They want a cat. Or a dog or a bat or a snail or a crab. They just want something to love. And given how baby hungry I’ve been since my sister gave birth to a little piece of heaven earlier this week, I was feeling just vulnerable enough to oblige. A little.
We shopped all day today. The shopping was for shoes. Shoes were what we shopped for. Hours. Hours and hours were spent in the pursuit of proper footwear and when we were done, we were Done. And then, out of the blue, a PetCo rose up in front of us and before I realized what was happening, we had turned into the mini-zoo parking lot and were headed inside, “just to look.”
We passed the kittens and slimy things and made our way to the fish, which are also slimy but you don’t pet them so their sliminess is inconsequential. I asked what kind of fish we could put in a bowl with no filter and was told Betta fish were the only option.
We’ve had Betta fish before and I swore we’d never do it again but a pet Betta is better than a rat and thusly we left the store with one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish, and a bucket load of supplies.
On the way home, Laylee and Magoo cradled their little fishy tubs on their laps, thinking up names, staring at them through the plastic and giggling randomly.
“I can’t wait to get him home and spend some time with him!” Magoo cooed.
We got home and set up their little habitats in spare flower vases I had in a cupboard above the fridge, a testament to Dan’s talent for bringing me flowers spontaneously on days when he doesn’t even know that I need them the most.
After fussing over the new family members for several minutes, Laylee and Magoo moved on with their lives and Wanda took over caring for the fishies. She stood with her mouth almost to the water, yelling out with Darla-like zeal, “HELLO FISH! HI FISHIE! I LOVE OO FISHIE! HIIIIII FISH!”
The fish gave no response.
“Do we touch the fish?” I asked her, remembering this picture taken of Magoo last time we gave these pets a try.
“No. We don’t touch FISHIES!” she laughed.
Good. We were on the same page.
As we gathered the family for bedtime scripture reading and prayers, Wanda got a little too close to Magoo’s fish landscape. The vase toppled. I screamed. Wanda grabbed the vase with both hands, bobbing it back and forth uncontrollably trying to right it as water spilled everywhere and everyone, everyone in the house began screaming.
Never in my memory has there been a more cacophonous, horror-filled round of agonized screams tearing through the fabric of our home. Wailing, sobbing, screeching psychobots degenerated into total hysteria as I ran to grab the vase from Wanda before the precious fish met his maker with a side-trip down the cavernous crevices of our living room couch.
Wanda, tossing the fish bowl back and forth between her hands, her head thrown back wailing like a banshee, Laylee, staring in horror, her eyes running over with tears, her face vibrating like she’d stuck her hand in a light socket, shrieking involuntarily, me yelling, “NOOOOOO!” and Magoo sob-yelling in a crumpled heap on the floor, already having given up all hope of survival.
When I righted the falling vase, the fish still swimming happily, I breathed a sigh of relief. My screaming had stopped but I was the only one. They just went on like that, as though frozen in time. Wanda dropped to the floor, exhausted, remorseful and more than a little terrified by the reaction she had caused. Her cries became ever more pain-filled and unstable.
Laylee grew more hysterical, her fear mingling with rage as she moved to protect her fish bowl with her body. “Wanda can never, n-n-n-EVER COME ANYWHERE NEAR MY FI-HI-HI-HISH!” Her body wracked with sobs, she periodically gasped, “Never.”
Magoo seemed unable to comprehend that VeilTail had survived. He would not stand up, writhing on the floor as though in mourning-inspired throws of agony. As we tried to comfort them, it was all Dan and I could do not to laugh hysterically. Maybe we should have let loose. There is no possible way they would have heard us anyway.
After several minutes, Laylee and Wanda’s screeching subsided and we sent Laylee and Magoo up to brush their teeth. For fully five minutes, Magoo sobbed. We’d convinced him that the fish was alive but I guess everything just felt too real now, this brush with death making him feel his own mortality too keenly. Everything. Everything. Could be gone in the blink of an eye.
And now they’re asleep, their piteous wails no more than a ghostly echo, ringing in my ears as I watch the two fish swim frighteningly close to the tops of their bowls. Is that one floating? For the love of all that’s holy, breathe man, breathe! They must not perish tonight. Not on my watch.
I do not believe our world can endure the riotous lamentations that will be heard in the land if they don’t make it. Sleep sweet, little fish.