Ralph is a most acrimonious and disagreeable man. His rude and self-absorbed attitude is aggressive and coarse and his personality is charged with unpleasantries. He is ill-natured and terse – and he hates the color green. He is jaundiced and bitter and his acerbity is tiresome and offensive. In point, although Ralph is angry and indignant, he hasn’t always been unlikeable, and he was even loved – once.
Ralph Ellison drives a delivery truck for Buck’s Hardware Store. Ralph delivers paint and home-repair products to Buck’s larger accounts. Occasionally Ralph delivers items to homes where he signs a delivery sheet and leaves the items just inside an open garage. If the garage is closed or if it is raining, Ralph is likely not to leave the items – not for the sake of the items, but because leaving the items means getting himself wet or because some level of effort will have to be considered in order to leave the items in a dry spot. Ralph has never been one to excel in such industrious undertakings as effort. To Ralph, consider means attempt, and attempt means effort. So Ralph leaps to a conclusion that he views logical – that to have considered, means to have given his best effort – and so all of Ralph’s considerations fall short of completion.
Ralph lives alone with a goldfish also named Ralph. Buck says that that alone is enough to make a man cranky, but Buck doesn’t know Ralph’s wife bought him the goldfish. Besides, thinks Ralph, how is it that Buck thinks living alone with a goldfish named Ralph is enough to make a man cranky. It may be enough to make a man lonely, regards Ralph, but not cranky. Unless of course, Ralph wonders, if being lonely is a thing that makes a man cranky. But whether Ralph was lonely first or cranky first is undetermined.
Ralph’s wife bought them each a goldfish. His wife bought two bowls and filled them each with goldfish-water for the fish. Ralph’s wife called the water goldfish-water, and although Ralph thought his wife somewhat juvenile, he still thought her sweet and he smiled when she referred to the water in the goldfish bowls as goldfish-water. Ralph’s wife bought the two goldfish and put one each beside each of their beds. Ralph’s wife put her goldfish on her night-table and named it Ralph. Her two Ralphs she would say. She put the other goldfish on Ralph’s night-table and suggested Ralph name the goldfish whatever he liked. Ralph named his goldfish after his wife. Ralph’s wife was pleased that Ralph was thoughtful enough to name the goldfish after her. Ralph had considered other names but concluded that his considering other names meant he had put forth taxing effort and that if it pleased his wife to have a goldfish named after her, then so be it. Ralph suspected his wife had slyly suggested he give the goldfish her name anyway, and that was secretly settlement enough for Ralph.
Now Ralph sleeps alone – his wife having passed only a few days after his goldfish passed. Ralph sleeps alone beside his late wife’s bed and beside a goldfish she affectionately named Ralph. Ralph eats his meals alone, watches television alone and drives a delivery truck alone. For the most part Ralph prefers to be alone and he prefers also to be left alone, so these things are no matter, but no one – not even Ralph – prefers to be lonely.
In the mornings, before he is off to drive his delivery truck, Ralph thinks of his wife as he sprinkles delicate goldfish flakes into Ralph’s goldfish-water. Feeding the goldfish was something Ralph’s wife never failed to do. She fed the goldfish every morning and spoke to them in her fragile, yet sure tone – a tone that Ralph thought to be quite musical. Ralph, in his taciturn and incomplete way, neglected to mention to his wife how lovely he thought her voice. But Ralph, in his best effort to tell his wife, now speaks that sentiment to his goldfish.
On his days off from his delivery job, Ralph likes to sit in the shade of the trees outside his house. When a light breeze blows through the green leaves, Ralph pretends sometimes it is his wife’s voice he hears. The leaves whisper to one another with such a quiet sigh, that Ralph can easily be forgiven for confusing the soft breath of a breeze with that of his wife’s easy words.
Some days Ralph takes his goldfish outside with him. Ralph likes to do this because it’s what his wife would do. She would bring the two goldfish outside and put them together in the same bowl. She was content sitting silently with Ralph and the goldfish. She admired the way blue sky and green leaves reflected colorful wrinkles in the goldfish-water. Ralph imagines what it would be like to still have his wife and her goldfish. He imagines it would be nice, and decides also, that maybe the color green isn’t so bad after all.