Recently, I entered a short story contest with the writing prompt to include “a goldfish” and “the library.” I didn’t win – no big deal, but I wanted to share my story here. Suicide is real and sometimes a simple act of kindness or an acknowledgment of someone’s struggle can make all the difference.
Trying to Stay Afloat
Ari was supposed to be at music center practicing with her quartet, but instead she hid in a back cubical of the library. She’d played the violin since she was seven, and she’d mastered the strings, but the violin did not bring her joy. She hoisted her backpack onto the desk and emptied out her treasures.
When Ari was conflicted, confused, or simply pissed off, she dove into her artwork. It filled her soul. She dug into her supplies, avoiding the black chalks and dark pigments, as she grabbed brilliant oranges and yellows.
Ari tucked her knees into her chest and tugged on her short pink hair. It helped her think. She stared into the depths of the blank paper she’d swiped from the printer and waited for her muse to speak.
Boyd needed to kill time. The library closed at midnight, and he wouldn’t chicken out again.
At the library, he blended into the masses and remained unnoticed. His favorite desk hid in the back corner surrounded by protective walls. He avoided the engineering library because he didn’t want to risk seeing classmates. He tugged on his hoodie that choked his neck, but it didn’t relieve the lump in his throat.
Boyd studied engineering with a double major in business. His parents insisted that he minor in Spanish. He would be the most employable man in the universe – if he succeeded. As a Freshman, unrelenting curriculums and the constant need to study smacked him in the face like a baseball bat. He’d rarely had homework in high school. He was currently getting a D in Civil Engineering, he’d failed the midterm in Advanced Spanish, and Statistics equaled hell with a p-value less than 0.05.
Failure was a foreign concept until now, and he couldn’t see any escape from his spiral into the black hole. And he could never face his parents.
Boyd rested his head on his arms and soaked up the peace of the library. Soon, he would only know sweet silence.
He glanced at the bottle of pills waiting at the bottom of his backpack.
The pastels blended on the page and Ari let the colors guide her. She contoured and blended with her bare hands. There was nothing like the feel of greased fingertips shaping clouds of magic.
Her ear buds hummed The Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men, anything but classical music. She appreciated the gifts of an acoustic guitar and the occasional banjo, and she was exhausted with the violin. Her mom was the conductor of the Quad City Symphony and her father was a nationally acclaimed cellist. Escaping orchestra life would not be easy.
The colors moved on the paper and her heavy heart lifted. Songs filled her head while the pigments created music on the page. She’d inquired about classes at the School of Art and had shown them her highly forbidden portfolio of work. She was assured acceptance by the Dean.
The image took shape on the page and Ari dove into her drawing with a tidal wave of inspiration. The oranges, pinks, reds, and yellows shaped her creation. She only wished that she had the same passion for her violin.
Boyd flipped through YouTube on his phone. Escaping into funny cat videos passed the time until the library closed. His master plan was to hide under his cubicle when the lights blinked and wait until the place was deserted. Forgotten and alone.
The sound of his own chuckle reverberated like an alarm clock through the library’s silence. He watched a video of a cat pawing at a goldfish, and it was hilarious. The frustrated cat was determined to kill the fish in its tiny bowl, but the goldfish stole the scene. As his fins fluttered and it darted out of reach, the goldfish mocked the cat and blew bubbles of defiance. The goldfish didn’t give up and repeatedly dodged the cat’s paw when it dipped inside his bowl.
If only Boyd could channel his inner goldfish.
11:52pm. Eight minutes left.
Boyd grasped the bottle of pills and gazed at the pale, yellow tablets that would relieve his downslide into darkness.
Ari leaned back in her chair and held up her creation. Her chest warmed and she felt a giddy glow build inside.
She was an artist.
It was time to talk to her parents.
The overhead lights blinked to indicate the library was closing. She opened her portfolio that traveled with her everywhere, but she hesitated to slip her drawing in with the others. This creation had solidified her future path.
It needed to be shared with the world.
Under her desk, Ari spotted the pair of purple Converse shoes that had been nervously tapping, shifting, and incessantly squirming for the last two hours.
The blink of the library’s lights caused Boyd’s breath to catch. It was time.
Boyd heard thumps and rumbles as other students shuffled toward the door – and their futures. Boyd leaned forward and rested his forehead in his hands. He couldn’t stop his bouncing foot as it counted down his final minutes.
Suddenly, the private space of Boyd’s cubicle was interrupted. A girl with short pink hair peeked her head around the corner. She slid a drawing in front of Boyd, smiled, and then disappeared.
Boyd grasped the picture and was flooded with emotion. Tears dropped onto the goldfish that swam defiantly across the paper. The brilliant creature screamed Boyd’s name and its golden eyes penetrated his darkness.
He stood up, but the girl was long gone. The library was empty.
Boyd gripped the drawing to his chest and took a deep breath.
He could be a goldfish too.
He zipped up his backpack and grabbed his coat. He tossed the bottle of pills into the garbage as he left the library.
Thanks for visiting Pat’s Chat.
Please visit my website and check out the newest release of my children’s fantasy trilogy – Journey to Deviland!