The coffee table was a crate someone found in the bin yard, it went well with the ancient sofa and the dead Christmas tree that was slumped in the corner. I was shaking a nightmare off as I tried the locked toilet door before lurching into the living room with a full warm bladder.
“Who’s in the bog and why is there a fish on the table?” I called out.
“I’m having a shit but I don’t know about a fish” Tom called back.
“Fuck’s sake, I’m gonna go in the sink then”
“No you are not Dove!” cried Pfeiffer, muffled by his bedroom wall.
“Pfeiffer? Did you buy a fish?”
Pfeiffer was rearranging himself in his jogging bottoms as he came to investigate.
“What are you talking about?”
“This fish right here, complete with bowl and water and so on, sitting pretty on our coffee crate!”
The toilet flushed and Tom shambled out in his dressing gown, the smell following him from the can only added to the immediacy of the situation. He ruminated for a moment.
“Ohh yeah, Sora told some Irish girl down the pub last night that we’d look after her fish while she was away. That must be it.”
“No shit, what girl? Isn’t Sora in the Bahamas?”
“She left this morning. Do we even know any Irish girls?” Pfeiffer added.
“What does that matter? And yes we do know at least two Irish girls, the fit one with the insanely blue eyes and the one who looks like Meryl Streep crossed with a baby elephant. So Sora expects us to feed this thing?”
“And clean the tank, it looks filthy already. So which was it Tom?”
“Insanely Blue Eyes or Elephant Streep?”
“Oh! Streep, Sora is not a fan of Insanely Blue Eyes”
“Well, either way this takes the piss”
The fish was a black guppy whose small glass bowl had a layer of gravel at the bottom and was filled barely half-way with sooty water. After I’d taken a piss my initial resentment waned somewhat and I began to feel a touch of paternal concern.
“Poor bastard, can’t even see where he is!”
“Not necessarily a bad thing”, replied Tom surveying the living room.
“Nonetheless, just because we live in a shit hole doesn’t mean he has to. Let’s change his water”
Pfeiffer brought through a ladle and a cereal bowl from the kitchen, which he felt would suffice for the task.
“Woah there Pfeiff, that’s not gonna work”
“It’s kitchen ware for a start, this thing could have dysentery or something. Secondly, it’s my kitchen ware, use Sora’s stuff”
“Right, good point”
A real sense of achievement filled the room as the newly Christened Smokey Joe did circuits of his crisp clean home. Over the next couple of days we bought food and a few little ornaments to brighten up the tank. Joe had first the Eiffel Tower then a road sign to Truro and rather alarmingly a grinning ceramic golliwog.
“Is that a golliwog?” I enquired not entirely sure how I felt.
“Yeah, I got it in a charity shop for 50p” replied Pfeiffer triumphantly.
“I would have thought they were banned or something, kinda racist no?”
“Nah, we’re passed all that. It’s post-modern, a moral comment on the ethical vacuum that is rudderless global capitalism. Irony is bulletproof son!”
“Well as long as Joe isn’t offended, as a guppy of color, it is his line to draw”
This artifice held for all of six hours when our Spanish squatter’s very much black boyfriend came for a visit and the golliwog evaporated completely in the heat of our white middle-class guilt, its ghost probably still haunts that flat in South London.
On another night I was watching Attenborough whilst Tom and Pfeiffer played indoor cricket with a tennis ball and VHS cassettes as stumps. Pfeiffer fizzed in a yorker from the sofa, Tom lashed it over mid-off clipping a heavy mug on the coffee crate which toppled and cracked poor Joe’s tank. Water gushing forth, our unity of action was nothing shy of heroic. I necked the contents of my wine glass and caught Joe in it as Pfeiffer pulled shards of glass from his path bare-handed. Tom came running through from the kitchen with a pan of water and Joe was plopped into it. We hadn’t missed a beat.
“I told you two about that bloody game, now Joe has to suffer your folly!”
“Yeah, sorry mate”
Further errors of judgement would pepper Joe’s tenure with us. On several occasions Joe was suspected dead until it transpired that all three us thought it was our turn to feed him. Quiet vigils were held over the pan as our listing charge recovered his vigour. After all, he was one of us, we were all hopelessly aware of the solid boundaries of our limitations and the world of plenty that lay beyond them.
Smokey Joe’s stay was short and we didn’t see him or that pan again after he had left. Apparently we still owe some Irish girl a fish bowl. It wasn’t long before we all slipped our moorings and drifted on disparate currents…
Sora never returned from the Bahamas.
Pfeiffer went on to coach a middling Australian ladies football team.
Tom accidentally paid somebody else’s gas bill for a year.
And me? Well, that’s a story for another day…