The Thinker


Poor Fred is dead.

This is no April Fools joke. Fred the Ferocious Fish is dead.

Fred was our one remaining pet. They have been dropping like flies lately. My beloved cat and soul mate Sprite was put to sleep on Sunday evening. Now this. I come back from taking my father to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum Annex only to find Fred careened over at the bottom of his tank.

Fred you see was our pet betta. Originally, she was my daughter’s pet fish. However, taking care of Fred was not one of her priorities. Eventually my wife took over most of the fishy duties, which involved changing his water and cleaning his small tank every other week or so. I did my small part. I added Fred to my morning chores by putting a pinch of Betta Bites food in his tank. I’d also give him a cheery “Yo, Fred” too.

I thought Fred was a happy fish. My wife though was convinced he wanted to be a piranha. At two inches long though he was likely not going to bite off our fingers. I thought he was just intensely interested in us. When we were in the room, he was often at the side of the tank staring at us with those big beady eyes of his. However, if you did anything to his space, Fred was going to be on your case.

Bettas are beautiful fish. They are also very single minded. If Sprite was about love, Fred was about vigilance. We tried to explain to him that it was unlikely that any predator fish were going to attack him. However, we could not convince him. We put a few plastic plants in his tank. Most of the day he “hid” in the plants, ready to leap out at a moment’s notice to guard his turf. Otherwise, he liked playing sentry by guarding the perimeter of his hexagonal tank with great care.

For his amusement, my wife placed the underside of a CD next to his tank. It was shiny enough to act as something like a mirror. At first, it freaked out Fred – who was this predator and why couldn’t he kill him? He would puff out his gills; if fish had blood, you knew his blood pressure had to have risen. Nevertheless, eventually even his tiny fish brain must have figured out there was nothing to fear. Over the last year or so, Fred seemed to enjoy preening himself in his “mirror”.

We were surprised by how long Fred survived. We know we have had him at least two years, but it is likely closer to three years. This was not bad value for a fish about two inches long and who only cost a couple bucks. When the computer was not engaging our attention, we could turn around and spend some time watching him. He could be amusing. He liked to spit by blowing bubbles on the surface of his tank. He preferred to sleep at the bottom of the tank. Lately his vigilance slipped, and it would take a tap or two on his fish tank to get his attention. It was clear that Fred’s best days were behind him.

And now he is gone. Perhaps I am bereft of tears for his passing because I shed all I had with Sprite’s passing. More likely, I was not too attached to Fred. He was neither cuddly nor wanted to sit on my lap. I was not sure what sort of funeral he would want. I asked my daughter, who claims to be a Wiccan, what was an appropriate funeral for a fish. She had no idea. So Fred was laid to his aquatic rest by being flushed down the toilet. I figured wherever fish heaven is, it must be in the water, and not in the heavens, so the toilet seemed the most expeditious way to get him there.

Now for the first time in nearly twenty years we are wholly bereft of pets. I do not think we will be without one for long. My wife is already talking about getting another Betta. They are certainly pretty to look at. I doubt though that we will get as much amusement from another betta as we got from Fred. However, if you have to have one fish as a pet, a betta is an excellent kind to get. They are extremely low maintenance fish. They are happy in a small tank with a couple inches of distilled water and a few artificial plants. They can go for a week without changing their water. They do not need either a heater or an aerator.

I have a feeling another warm-blooded pet will have to wait until after we get back from our trip to Paris in July. I know my wife wants a rabbit. She says they are soft and purr like cats, but she is not allergic to them. For me, it is hard to imagine a replacement for my lap cat Sprite. On the other hand, there is a certain liberation being petless. There is no more regularly changing of the litter box. There is no more refreshing the cat food and changing the drinking water. I get to work fifteen minutes earlier in the morning because I do not need to shove pills and yogurt down a feline’s throat. There are no hairballs on the carpet to continually clean up either. On Monday, I vacuumed and cleaned the carpets, which had been heavily abused by our felines these last twenty years. Amazingly, they are still clean. Alas, there is no warm fuzzy and purring thing on my lap looking up at me with big, loving eyes either. Moreover, there is no feline resting between our pillows on our bed, or cuddling up next to me in bed before retiring either. Those familiar and comfortable patterns are gone with the wind.

(I will be in Denver on business this week and kept very busy, so postings will be sporadic.)


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