While that may sound strange to some (“Gee, you believe fish can think and feel? What a bullhead!”), perhaps I can convince you.
My daughter, Ivy, and I bought two goldfish about the time I began editing as my primary profession versus being a pole dancer, which is kind of like doing a Chinese fire drill only with less space and with a guy named Lapinski.
We bought a large terrarium for our finned friends to call home and placed it on the dining room table. Then we started thinking about what to name our fish.
What is it with humans that make us name things? Heck, I’ve now named all my vacuums: Slick the Panasonic, Wick the Bissell, and Mick the 10-gallon Shop-Vac (Mick, because like Jagger, he has big lips and really sucks). Guys even name their…
ahh, for another time.
As some of us earn our names due to our actions or through our characteristics (sweetheart, dumbshit, honey, numb nuts, bonehead, fartface, buffalo breath), Ivy decided to call the white fish with a red-orange cap Angel and the fiery-looking one Phoenix.
True to its name, within two days, Phoenix appeared to be undergoing a transformation. But rather than burning itself on a funeral pyre and rising from its ashes, on day three, he simply floated to the surface, ashen.
Choosing not to introduce Angel to a disease, we opted to keep her as an only fish. It’s worked well for my daughter—I mean, she has no diseases to speak of—and Angel has seemed relatively content to live as our solitary pet in water. Until recently.
Before I reach today’s climax, I’ll share Angel’s adventures and changes of venue.
While editing at the marble table where our fish resided, Angel would observe me. Whenever she felt ignored, she’d swim to the surface and make bubble sounds at me, like a teenager snapping gum. I’d then give Angel some attention till she felt content to go about her business.
Even my dear friend Kathi said, “We have a lot of fish, but this one has personality. She seems so aware.”
One day while cleaning her terrarium, I used water that was too hot and the glass cracked. Though it didn’t break and held together when empty, I suspect filling it with water would have caused a gusher. So we temporarily placed Angel in a smaller vessel.
Our former man of the house bought a gorgeous, tall glass vase from Michael’s, which we filled with water and inserted a lovely, nontoxic plant with Angel, then placed the vase on the brick hearth.
Life was good for a long time. Tattoo the cat didn’t disturb Angel’s aquatics, and Angel enjoyed sliding along the stem of her tall plant like a stripe on a candy cane.
Then Shiloh the Lab discovered kitty number two: Piercing, the Maine coon and holy terror [see auntieeartha.blogspot.com/2007/12/tattoo-and-piercing.html].
One autumn evening while Ivy and I worked at the dining room table, Piercing was inconspicuously observing Angel dancing in her glass confines.
You know the ol’ saying “curiosity killed the cat”? Well, it’s because the cat almost killed the fish, and it upset the humans. Crash! We heard heavy glass hitting brick, immediately followed by a gush of water. I leaped out of my chair.
There on the carpet flopped little Angel.
Fortunately, the fish didn’t flop on broken glass, and Piercing darted without trying to revive the fish. I cried out to Ivy, “Get a bowl of water! Quick!”
I gingerly scooped up the little fishy-poo and let her slide safely into her makeshift enclave. She must have felt like a gypsy. At that point I vowed not to purchase any new glass containers that would make Angel visible to the cats.
I did, however, place her temporarily into another smaller glass vase out of feline view, though it was like putting me in a hot tub—the tight space is wonderful for a while, but after 45 minutes, I feel like a fish in a bowl and want to jump out.
Exploring my cabinets, I decided to house Angel in a large olive-colored chips-and-salsa bowl that our friend Terry gave us. It was thick, sturdy, offered sufficient space for afternoon laps, and provided camo, that is unless a cat leaped upon the counter and peered inside, which would mean sudden death to the curious cat, as earlier mentioned.
But I felt guilty. Angel had shown intelligence when she could look outside her container, and by placing her in a home without windows, she was unable to observe the world around her. Nevertheless, thinking I was keeping her safe from Piercing’s inappropriate behavior, I kept her in the big bowl for a couple years, placing her in a transparent vase only weekly when I changed her water.
Then it happened. She became discontent. And who can blame her. She has a good brain.
One night about a year ago, I changed her water, kept the bowl by the sink, and went to bed. The next morning, I looked in her bowl and saw no fish. So my eyes and body darted over to the temporary holding vase and saw no fish. A brief panic overtook me. I looked in the sink, and there, lying atop the rubber flaps before the sink’s disposal lay Angel, still as death. I cried, “No!” carefully reached down underneath her body, and she flopped!
Soon she was swimming happily as if nothing happened.
Then a couple of weeks ago I could hear her flipping around. Within a short time, I heard a wet flopping noise on the counter. I dashed into the kitchen and gently put my hand around her and put her back into the bowl.
That little goldfish was able to jump up two inches and out another two to leave her space. Sounds like adolescence to me.
Later that same day, she flipped out again! This time she landed on the floor, 39 inches below. Fortunately I was nearby and the cats weren’t, so I scooped her up and put her back in her bowl.
At this point I’m thinking that this really isn’t a goldfish at all. It’s a flying fish with ulterior motives masquerading as a house pet.
Now the sad climax. I changed Angel’s water before I went to bed Friday night, and my gut told me not to put her back into her bowl but to keep her in the temporary holding vase. I didn’t listen to my intuition.
I got up Saturday morning, walked outside with the dog, and came back in to prepare for the animal feeding frenzy. As my eyes glided around Angel’s bowl, I saw no swimming fish. But in the salsa side bowl she lay, still and crispy. Again I cried, “No! Don't die."
I quickly put her in the water and she started slowly spreading her gills and gradually flipping her flippers, but she couldn’t right herself and kept floating on her side and upside down. I gently held her upright in the water for 10 minutes while saying, “please live,” until she could almost hold herself up. Her swim bladder must have been completely dry.
Throughout the day her scales exfoliated as she cautiously swam in the vase on the table, so I could keep an eye on her and give her loving smiles. She even had a small bite to eat. By afternoon, I placed her in fresh water out of the cloud of her own cells, but she sank to the bottom.
Saturday evening I put her back into the chips-and-salsa bowl, where she balanced in the corners. Relieved, she was still alive Sunday, but still staying next to the salsa bowl. So I moved her into a vase, and it enlivened her! And now she’s swimming around wet, wild, and full of verve.
I can tell she’s excited about life, now that she has a 360-degree view, because she has a good brain.