Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Short, Eventful Life of Shimmer the Fish

There's a reason I don't own plants or animals, and it's because they all eventually die on me and I can't handle it. That, and I'm allergic to most plants and animals. But even if I weren't, I'm too traumatized by the circle of life--or as I prefer to call it, the spiral of death--to care for any living creature aside from my own children. That's terrifying enough.

So I was none too happy when my kids came home with a tiny fish from the lake, in a green plastic bucket. They had named her "Shimmer" for her silvery scales. I don't know what kind of fish she was. She might have been a guppy or a minnow, but what the hell do I know? I'm a lawyer, not a fisheries biologist for fuck's sake.

Then how did I know it was a she, you ask? Hahaha. I'll tell you how. She was fucking PREGNANT, that's how. Or so said my cousin who was visiting. What? Oh no, he's not an ichthyologist or a fisheries biologist either; but he is a bio-medical engineer, and that's close enough. 

He told me there was a "flap" open under Shimmer's fin where she was crapping out eggs, and that her belly was swollen with little babies. When I challenged his reproductive analysis (I don't think a fish can both lay eggs AND give birth to live young?), he pointed out that if you say something with enough authority, that makes it true. My cousin's girlfriend gave him the major side-eye.

We spent a long time staring at Shimmer's belly and squinting at a few orange coils she had deposited in the corner of the round vase that was her new Mars One life capsule. We went back and forth, trying to figure out if they were eggs or poo. Please be poo. Please be poo. Please be poo, I said silently to myself. Somehow, the thought that I'd consigned an expectant mother to certain death right there on my kitchen island was too much to bear.

About 24 hours after her arrival at our home, Shimmer began to show signs of weakness. She became listless, and clearly wasn't interested in the breadcrumbs or Matzoh meal we had on hand. Naturally, we had not been responsible enough to buy fish food, assuming she would even have eaten that.

It was time to put Shimmer out of her misery.

We prepared the kids for the inevitable. Paige fashioned an ad-hoc gravestone from a clam shell. We sang "This Little Light of Mine" and the whole family assembled to pitch Shimmer and the contents of her bowl over the deck and into the garden box, where she would become a flower--or better yet--a sprig of cilantro for a future delicious batch of guacamole.

Two seconds after we did this, Isaac's face crumpled into a mask of grief and he began weeping. Sensing an opportunity for competition and theatrics, Paige soon joined him. Before I knew it, I was sequestered in my bedroom with two wailing children who refused to come to dinner. They had declared a hunger strike in protest of Shimmer's untimely demise.

I explained that Shimmer was a lake fish and wasn't supposed to live in our house. I told them she was really sick, and it was inhumane to just let her die a slow, painful death in a bowl full of breadcrumbs. Their cousin the scientist assured the kids that Shimmer's lifespan was probably not much shorter here than it would have been in the lake. He said this with authority; again, that made it true.

The kids calmed down and began to acquiesce to the elements of dinner one by one. A bite of steak here, some bread and butter there, and pretty soon principle gave way to their competing desire for a frozen fruit bar.

Geoff insisted that our children's mourning had been exaggerated. Yet despite that, the night ended with Geoff ordering the kids tadpoles online. His exact words were, "Grow-a-frog double tube town? For $29.99? We can't afford NOT to order it!"

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