Daughter wanted a goldfish for her sixth birthday. Well, in truth, she first wanted a hamster. But after changing diapers for four years, scooping kitty litter for close to nine, and cleaning up the back yard after Retriever, I said “no” to more poop in the house.
“Please?” she begged.
“Maybe when you’re ten. How about a fish?”
She brought home a book about hamsters from the school library. At bedtime, we flipped through the pages.
“See? They’re nocturnal animals,” I commented around page ten. “They’ll never be awake to play with you.” I worked this angle hard.
“Okay, I’ll get a fish.”
Daughter talked up her future fish for the full two weeks until her birthday. When the big day arrived, we filled up the tank with temperate water, added pink pebbles and plastic plants and waited a full two hours for the water to acclimate to drop the fish in from her little cup.
“Her name’s Goldie,” Daughter said when the fish was all set on a table in her bedroom.
We watched her swim around.
The next morning, Daughter stood in the doorway to my bedroom. “Come look at Goldie,” she said.
“Just a minute.”
After a bit. “Mom, come look.”
I joined her and looked at Goldie lying halfway down the tank, eyes wide open, still.
“Wow, I didn’t know that goldfish sleep with their eyes open,” I commented. Idiot.
“Do you think she’s okay?” Daughter asked.
“Let’s wait and see if she wakes up.”
Later in the morning, Husband caught me in the hallway. “Did you see that the fish is dead?” he whispered. Guess so.
We told Daughter that Goldie was probably sick, maybe dead, and we’d take her to the pet store to have her checked out.
“Just don’t flush her down the toilet,” she insisted.
After the kids caught the bus, I reminded Husband that a friend said if you bring the dead fish back to the store you can get a new one for free. “And ask them about the water. Are you sure we don’t need conditioner?”
They told him no, conditioner wasn’t needed and he brought home a new fish that didn’t have the same pretty white spot on her forehead.
“Maybe that’s what made Goldie sick and die,” Daughter surmised.
Fish number two was named Goldie, too. She made it through the first night and the next day. A week later, she developed black spots on her face, body and fins. I Googled the symptoms.
“Well,” I told Daughter. “It could mean she’s healing from a traumatic event – like moving here from the pet store – or she could have a condition.”
We shot photos on my iPhone and Husband showed the guy at the pet store. They suggested a complicated, month long process that began with adding salt water to the tank.
Three days later, she was dead.
“We’re going to a different pet store,” I told the family.
I knew better than to expect anything but the same result a third time.
(Note to readers: You might want to shop somewhere other than Petco for your fish since their employees know absolutely nothing about them.)
Upon entering the new pet store I asked, “Do we need conditioner in the water?”
“Well, of course,” the nice lady told us.
Then she showed us a shelf of colorful hardy Bettas. “I have one in almost every room in my house.”
Well, if she could keep that many fish alive, her advice was for us!
Daughter picked out a pretty purple fish, which she promptly named Violet, and we took her home. We shelved the fancy tank and plastic plants, conditioned the water and dropped Violet into a fishbowl of temperate, nicely conditioned water.
A week or so later, I walked into Daugher’s room during school and noticed that Violet was still. My heart jumped. Not again! I crouched down and stared through the glass. Move!
She didn’t look dead, but neither did the first Goldie. I tapped the tank. Blew on it. Move! She sank a bit, then pushed a fin back. Then another. I put Daughter’s clothes away and came back to check on her. She swam slowly, lazily around the tank. Maybe she’d been sleeping.
A month later, Violet is still happily swimming around.
All in all, Daughter weathered the lives and deaths of her birthday fish with a healthy amount of nonchalance. Thank goodness. And truth be told, we never did get that book about goldfish.