Meet Cute #11: Bruno and the Goldfish

The pink balloon exploded against the corkboard, a dart vibrating in the space that had been its center.

Bruno stared, stunned. Had he really hit the balloon? It had been his fifth and final try, and he’d all but given up hope.

The man running the booth glanced up, then returned to counting dollar bills.

“You get a prize, kid,” he said.

The man had teeth missing and the shadow of a grey beard. He wasn’t the kind of man Bruno usually saw in Trotterville, the suburb where he lived with his parents and little sister. The man seemed angry, and a little dangerous.

Bruno had seen other kids walking around with huge stuffed bears and snakes. Most of them were gone now, though. The carnival was about to shut down for the night. Only one of the rides was still running, the Tilt-A-Whirl. Bruno could hear the lonely clack-clack of the carriages on the platform.

“Do you have any stuffed snakes left?” Bruno asked the man.

The man shook his head. “Nope. Just the fishes.”

The man lifted his eyes and nodded at the far end of the booth counter. There, in rows, sat little sandwich baggies filled with water. A single goldfish flitted in each one.

“Those are the only prizes you have?” Bruno asked.

“Yep. Ran out of everything else.”

“But I don’t want to win one of those.”

“Why not?”

“Because I killed the last one I had. I did my best to take care of it, fed it every day, but it ended up dying after three days.”

The man finished counting his bills, stacked them in a cash box. He looked at Bruno. “Sad story, kid.”

“You sure you don’t have anymore snakes left? Or even bears?”

“Kid, take the damn goldfish. Or don’t take it if you don’t want to. It’s your prize.”

Bruno studied the goldfish as it flitted through the water. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t watch another living being die under his watch. He still had nightmares about the little gold body floating on top of the fish bowl. The tiny, sad, dead eyes.

Just then, a pack of loud boys jostled up behind him. In the front of the pack were Billy Jenkins and Ryan Moriarity.

“Hey, look everyone — it’s Bruno the Boobie,” Billy Jenkins said. The other boys hooted and cackled, shoving Bruno aside.

Billy Jenkins and three or four of his friends slapped dollar bills on the counter.

The carnival man sighed and scooped up the bills. “Make it snappy, fellas. I gotta close in five minutes.”

Panic struck Bruno. If Billy and his friends won, the goldfish would go home with them. Bruno had heard rumors that these boys trapped squirrels and burned their skin. Who knew what they’d do to a helpless goldfish?

But Bruno could save at least one. At least one helpless fish from the clutches of Billy Jenkins.

Or maybe two.

Without a word, he snatched up two of the little baggies. The goldfish darted more quickly now, alarmed.

“Hey kid, you only get one –”

Bruno ran to where he’d left his bike. He picked it up, clutching a goldfish baggie against each handlebar.

He pedaled away from the carnival ground. He kept expecting Billy and the other boys to run after him, but they never did. The night was silent, even the clack-clack of the Tilt-A-Whirl finished now.

The wind rushed past his ears.

“Please don’t die,” he whispered to the fish at his handlebars. “Promise you won’t die.”

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