Monday, April 6, 2009

The Death of Shimmer

As I have noted in this virtual tome so recently, and as you yourself may have also noticed, death happens to every living thing. And it has come to our house. Thankfully, we were gone. Except for Shimmer, Blue's beta fish, a male, as she so carefully informs one and all. Because they are the fancy looking ones.

I knew Shimmer wouldn't last long. He had ick and he was elderly. His lavish iridescent fins had thinned and looked like wads of hair from a drain. When last I saw him, he was bouncing along the bottom of the tank on his side, one "lung" bloated and white.
I dropped by the apartment on Wednesday to do some paperwork and the land lady caught me before I went up. "He doesn't look good," she confided.
"I know," I said.
"I think he's dying," She warned.
"He's old and he has ick," I said.
"He doesn't have long," She worried.
"It's not your fault," I said.
"I know not to over feed fish," She fretted.
"Yes, You can't over feed fish," I allowed.
I breathed deep and trudged up the stairs. What would I find? How decomposed would he be?
He laid at the bottom of the tank. I noticed my mother had turned off all the heat before she left and the tank was chilly. I chipped out some ice and poured a little hot water in. About 1000 un-touched pellets of fish food flew up. And Shimmer skipped feebly across the bottom.

Yes, you can't over feed a fish. Unless your a little tipsy.

I recently cleaned his tank, but it was now a cloud of soggy fish food. As I washed and rinsed, I wondered what the hell I was doing. This fish was obviously near death. He couldn't eat. He wasn't going to last another day or two. And I was cleaning his tank.
I laughed when I realized I was trying to ease his passing. If he was going to go, I didn't want anyone, not me, and certainly not the fish-Valkyriesthat would carry him from this world, imagining that I had killed him through neglect, that I had let him slip from this life in a dirty cesspool of soggy crumbs. Maybe a vet would prescribe morphine drops for his water? Should I dump in some whiskey? Or make a quick finish with the garbage disposal? In the end I decided that if suffering to the very last breath was good enough for humans, it was probably good enough for a beta. When last I saw him he was struggling along the purple rocks at the bottom of his tank, gasping for ... um... air?

When we returned there was a note on the table, a fancy and formal script. "The fish died." The tank was empty. The lid was off.
She said that he was dead the day after I left him. She flushed him down the toilet. I thanked her for not leaving him in the tank for me to fish out his half decomposed body. She said she'd considered freezing him, but felt that would be over kill.

Later, her husband commented that the fish had ick.
"Yes, I know, but what was I going to do, bring a $3 fish to the vet?"
There. I'd said it.
I'd tried to ease his passing, tried to preempt guilt, and now here it was, staring me down. I'd killed a $3 fish because it was a $3 fish.
"You know there's stuff you could get at the pet store that would've taken care of the ick."
"REALLY!??" How should I have known that?! But then, it wasn't even worth it to me to Google "ick" and get an answer in 3 seconds. Why not? Because it was a $3 fish.
PETA is going to KILL me!

I love PETA, most of the time. But they are really not going to like this: I hated how that fish had to eat every damn day. Every damn DAY! We had to feed him. I had to hire a pet sitter once for $30, just so the $3 fish wouldn't die of starvation, and then he dies anyway! And what's more, the beta is a fighting fish. That F-er would've killed me, eaten me alive, piranha'd me in 3 seconds, given the slightest advantage. If Blue would forget to feed her fish, I'd go over and he'd puff up like a bully and swim back and forth looking tough. Had our sizes been reversed, he'd have gobbled me: a vegetarian (mostly)! He was $3, with a surly, possibly even dangerous, personality.

He will be missed.

I broke the news to Blue.
"What did she do with the body?"
"She flushed it down the toilet."
"Darn, I kind of wanted to see what a dead fish looks like."

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