And now for something completely different — a short story I wrote back in 2001.
by Jillian Grace Page
For sale: modern 10-room bungalow in quiet suburban setting. Finished basement, with free built-in aquarium . . .
“Aye, and just through here, Mr. and Mrs. Blob, you’ll find the aquarium room,” the thin, elderly man said with a sweep of his arm, ushering the prospective buyers to a wide archway. “Stand here to get the full view.”
“Well, would you look at that!” Mr. Blob boomed from the depths of his rolling beer belly. “Look at the size of that thing! Ain’t that somethin, Dodie!”
“Lordy be!,” Dodie boomed back from the depths of her equally elongated beer belly. “I ain’t never done seen one that humongous before, Elmer!”
“Ha! Ha! You ain’t never seen one before,” Elmer taunted. “Me neither. Ha! Ha! Ha!” His dirty, old T-shirt popped out of his faded jeans and came to rest over his purple belly button.
“Done too!” Dodie retorted with a snort. “Saw one on a TV show once.” She stuck out her long, rare pork-chop tongue at him, then ran it over her thick orange lips before retracting it into the vast pit that was her mouth.
“Aye, well, it was the top of the line when I purchased it 10 years ago,” the homeowner interjected before Elmer could launch his, no doubt witty, response. “Full 16 feet wide, 12 feet tall, and 8 feet across. Even now, there’s only one bigger model available for the home, and the equipment hasn’t changed all that much.”
“Is there somethin’ wrong with it?” Elmer asked suspiciously.
“It’s in perfect working order, Mr. Blob. Maintenance-free, and with a dependable backup generator,” the homeowner assured them.
“Then why you givin’ it away when you could charge extra fer it,” Elmer asked bluntly.
“Yah, it must be worth a few bucks,” Dodie trumped.
“Aye, well, it cost me enough, but the equipment is not worth very much anymore,” the homeowner explained. “It’s an old system, and it would cost too much to move intact. Prices have come down a lot, you know. They’re very popular. Come now, please, let’s step up and take a closer look,” he urged, guiding them from the archway across the otherwise empty room to the aquarium.
“As you can see,” the homeowner said while they strolled its width, “there’s not much life left in there. You’ll get a few good years out of it, but then you’ll have to restock it.”
“Ain’t that the most expensive part?” Dodie blurted.
The homeowner nodded.
“See, I told ya I knew somethin’ about it, Elmer!,” she crowed, sticking out her tongue again.
“So that’s why it’s free!” Elmer said, stopping and pressing his nose up against the glass. “Boy, there’s a lot of empty space in there … though, some spots sure are pretty … ‘specially that blue and white one over there beside the little white one.”
“Yes, it is the gem of my collection,” the homeowner said, with a note of sadness. “The last survivor…”
Dodie interrupted, almost impatiently. “That one’s cute, but most of them are gawd-awful. This one here’s all rusty-looking! Ooooh! Ick! That one’s got yucky slime all over it!”
“They’ve seen better days,” the homeowner said, with a matter-of-fact shrug. “Many are in their final stages now . . . thousands of them, just floating there until they break into bits. That’s how it works. But most of them were spectacular in their heyday, and they’re still something to look at now
“How boring,” Dodie said. “Even the starfish aren’t very bright,`cept for that orange one over there.”
“Aye, well, they don’t last forever,” the homeowner said. “But the blue and white one will give you a few years of good entertainment, maybe more if it has a mind to. It’s still quite active. And there could be some births, too, you never know with these things. That’s what makes all aquariums unique.”
“Awww, it takes up too much room,” Dodie whined, dismissing the whole thing as she walked back toward the archway. “It’s a waste of space, in my opinion.”
“I have an idea, Dodie, baby,” Elmer said, following her. “S’cuse us,” he said to the homeowner, then whispered something in her ear.
“Now you’re talkin, Elmer!” Dodie cheered.
“Ain’t that a good idea,” he boasted, beaming.
“You’re a genius,” she exclaimed.
“Well, sir,” Elmer announced triumphantly, “we’ll take the house.We’ll pay your price.”
“The asking price?” the homeowner asked incredulously.
“Yup! Right now,” Elmer said with another booming laugh, pulling a wad of thousand-dollar bills out of his wallet and handing them to the owner. ” ‘Cause we just done won us a million bucks in a lottery!”
“Whoo-hoo!” Dodie echoed.
“Well, congratulations!” the homeowner exclaimed, grinning as he counted 150 one-thousand-dollar bills. “And you’ve just bought yourself a home with a genuine Deluxe Galaxy Aquarium! Let’s go upstairs and do the paperwork.”
“What’s this,” Elmer said, stepping up to an electrical panel on the wall near the archway. “Is this for the aquarium?”
“Yes, that’s the master control panel,” the former homeowner said. “Everything’s automatic. I’ll give you the instruction manual. But you won’t need to touch the panel until it’s time to shut everything down.”
“Well, there’s no time like the present,” Elmer boomed philosophically, and, somehow, in a flash, he figured out how to shut down the aquarium’s operating system, and darkness fell upon its depths.
The former homeowner cried out: “Quick, turn it back on! You have one minute to restore it, or all is lost! Turn it back on!”
“Now why would I wanna do that?” Elmer said with a devilish grin, slamming shut the control-panel door. “No point in keepin’ it goin’ fer one old blue and white thing, eh? Even if it is pretty. Ha! Ha! I might be rich, but I’m no fool. I don’t believe in wastin’ eelectricity! No siree! Not me! I’ll build me the swellest bar in the universe in that spot, the full width of the wall. Was the first thing I thought when I saw it. Yes siree, Bub!”
“But, but….,” the former homeowner cried, then checked himself. They had paid his asking price; there was naught to be done. It had all happened so fast. “Well,” he sighed, folding his money and stuffing it into his breast pocket, “the paperwork…”
“Don’t worry, Mr. Godman,” Dodie said, in a moment of genuine intuitive empathy. She threw a flabby arm around him. “You can always git yourself one of them there portable aquariums in the old folks’ home, and you can git yourself another one of them blue and white things…. Hey, wadda ya call that one, anyway?”
Mr. Godman squirmed out of her clutch. Fighting back tears, he looked back from the archway at the darkened aquarium as the last sediments settled softly on the bottom within. In a faint voice, he replied: “It was called Earth . . .”