but he scampered up and down the stairs like a first grader jacked up on Red Bull.  He kept insisting he didn’t mind carrying his wife  (who weighed at least twice what he did!) up the stairs. Yikes!  This feisty codger had to be watched closely!

The son told us that since he was unable to move in with them (because his job and family were back in New Jersey) and they had bought and paid off the house and refused to move or go into a nursing home, that he would have to hire a full-time nurse and cook to take care of them both in their house. His concern and love for his disabled and elderly parents was touching and so was the old couple’s abiding love for each other. They were actually the kind of old people you’d call cute. In fact, I’d call them them freaking adorable.

5. The Malignant Sociopathic Bible Thumping Narcissistic Bitch from Hell.

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There was one customer that couldn’t keep a regular cleaner, because of what a horrible and mean person she was. In the short time I cleaned her house, I didn’t see one redeeming quality. First of all, the lady was a control freak. She was told on a number of occasions to have the sheets ready when we got there, but she wasn’t having any of that. She’d deliberately wait until we were about to leave before taking he sheets out of the dryer. When called out on this once, she demanded to have the name of the person in the office who said that, even though she had been told again and again to have the sheets ready. Basically she was calling us liars.

She’d keep you in her house as long she could (knowing full well we had other assignments that day),  standing over you watching everything you did and making you do things over and over even when there was no need. Her washer and dryer happened to be in the master bathroom so she’d wait until you had just mopped the floor in there before retrieving the sheets for the beds, leaving her shoe marks all over the mopped floor so you’d have to mop it again. She’d also push into you on purpose on her way to the dryer, and then in a sarcasatic-sweet voice, coo “I am SO sorry!”

One time someone else cleaned her house because I was sick that day.  She said this woman waited until the moment she came in to clean the kitchen and suddenly decided she just had to start rearranging her kitchen cabinets at that moment!

I finally had enough of this nasty character the day she blamed me for her vicious dog growling at me. She had a golden retriever, and usually they are very sweet dogs, but this one was anything but. I was coming up the front porch stairs and the dog was there, not tethered to anything, growling and baring its teeth at me. The woman came out and stared at me with black malevolent reptilian eyes.
“What did you do to my Ginger? She NEVER growls at anyone! You must have done something to upset her.”
That was the last straw. I told the office I would no longer clean this woman’s house. Shortly after that, she canceled service.

Did I forget to mention the woman’s house was filled with Bibles and plaques of Christian sayings and Bible verses and ceramic angels? Oh, and her husband called her “Mom” and seemed terrified of her. Also her grown children never visited. I wonder why!

If you like these stories, there are others. I can post them in a later article, if there’s enough interest.

My supervisor is going to laugh so hard.

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My supervisor should have a huge laugh waiting for her in the morning.

I was so tired when I got home from work I crashed on my bed and fell asleep until I woke up and looked at the clock and saw it was 7:52.

In my half-somnambulent fog, I looked out the window and saw it was light out but not too light, and automatically assumed it was 7:52 in the morning. I panicked because I have to be at work at 8 AM.

So what did this idiot do? This idiot called work and left a message that said I would be running late.

It wasn’t until I got off the phone I remembered I still had all my clothes on and never had dinner. Slowly, it dawned on this idiot it was evening, not morning, and I didn’t have to be anywhere!

I called work back and left another message admitting my mistake. I know my supervisor will have a good laugh when she gets my messages, which is probably good because she’s always such a grumpy b*tch in the morning.
She should give me the day off for that. 😀

“Ned’s Short Life” by Sam Vaknin

Can a narcissist feel empathy for a tiny creature like a goldfish? Maybe. I like this story, even though it’s sad.

Ned’s Short Life
by Sam Vaknin

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Lidija returned home all dusty and breathless, as was her habit ever since we have bought the apartment and she embarked on its thorough renovation, long months ago. Between two delicate but strong fingers she held aloft a transparent plastic bag, the kind she used to wrap around half-consumed comestibles in the refrigerator. Instinctively, I extended an inquisitive hand, but she recoiled and said: “Don’t! There’s a fish in there!” and this is how I saw Ned for the first time.

“He is a male,”—Lidija told me—”and Fred is a female”. In the crowded and smelly pet shop the salesgirl elaborated on the anatomic differences between the sexes. So, now Fred had a mate.

“Fred” is Fredericka, our first attempt at a goldfish. One of the handymen gave her to Lidija “to keep your husband company while you are away”, he explained mischievously. Fred grew up in a bowl and then graduated into a small and rather plain aquarium. I placed a clay elephant and a plastic, one-legged ballerina in it, but this unlikely couple did little to liven it up. Fred’s abode stood on the kitchen counter, next to a pile of yellow bananas, flame-orange mandarins, and assorted shrink-wrapped snacks. She swam melancholily to and fro, forlorn and lonely, toying with her own reflection.

