I didn't think I had the capacity to care for another living thing when my youngest daughter brought home an aging betta fish last year. I was managing three kids, two dogs, one husband, freelance-work and the renovation of our house. Plus, we already had a betta fish, "Rainy," who ate so slowly we had to feed him one morsel at a time.
So I was peeved when our neighbor outgrew her fish phase and gave "Bob" to my second-grader: Like I needed another dependent! Now instead of taking one minute to feed the fish every day, feeding time would take me two minutes! Cleaning time would take me four! Unlike Rainy, who is as elegant as a red silk scarf, Bob was very ugly. His blue scales were covered with grey speckles and his mouth turned up like a catfish. The only thing I did like about Bob, at first, was that he was so old I figured he'd die real soon.
That was a year ago, and Bob turned out to be a very easy charge. He swam eagerly whenever anyone looked into his bowl. He ate quickly and with greed. He bumped against the glass to fight with Rainy in the next bowl over. And he didn't seem bothered when, one day a month ago, he no longer had a tail.
We were not sure how he lost his tail; was it a disease? Was it age-related? Did the tail get caught on a rock when I was cleaning the bowl? However it happened, being tail-less didn't slow Bob down at first. He swam wobbly, and maybe he was less eager to butt up against the glass, but he still came to the surface when one of us was standing by his bowl, and he still ate his nuggets before they started sinking.
I thought he might live on indefinately without a tail, or possibly even grow a new one, so I was surprised on Saturday morning to find him floating in his bowl (that's him in the photo above, in the bowl on the right). Unlike previous ailing fish-pets, Bob didn't gasp miserably for days before dying. I can't say I was sad to see him gone, nor was I relieved to have one less dependent. Bob had been easy, and he'd had a good, long life. Children and mothers took care of him (not counting the tail thing, if it was my fault). He shared a counter with hermit crabs in his last home, and had Rainy as a step-brother-fish in our old, borrowed and new kitchens. And whereas a lot of dead fish get flushed down toilets, Bob had a real funeral in the woods near our house. The kids dressed in black playclothes, sang melancholy "church songs," and buried him on a piece of bark beneath a headstone made of rock.
May Bob rest in peace.
C and T prepared a funeral procession for "Bob" with our neighbors, who owned the fish first and figure he was about five years old. M, my oldest child and a veteran of many previous fish funerals, is away at camp.