I bought a goldfish in a dream once. She was modestly shiny, with scales like mirrors on a disco ball. My left eye reflected itself on her body if I turned the right way. I knew she was a she because she told me, right before I placed her into her bowl. “Okay,” I said, “good girl.” She smiled at me, a specious sort of smile that I was wary of but loved all the same.
I woke up from this dream on the day I had to begin writing a blog with my friend Hoody. Hoody had perpetually clammy hands and we called each other dude to avoid our inevitable feelings for each other. I made sure I looked nicer than usual whenever I saw him so that he’d have to say, “You look nice,” and I could pretend to be humble. I shaved my legs and made sure I combed down my fashionably shaggy eyebrows.
We sat at a table in an empty dentist’s office, directly across from each other. He had his chin balanced on his thick fingers and he was staring at his phone with an expression that indicated I’d be doing most of the brainstorming. When I opened my laptop, I turned it towards the wall because the last thing I googled was, “what foods to avoid when u have IBS” and I hadn’t closed the browser. He didn’t notice. He was wondering why his Snapchat story hadn’t been posted from this morning. I asked him what it was. He said it was a video of his cats playing together for the first time. Valerie and Samson.
“Nice,” I said.
We were supposed to have started the blog two days ago in order to get full pay. The blog was a youth perspective on dental health. The pay was minimum wage, but now we’d only get one day instead of three. I opened a blank document with no ideas. “So how are Valerie and Samson?” I asked.
“I’m just going to restart my phone,” he said, rather sadly.
I named my goldfish Helen. The realization came to me when I was in the middle of writing an opinion piece on why flossing is important, yet so hard to do. By hard I meant it was so easy it was impossible to approach. Helen was a woman I worked with on the provincial election day.
That was a 13-hour shift, at a dollar more than minimum wage. Helen was the kind of person that made a shift like that possible. Made defeat impossible. She was neither constantly tired or constantly wound up like I was. It was the best kind of balance.
We talked about sleep apnea. I can’t remember if she had it, or her mother had it, but I told her about how my mother had it and she recommended a Japanese breathing technique that I can no longer remember the name of. I meant to write it down and watch a video on it, but I never did. People like to hear stories like this. “And this is why,” I said to my dream guests, “I named her Helen.” The guests were my mother, Hoody, and our mailman Andreas who looked younger than me but was actually twenty-five. They nodded, applauded, and offered me apple juice.
“Have you ever had a dream where your teeth fell out?” asked Hoody, in real life. His phone was no longer on the table in front of him.
“No?” I said.
“I have,” he said, as if it was something to brag about. “It’s one of the most common dreams.”
“Have you ever dreamt about goldfish?”
I left it alone because I could tell he was about to go into an explanation of my sexual repression or anxiety about change.
My real problem here was that I was terrible at keeping up with flossing. I wrote about ways I thought I could improve my regimen. Hoody wrote about the benefits of teeth whitening and I asked, “Are there really any benefits?” and he gave me a look and said, “Dude.” A brief argument ensued over the fact that it was a purely cosmetic procedure and offered no health benefits. Somehow, he managed to convince me that white teeth were essential to a proper lifestyle and maybe that’s why I wasn’t getting any more job offers. I opened my mouth to bring up the job at the provincial elections and at once I couldn’t remember the name of the woman I worked with. I shut my eyes, to block everything out but her face, but nothing. They opened to Hoody’s face, a raised eyebrow. When he noticed I was welling up he said, “Dude, I was joking.”
I flossed when I got home. I picked up a flossing stick and went into each of my teeth gaps, trying to relive every moment in the voting location. If I flossed all my teeth, I would remember, that would be my reward. Here you go universe. But it didn’t come. I remembered her glasses, her Cantonese accent, and her odd yoga poses but I couldn’t remember her name. As retribution to some part of the universe, I told myself I’d never floss again. I threw the flossing stick in the garbage and took the bus to the pet store.
There was a goldfish among some other more colourful aquatic life at the back of the store. A store associate in a blue vest smiled at me and I gave her a wide smile to show off my flossed teeth which I really hated, conspired against. “Can I help with the fish?” she asked. I thought that was an awkwardly phrased sentence, but I politely said, “Just browsing,” and she walked away.
I stared the goldfish in the eyes, willed it to tell me her name. She stared back at me, and I saw her notice me like any other person on this planet if you wait for them long enough.
“I had a dream about you,” I told her, trying to flatter her with my tone. “If you could just do me this one favour, I’ll never bother you again.”
It didn’t take more than a few minutes of my staring before she gave in. She told me, with that same sort of half-smile; she opened her wet mouth and spoke her name. A few perfect bubbles rose to the surface of her tank, my hopes rising with them. I was so hopeful I went home and flossed. I skipped some teeth, but I still remembered her name, so I could forgive myself. I texted myself her name, so I could always look back at it.
That night, I dreamt that all my teeth fell out. My tongue searched, but not frantically, and only felt soft, aching gums. There was something else, too: gills. I had gills on the inside of my cheeks and I gasped at the air, breathing it in gulps and heaps. They felt normal, like I’d had them for years. I expected to be angry, but I wasn’t, I was merely tasting oxygen like it was water. When I looked down I saw that my teeth sat in front of me on the dentist’s table, scattered around my laptop, shiny and confusing. Hoody was there, and he picked them up one by one and put them in a jar. “Told ya,” he said. With a toothless mouth, I could only roll my eyes.