It finally happened. Thomas is dead. Luke’s betta fish, that it. He joined our family on Christmas Eve, a gift from Aunt Ashley. Thanks for the lesson in mortality, by the way, Aunt Ashley. It fit in smoothly between dinner and bathtime.
I’m going to be blunt: my husband killed the fish. Shortly after Thomas came to live with us, Michael had been doing some construction work in the house and had the back door open most of the day. He was fixated on the task of putting down new flooring in the hallway and missed the obvious fact that betta fish are not native to the Arctic. Why was the temperature of Thomas’ tank in the forefront of my mind that day? I don’t know, something about women being nurturers, perhaps. When I returned home with the kids that day, the air temperature inside had plummeted to around 50F degrees or so.
“It’s freezing in here, Michael,” I said.
“I’ve been in and out so many times I didn’t bother closing the door.”
I checked Thomas’ tank thermometer and saw that his water was very cold. Too cold for a tropical fish to not have been shocked. (I know very little about fish but that seems like common sense to me.)
“I think you killed the fish,” I said.
“Um, excuse me, Jacques Cousteau, he’s kind of swimming sideways-ish. That’s not a good sign.”
I thought for sure his days were numbered. But he swam on through winter, spring and finally into summer.
We broke the news to Luke after dinner.
“Luke, you know how Thomas hasn’t been swimming around that much and how he’s not really eating? Well, he’s in heaven now. He was just too tired to swim anymore.”
“You mean he’s dead?” Luke said, without pause, in a surprisingly upbeat voice.
“Yes. Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
What should we do with it? I mouthed to Michael, over Luke’s head. Not in the yard. Cats will dig it up, he mouthed back. That would be a whole separate drama, finding out that Thomas had been the victim of grave robbing. Luckily we live near plenty of open water.
“Luke, would you like to walk down to the canal tomorrow and set Thomas free?”
“That’s a good idea,” he said.
“Or we could flush him down the toilet now,” I said hopefully, “Either way, he’ll end up in the water.”
I felt a little evil after I suggested flushing the fish. Was that heartless? Luke seemed to like the idea, probably because it was immediate. Waiting twelve hours to dispose of the remains seemed to bore him in comparison.
Luke poured Thomas into the toilet and flushed. I knew it wouldn’t be this easy. He leaned his head against Michael and began to cry. The reality had hit him. His first pet was dead. Muerto.
We comforted him as he buried his head in his pillow.
“Why did he die?” Luke asked, as he licked tears from his lip.
“Fish only live a little while,” Michael said.
“People live a long time.” Luke said.
“Of course, like hundreds of years.” Michael said.
I glared at my husband. Yes, mislead him all the more! I wasn’t expecting to live to age 207 but now I guess I’ll change my plan. Forget about early retirement!
“When you feel better, we can get another fish,” I said.
“I don’t want another fish. Then it will die again.”
Michael and I just looked at eachother. The kid was right.
Luke sniffled, “I didn’t feed him in the morning. I didn’t say hello to him.”
“Sure you did,” I reassured him as my heart sank with empathy, “You fed him sometimes and you said hello to him. You were just busy because you had to go to school every morning.”
How could our kid have such guilt over not having paid more attention to his pet?
“Maybe I want a turtle.”
I locked eyes with Michael, No turtles! I mouthed. Salmonella!
“Maybe a sea turtle,” Luke said.
Thank God he wanted something as impossible (and illegal?) as a sea turtle and not some $5.99 regular turtle. (No offense to turtle lovers, but amphibians smell and don’t love you back and, oh yeah, they carry salmonella. Yuck! CDC.gov did a number on my fear of germs.)
“Or a bird,” Luke added.
“Oh no, not a bird,” Michael said immediately, “They’re very…loud.”
“Do they wake up early?” Luke asked.
“Sure,” I said, “and they make a lot of poop. Lots.” Again, yuck. Do I really need something else in the house that poops?
Luke jumped off the bed and began playing with his Transformers.
“You should yell at your sister for giving him that damn fish,” Michael whispered.
“You did this,” I whispered, “Betta fish killer.”