Monday, November 2, 2009

Morality inside the fishbowl

Last winter our youngest daughter begged and begged for a gerbil for her birthday. We have a hunting dog who starts squealing out of his nose when he sees squirrels. So we got her a fish tank and some freshwater fish, which I suspect was really what she wanted all along.

It's been a long year of fits and starts with the fish tank. My husband and daughter became pretty well known over at Lucky Fish, and it was kind of a nice thing for them to have together. The heater didn't seem to be working right, and because our daughter is only 8 and can't really see into the top of the tank and forgets to use a stool, we suspect that she ends up feeding the filter rather than the fish. So for every two fish added to the tank over the year, the Lord hath taketh at least one away.

That is until summer, when they brought home a white gourami. I'm no fish expert, but this one should have come with a warning label: WARNING, CRAZY MOFO IN SCALES. All summer long, our daughter would emerge with a sigh from her bedroom and say, "Well, it ate another one." The good news is that she handled those losses with aplomb, but the bad news was that except for the hardy little neon tetras, we were losing stock one by one.

Last month Andrew brought home a beautiful dwarf gourami to the now sparsely inhabited tank and we set the bag in the water to let the temperatures acclimate. Before we had even finished lowering it, the fish we had come to call Voldemort began attacking the poor little new guy, through the plastic. Took two days for Voldemort to eat poor Luna Lovegood the fish alive, pecking at it incessantly - whether it died from the shock or the abuse I don't know, but it weighed on me.

So we (and by now the daughter is really only tangentially involved, it's clear that it's a showdown between the fish and the grownups)decided to try a new tack - introduce a totally different type of fish. Andrew brought home the delicate little angel fish on Saturday and once again, Voldemort, who is hale and hearty and full of good health (and why not, with all that fish in his diet) started attacking the new guy through the plastic. He kept it up once the angel was in the tank, and once the new fish started the telltale sinking behind the tiny Cinderella castle, it was the final straw.

Reader, one of those fish died on Saturday.

Seriously. We scooped out a perfectly healthy albeit psychotic fish from the tank and flushed it, right in full view of the kids. But what would you have done? Reward it for good behavior by feeding it more innocent new fish? Spend money on fish tank supplies to care for a fish we knew had done away with all our others? It was a terrible dilemma. We told the kids we would absolve them of the responsibility for the decision, that it was a grown up choice. They were kind of blase, it being Halloween and makeup and hair and costumes needing attention.

Afterwards when we'd had time to stop laughing/being aghast at the decision we'd made, I realized that we probably should have scooped Voldemort into a cup and driven him back to the experts at Lucky Fish, to see if it could have been rehabilitated. Yes, that would have been a better decision.

Because every time I use the toilet that was the entry for Voldemort into the larger world, I am going to be waiting for him to come extract his revenge.

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