Once upon a time there was a fish out of water. Well, to be perfectly honest it wasn’t exactly a fish; more of a human being. But this particular human being had the same suffocating feeling that a goldfish might feel if it should happen to fall out of it’s proverbial bowl. That is if goldfish really have feelings, one can never tell, not without some kind of brain transference mechanism where you could actually experience what it is like to be a goldfish. But, as ever, I digress.
Anyway, even the least imaginative of us can probably imagine what that might feel like for a goldfish. That is exactly what our human being felt. His name was…well I suppose his name is unimportant, as what is really important to us in this story is the feeling he had and what caused that feeling. That kind of panic feeling induced by knowing that unexpectedly you are somewhere you shouldn’t be; the goldfish flapping helplessly on the floor. The floor; a vast unknown and unfamiliar space.
Our human being, like all living things, was a creature of habit. He knew, or at least he thought he did, which side his bread was buttered, and usually he knew that if he dropped said slice of bread, jam and all, that it would land butter side down. It was the way of the world and even the misfortune of having to wipe sticky jam from the parquet flooring was something to be expected, part of the natural order of things, like gravity itself or the tide of time. Such is the force of habit that it makes the world seem ordered, as if we can actually expect there to be a plan.
Now, as the enlightened among you might realise, there is a flaw in such thinking. And the flaw is this; if there is a plan to our minuscule lives it must surely involve change, for the one thing that lots of us human beings forget to expect is, of course, the unexpected.
It was an ordinary Tuesday evening when the unexpected event occurred that made our human being feel like a fish out of water. As ordinary as ordinary can be.
The TV was on, as it always was, although our man was barely paying attention to it as he was carefully preparing to sew a plastic pearly button back onto the cuff of his favourite white shirt. Threading the needle and suchlike. It was the shirt he intended to wear the next day when he met his boss; a meeting, he hoped, that would lead to a much deserved pay rise. He had certainly earned it. Well, at least that’s what our man thought. He had worked at the company since college and now it was ten years later and he had been on the same dismal pay grade for the last four years.
Our human being rehearsed the conversation to himself as he fiddled with thread and needle. The conversation he would have with the grumpy boss man in the big office. He would be brave and tell the boss man that he had always met his targets, always been on time, never had a day sick and never ever rocked the boat.
He held the pearly button between his fat fingers and looked at it in the light of the lamp. It seemed luminescent and happy. He smiled to himself at the thought that an inanimate object like a button could be happy.
“I am happy,” said the button,
That was the moment our human being first experienced the feeling of being a fish out of water; the panic of the goldfish on the floor. The shock of the feeling made him jump up and drop the shirt, he pricked his thumb on the needle and the button fell and rolled under the coffee table.
Now most of us might think that he probably thought he was imagining things, which, in this situation, would seem entirely natural. Buttons can’t talk after all. But strangely, perhaps due to the goldfish feeling that he had, this event was so unexpected, so unnatural, that it never occurred to him that perhaps it was just in his mind, perhaps he had imagined the button to be speaking. He truly believed that the button had said that it was happy.
Strangely he felt curious, as well as apprehensive. He knelt on the floor, sucking the iron tasting blood from his thumb. Placing his face sideways on the parquet he looked at the button under the table. Could it actually be that it was smiling? The two holes designed for thread were like eyes and the small curved recess in its circular shape seemed like a smiling mouth in the shadows.
“Did you say you were happy?” said our human being, not really truly expecting a reply,
“Yes, I have never been happier,” said the button,
“Oh my goodness,” said the man, “you can actually talk!”
“You know that he is going to fire you tomorrow don’t you?” said the button,
“What?” said the man,
He gently picked up the button and held it up to the light studying it’s face,
“I said you are going to get sacked tomorrow, you know…due to ’cutbacks’”
“Oh,” said the man, “I didn’t expect that…are you sure?”
“The fact that you didn’t expect it is the best part,” said the button,
“What do you mean?”
“Well…I didn’t expect to fall from the cuff of your shirt the other day, but when I did it was amazing,”
“I don’t understand?” said our flapping goldfish,
“It’s simple,” said the button, “I am happy because for the first time I had to embrace change, embrace the unexpected. No longer was I tied to your shirtsleeves, suddenly life was an adventure. I was actually free. And to be free is to be happy,”
“Isn’t it scary? Not knowing your place? Isn’t a button supposed to be on a shirt?”
“A button can be on a shirt, or a coat or even a cardigan!” said the button,
“Oh…” said the man,
He placed the button on the mantlepiece, turned off the TV and sat to think about it. He sat there, a fish out of water, for most of the night.
The next day he went to work as usual. Except it wasn’t quite as usual. He wore his favourite crisp white shirt but because there was no button on the cuff he wore his cuffs undone and he didn’t even bother to put on a tie. The girls in reception stared. It was unexpected and instead of sitting at his desk he went to straight to the boss man’s office and opened the door without even knocking.
“Yes, it’s true…” he announced, “I am a goldfish,”
“What?” said the boss man from behind his big and important desk,
“I am a goldfish and this bowl is far too small for me,” said our man,
“Are you actually bonkers?” said the boss man,
“No,” said the man, “I am finally happy and I quit!”
Outside on the street, the man smiled to himself. He was going to enjoy being a fish out of water.
And so it was that the goldfish and the button travelled the wide world and had many delightful adventures together, always embracing the unexpected around every corner. In fact they lived happily ever after because, as the moral of this story says, if indeed there is one, the happiest of people are those who embrace the unexpected. For change, as they say, is the only thing that stays the same.
Of course, the fish out of water may, in fact, drown as it flaps in the air. Or it may perhaps be rewarded with a fancy new fish tank or pond to swim free in.
Such is life, there are always risks to the unexpected, as the goldfish and the button found out when they encountered the shark. But that, as they say, is another story…
© 2013 Simon Poore