Last night I dreamed I was with friends in an indoor public place- a restaurant or a mall, maybe- filled with the half-height walls those sorts of places use to create the perimeter of a food court, or to divide one dining section from another. The walls were deep, and made of a light-colored wood.
One of the walls had a decorative box built into the top at the end, a bit like the newel post pictured here, and about 9 inches square. The side of the square facing me had been replaced with a piece of thick plexiglass so I could see the box was filled almost to the top with water, and that a gray and white goldfish and a champagne colored gerbil were swimming inside.
The gerbil was treading water desperately, trying so hard to keep its nose in the inch or so of air at the top of the box. I started pounding on the plexiglass screwed to the face of the box, trying to break it to release this sad little creature before it drowned.
(It just occurred to me that I gave no thought to what might become of the fish were I to succeed in breaking through the plexiglass.)
I looked around and saw no one with me seemed bothered that someone had doomed this fish by shutting it into a “bowl” where the water could never be aerated, nor that this gerbil was even more precariously trapped and was clearly on the verge of drowning.
So why wasn’t anyone else upset? Why weren’t they helping? Why weren’t they even looking?
I remembered I had a mini multipurpose tool in my bag, with a small screwdriver folded into it alongside its picks and files and blades. I knew the screwdriver’s tip was too small a size to remove screws as large as the ones holding the plexiglass in place, and began praying for help as I ran to the people around me, begging them to get involved as I searched for wherever I had left my bag.
I felt so alone, and realized I was scared. And no matter what I said, or however urgently I said it, everyone I met replied with silence. Frustrated, accusatory silence.
I found my bag, but when I pulled out the multipurpose tool I saw the screwdriver was now larger than it had been before. I ran to the box and franticly attacked the screws. As they came out they cracked and split the glass, letting the water rush out onto the floor.
(I never did see the fish again. Perhaps it was just there in the beginning to help me understand the purpose of the box?)
I caught the soaking wet gerbil as it fell and laid it on top of the the low wall to catch its breath while I took my bag back to wherever I had grabbed it from. When I returned to the animal it appeared to be in worse shape than when I had left it only moments before, and none of the people standing around had stepped in to try to help it.
“What’s wrong with you?” I yelled at them. “It’s dying! Why didn’t any of you do something to help him while I was away?!”
More silence as shoulders were shrugged and backs were turned.
I scooped the little fellow up and cupped him in my hands, stroking his head and face with my fingertip and blowing warm air across his fur to dry him off. He opened his eyes and began moving around a bit. I was so happy that he was alive and recovering, and so angry that no one had done anything to help us. I didn’t know any more about what to do than any of them did, you know? They should’ve done something.
Why didn’t they do something?