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art by Stephen James Kiniry

If Wishes Were Fishes

Amanda M. Hayes grew up in Indiana and has lived in far too many other states since then, but Texas is the only one that could tempt her away from her heartfelt Hoosier allegiance. Her stories have appeared in Farthing and Raven Electrick. This is her second appearance in Daily Science Fiction. Mercury in Hand.

A penny plunked into the fountain outside the Chinese restaurant, and one of the resident goldfish swam up to investigate. He tasted metal in the water. He took the penny in his mouth--he was large, as goldfish went--and tasted something else beneath the tang of countless human hands: the coin carried a woman's wish for a new job. He couldn't discern details without swallowing it, so he did, and began to digest.
By evening a bright, shining, almost golden penny lay where he had been, until the owner's son scooped the fountain clean of wishes, and threw them in the register with the change.
No one behind the restaurant counter could hire the woman, certainly not to work in an accounting firm as she dreamed. The fish-turned-wish wriggled to the top of the penny pile. He soon passed into the hand and pocket of an elderly man.
The old man lost him in a gutter. A tiny boy found him there and used him to help pay for ice cream. The driver of the ice cream truck put him in the give-a-penny cup of a thrift store, where he sat only a minute before the next customer in line picked him up. He swam through humanity with unerring instinct.
At last, he came into the possession of a young, wistful clerk with numbers on his soul, spilled coffee on his hands, money he was willing to spend, and a dream of his own. The clerk wanted a decent house--wanted it so badly the fish almost forgot the wish locked in his copper seeming. He flung himself off the edge of the man's desk as soon as there was no one to see, rolled across marble and carpet and linoleum, into an elevator and the side of a polished black shoe.
The head of the firm looked down and spotted him, gleaming as brightly as ever.
Here. The goldfish forced himself to stay still between the man's fingers. Here was an opportunity to match the desire he carried. A second wish to fulfill.
Though he seldom did his own hiring, the head of the firm scanned posted resumes through lunch, one hand closed around the penny in his pocket. His palm and fingers seemed to tingle as he clicked on one particular name. He studied the woman's resume closely. He let go of the coin; he needed both hands to type the email offering her an interview, and the goldfish fell to the bottom of the pocket, tired, content.
But only for a moment. The fish nudged the satin lining, somewhat worn as it was, and made a hole just large enough to lose a penny through.
He fetched up beside the young clerk's chair. The clerk picked him up, and had a sudden craving to eat Chinese that night.
Stopping just outside the door, the clerk made a wish on the newest, shiniest penny he had, and threw it into the fountain.
The goldfish took his own shape again in the water. He spat out a coin. Not such an eye-catching coin, perhaps; one of his schoolmates approached it nevertheless, and she took in the dream it held, tasted it, and after a moment, swallowed.
The goldfish wished her luck.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Author Comments

You shouldn't throw pennies into goldfish pools, but that doesn't always stop people. Decorative fish pools and wishing fountains are linked in my mind. I imagined how living with so many human wishes could affect the fish, and somehow the idea reversed, turning into this loopy-but-fun concept.

- Amanda M. Hayes
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