“Who says?” I asked. One of my last pleasures – challenging the assumptions of the young.
“I don’t know – they. Anyway, goldfish have no sense of time, they can’t get bored. By the time they’ve swum around the bowl they’ve forgotten what it’s like, so it’s always new and exciting.”
“Oh to be a goldfish,” I sighed.
I was a goldfish once, a very long time ago. I wonder how much memory an amoeba has?
“Pour the tea Tommy,” I said, laughing.
Tommy, my favourite grandson, the only person who still visited me, who still made me laugh.
Where is Tommy now?
I hear myself mumbling to the woman in white. “Tommy,” I whisper.
“There, there,” she comforts me. “He’s coming. Drink up.”
I feel her soft hand on my face and gulp weakly. Time passes slowly in this place. I’ve been sitting here forever, plenty of time to go back and re-visit my goldfish days.
I open my eyes to a bright sunny morning in 1931, when there is still hope, long before the horrors of the War. I got married yesterday to my beautiful Elizabeth. Her fresh face is on the pillow next to me, smiling at the joy of the times. I’m seventeen years old – too young? I don’t think so. Time is so short; you have to grab the moment, because one day soon we’ll all be dust.
“Elizabeth – wake up! It’s a beautiful day.”
“Oh Thomas,” she says. “Hold me tight. I want to be with you until the end of time.”
And she is still here, with me, in my heart, until the end of time.
Something is happening around me – a feeling of excitement. The energy is enough to bring me back to the present. Tommy is here.
“Are you still a goldfish?” I ask him, but he doesn’t understand.
No one understands me in this time. I want to go back again, find a plateau in my existence, somewhere to rest.
Shapes of people surround me. I feel they are smiling.
Somebody shouts excitedly: “It’s come, I’ve got it.”
I’ve got it? I think it’s supposed to be special, a big celebration. Tommy is here, and Thomas, that’s me.
I am Thomas?
Then me again, and Liz, back together, after the War. It’s another joyful time. I’ve been away, fighting.
“Never again,” I promise. “I’ll never leave you again.”
And look who else is here – it’s Tom.
Tom, my son, a strong seven year old, shy and hesitant at first. I mustn’t move too fast, even though all I want is to hug him hard.
I wonder if Tom is here now? In this present.
The sea of shapes confuses me. It’s best with my eyes closed, let them get on with it, whatever it is they’ve got to get on with.
At the end it’s all empty of meaning, full of sensations: tinny sounds, half-remembered smells, blurs of colours, taste of urine in my mouth, and the feel of clean white cotton, like a shroud. Where are the solid realities, the soap and cold water, the dust on the mantelpiece, the coal burning in the grate? Where do I stop and linger? This looks good, me and Tom standing on the dock-side.
“Look Tom, see the big ship, the smoke pouring from its funnels.”
Tom squeezes my hand – how I cried inside when he left me, following Elizabeth to oblivion, too soon. But inside me is a universe of experience. I can let myself float on it like a dandelion seed in the summer breeze. I can land where I wish, sprout into the time I choose.
This is a moment when I am aware of the real world, in real time. There are lots of smiling faces, all blurred of course. One leans close to my ear, and speaks – too loudly.
“Thomas Jones, look at this, it’s come, the message from the Queen. You made it. It’s your hundredth birthday.”
What do I care about the Queen? I manage a smile, my last.