The Romeo and Juliet Riddle
Christopher James

Romeo and Juliet lie alone and dead on the stone floor, around them broken glass and water. It’s a riddle. How did they die?

You’re smart – or you’ve seen the riddle before – and you know the answer. Romeo and Juliet are goldfish.

But still the question remains, how did they die?

The woman you love set her laptop up on the table the fish bowl lived on, and she pushed the bowl to the side to make room to move her mouse. She pushed too hard, too far not thinking, a small effort, a terrible result.

Down went the bowl, down went Romeo, down went Juliet. But the woman you love didn’t hear them land and break. She was plugged in, listening to Major Lazer. You don’t like Major Lazer, so she does this kindness for you, she listens on headphones. She listens on headphones and doesn’t hear the fishbowl land and break.

It broke not into a million pieces but two. Two curved halves of a seeded fruit, their contents spilled like coconut milk. The small stones from the base of the bowl bounced and jumped as far as the door. The water found the lie in the stone floor and ran first to one side of the room and then to the corner. Later, you would see the stones first, then the tiny stream. Then you’d see her, focused on Facebook, bobbing her head. And finally, the victims of this accidental crime.

They’re dead. Two dead fish on your living room floor. An unpleasant way to go for fish.

You don’t disturb the woman you love. You pick up the fish and the broken bowl and most of the stones yourself. It could have happened to anyone, you reason. Maybe even your fault for leaving the bowl on the table, an accident waiting to happen.

Later she’ll ask you what happened to them, and you’ll need to tell her then, or think of something else to say. The slightest touch by the woman you love, pushing too hard, pushing too far, and it could happen to anyone.

That is how Romeo and Juliet died. They fell from the table, pushed too far and unheard. But still the question remains.

How did they die?

Christopher James lives, works and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia, and has been published online by Tin House, McSweeney’s, Smokelong and other places. He is the editor of Jellyfish Review.