Fish Story

Went down to the pet store for waterplants, a snail companion, and replacement neon tetras for our tank.

On the way to checkout, we passed a wall of small, clear containers, each containing one betta – which pretty much filled the entire area, leaving them no room to swim. Several floated belly up. I don’t think they were fed, so they stayed, trapped, unmoving, staring out at their human captors until they died from hunger.

It broke my heart, reminded me of my prison days, so I asked Lady to pick one (would have tried to save more, but they’re fighting fish and don’t play well with others).

She chose a gorgeous, primitive, red creature, all silky and strange.

Back home, we released it in our tank, and it stayed still, in one spot, traumatized, for the rest of the day.

Next day it swam into the plants and hid.

After awhile, it peeked out, a wee more each day, until finally each time it saw me walk by, it dashed to the glass and did a little waggle dance of maybe happiness, maybe expectation, maybe both.

I knew it danced mostly for food because usually it rose to the top to feed after greeting me, but sometimes it stayed below, level with my face, and wiggled its front fins as it flowed back and forth in seeming joy, very much like a happy puppy.

Lady suggested we name it Alpha (for Alpha Betta), and I counteroffered Alfie, after the Michael Caine film, which is ironic because Caine’s Alfie was total lack of love and joy, while our’s oozed both.

The snail we got the same day as Alfie slimed a different path. We’d chosen a medium-sized black snail to make sure it was too big for our snail-crunching loach named Sucker to eat. It was supposed to keep our large orange snail company, which we’d named Speedy because he literally zoomed around the tank.

Lady mentioned they might mate, and we’d have all these baby snails for Sucker to eat. As I turned off the aquarium light that night, I noticed the snails were kissing, and thought “How sweet, babies on the way.”

Next morning the black shell was empty, and Speedy so gorged with snail flesh he couldn’t quite fit in his shell. So much for sweetness.

Which leaves us with Sucker, a leopard loach we’d initially bought to control our small snail infestation.

I was sitting zoned in my chair, stoned, lost in a book, when I heard a thud. I looked over and saw a large green feather from a cat toy flopping on the floor, going thump-thump-leap, thump-thump-leap, and my brain froze, simply could not process what I was seeing because we don’t have any battery operated cat toys, and for sure no flopping green feathers.

Lady finally broke through my confusion by saying, “It’s Sucker.”

Somehow Sucker had gotten out of the water, climbed 3 inches to the plastic top, squeezed through an opening, wriggled to the front, and fell four feet to the floor, landing atop a green feather as long as he was, which stuck perfectly to his wet body, so I saw a 6″ green flopping feather which impossibly looked alive.

I got up, scooped him from the floor, pulled the feather off, and as I turned to put him back in the tank, he twisted around and sank his fangs deep into my palm. Amazing amount of pain, immediate blood flow. I pulled his snail-crunching teeth out of me and dropped him in the water, wondering how the heck he’d gotten out since there was no wet trail on top of the tank – perhaps he’d teleported through the glass like those rogue electrons in quantum tunneling.

Since then, Sucker and I watch each other, he having a taste for my blood and wanting more, and me – a Pisces – wondering if I’ve been infected with mutant fish slime since I started taking 90 minute baths daily.

Speedy died six months later.

Sucker, always dreaming more me, followed.

But Alfie’s still here, waiting, watching, puppy dancing whenever I walk by.

So lovely to be liked… by a fish.

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