Goodbye, Mr. Fish…
He was never officially named. We would refer to him as “the fish.” Or “Fishy.” In his younger days, he was “the bumblebee.” When we were being formal, he was “Mr. Fish.”
And yesterday, he swam away to that great, clear and sparkling aquarium in the sky.
Mr. Fish was a Bumblebee Cichlid. “Pseudotropheus crabro,” if you’re a scientist. He was beautiful, with the light shining off his yellow and black scales…
Oh, he was a remarkable fish. He was remarkable in his own way.
He could change colors. Did you know that? When he was really, really happy, he’d turn as black as the ace of spades. When he was unhappy or scared, he would turn pale. But most of the time, he just swam around the tank with his black and yellow “bumblebee” stripes displayed to the world.
We got him in 2005. Or was it 2004? I don’t really remember. But he was a tiny slip of a fish, purchased at the same time as a pair of kissing gourami, a couple of albino catfishes, and various other fishes of various other species that escape my memory.
As he grew, he killed and ate them all.
We got a tiger cichlid. They’re supposed to be as aggressive as bumblebees. “Mr. Fish” killed him and ate him. A parrot fish, too. And God knows how many others. We stopped buying playmates for him. It was like finding roommates for Jeffrey Dahmer.
And it’s not that we didn’t feed him. He’d see you walking toward the tank at feeding time, and he’d rise to the top of the water, his tail wagging like an anxious pup and a look in his steely eyes that said, “FEED ME! FEED ME, damn you or YOU’RE ALL DEAD!” (I imagine him speaking with Stewie’s voice from “Family Guy.”) You’d drop a few pellets into the water and he would GRAB one, suck it down, grab another, and glide to the bottom of his tank to gloat greedily that he had “gotten away with it” yet again.
I’ve lost count of how many plecostomus (plecostomi?) we put in there with him. He killed them. And ate them. Well, most of them. With most of his victims, you’d notice that there just weren’t as many fish as you recalled seeing the day before. And then you’d see uneaten parts of the carcass floating at the top of the tank. Or getting caught into the filter intake.
He was usually black as black could be after committing one of his many crimes.
Oh, yes. He was a criminal.
And yes. He was a remarkable fish.
There was never a UN War Crimes tribunal convened to discuss his evil disregard for aquarian life. No newspaper stories were ever written about the Murderous Bumblebee Fish of Elkridge. Parents don’t scare their children into behaving by threatening them with a nighttime visit from “Mr. Fish.” He remained silent through the Bush administration’s desecration of the Constitution and was taciturn and unmoved by President Obama’s efforts to improve health care.
He was an apolitical fish.
But death comes to even the MOST remarkable of fish. Over the last few weeks, we noticed that he wasn’t his usual frisky self. Having long been deprived of enemies to harass, kill and eat, he had taken to attacking his water heater. He’d hide in his little ceramic tree or sea shell, or cave or hollowed out hole in the gravel that he’d dig for himself, and with the swiftness of a shark, he’d ATTACK! The water heater would CLANK against the glass, and Fishy would dive back to the depths, no doubt chuckling in cichlid glee that the water heater never saw it coming.
But as of late he was listless. He would lie on the bottom unmoving. Sometimes, he wouldn’t rise for his food. Then he began to float near the top, his snout near the water line.
Finally, yesterday, death came to Mr. Fish.
I took the big net we’d use to scoop him out when we cleaned his tank and scooped him out for the last time. It was usually a trick to catch him. This time there was no resistance. Gail held open the plastic bag and I deposited him therein, tied off the ends, and walked to the garbage bin.
Opening the lid, with all due reverence, I tossed him in.
The bag flipped. Once. Then again. Then it was still.
Even now, as he rests in the garbage awaiting pickup day on Wednesday, one can wonder if his black little soul was greeted, where ever fish souls go, by the souls of his many victims. Were they understanding? After all, his law was the law of nature. Big fish eat little fishes. Certainly that must be understood. Or were they vengeful? Are they now chasing HIM around the Celestial Aquarium, nipping at HIS fins when he slows down.
These are questions that can’t be answered.
All I know is, there was a great hole in the living room where the aquarium stood lo these many years.
We filled that corner with the wide-screen plasma TV.
So, Goodbye Mr. Fish. May the universe be kinder to you than you were to it.