Whoa! This wasn’t a fish — this was sunlight, electricity, a flash of blinding orange, a jolt of brilliant yellow! And grace– athleticism, confidence– absolutely dominating the tank! I’d spotted him right away, observed, admired, coveted!
“That one– right there!”
“C’mon, kid. How’m I s’posed to catch that one particular fish? What am I, Houdini?”
I snatched the net and hauled him in myself, plopped him into a plastic bag, forked over a dime and ran all the way home. I couldn’t wait to show this lucky little fish the breathtaking seascape of gravel, shells and cat’s eye marbles in his new bowl.
I was bursting with pride. It was a place of water and light, dimension and intrigue. A paradise of color– the hues! A sunken pirate’s ship. Faux seaweed. And a wicked enamel skull– with black eye patch and polka-dot doo-rag tied in a foppish top-knot.
Imagine the adoring fans who would soon — today! — crowd this very bedroom, around this very fishbowl, in absolute and delicious awe. This would be SRO, the event of the summer.
Henceforth this creature of beauty and wonder, this creation of the limitless imagination of the one true deity– Yes, I am now certain there is a God! — would be named Chester! No– Zorro! No, no– Lightning! And he was mine!
Lightning darted here, there, testing, appraising… left, right, up, down… a zigzag… a figure eight!– before settling into a cool back and forth rhythm. A thoroughbred ready to run!
Then. Something odd. Barely perceptible. A… what was it?
A wobble! Yes, yes, a wobble! As if a short in his electrical system had– and– a list! This way… and that…. back and forth… teetering… wait… what? Before my eyes… nose first! … to the bottom!
Bulbous, smoky eyes… a sickly dead… thing … drifting… bouncing! … across the gravel I’d so carefully– wedging! — between the shanks of the ceramic skin-diver and the fronds of a plastic palm tree.
“There’s a lesson here, you know,” my older brother said as he scooped out the gravel and emptied the bowl into the toilet.
I nodded solemnly. “I know,” I said. “No matter how much you love something, sometimes it just dies.”
“You mean that such a creature was meant to live wild and free in its own natural habitat?”
I thought for a moment. “What, then?” I asked.
He flushed the toilet and Lightning swirled downward, a little orange turd plunging head-first into the unspeakable horrors of the municipal sewer system.
“Save your receipt, pinhead.”
Lightning was simply the first in a long line of pets that just didn’t… work out. Fred and Ethel, my adventurous, ill-fated hamsters drowned in a sump basin and were buried with dignity out back of the garage.
Butch and Swede, my turtles… heck, dad just didn’t see them there on the driveway. And Mickey, my parakeet– dead before he’d finished his very first bag of Pretty Polly® Trill-Tone™ Mel-O-Dee™ Mix.
But, perhaps saddest of all, was Fritz, my proud little Dachshund. He crossed the yard on stubby legs one sunny day, his private parts dragging along beneath like the broken exhaust system on an old Chevy. He discovered a peach in the grass, gobbled, choked on the pit and was pronounced DOA by our now visibly uncomfortable veterinarian.
I blamed myself. For years I was convinced an evil energy– a curse!— emanated within.
As an adult, I was tortured with doubt, wracked with guilt. When long evenings with Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels no longer offered solace, I sought psychiatric help.
“… and what became of your lovely little fish?”
“Well… I flushed him down the toilet, Doc.”
“You sick son of a bitch!”
I’m a grown man now with a family of my own and, as mom used to say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Small, fuzzy mammals continue their run of bad luck at our house. Amphibians wilt to odd shades of gray and yellow, reptiles devour their young, feathered things lose heart, grow morose.
But, on the other hand, I can relate one success story, a bittersweet page of hope and optimism in this tale of woe.
One day a cute little farm kitten showed up at our back door. Against my better judgment, we adopted him. Cats require little expertise, I’ve learned… they poop in a box, clean themselves, sleep most of the time. Just to hedge our bets, we decided he should stay indoors all of the time, so we had him declawed and neutered, named him Lollipop.
He’s harmless as the day is long, nearly hassle-free. He emits a mellow vibe and I think he likes me. I just hope his luck holds out.