The Life Of Lester ….

Last week I got a strange urge: I live alone and although I don’t get lonely (I actively prefer not living with anyone) I felt the need to nurture something that wasn’t a cactus. Barely capable of cleaning out my own litter tray; a kitten was out of the question and anyway, it would only sadly, turn in to a cat. So I chose goldfish. Loyal, trustworthy, low maintenance, will happily forget and forgive all of my wrongs. As some humans find with other humans, a goldfish will accept me for who I am.

I like to treat things like a military operation, or sometimes like a regular operations; whatever gets things done. So, ‘the mission’ started on a Friday at approximately 1400 hours. I met up with a fellow agent, had a delicious lunch, declared our mission statement and set off to find these illusive beasts. The mission commenced in Soho, which I swiftly discovered was not goldfish’s natural habitat. I checked in with DCI Google who instructed me that 400m north of Oxford Street a clandestine pet shop operation existed. I wanted to penetrate this ‘pet cell’ and see what they were hiding. We headed North – orienteering never a strong point we took many wrong turns but finally arrived outside a building that, apart from a small gold buzzer did not betray what lay within. My friend revealed she was of the opinion that goldfish were a poor-man’s animal and said …

“I don’t think they’re going to have goldfish, Jade.”
“Why not?”
“I think it’s just for posh dogs.”
“I don’t know what gave you that idea.”
I ring the buzzer, a camp American voice answers ….
“Hi, do you sell goldfish?”
“No we do not.”

There’s a click of the receiver as the cell leader hangs up. My agent gives me an ‘I told you so look,’ and we head back to our headquarters disheartened. I send an SOS out to DCI Google who advises me there are plenty more ‘pet cells’ within a 4 mile radius of my current location and in coalition with my agent I discover there is one about 10 minutes from my house. I follow the scent.

That Sunday I head down, fully equipped with wallet, photo ID and high spirits. I arrive at Goldfish Base Camp, only to find it is closed. I retreat and wait. They can’t stay closed forever.

After protracted talks with Lieutenant Big Sister I decide to continue and execute the mission. I head down again on Monday and successfully penetrate the cell. There they swam, in all their burning, golden glory. Majestic beings of forgiveness and love; just floating around as if they were nothing but fish.

Having carefully referenced data reserves collected from The National Lottery’s probability figures, I allow another member of the cell to select my goldfish – I stand more chance of winning with Lucky Dip. He selects two perfect specimens, one slightly larger than the other. I purchase a huge glass bowl (recent studies have concluded goldfish think plastic ones are naff.) I am advised to buy different chemicals to keep the specimens alive. I buy them reluctantly as I recalled being able to just plonk goldfish straight in to a bowl and Fanny’s your nanny, they’re ready to get to work. But these babies are apparently of a finer constitution, which I can respect. So I leave the cell £40 lighter, balanced with the weight of my new responsibilities.

On my way back to Headquarters their names come to me as if from God. I look at them in their plastic bag and I know exactly who they are: the smaller one is Lester, the larger; a formidable beast is honoured with the name The Cracken.

I take them home, wash out their bowl and with horror stories of Hackney water still ringing in my ears I decide to fill the bowl with Evian. I measure the solutions accurately and pour them in. I allow the solutions time for osmosis (15 minutes) then in their bag, the creatures are placed into their clear, mountain water and allowed to acclimatise. Precision and steady hands are key in these high tensile situations. 30 minutes later I delve my (steady) hands into the cool, sterilised water and rip open the plastic bag allowing them to disperse. Happy as can be I feed them a pinch of fish flakes to celebrate this hallowed occasion. They are happy, I am happy. I cook dinner, I sing Toots and the Maytals ‘Dr Lester’ to them. I go to bed. My dreams are calm.

I awake. It is Tuesday. Tuesday’s child is full of grace and mercy, but mercy is absent this day. The Cracken has fallen. He rests lifeless at the bottom of the glass bowl. I peer in in disbelief. But his forgiving little soul has left the bowl. Lester is traumatised. Forgets he is traumatised, then is reminded again 3 seconds later. I must remove The Cracken in order to save Lester’s sanity, but I am also traumatised. I call an asset and cry down the phone. All my army training goes out the window, trained to operate a machine gun but I am rendered incapable of removing the dead goldfish from his bowl. This asset tells me to get a grip and to put him in the bin…

“But I caaaaannn’t.”
“Then flush him down the toilet.”
“But I caaaaaaannn’t”
“Ok, well take him down to the canal then.”
“Yeah, ok, that’s nice.”

I hang up and muster the courage to remove the corpse from the scene. I place his lifeless body on some carefully folded kitchen towel. I take a photo for later analysis. Then – a sucker for time efficiency – I coincide my run with the burial of the fish. I sprint like a loon through Clapton brandishing my dead goldfish until I reach the canal; arriving at the perfect location to bid adieu to The Cracken. I’m a bit unsure of the proper protocol here; I look at The Cracken and feeling that I can’t just throw him away without saying a few words I look down and say to him …

“You were very pretty, I’m sorry you died.”

