On the Status of the Goldfish

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“Goldfish are born free and equal cooped up in a bowl, and they all end up in the same place.”
I shared that conclusion which is now widespread in contemporary literature for young people. That sentence ran through my head as I arrived at the riverbank. They all ended their life in a river. This principle had guided me here with Oscar, Karl’s goldfish. He had entrusted it to me after a brief embrace of the bowl, by way of a fareweIl ceremony. I had accepted, no doubt to assume the role of those modern heroes always resigned to liberating Dudule or Aristide from their transparent prison.

Walking resolutely alongside the river, I naively thought I was going upstream whereas I had in fact been going downstream for half an hour. A local had pointed this out to me. He had muttered obscure explanations about left and right banks, but I had had no time to waste on these spatial considerations. In my defence, you must admit that finding a watercourse without any water in it was quite an achievement! Dry, it was really dry, completely dried up. It had not of course contained an ocean full of water, but it had been a thirsty river. When I discovered the state it was in a little earlier, I had felt defeated. I smelled a rat. Obviously there was not the slightest trace of a rat, or any sign or shadow of a fish nor a shadow of doubt: something was wrong. So I decided to find the source of the mystery to give extra meaning to my visit. What sort of river was this to dare divest herself in this way? Once I had accepted I was going the wrong way, I turned back, in search of pointers from the river folk, that is, the inhabitants of the riverbank.

I had avoided questioning the willows who seemed to be weeping over the absence of water. Looking for clues, I found myself on fat pebbles and puny shingle. A beaver was chewing his foreskin, for want of anything else to chew, not remotely interested in the goldfish and even less in my theory about contemporary tales. He was only interested in one thing, the return of the river and of things he could put in his mouth. A little further on, a villager assured me that it was the first time all the water had run away like this. The river normally flowed as majestically and vigorously as its tributaries with the pompous names. Torrents which never sleep with grandiloquent patronymics. I even started to wonder if she had not seen me coming with my half-baked idea and my fish.
After another hour’s walking, I came upon a fisherman. He also seemed disoriented, as if he had been betrayed.
“You know, she has her highs and lows, and all sorts of moods, but I have never seen a low as low as this! Why are you looking for her?”
A hardly had time to mutter a few inaudible words before I set off again. Without really knowing where I was going, what I was looking for, or what I might find. It was annoying, a river packing up, and I could find no explanation for it that sprang right from its source. This business was making less and less sense, I was drowning in confusion. It had to stop.
Finally I heard a thundering noise that grew louder as I moved closer.
A noise of water.
It was a waterfall.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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