By Susan Lewis
I am not a fish person. So I wouldn't have let my
three-year-old son try his luck with the goldfish game at the church fair.
"I never thought he could actually throw the ball in the
bowl," my husband explained as he showed me four fish wriggling in their Baggie
ponds. "Anyway, it'll be good for the kids to have pets."
I didn't consider a fish a real pet. When I was growing up,
I had a cat and then a dog. Cats and dogs have their problems, but at least
they act like pets. They have personalities - and legs. You can't nuzzle a
fish. You can't play with fish.
A kid can't even take care of fish. You feed them too much,
they die Feed them too little, they die. You change the water, they die. Don't
change the water, they die. And then you have dead fish - and questions about
death. I'm just not ready for this.
Later that day, I walk into the dining room, and there they
swim in a plastic bowl in the corner. "They look bored," I tell my husband.
"There's not much for them to look at. Maybe we could prop family pictures
around the outside of the bowl."
The morning after the fair, it's my turn to sleep beyond the
5 a.m. wakeup call. Around eight-o-clock, my husband comes upstairs to take a
shower as I go downstairs to grim faces and fewer fish. "Two of them died,"
squeaks the five-year-old.
"Oh," I say quietly, getting ready for serious talk about
"And Daddy made blueberry pancakes!" she shouts.
"What? Oh. Maybe we should bury them in the back yard."
"Daddy already put them down the kitchen drain," blurts the
seven-year-old, smearing syrup all over his pancake with a fork.
I stop in mid-thought, horrified at what I think he might
have - couldn't have - MUST have done. I race upstairs and pound on the
bathroom door. A wet face appears in the crack.
"How could you put them down the garbage disposal?" I
Dripping, he stares at me. "They're fish."
"But we named them! You can't put anything you NAME down the
I am sitting at my computer in a quiet house. The older kids
are at school; the baby is with the sitter. I have a pile of projects to
tackle, and I'm thinking about fish. Every time I pass the bowl, I feel guilty.
The ones still alive don't look happy. I don't think the bowl we provided is
good enough for a permanent home. A vacation, yes, but not a REAL home.
"Ours are in an iced-tea container," says my sister on the
phone. Her husband let her kids play the goldfish game too.
"Really?" I say, making a mental note not to drink iced tea
at her house next summer.
I go and look at our fish. One is peach-colored, the other
orange. "So where's the aquarium with colored shells and fancy plants?" say the
looks on their faces.
"Sorry, guys," I mutter, "this whole thing wasn't my idea.
Be glad you're not in an iced-tea jar."
THE FISH ARE SICK,
THEY'RE SICK, SICK, SICK
THEY'RE SICK WITH ICK.
It's hard to take fish seriously. It doesn't make it any
easier when they get diseases that sound like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Nevertheless,
when my sister's fish died of ick, I decided that it was time to take
I step into a pet store and announce, "We need an aquarium.
Something very simple. I mean, we're not really into this fish thing."
The owner grins the grin of a fisherman who is about to hook
the big one. He shows me the basic ten-gallon tank. "And here's the kit with
pump and filter," he says.
"The gravel's by the window."
"The plants are in the middle aisle."
"And the ornaments are here."
"Ornaments? Why do fish need ornaments?"
"To give them hiding places."
Choosing the basics is more complicated than I'd imagined.
First, it seems to me the gravel should, well, complement the fish. I choose
navy blue. Gold fish and blue gravel. My college colors.
The selection of ornaments includes a sunken ship, a life
preserver with NO FISHING ALLOWED written on it, and a hollow tree trunk.
Thirty dollars later, I lug my apparatus home. "Tomorrow, guys," I say to the
fish, "you can move in."
The next morning it looks as if there's been an oil spill in
the tank. "Hello, fish man?" I say into the phone. "Something's turned the
water black. And the motor on the filter sounds like a buzz saw. You can hear
it all over the house."
"Well, it's a bottom-of-the-line filter. You should expect
"Upgrade? Isn't upgrading something you do after a few
years, when you decide you really like this fish thing? You think I should
upgrade after 24 hours?"
"If the noise bothers you."
"How much is a quiet filter?"
"Is there anything else I need?"
"Well, you might want a hood."
"To prevent evaporation. And it keeps the fish from jumping
"Jumping out! How much is it?"
"Eighteen dollars. Unless you get a Plexiglas lid for
"Plexiglas sounds fine. What's the difference to the
"The Plexiglas doesn't have a light."
"A light? Why do I need a light?"
A new filter, additional gravel and two plastic plants
later, the fish finally settle in. That is, the one fish that survived. I found
the orange one wrapped around the intake valve of the upgraded filter one
morning. And so, having spent $67 on a mansion fit for a kingfish and having
only one goldfish left, we bought two more. Now all three are on antibiotics,
but they're doing fine.
The funny thing is, these fish really act like pets. They
hang out together, hiding behind the trunk or nibbling at the leaves of the
plastic plants. When I walk over to the tank, they race to the glass, wagging
their little bodies as enthusiastically as a puppy wagging it's tail. There is
one in particular I kind of like. She darts with a graceful nervousness, and
stares at me with tiny, black-button eyes. I sit mesmerized, bonding, watching
and being watched in the silence of early morning.
Feet pound down the stairs: the kids are awake, and the
goldfish go wild. They respond to sound, leaping for their food. Which reminds
me - I really do have to get that lid. And maybe a light.