Seeing that there were people within hearing and seeing distance I suddenly feel pretty stupid; so launch The Cracken in to the air in embarrassment. He sails nobly through the wind and reaches the canal with a little splash. I watch as his bright golden body sinks to the bottom of the murky waters. I continue my run, comforting myself with words of encouragement from friends that Lester, is definitely made of tougher stuff.

I go home, check on Lester – he’s doing good; forgotten the horror of the morning and continuing with his life. I continue with mine. A few hours pass. I am full of hope for the future that Lester and I will share. I look in to the bowl where my soul mate swims …. flounders almost, on his side, gasping for air.
No. Not again. I call the poor asset, again. Already inconsolable.

“The other ones dying!”
“Oh God. I don’t know what to say.”
“I’m a terrible mother!”
“No you’re not – take him to the pet shop.”
I call the pet shop, a woman answers, I am still in tears.
“I bought two goldfish from you yesterday. One’s already died and the other one’s swimming on his side, I think he’s dying.”
“If you’ve got the body of the dead one we can give you one for free.”
“I don’t have the body anymore.”
“Where is it?”
“In the canal.”
“Ok …. well, if the other one dies, bring it in and bring in a sample of the water.”

The oracle on the other end of the line knew what was to come. My efforts to preserve his life are null and void, Lester’s life slips through my fingers, as he does when I scoop the fallen solider from his pooey grave.

My agent comes and escorts me with my water sample and the dead body to the Goldfish Base Camp. We board the transit unit to Hackney Central. As we sit and discuss the short, unfulfilled lives of The Cracken and Lester I divulge that I had been singing to them, my agent suggests maybe this is what killed them. I am worried she may be on to something. I will investigate this later, on other animals.

We arrive at Goldfish Base Camp, fallen soldier in hand. I had lost a lot of good men that day, I was in bad shape. The Cell Leader, an old man with the personality I would liken to that of Ghenghis Khan laughs at me.

“You didn’t cry did you?”
My friend: “She did.”
“Oh dear. Well we’ll give you a couple of free ones.”
“I’m not sure I want any free ones. I want to know what I did wrong.”
“Goldfish die all the time. Have some new ones.”

He walks off laughing. Ready to quash the emotions of his next victim. Bastard.

My training at the school of hard knocks enables me to continue my mission. Having regained my composure I arrive at the desk of the second in command. A hard faced woman who has seen her fair share of combat (and pathetic girls) in the field is unsympathetic. She takes the pH of my water as I carefully select my replacements. The woman shouts over the counter …

“It was your pH.”

Her sidekick then plies me with more expensive potions to put in this foul water. As I am disputing whether all £15 of this is really necessary when the hard faced woman starts absentmindedly cleaning her counter. Spritzing and wiping, with a folded piece of kitchen roll; she talks of how all potions are absolutely necessary. The sidekick and my agent share a horrified glance. The hard faced woman looks to her sidekick, and dread washes over her face. Her hand jumps from the kitchen towel.

“This is the dead goldfish isn’t it …”

The sidekick and my agent laugh in agreement. The soulless woman tosses Lester in the bin. I walk out with my two new imposters, numb.

We reconvene at an undisclosed coffee outlet and discuss the days events – imposters by my side. The warm nectar of cow teat deftly mixed with ground coffee beans soothes me and I feel stronger and ready to face the world again. I receive a message from a secure source in regards to my deceased goldfish: “Poor thing, he was only alive for a day, barely remembered any of it and his name was spelt wrong.”

What?! This source doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Lester’s name wasn’t spelt wrong! I dial up DCI Google – he receives my transmission and confirms that yes, Lester had been spelt correctly. A flash of heat fills my cheeks ….

“Oh shit. Maybe he means The Cracken.”

I dial up DCI Google again, whose patience for these creatures is now waning, and with no emotion quips:

“Did you mean the Kraken you fucking idiot?”

Oh yeah, I did.

Embarrassed I relay this information to my agent. She has an eye for covert intelligence and delves a little deeper. After a few seconds of investigation she bursts out laughing; is in tears before I have even seen what is going on. She manages to get out …

“Look below….”

I look and I see:
Urban Dictionary – Cracken: A large, smelly turd.
I’m not sure I will ever recover from the trauma. Emotionally incapable of loving my replacements, too scarred even to name them. They shall never be my confidents. Merely yearlong baubles, swimming in the hope of a confession to absolve that will never arrive. (Suckers.)

Rest In Peace The Cracken and Lester. I apologise. But with endless gratitude accept that you would forget, and forgive me.