A fortnight later, Lidija and I purchased a bigger tank. I filled it with tap water and dumped Fred in it. Shocked and distressed, she hid under a shell and refused to emerge, no matter the temptation. Hence Ned.

I knew next to nothing about new fish tanks, the need to “cycle” them owing to the absence of nitrogen-devouring bacteria, and the stress that all these cause the unfortunate inhabitants of my aquarium. I dumped Ned in the crystal-clear waters as unceremoniously as I did his would-be mate. But Ned—having graduated far worse aquaria in dingy pet shops—swam a few triumphant laps around the receptacle and then settled down to the business of chasing food scraps. Fred eyed him shyly and then joined him hesitantly. It was the first time she had moved in days.

As the time passed, Fred, a codependent goldfish if I ever saw one, excitedly clung to Ned’s bright orange tail and followed him wherever he glided. But Ned did not reciprocate. Far more aggressive than Fred, he deprived her of food, pursuing her in circles and leveraging his longer body and broader amidship to tackle the silvery female. All my exhortations and threats went on deaf ears: Ned would coyly slink away only to resume his belligerence when he figured I am out of range.

Still, every few hours, Fred and Ned would align themselves, as arrow-straight as soldiers on parade, and swing to and fro in unison in the currents, perfectly at peace, their delicate fins flapping regally and slowly. It was a bewitching, hypnotizing manifestation of some primordial order. I used to sit on the armrest of a couch, enthralled by their antics, monitoring who does what to whom with the avidity of a natural scientist and the wonderment of a child. Gradually, the susurration of the air pump; the gentle breeze of bubbles; and the elegant motility of my fancies all conspired to calm my rampant anxiety. I made a living off the proceeds of books I have written about my mental health disorder and so was gratified to escape the stifling and morbid environment of my own making.

Then, one morning, I woke up to find the couple gasping at the shell-covered bottom of their tank, tail and fins streaking red and rotting away, bit by tiny and ephemeral piece. The magic gone, it was replaced with the nightmarish horror that permeated the rest of my existence. I felt guilty, somehow threatened, imbued with the profound sadness that other people—normal people—associate with grieving. Reflexively, I surfed the Internet frenetically for answers; I downloaded a dozen books and read them; and I got up at all hours of the night to change the water in my Ned and Fred’s minacious cesspool. I woke up with dread and bedded with foreboding and so did my version of Fred, my Lidija.

Ned’s body was decaying fast. Fred continuously nudged him: “Are you alive? You come to play?” But, when she saw how serious his condition is, her whole demeanour changed. His swim bladder affected, his dwindling scales plastered with burrowing parasites, besieged by toxic levels of ammonia, Ned’s compromised immune system—ravaged by his crammed and foul apprenticeship in the pet shop—didn’t stand a chance. He wobbled pitifully. Fred stood next to him, still as a rock, allowing his sore body to rest against hers, giving him respite and the solace of her company. Then, exhausted by her own condition and overpowered by his much larger weight, she would swim away, glancing back sorrowfully as Ned sank and darted, staggered and careened.

Yet, Ned wouldn’t give up. His magnificent tail consumed, he still took after the flakes of food that drifted down the water column; he still toured his new home, leftover fins flailing, bullet-like body strained, eyes bulging; he still teased Fred when he could and Fred was much alive when he revived. They slept together, occupying an alcove that afforded them protection from the filter-generated waves.

As the days passed and I added salt to the aquarium, Ned seemed to have recovered. Even his tail began to show some signs of black-tipped resurrection. He regained his appetite and his territorial aggression and Fred seemed delighted to be again abused by a reanimated Ned. I was the proudest of fish-owners. And Lidija’s crystalline laughter reverberated whenever Ned’s truncated trunk ballistically caroused the waters.

But this was not to last: the salt had to go. The fresher the water became, the sicker Ned grew, infested with all manner of grey; shrunken; lethargic; and immobile except when fed. This time, he ignored even Fred’s ichtyological pleas. Finally, she gave up on him and drifted away sullenly.

One morning, I lowered a tiny net into the water. Ned stirred and stared at the contraption and then, with an effort that probably required every last ounce of his strength, he bubbled up, rolling over and over, like a demented cork, all the while eyeing me, as though imploring: “You see? I am still alive! Please don’t give up on me! Please give me another chance!” But I couldn’t do that. I kept telling myself that I was protecting Fred’s health and well-being, but really I was eliminating the constant source of anxiety and heartbreak that Ned has become.

I captured him and he lay in the net quiescent, tranquil. When his mutilated body hit the toilet, it made a muffled sound and, to me it sounded like “goodbye” or maybe “why”. I flushed the water and Ned was gone.