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Maybe you should’ve said something sooner, Robert.

Fiction | Flash Fiction
June 17, 2022

First, I asked the koi fish seller if the koi fish would need to be neutered. I had rabbits once, I told him.

“These aren’t rabbits.”

Great, I’ll take a dozen.

“That’ll be three thousand dollars.”

No, I disagree.

We came to an agreement and I left with two five-gallon buckets containing twelve koi fish. Twelve koi fish are easy to get if all you’re trying to get are twelve koi fish. 

It would’ve suited me fine to keep the twelve koi fish in the buckets, if it weren’t for my nosy neighbor Robert. Every time I saw Robert I thought about Socrates. Socrates was famously ugly. 

“You’re just gonna leave them in those buckets? In your backyard? On the dirt like that?” 

What’s wrong with dirt, Robert. In some tribes, they eat dirt. 

“You didn’t prepare anything?” 

There’s nothing to prepare, Robert. I’ve confirmed they don’t need to be neutered.

“That’s nowhere near enough room for them.” 

How much room is enough room, Robert. 

“Well, I’m no expert . . .” 

Do go on, Robert. But? 

“Please refer to the table below detailing the proper ratio of water volume to number of koi fish per hundred gallons.” 

Where am I going to put two thousand gallons of water, Robert.

“Build a koi pond.” 

A koi pond. And why should I do that, Robert. 

“It’s the responsible thing to do.” 

Fine, Robert. I went to Home Depot and bought a shovel. I found a nice spot with partial shade in the backyard and dug a mathematically perfect hole. Then I went back to Home Depot to buy concrete mix, and while waiting in line I grabbed a Snickers bar from the rack by the checkout counter so I could work through lunch. Such is my dedication to the project, Robert. By the time I was done lining the hole with concrete, it wasn’t even noon, Robert. So I went back to Home Depot again for water pumps and filters, and this employee Earl—we’re good friends now, we grabbed a beer, he gave me a kidney, I went to his father’s funeral—kept extolling the virtues of the HydroClean™ SwimSkim pond skimmer. “The HydroClean™ SwimSkim pond skimmer will fulfill all five levels on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs,” he said. So I bought six of them, just in case. Then I went home and filled the hole with water and poured the koi fish in. The koi fish thrived. I’m a Pro Xtra member at Home Depot now. Anything else you care to add, Robert? 

“Well, it could use a little landscaping.” 

You’re right, Robert. What grim, austere prison have I wrought for these fish? How about water lilies then, for a bit of ornamental floating? Water lilies seem like a popular choice, judging by their prominence on dollar-store wall calendars. So a couple of those, and maybe some lilypads, too. But before I can do anything else, I have to swap my dirt out for soil. I’m willing to concede you were half right about dirt, Robert. Apparently, dirt is worth nothing, but wet dirt is worth thirty dollars a bag. So I laid down the wet dirt and carpeted it with grass. Then I planted some slightly taller grass for a more dynamic look, and then I figured, why stop there? I plopped down a few shrubs, threw in a few smaller trees, peppered in a few bigger trees. I also tossed some jungle vines on top for dramatic flair (then removed one, because Coco Chanel says you should always take one thing off before leaving the house). But I guess I went a little overboard, Robert, because a team of UNESCO representatives showed up at my house and designated my koi pond a protected biosphere reserve. One of the representatives had a face I liked. Not like Socrates at all. The representative with the not-Socrates face I liked said, “Article 9 of the Statutory Framework states that the status of each biosphere reserve should be subject to a periodic review every ten years, based on a report prepared by the concerned authority, on the basis of the criteria of Article 4.” Her name was Janet, and we fell in love. Janet really knows her Article 9 of the Statutory Framework. Earl was best man at the wedding. 

“Wait, did you hear about the wildfire? It’s on its way here right now.” 

No, Robert. I did not. Maybe you should’ve said something sooner, Robert. Because when I checked my backyard, all the koi fish were boiled alive in the pond. Good thing I had an onion and a four-foot-long ladle on me, Robert. I stirred the onion around in the pond while singing an old sentimental ballad, like some Venetian gondolier. You missed it, Robert. I made myself cry, silky-voiced bastard that I am. But don’t worry, Robert. Seeing as you loved those fish so much, I scooped their oniony carcasses into the ladle and flung them over the fence into your tacky above-ground pool. They’re yours to mourn now. 

Anyway. When the first house at the end of our street started to burn, I pulled up a few chairs for us to watch. God, I hate this neighborhood.