Family and/or Autobiography

So I Don’t Have a Fish Now

Hiya! Need a manicure?
Hiya! Need a manicure?

Well, that was fast.

It seems like only yesterday that Audrey the six-line wrasse was flitting around her tank, ignoring the friendly overtures of Fosse the cleaner shrimp as if he was the Anthony Michael Hall character in a John Hughes movie.

And then, without warning, she kicked the brackish bucket.

These things happen, of course – and, to be honest, it’s not like the Tropical Fish Guy didn’t warn me.

“Are you new to salt water tanks?” he asked.

He found my son, Alex, and me in the aquarium annex, a dark, serene, drippy place where visitors seemed compelled to keep their voices at a whisper, just loud enough to be heard above the orchestra of blurbling filters.

A moment before Tropical Fish Guy appeared at my elbow, Alex pressed his greasy index finger against the glass. “That’s the one I want.”

The anal retentive part of me wanted to say, “don’t touch the glass. Someone has to clean that, you know.” But I only nodded. For I wanted that fish, too. She was The One.

I was so enamored with the wrasse I hadn’t entirely heard Tropical Fish Guy’s question. “Oh. I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“Are you new to salt water tanks?” By the way he said it, it was clear that he already knew the answer.

“Yes.”

“How large is your tank?”

“Eight gallons.”

“OK. Ah. Well, a wrasse…” He trailed off for a moment. “It may not be a good starter fish. They aren’t that hearty. Now a clownfish might be a good bet.”

I glanced at Alex. Alex glanced at me. We shared the same sneer. We held the same thought:

A clownfish?! Who does this guy think we are? We’re not getting a tropical fish because we just Netflixed Finding Nemo. We are serious fish buyers and this six-line wrasse is a seriously awesome fish!

“I don’t think we want a clownfish.”

“You should consider them,” he urged. “Clownfish are tank raised. They are equipped to endure the changes common in small tanks like yours. Temperature spikes. Increases in salinity…”

Alex scrunched up his face and, in the politest possible way, shut the conversation down. “A clownfish is a little too much of a cliché.”

I nodded, not only because I agreed, but also because my nine-year-old properly used a word that might end up on the PSAT.

So we bought Audrey who lasted about three months. This is not an impressive lifespan by any measure, but it’s still 30 days longer than my childhood goldfish, so I’ll just chalk it up as a personal best.

Fosse, on the other hand, is as healthy as ever.

When Audrey was queen bee, Fosse pretty much stayed in the background, content to do his jazzy hands and nibble on feces. But with Audrey gone, Fosse has come into his own. He was always a flamboyant fellow, but with the run of the tank, he flutters and scampers about with abandon. Whenever one of us enters The Fish Room he presses his shrimpy face against the glass and follows our every movement. Whenever one of us puts our hand in the tank, he leaps upon it, and checks every wrinkle and fingerprint whorl for dead skin cells to nibble upon. He is especially fond of my hand, as my cuticles are a mess.

Letting Fosse go to work on my digits is perhaps the closet I will ever come to a spa day.

Still, Alex and I figured Fosse might be lonely. His only tankmates were a couple of snails. I don’t know what snails talk about, but it’s probably something dull, like the weather. Since every day in the saltwater tank is a 76 degrees and wet, their conversation would get very tedious very fast.

A snail can be seen at the top of the pic. Notice how Fosse is walking away, not wishing to discuss the humidity.
A snail can be seen at the top of the pic. Notice how Fosse is walking away, not wishing to discuss the humidity for the millionth time.

“We should probably get Fosse a couple of clownfish,” I told Alex. “They’re heartier.”

The boy reluctantly agreed.

But one morning we discovered our tank had new visitors. Two starfish.

We never bought starfish. We had the tank in operation since July and we had never seen starfish. But there they were. Just hanging out on the glass.

“Where did they come from?”

“They probably came out of the living rock,” Alex mused.

Saltwater tanks don’t use regular rocks. They need living ones. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this idea. My squeamishness was not for nothing; six months after I plunked that rock in the tank a couple of starfish crawled out of it. Starfish are a welcome surprise, but still…

“What else could be lurking in that rock?” I muttered.

Alex shrugged. “Maybe another wrasse?”

The idea was absurd, of course, but it was enough for me to hold off on throwing more money at more fish that would probably end up dying in a few months. Besides, why bring in something new when something much heartier might crawl out of my creepy rock at any moment?

“Maybe you’re right,” I replied. “We’ll wait and see.”